Category Archives: CHRISTMAS DINNER RECIPES

DRIED CRANBERRY, PISTACIO, AND WHITE CHOCOLATE BISCOTTI

Biscotti is one type of cookie I always try to send my kids in their Christmas goodie package. They all drink coffee and/or tea, and there is nothing better on a busy holiday morning than a sweet and crunchy biscotti to help set the holiday spirit. So when I read this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis which contained dried cranberries (red) and pistachios (green), it seemed too fortuitous to ignore.

So I baked up a couple batches, decorated them in honor of the season, and sent them off to the kids via the capable hands of UPS.

Now something you should know about biscotti. THEY ARE STINKIN’ EASY TO MAKE! And why they are so expensive in bakeries or off the grocery store shelf is way beyond my understanding. I mean really! Just because they look impressive should not give providers the right to charge so darn much. And because I like to stand behind some of the outlandish statements I make on this blog, I went on line and found an example of what I’m talking about. From Etsy, 1 dozen traditional Italian Almond Biscotti – $20.00. Shipping – $13.75. I assume you can do the math on this, but in case your calculator is at the repair shop, that’s $2.82 each! You can practically prepare an entire batch of 36-40 biscotti for about double the amount of 1 of these purchased babies. And yes I know, someone had to buy the ingredients, pay for the facility, heat, electricity, labor etc. etc. But $13.75 for shipping? How heavy are these little darlings anyway? That would be my first question! All together, in my opinion, way too much money to spend on a simple to prepare cookie. 

Anyway, I’ll get off my high horse and get back to this recipe. (Steam is still coming out of my ears, but I shall contain myself for your sake.) Like I said before, biscotti are really very easy to make. And this recipe is no exception. It is just delicious and perfect for the Christmas holidays.

So give this wonderful biscotti recipe a try. You can find my other biscotti recipes under Biscotti – 6 Ways From Sunday also on this site. Cheers

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest   
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 lg. eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ c. pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 c. dried cranberries
  • 6-oz. good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ tsp. vegetable oil
  • red and green sugar crystals, for garnish (if making for Christmas)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and dried cranberries.

Form the dough into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until light golden, about 30 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place the log on a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into ¾-inch thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until pale golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a rack and cool completely. Don’t clean the cookie sheet.

Melt the white chocolate slowly in a microwave oven. Stir in the oil. Place cooled biscotti back on the baking sheet close together so they are touching. Lightly drizzle the melted chocolate on each biscotti in a zig-zag pattern. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals if preparing the biscotti for Christmas. Otherwise just leave plain. Leave on the cooling racks until the white chocolate is set. (This takes a while.) Or refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 50 minutes.

The biscotti can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container, or wrapped in foil and frozen in re-sealable plastic bags.

 

 

PAYDAY CANDY BAR BARS

I have spent the last couple of weeks sharing recipes with you that are on my “I am going to lose weight list”. But today, because I remembered that there are those of you out there who don’t need to lose weight, are at your perfect weight, and can eat all the sweets you want (I hate you BTW), I decided to post this recipe from Cooking Mamas as it appeared in the Crab Cracker, a local Stanwood/Camano Island publication.

This recipe is for a cookie bar that tastes even better than a PayDay candy bar. I kid you not! And it’s really easy to prepare. (What could be better?)

I made these in December to include in my kids Christmas goodie package. And yes, I’m still baking cookies and making candy for my kids at Christmas time. (Now it just costs me more to ship the darn packages than it does to buy the ingredients! But who’s counting? Old habits are hard to break, after all.) And of course Mr. C. doesn’t mind having a variety of sweets around the house at Christmas time. In fact, he would be quite happy if there were an assortment of homemade delicacies available all year round. (That just ain’t going to happen!) But of course, with all the entertaining we do, there is usually some type of treat for him to nibble on. Just not a big selection. But he still remains one spoiled cookie (so to speak), so please don’t feel sorry for him!

Now never mind that I can’t eat these delicious bars. (You know, the old martyr syndrome thing happening here!) Just do yourself and your family a favor and bake/melt-up a batch of these amazing bars in the near future. Your kids are especially going to flip over these delightful yummies. Just make sure you save one for yourself. And do me a favor. After you have taken a big old bite out of your piece, lift the rest in my direction. I’m sure I will somehow feel the love and my spirits will be lifted. My jealousy won’t be impacted, but it might help dissipate my longing for these bars by just knowing that someone out there appreciates me. Sigh….. (Martyrdom does this to a person. I’ll be better tomorrow.)

And no, I wasn’t stuttering when I named these delightful treats. I just couldn’t think of what else to call them!

For more recipes from Cooking Mamas, visit their website www.cookingmamas.com

  • 1¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • ½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 c. peanut butter chips
  • 2 c. mini marshmallows
  • 2¼ c. roasted salted peanuts, divided

Combine the flour, brown sugar, and butter in a large bowl. Stir until large clumps form, then using hands, knead mixture together. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×9-inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. 

Combine the sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter chips in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Reduce from heat and add the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have dissolved into the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the peanuts. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust and smooth the top using an offset spatula. Sprinkle with remaining 1¼ cup peanuts and gently press the peanuts into the fillings using your fingertips.

Refrigerate at least an hour before cutting into bars. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap.

 

 

KRENDL (RUSSIAN CHRISTMAS BREAD)

I dearly love being invited to a dinner party where everyone is asked to bring a dish to compliment a theme, be it ethnic or as a side to a particular main dish, or to include a particular ingredient, etc. I love this type of invitation because it often forces me to search the web. (Like I need a dinner party invitation to search out new and exciting dishes to share with you!)

Anyway, I was recently invited as a guest of a guest (my dear friend Vicky) to be her date. (Her husband and mine were gigging together during the dinner hour. So I was basically Mark’s replacement at table.)

The dinner was being hosted by Eric and Eliza and labeled as “Goose Fest”. But in reality, it was to celebrate Russian Christmas. Eliza is of Russian decent and apparently many Russians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 in the Gregorian calendar, which corresponds to December 25 in the Julian calendar. The dinner party was actually on the 14th, but what’s a few days here and there among friends?

Anyway, one of the suggestions Vicki offered me for my contribution was Krendl. Never heard of it, but when has that ever stopped me. So off to web recipe land I ventured. And this incredible bread is the result.

I changed Barbara Rolek’s recipe just a bit, but not enough to hardly notice. So thank you Barbara for what is now one of my favorite sweet breads. (And no, I am not going to wait until next Christmas to make this bread again. In fact, I am going to make it for our next JazzVox pre-concert meal.)

This bread fulfills all of the basic desires I have when it comes to sweet breads. The dough is pleasantly sweet, the filling is full of fruit (think raisins in cinnamon rolls, for example), and the glaze is perfect. There is even a slight crunch to this bread from the sliced almonds. What more could you ask??

So if you love rich and tender bread, a filling resembling a fruit compote, and thin sweet almond flavored glaze, this is the bread for you. But please don’t wait until next Christmas to make this fabulous delicacy. It would be perfect served at an Easter brunch, to accompany coffee and tea at a book club meeting, or as a special treat to leave in your break room at work, to mention just a few examples.

And to make things a little different than what you usually experience when building a filled sweet bread, the filling is made before the dough is even started. Fun, eh?

Wonder why? I leave that for you to figure out my friends.

So get out your yeast and give this recipe a try. Just be advised that this bread is going to serve about 2 dozen people. The good news is that it feeds a lot of people and also freezes well. The bad news is that you are not going to be able to stop eating it. You’re just going to have to trust me on this. I speak from way too much experience.

Filling:

  • 1 c. sweet white wine (I use Muscato) or apple juice
  • 1 lg. apple, peeled and chopped
  • 2/3 c. finely chopped dried apples
  • ½ c. finely chopped dried apricots
  • ½ c. chopped pitted dried prunes
  • 1/3 c. golden raisins
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 T. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract

In a large saucepan, combine wine, apple, dried fruits, butter, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until a jam-like consistency is obtained. Stir periodically. When desired thickness is reached, remove from heat and stir in almond extract. Cool to room temperature while you make the dough. Spread on dough as explained below.

Bread Dough:

  • 1 pkg. or 1 scant T. active dry yeast
  • 5 T. granulated sugar, divided
  • ¾ c. warm whole milk
  • ¼ c. (½ stick) unsalted butter + 3 T., room temperature
  • 2 lg. egg yolks
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

In the bowl of your stand mixer, dissolve the yeast and 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar in warm milk. Let proof for about 10 minutes. After allowing the mixture to proof, add the ¼ cup butter, egg yolks, vanilla, 1½ cups of the flour, and salt; mix with your dough hook on medium speed until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be slightly tacky). Knead until smooth and elastic, about 4-6 minutes. Pour a tiny bit of oil over dough and form into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 75 minutes.

Punch down dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; roll into a 32×10-in. rectangle. Melt remaining 3 tablespoons of butter; brush over dough to within 1-inch of edges. Mix cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar; sprinkle over top. Spread with cooled fruit mixture. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam and ends to seal.

Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, seam side down. Form into a pretzel shape. (Forming the dough may make the parchment paper go all wonky, but persevere. Remember, you are dealing with paper and a piece of dough and you are the boss. Now’s the time to allow the latent bully side of your personality come to full fruition!) Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a tea towel; let rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes or until almost doubled.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack. Spoon glaze over surface while the bread is still slightly warm. Quickly decorate with sliced almonds. (The glaze will start to harden as soon as it is spooned onto the bread.) Allow glaze to set before serving.

Glaze:

  • 1 c. powdered sugar, or more as needed
  • 2 tsp. milk
  • 1/8 tsp. almond extract
  • 2-3 tsp. warm water, or more as needed
  • ¼ c. sliced almonds

Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, almond extract, and warm water together. Add additional powdered sugar or warm water to reach desired consistency. (Glaze should be fairly thick, but not so thick that it doesn’t flow slowly and evenly when spooned onto the warm bread.)

 

 

CARIBBEAN BLACK FRUITCAKE

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OK, since I started 2017 by cancelling a brunch because of icy condition on the fair isle of Camano, I might as well go the whole way and offer up a fruitcake recipe to start 2017.

Now some people might see this as a bad sign for the coming year. But those of you who know me well, or don’t know me personally, but trust me none-the-less, realize that it is not in my nature to steer you wrong!

So, if you are one of the lucky people who have experienced a truly great fruitcake in your past, let me tell you without even a quarter ounce of equivocation, that this is a fruitcake not to be missed. It is full of flavor, with a lovely moist, dense, and tender crumb. Hints of orange and the taste of exotic spices fills your mouth, while the occasional crunch from the nuts is a pleasant offset to the soft texture of the cakey part. And the best thing about this fruitcake – you can make it yourself! You don’t ever again have to pay $39.95 plus tax and shipping to enjoy a high quality, fantastic tasting holiday treat. You can do it all fairly easily in your very own kitchen.

All you need is a modicum of planning, a few interesting ingredients, a visit to a grocery store for bulk dried fruits and nuts, an internet search for burnt sugar syrup (it’s what makes the fruitcake black), and an adventurous spirit! Put it all in the oven (not the planning, internet search, or adventurous spirit, of course, but all the rest) and share this little bit of heaven with your family and friends.

And in case you were wondering where I learned to make this delightful creation, it was during our vacation to Belize. My friend Vicki and I took a class from a local chef and this recipe is as close to her recipe as was reasonable. (You had to be there to understand why I couldn’t quite match her recipe ingredient for ingredient.) (If you want to know more about our adventure while in Belize, search under “Belize” and all will be revealed.)

So faithful readers, when you are planning your holiday goodies at the end of this year, please consider making fruitcake. I know some of your family will make jokes about receiving fruitcake, like – great, we can use a slice to balance our wobbly kitchen table, or it will work as a sandbag during flooding season, or my personal favorite – we can use it as a speed bump to slow down the drag racers in our neighborhood. But their verbal lampoon will swiftly disappear with their first bite. I’ve actually known grown men (not mentioning any names here Willie) who love fruitcake so much that they will actually hide or eat most of it themselves, thus preventing their wives (Eden – one of my daughters) from partaking of this treat meant for BOTH of them! But I digress…..

So please don’t hesitate to make this recipe or the Holiday Fruitcake recipe at the bottom of this post. Both are absolutely delicious. Even the most jaded connoisseur will become a devoted fan of fruitcake if given a chance. Sandbag, indeed!

CARRIBEAN BLACK FRUITCAKE    

  • 1 c. pecans, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ c. whole raw almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 3 c. dried fruit* (apricots, cherries, blueberries, pineapple, etc.), coarsely chopped
  • ½ c. pitted dates, coarsely chopped
  • ½ c. currants
  • 4 oz. container candied orange peel
  • 4 oz. container candied red or green cherries, halved
  • 2½ c. dark rum (I used half Cruzan Aged Rum and half Myer’s Original Dark Rum)
  • ½ c. Crème Sherry

Mix together all ingredients in a 3-quart glass container with a tightfitting lid. Cover and store in a cool, dark place for 1 week.

*I used ¾ cup golden raisins, ½ cup candied pineapple pieces, ½ cup dried blueberries, ½ cup chopped candied papaya, ½ cup chopped dried apricots, and ¼ cup chopped dried cherries

For the cake batter:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1½ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground clove
  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2¼ c. packed light brown sugar
  • 6 lg. eggs, room temperature
  • zest of lg. orange
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ c. burnt sugar syrup (Blue Mountain Country is best) (it’s what makes the cake black)

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves together in a large bowl. Set aside.

Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and return the mixer to medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, letting each mix in fully before adding the next. Add orange zest and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and return the mixer to low speed.

Drain macerated fruit and nuts. Set aside. Do not discard the left over liquid!

Add flour mixture, any unabsorbed booze from macerating the fruit, and burnt sugar to butter mixture; mix until just combined. Let the batter rest for about 2 hours. Add the drained fruit and nut mixture to the batter. Divide batter evenly between 3 buttered 9 x 5-inch or 5 buttered 8 x 3 7/8-inch loaf pans. (I personally prefer the smaller pans.)

Place a large shallow pan of water on the lowest rack in your oven.

Bake fruitcakes on a rack in the middle of a pre-heated 300 degree oven until a cake tester comes out clean, about 2 hours for 9 X 5 loaf pans or 90 minutes for 8 x 3 7/8-inch loaf pans.  (The cake centers will be moist but not wet.)

Let cool completely. If you have baked the cakes in aluminum pans to give away, don’t remove the cakes from the pans. If you have baked them for your own consumption, you can leave the fruitcake in the pans or turn out of the pans and wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Best if aged for a couple of weeks.

To age, store each cooled cake in a re-sealable plastic bag or covered with aluminum foil at room temperature for up to 2 months. A dark cupboard or pantry is ideal, but do not refrigerate, as the moisture level will change the texture.

HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE

  • 1 lb. dried fruit medley (peaches, pears, apricots, apples, and golden raisins or currents)
  • ½ lb. dried Bing cherries
  • 1 lb. chopped dates
  • 1 lb. candied/glazed pineapple, coarsely chopped
  • 21-oz. container red candied/glazed cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb. coarsely chopped pecans
  • 3 c. spiced rum
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 5 lg. eggs
  • 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt

Combine fruit, nuts, and rum in a covered glass container for 3 to 7 days. 7 days is best.

Cream butter, sugar, and spices until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir into butter mixture along with the macerated fruit, nuts, and any remaining liquid.

Place a large shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of your oven to prevent the cakes from baking too dry.

Line 3 greased 9×5-inch loaf pans or 1 greased 9×5-inch and 5 greased 7×4-inch loaf pans with parchment paper and grease paper lightly. Divide the batter evenly and bake in the middle of your pre-heated 275 degree oven for 2-2½ hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on racks for one hour. Remove cakes from pan, and carefully peel off the parchment paper. When completely cool, wrap in foil and store for at least 1 month.

 

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT SANDWICH COOKIES

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Unfortunately, my camera is not sophisticated enough to capture the pale pink color of the filling. Or perhaps, it’s user error? Bets anyone?

I wish I could say that these little darlings were invented in the Carr kitchen, but that simply would not be the truth. And it’s just too close to the time when Santa reviews his list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice for me to tell a whopping big lie to all my readers. So – I did not dream up these babies. They first appeared in a December issue (I think) of Bon Appétit, but for the life of me, I can’t recall which year. (That’s the truth so I have no fear that Santa will skip our home this Christmas, or worse yet, leave me a lump of coal!)

All I know is that I have been making these fabulous sandwich cookies now for several years. Their only fault, if one can really consider it a fault, is that they are better fresh. In other words, they don’t keep very well, so they aren’t really the best cookie to send in say, a Christmas package. Of course, given the fact that this year one of my kids Christmas goody package actually arrived the next day, I may consider sending these cookies in next year’s package. (I mailed the package in Stanwood, WA last Monday, and by Tuesday evening, my son-in-law Mark in Keizer, OR was sick from eating too many goodies.)

So in a case like this, I could easily have included some of these cookies without fear of them not arriving in a timely manner. And once they got to their destination, there would have been absolutely no reason to worry about them sitting around for days before they were consumed. Simply would not have happened. Mark would have made sure of that, at least at their house!

But Mark‘s not the only one who loves these cookies. In fact, I have friends (not going to mention any names here) that can’t even be in the same room with them (Jim), even if they are served after a large dinner (Jim), or even after dessert (Jim).

So take a hint from my friends and family, and bake up a batch or two of these delicious cookies this Christmas. Just don’t forget to set a couple aside for Santa.

Hint: At least at our house, Santa is always happiest when these cookies are left out for him along with a wee dram of Scotch. You see, my Santa is way too old for milk with his cookies. I’m betting yours is too! Ho Ho Ho

Cookies:

  • ¾ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1¾ c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • ½ c. unsweetened cocoa
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Filling:

  • ¾ c. butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. + 2 T. powdered sugar
  • ¾ tsp. good peppermint extract
  • 2 drops red food coloring
  • ½ c. crushed good peppermint candy (like See’s, King Leo, or Bob’s Sweet Stripes)

Cookies: Cream butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Add egg and mix until thoroughly blended. Whisk the flour, cocoa, and salt together in a small bowl. Gradually add to the butter mixture. Scoop out dough by level tablespoons or with a small ice cream scoop onto a lightly greased cookie sheet 2-inches apart. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 8-12 minutes or until the tops no longer look wet and small indentations appear when touched with a finger. Do not overbake or cookies will become too crisp. Cool on sheet for 3-4 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. When completely cool, spread 2 teaspoons of filling over flat side of one of the cookies, and top with the flat side of a second cookie, pressing gently to secure. Continue until all the cookies have been used. Store in an airtight container hidden safely in the back of a closet. (I find my broom closet is the best closet to use!)

Filling: Beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add peppermint extract, food coloring, and crushed peppermint candy.

 

GLÖGG

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A quick and easy Christmas gift – a bottle of Glögg and a Christmas tin filled with Speculaas (Dutch Ginger Cookies)

To me glögg is the quintessential Christmas beverage. And I know, some may argue that eggnog holds that distinction. But that’s only because they have never tasted my late friend Julie Finzimer’s sweet and spicy recipe for this warm Scandinavian holiday beverage.

Julie first served me a small cup of glögg one cold winter’s evening in (I think) 1974. I immediately asked for the recipe because I had never tasted anything like it. I knew without a doubt that this incredibly delicious drink had to become part of my own family’s Christmas tradition.

So needless to say, I have been making it ever since. And I have some wonderful memories associated with this drink. Allow me to tell you one.

One of the first Christmases that my daughter Eden and her new husband Willie spent with us, I offered Willie a cup of glögg after dinner. He nearly said no, mainly because he wasn’t overly fond of sweet drinks. But in the end he agreed to a small cup. So I warmed some up for all of us, and served the drinks with a big old plate of ginger cookies. Willie was comfortably settled in an easy chair close to the fire (a real one!) when he took his first sip. The rest of us waited while he decided if he liked the drink. He said that it was actually quite good, and could he please have some more. We warned him that glögg was almost pure alcohol, but he said he could handle it. And he did too, until after his third cup and he tried to stand up. It was only then that he realized why we had issued the warning. We still laugh when we are together, 30 some years later, about his first “glögg experience”.

So if you too love drinks that warm you through and through, give this delicious recipe a try. You won’t be sorry, unless of course you drink three cups of this potent concoction at one sitting. But then you’ve been warned, now haven’t you. Happy Christmas everyone!

  • 1 qt. water
  • 25 whole cardamom seeds
  • 40 whole cloves
  • ¾ c. raisins
  • 4 oz. (½ small container) candied orange peel
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 750ml bottle port (ruby or tawny)
  • 1 750ml bottle cabernet sauvignon
  • 1 750ml bottle brandy
  • 1½ c. granulated sugar
  • ½ c. brown sugar

Combine the water, cardamom seeds, cloves, raisins, candied orange peel, and cinnamon in a covered saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for at least 4 hours.

Strain into a large saucepan. Add the port, cabernet sauvignon, and brandy. Bring just to a hearty simmer. Remove from heat. DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL.

Meanwhile place a 2-quart saucepan, or my personal favorite, a small cast iron fry-pan over medium-high heat until the pan is warm, not hot. Add the sugar and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until all the sugar has melted. (The sugar syrup will take on a light golden brown as it melts.) Pour syrup very slowly into the large pot with spices and liquor, stirring constantly as you pour. The sugar syrup will sputter and harden when it touches the hot liquid, but will dissolve again very quickly. Add the brown sugar and stir until it too is completely dissolved. Let glögg cool before decanting into bottles. Serve very warm. Best served with ginger cookies, especially Speculaas. (Recipe on site.)

 

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP SHORTBREAD COOKIES

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I have been making these chocolate chip shortbread cookies now for several years. And why is it that I am only now getting around to posting this recipe after 2 full years of blogging, you ask? Well, the answer is quite simple. One who is addicted to something should stay away from that “something” as much as possible. And these cookies for me are a major “something”. I mean truly, what’s not to love? They are rich and buttery, not too sweet, and they contain chocolate! Plus they are ever so easy to build, and they keep well in an airtight container. Perfect, right?

So next time you need cookies for a bake sale, a special occasion, or as a gift for someone you truly like, bake up a batch of these babies. Warning: Don’t give them to someone you don’t truly care for. You will never be able to get rid of them, and I doubt that was ever your original intention! (You simply must be judicious when it comes to handing out these cookies willy-nilly!)

And truly, they are a snap to make. And if you don’t have a few different sized ice cream scoops (the ones with a lever) for scooping out balls of cookie dough (they also work for ice cream incidentally), now is the time to place your order with Santa. Because as everyone knows, Santa loves cookies more than anyone! (God knows he eats enough of them on Christmas Eve!) So how in the name of his favorite reindeer could he ever refuse your request? Just sayin’!

So happy baking everyone and Merry Christmas to all. Ho Ho Ho

  • 1 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 c. powdered sugar + more for dusting/sprinkling
  • 1 tsp. salt (only ½ tsp. salt if you use salted butter)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. mini chocolate chips

Cream butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, and flour. Mix only until blended. Do not overmix. Add chocolate chips. Using a small ice cream scoop, drop balls on an ungreased baking sheet a scant 2-inches apart. Flatten balls slightly with the bottom of a small drinking glass. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until the bottom is a nice golden brown. Don’t under-bake. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle/dust* with powdered sugar while still warm. When completely cooled, store in an air-tight container.

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Cookies just out of the oven and ready for their powdered sugar dusting.

*An easy way to sprinkle/dust powdered sugar is to place a small amount in a fine mesh strainer and then shake the strainer over whatever you wish to decorate. This same technique works well with cocoa for chocolate dusting. 

PEPPERMINT CANDY AND CHOCOLATE CHIP BISCOTTI

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If there is a flavor combination that screams Christmas louder than peppermint and chocolate, I truly don’t know what it is. So when I decided that a biscotti would be perfect for my coffee based theme for my adult children’s Christmas goody package this year, I came up with this recipe.

Now, to be honest, I usually do include either a cookie or a candy with this winning combination. But this year the lure of combining peppermint candy (good peppermint candy that is) and chocolate in a dunkable biscotti was just too overwhelming to even consider one of my regular alternatives. Besides, I knew I would be making our perennial favorite, Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies (recipe to come in a few days) for my good friends Jim and Margo for Christmas anyway. I simply have no choice. I didn’t make them last Christmas, and Jim hasn’t failed to mention my neglectful omission even once this entire past year! Also closer to Christmas I will be making Peppermint Bark. I also plan to post this candy recipe in the near future.

Other mint and chocolate favorites already on this site include Double Chocolate Mint Cookies, combination number 4 under Christmas Refrigerator Shortbread Cookies, and Grasshopper Brownies.

So while you are considering which cookies and candies to make for your family and friends this holiday season, think about preparing one of these recipes. And for those hard to gift people like your spouse’s uncle, your boss, or your brother-in-law who has everything but expects to be given something, a simple bag of gourmet coffee beans and a pretty bag of these biscotti is sure to win you points. (Even if it doesn’t win you points, it’s an easy solution. And we all need easy solutions at this hectic time of year! Think of it as your Christmas present to yourself.)

Enjoy the holidays my friends.

  • ¾ c. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ c. granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. good peppermint extract
  • 3¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. crushed peppermint soft mint candy, like See’s, King Leo, or Bob’s Sweet Stripes
  • ½ c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or ½ cup chopped regular chocolate chips
  • melted white chocolate, milk chocolate, or semi-sweet chocolate for drizzle, opt.

In your mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the crushed peppermint candy and the chocolate chips. Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, beating only until blended. Using your hands liberally greased with butter, divide the dough in half. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, pat each half into a 12 x 2½-inch rectangle. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Carefully remove the loaves to wire cooling racks and cool for 15 minutes.

On a cutting board, cut the loaves at an angle into ¾-inch thick slices. Place the slices back on the parchment paper lined baking sheet(s) cut side down. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely on wire rack before drizzling with melted chocolate if desired. (I usually don’t decorate them because I’m lazy, and frankly they are sweet enough already. But if you are making them as a gift, a chocolate drizzle is a lovely touch.) Store in an airtight container.

 

BOURBON PECAN BARS

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Some of us, at least my husband and I, love pecan pie. And pecan pie is always welcome on Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least with our extended family. But invariably, on these occasions, there are several other wonderful desserts from which to choose. (Not complaining here you understand!) So a few years ago I decided that bar cookies that basically contained the same ingredients as our favorite pies was the way to go. First of all, bar cookies are much easier to make. But the main reason I thought about preparing them was that then I could sample all the desserts if I could have just a small portion of each. (Remember, it’s really just all about me!) And if you have ever tried to cut a pie into 14 pieces, you know that it is darned near impossible. The likelihood of placing anything that even remotely resembles a slice of pie onto someone’s plate after you have basically cut the pie to ribbons is highly unlikely. But a cute little 1-inch square of a bar cookie is fairly easy to manage. Plus it’s just darling to look at. (Remember, points for presentation!)

Now I am not saying that you should give up baking pies. That after all would border on sacrilege! And I have to admit, some types of pie are easier to cut into tiny slices than others. Pumpkin pie, for example, is fairly easy to cut into thin wedges. Apple pie, not so much.

So this Thanksgiving, I decided to try a new pecan bar recipe instead of preparing my regular pecan pie bar recipe that is already on this site. (Chewy Pecan Cookie Bars) Both are delicious, and absolutely perfect for the holidays.

So while you are thinking about what desserts to serve on Christmas Eve, Christmas day, or for New Year’s, consider a pie bar instead of a regular pie. You will be very surprised how well they are received by your friends and family.

Other bar cookie recipes on this site include Pumpkin Pie Bars with Bourbon-Caramel Whipped Cream, Apple Pie Bars, Mincemeat Bars with Brandy Whipped Cream, and Chocolate and Pecan Toffee Bars. They too are delicious and can be cut into almost bite size pieces.

Other desserts on this site that are also perfect for the holidays – Nantucket Cranberry Cake, Flourless Orange Chocolate Cake, Baba Au Rhum, Dried Cranberry and Almond Braided Danish, and Eggnog Bundt Cake.

Whatever you prepare, have fun doing so. And remember – if the dessert comes from your kitchen, or from the kitchen of one of your family members or friends, it is sure to be better than anything you can buy. After all, it was made with love. And isn’t that really what the holidays are all about? Peace to all this holiday season and happy baking.

Crust:

  • 1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ c. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, cut into ½‑inch pieces and chilled

Filling:

  • ½ c. packed dark or light brown sugar
  • 1/3 c. light corn syrup
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 T. bourbon
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 lg. egg, room temperature
  • 1¾ c. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Crust instructions:

Process flour, sugar, pecans, salt, and baking powder together in food processor until combined, about five pulses. Sprinkle butter over top and pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal, about eight pulses. Lightly butter an 8×8-inch pan (glass preferably). Pour mixture into prepared pan and press into even layer with your fingers. Bake crust in a pre-heated 325 degree oven (for glass), 350 degrees (for metal) until fragrant and beginning to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and spread filling evenly over crust and sprinkle with pecans. Bake bars until top is  golden brown and cracks start to form across surface, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.

Set pan on wire rack and let bars cool completely, about two hours. Cut into desired size pieces.

Filling Directions:

While the crust is baking, whisk sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, bourbon, vanilla, and salt together in large bowl until sugar dissolves. Whisk in egg until combined. Pour over baked crust.

Thank you Americas Test Kitchen for this wonderful recipe.

DRIED CRANBERRY AND ALMOND BRAIDED DANISH

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I love to bake bread, especially specialty breads. And this lovely braided creation is no exception. Even the precarious step of transferring the 2 lengths of cut dough to the baking pan is my kind of fun. (And yes, I know I have a warped sense of what’s actually “fun”!) It’s just that it is such an exciting challenge to see if I can actually perform this task when it appears that the bread is just aching for the chance to jump out of my hands and land “jelly side down” on the floor. But I was given some advice, maybe the most important advice I ever received regarding working with food, from a cake decorating instructor I had many years ago. (I’ll tell you why I took the class after I finish telling you about my instructors’ sage advice. Don’t let me forget.)

Anyway, she said, and I quote (not quite verbatim of course because it was 30 plus years ago) – “always remember, you are a human being and have a brain; whatever ingredient or ingredients you are working with are inert and if they ever had even the tiniest of brains, like a pig or a chicken, it’s gone by the time you get it under your fingers. Therefore fear not, You Are in Charge!”

OK, so maybe those weren’t even close to the words my instructor used. She only informed us that any boo-boo made while building a wedding cake can be fixed by the judicious use of frosting. I just naturally took it to the next logical level. And I have kept it at that level ever since.

Food ingredients are inanimate. They can’t fight back, and even though it might feel like an ingredient or group of ingredients is being extremely recalcitrant, I’ve learned to not take it personally. I just get even. I wrestle the ingredient(s) until I have it or them under my thumb. (You too are welcome to adopt my very practical approach to working with food.) So where was I? Oh yes. Why I took a cake decorating class.

Our extended family decided we would cater the appetizer and cake reception for our good friend Jim’s wedding to Margo, the girl of his dreams (and ours too if truth be told). Fixing the appetizers was no problem. We had all been fixing party food for years. However, none of us had ever baked, let alone decorated a wedding cake. So my good friend Dodie and I decided to take a class. We did, we did, and the food was. We did take a class, we did bake 2 wedding cakes, and all the food including the cake was a success. Now I know you are asking yourself what all this has to do with a braided Danish? It has nothing to do with a Danish per se, but in practicality, it’s my way of reminding you not to be afraid of any recipe just because it might look a bit intimidating. And I have to admit, braiding this bread is a bit of a pain. But so what? Paying taxes or going to the dentist is no walk in the park either. Just think of it as an adventure and know that the rewards will be ever so worth the effort.

So next time you need a beautiful breakfast bread, give this recipe a go. Just put on your best “Atilla the Hun” persona, and manhandle the dough like you have been building this bread since you were 14 years old. You are in charge! Power to the people!

Bread Dough:

  • 1 scant T. or 1 pkg. active dry yeast
  • ¼ c. warm water
  • ½ c. warm milk
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 4 T. (½ stick) un-salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour (more or less)
  • canola oil

Cranberry-Almond Filling:

  • ¾ c. dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/3 c. brandy
  • 6 T. butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ c. finely chopped almonds
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. almond extract

Powdered Sugar Glaze:

  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 T. brandy (use the leftover brandy from re-hydrating the dried cranberries or cherries)

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it proof for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, and eggs. Stir to mix. Add three cups of the flour, one cup at a time. Beat for 2 minutes after each addition. Add enough remaining flour, a small amount at a time, until you have a soft dough. Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Pour a little oil over the dough and roll up into a ball with your hands, making certain the dough is completely covered with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours. Meanwhile prepare the filling.

Place the dried cranberries and brandy in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir the cranberries and let them cool. Drain the dried fruit reserving the liquid to use in the glaze. In a small bowl, combine the drained fruit, butter, flour, almonds, sugar, and almond extract. Set aside.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and place it on a lightly floured board, kneading just enough to release any air bubbles. Roll the dough into a 9×30-inch rectangle. Crumble the filling over the dough to within 1-inch of the edges.

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Starting on a long side, tightly roll up the dough, (just like for cinnamon rolls) pinching together to seal. With a sharp knife, cut roll in half lengthwise. Carefully transfer each half (cut side up) to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Loosely twist the halves around each other, keeping cut sides up.

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(And you’re right, not an easy step.) Shape into a round, pinching the ends together to seal. Let it rise, uncovered, in a warm place for about 45 minutes.

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Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. While the bread is baking, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved brandy and set aside.

When the bread is done baking, remove it to a rack to cool, pan and all. Let it sit for a few minutes then drizzle the glaze over the warm bread. Allow to cool completely before serving. Best served the day prepared. Based on a recipe on the kitchn.com website.

Note:For Christmas, decorate with red and green candied cherries and holly.