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Residents at Splendido enjoy an ever-changing selection of desserts from pastry chef Mary Teresi-White. Here she shares recipes for two that make excellent gifts. 

Feeling pressured by all your holiday to-dos? Good news—you can reduce your stress (and maybe your to-do list) by doing something nice for someone! 

Love Conquers Stress

Multiple studies have shown that good deeds and altruistic emotions result in feeling a “helper’s high”—positive emotions that not only feel good, they actually overpower stress. There are some small studies that link these feelings of love and empathy with a stronger immune system. 

By doing someone a favor, giving a thoughtful gift, or squeezing in a little volunteer work this season, you can lower your stress level—as well as ease the physical changes that stress brings (think high blood pressure). 

Give a Sweet Gift

One way you can enjoy these “generous” health benefits is by making a delicious treat you can give as a gift or serve to friends and family. (You can enjoy a different set of positive emotions by sampling them yourself.) 

Mary Teresi-White is the pastry chef at Splendido, a Life Plan Community in Oro Valley for those 55 and better. Known for the seemingly endless variety of desserts she creates for Splendido residents, Mary has shared the two recipes on this page so that you can wow your family and friends—and feel that beneficial helper’s high while you do so. 

Happy Holidays! 

Sugar Pecans

3 lbs. pecan halves or any desired nut

3 lbs. light brown sugar

1 cup egg whites

2 tsp cinnamon 

  1. In a large bowl, put brown sugar, cinnamon, and egg white and mix. It will resemble wet sand. Add the nuts and toss to completely cover.

  2. Pour onto three sheet pans and place in a 225-degree oven.

  3. Bake 15 minutes, then take out and toss….do this every 15 minutes for 1 to 1.5 hours until the nuts are “dry.”

  4. When cool, you can store in a metal tin or bag for individual gifts. They last for months!

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes. 

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

3-oz. box of instant dry vanilla pudding mix

2 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice

½ cup finely diced crystalized ginger

1 cup butter

2 cups light brown sugar

4 eggs

1 tbsp. vanilla

15-oz. can pumpkin puree 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, and vanilla to light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin puree and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine , flour, pudding mix, soda, salt, and spices. Add to egg/pumpkin mixture and mix well. Fold in ginger. Line 24 muffin tins with cupcake papers. Fill each with a 2 oz. scoop of batter. Bake approximately 22-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before icing top with cream cheese icing. 

Cream Cheese Icing for Cupcakes (optional)

2 lbs. powdered confectioner’s sugar

1 lb. of cream cheese (room temperature)

12 tbsp. soft butter

3 tbsp. vanilla

2 tsp. lemon juice (optional) 

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the cream cheese and vanilla. Add the powdered sugar little by little, mixing after each addition. Mix completely and continue mixing until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl numerous times. Do not overmix or frosting will become too runny. Frost cupcakes with a spatula or put frosting in a piping bag and make a swirl on top of each cupcake.

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