The tree is decorated, check marks are next to almost everyone on your gift list, more than enough cookies are baked, but are there ever enough… Oh well, there’s always a reason to bake some more, especially if you participate in a cookie swap or enjoy the scent of freshly baked cookies; and who doesn’t? To that end, “Out of the Box Holiday Baking: Gingerbread Cupcakes, Peppermint Cheesecake, and More Festive Semi-Homemade Sweets” by Hayley Parker (2018, The Countryman Press, $21.95) offers recipes with all the cheer and seasonal flavor of the classics, but without all the work. Recipes use easily accessible shortcuts such as a cake mix, cookie dough, or pudding mix. If you are short on time, you’ll appreciate Parker’s quick-and-easy recipes for: seasonal flavors: chai snowballs, white chocolate peppermint cupcakes, cranberry marshmallow cheesecake; classics reimagined: easiest-ever gingerbread men, fruitcake cupcakes, eggnog cream pie (for this recipe please visit https://bit.ly/2rbvov7; regional favorites: maple sugar cream pie, salted nut roll cookies, sticky toffee pudding cake; easy no-bake treats: peppermint mocha chewies; reindeer chow; chocolate cookie cherry truffles. Below are four recipes to get you started.

Have some fun with the kids too, while creating popular character and holiday-shaped treats for holiday parties and events. “Easy Christmas Cut-Up Cakes,” by Melissa Barlow (2018, Gibbs-Smith, $14.99) shows how to bake packaged cake mixes in rectangular, square, and round pans, and then cut them up and piece them back together as iconic characters or holiday shapes such as: a toy train, wreath, snowman, penguin, and Santa.

Building a gingerbread house is an activity the family can do together, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. “Easy Gingerbread Houses,” by Lisa Anderson (2018, Gibbs-Smith, $14.99) makes it quick and easy with no need for the messy and time-consuming tasks of mixing dough, rolling it out, baking it, and waiting for it to harden. The houses are made using graham crackers, cookies, cereal, ice cream cones, frostings, and candy. The kids will have fun building a sweetheart cottage, a cozy cabin, a big red barn, a blue dollhouse, a mermaid palace, Santa’s castle, or a tiki hut. With some practice now, perhaps next year, you’ll enter a gingerbread house competition and your creation will win.

Shortcut Gingerbread Men

Combine the dry pudding mix, butter, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream until smooth, 2 minutes. Add in the egg until blended. Add in cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda, salt, and flour, and gently combine until a soft dough is formed. Cover and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Roll the cookie dough out until it is a quarter- inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Using cookie cutters, cut out gingerbread people shapes. Evenly place them on the prepared cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until golden brown. Cool on the baking sheets completely. Once cooled, decorate with royal icing, sprinkles, and assorted candies, if using. Makes 20-24 cookies

Salted Caramel Macaroons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Toss together the shredded coconut and flour in a large bowl until the flour coats the coconut evenly. Add in the vanilla extract and dulce de leche and mix well— mixture will be very thick.

Using a tablespoon- size cookie dough scoop, drop rounded dough balls 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. If any pieces of coconut are poking out of the dough ball, gently wet your fingers to press the coconut into the cookie. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sea salt.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until golden brown. Cool on the baking sheets completely before serving. Makes 15— 18 cookies

Pomegranate Raspberry Bars

Crust

Filling and topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9- by- 13 inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray; set aside.

Combine the crust ingredients in a large bowl and stir until moistened and incorporated. Press the crust mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.

For the filling: Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy, 1 minute. Gradually add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, followed by the freeze- dried raspberry powder and raspberry gelatin powder. Lastly, add in the melted butter and pomegranate juice and mix slowly to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl so everything is completely combined.

Pour the mixture evenly over the crust layer and smooth out the top. Bake for 38 to 45 minutes or until the top is light golden brown and the center is just about set. If it jiggles slightly, that’s okay— but it should mostly be set. Cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate at least 2 hours before cutting into squares.

Just before serving, sprinkle the tops of the bars with the additional confectioners’ sugar, pomegranate arils (seeds), and fresh raspberries. Makes 15— 18 bars.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles

For the truffles

For the coating

Mix the crushed hazelnut cookies and 3 cups chopped hazelnuts in a large bowl until combined. Add in the chocolate hazelnut spread and stir to combine. The mixture will be thick, so you may want to use your hands. Make sure everything is moistened and coated with the chocolate hazelnut spread.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie dough scoop, roll out tablespoon- size balls of truffles and place on the prepared baking sheets. It’s often helpful to wet your hands with water while rolling and forming the truffles as they are quite sticky. Repeat with the remaining truffles and refrigerate or freeze until firm.

For the coating: Melt the chocolate bark coating according to package instructions, or until smooth. Stir in the finely chopped hazelnuts. Drop a truffle into the chocolate mixture one at a time and use a fork to coat the truffle completely with the chocolate. Use the same fork to gently lift the truffle out of the chocolate and allow the excess chocolate to drip off. Return the truffle to the baking sheet to let the chocolate set. If desired, sprinkle the set truffles with the edible star sprinkles. Makes 38— 40 truffles.

What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products do you have difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at gw-stephen.fries@gwcc.commnet.edu or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. (Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.)

CULINARY CALENDAR

Miracle: pop-up holiday cocktail bars, now through New Year’s Eveat 80 locations around the world, including two locations in CT. New Haven: Ordinary, 990 Chapel St., 203-907-0238 and Waterbury: Highland Brass Co., 728 Highland Ave., 203-596-0070. The Connecticut bars will feature nostalgic holiday décor and a signature cocktail menu like the “Snowball Old Fashioned” (butterscotch rye, spiced demerara, wormwood bitters, orange zest) and “Christmas Carol Barrel” (aged rum, Aquavit, Amaro, pumpkin pie, demerara syrup, lime, vanilla and Angostura bitters). miraclepopup.com

Consiglio’s Murder Mystery Dinner: “End This Tonight” Dec. 31, 9:30 pm Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489 https://bit.ly/2O3TQzQ, $75 includes dinner and show, and Champagne toast at midnight (other beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a 3-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve.

Gnocchi Workshop: Dec. 21, 2-4:30 p.m., Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $49.99. Reservations at 203-799-2665, https://bit.ly/2UlMQ1I. Learn the secrets to getting “light as a feather” traditional gnocchi using potatoes. You will learn a quick version of gnocchi using ricotta cheese (gnudi). Working in groups, you will also prepare delicious sauces to embellish your hand-made gnocchi. Menu:Classic Gnocchi with Bolognese sauce, Gnudi (Ricotta Gnocchi) with spinach and a brown butter sage sauce.

Kids-Let’s make Tex Mex Cooking Class, Dec. 27 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $49.99. Reservations at 203-799-2665, https://bit.ly/2Bjft75 Learn how to make some Tex Mex favorites such as cheesy chicken enchiladas and churros. Kitchen safety, measurements, and cooking techniques will be discussed. At the end of the workshop, enjoy a Tex-Mex feast you created.