I was this close to posting a new recipe when I started getting a flurry of email about Christmas cookies (baking time, shelf life, etc…). It made me realize that if I did not start on my own Christmas baking soon, no one in the family would get their present.
For the past ten years, we have bagged the idea of buying presents for Bill’s family and we give each (friends too) a big box filled with homemade cookies, truffles, confections. (Click on this link to see a sample look). Depending on the recipient we also include a couple of movie tickets, a coffee shop card, a babysitting pass, a gas card or two…you get the idea.
I personally don’t mind doing all that baking, sends me back to my days as a pastry chef getting ready for the holidays. I also like that on Christmas Eve, it’s Bill and I boxing it all up, labeling everything and of course…sampling the broken pieces.
Here are all the goodies going in the gift boxes this year, recipes gleaned from my archives and from all around the blogs I read and enjoy.
– Chocolate Fudge from Baked Bree
– Spritz Cookies from Rasa Malaysia
– White Christmas Meringues from Jul’s Kitchen
– Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies from Brown Eyed Baker
– English Toffee from The Little Red House
– Speculaas Cookies from Gluten Free Canteen
– Key Lime Meltaways from Smitten Kitchen
– Pistachio Cocoa Nib Cookies
– Dark Chocolate Truffles
– Honey Walnut Cake (in mini muffin from this time)
Maybe this will give you an idea for a last minute baking spree!
In addition, as my Christmas gift to you, I am giving away one copy of Girl Hunter by Georgia Pellegrini and two copies of "Plate To Pixel. Digital Food Photography and Styling". Funny to think I was right in the deep of writing it this time last year and now it is in its third printing! Third!! Woohoo! Thanks everyone for the support and love for this book.
Anyway…Three books, three winners!
All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this post (no anonymous, no double entry). A winner will be selected on Christmas Day at 10pm and announced shortly after.
In the midst of all the Christmas preparations in our kitchen and I am sure in yours, I wanted to take the time to wish you a very Merry Christmas and plenty of joy and happiness this holiday season.
In my family we celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with two big dinners. In B’s family, it’s only Christmas Day. His is small-ish, mine is big. Huge actually. Nowadays, we are doing a bit of both even if I am not home and he indulges me in some of my traditions, like the Provencal 13 desserts and listening to "La Pastorale des Santons de Provence". Yes, baby Jesus was born in Provence and his parents spoke with the accent. You didn’t know?! No Christmas is complete without it and in the 30 something years I have been around, I have had plenty of time to learn each character by heart.
Until my grandmother passed away, Christmas Eve dinner was held at my grandparents' house after church and we would go *all* out. Christmas Day’s traditions were a bit more low key as it was the "in-laws" day, meaning my uncles and ant would go visit their in laws during the day and come back for dinner. Those who were without in-laws would make their way to my parents' house for lunch for macaroni, butter, parmesan and a plate of charcuterie. Came 8pm and we would have a Christmas Day dinner usually revolving around a buffet of regional delicacies.
One of our holiday traditions is to make a visit to our favorite chocolatiers, "Les Chocolats Colas" in the town of Maule. True chocolate artists making the most intricate as well as delicious chocolate creations. We usually get a few pieces to take home but we really go there for their chocolat chaud. More like ganache chaude really. Indeed, the chocolate is so rich and so thick that it is served in small espresso cups. Trust me, that is plenty. Strong, spiced just right and silky all the way down to your toes.
As part of my holiday rituals of listening to La Pastorale while baking, I always make sure to fix us a batch of hot chocolate albeit a little lighter than the one we have at the Colas chocolate shop when we go home. B. likes to have a handful of marshmallows in his hot chocolate but I really find store bought ones to be tasteless and gritty. Ok, so they can be gooey mess, marshmallows are so easy to make at home, it’s worth it trying them at least once.
Both recipes for our favorite creamy and rich hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows after the bump.
Tonight’s dinner will be with some of our closest friends around some French regional delicacies. Low key, reflective and quiet. Just what I like.
Thank you for your readership throughout the years. You cry and laugh with me and everytime I come here and spill some goodies, I feel like having coffee with some good friends. Thank you!
6 oz (180gr) semisweet chocolate (chips or chopped)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
pinch of ground cloves
Place the chocolate in a large bowl. Set aside.
In a large saucepan set over medium heat, bring the milk and cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and slowly pour the hot liquid over the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for 2 minutes then slowly whisk the mixture until completely smooth. add the spices, stir and serve with the marshmallows.
1/4 cup (60ml) water
1/4 cup (60ml) light corn syrup
3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 whole vanilla bean, split open and seeded
Line a 8X8 baking pan with plastic wrap. Spray lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with some cornstarch, shake the excess off.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites. Add the vanilla seeds and continue whipping until stiff. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and let set 24 hours at room temperature. Unmold and cut squares with a hot knife.
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! Joyeux Noel!
Christmas Eve was low key here, assembling filling boxes after boxes of baked goods and preparing for dinner with the family today.
Each year I put together a variety of treats and B. helps with the wrapping and of course tasting "reject" cookies. Pistachio and cocoa nibs cookies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter fudge, key lime meltaways, brownies, sables cookies, homemade marshmallows, truffles and salted butter caramel popcorn.
Even though I would not mind starting with dessert, there is duck on the menu this year with a sausage and chestnut stuffing, sweet potato casserole, greens beans with pancetta, and wild rice. Dessert ? Well, I’ll tell you more about this weekend…promise!
We finished decorating the tree just the other night and I just love sitting in the dark looking at it. The magic of Christmas…a time for reflection and cheers, joy and remembrance…
…and also of a little fun….Looks like Santa had his clothes dry on time to visit everybody…down to his suspenders!
All the best to you!
Buches de Noel also known as Yule Logs were the challenge given by Lisa and Ivonne, founders and co-host this month of the Daring Bakers. I think they just had the perverted idea to see us buttered, creamed and rolled in light genoise, Swiss buttercream, decorated in meringue and flavorful Marzipan. You should not that when I talk in those terms it can only be because they gave us an awesome challenge! Did I mentioned I buttercreamed my hair? Hmm, yeah…what I thought was the first gray hair was just a streak of buttercream from picking up the phone, lifting my glasses up and frosting my hair with a fork full of buttercream. See, they even raise my blood pressure…those two I tell you!!
Buche de Noel is ancient tradition in my family, and I think for most European families as well. Wasn’t too long after I figured out how to make genoise that yes, it could be filld, and yes it could be rolled and “oh my!” before you know it I was making it for our Christmas dinner. Over the years, there were the traditional stump looking one, with flavors just as traditional: chestnuts, chocolate, caramel, coffee. One year I decided to make a pink and purple one to match the table setting (not Grandma’s favorite!). We also had the genius frozen one that required 6 hands and an electric knife for proper dissection! Yeah, not an event I wish to revisit. Buche de Noel, how do I love thee….well ask me next Tuesday when I am done making them for family, church, friends and strangers. Ok, so they pay me, still…I like when Yule Log season starts, I also like when it ends.
This time our instructions were to do a light genoise, fill and frost it with preferably coffee Swiss buttercream, so as to prevent any white/red/green/blue logs (how did they find out about my childhood one is still a mystery J) although options were given for those who did not like coffee. Requirements for decorations were either meringue or marzipan mushrooms.
It turned I needed two logs within days of each other so instead of visiting the recipe twice, I went ahead and made double batches of everything. I have long ago learned that December is the most hectic month of the year in which days are 12 hour long instead of 24…yep, really and although I am a night owl I have also seen too many sunrises this month with buttercream in my eyes? Did I mention I tried it as eye shadow one night I still had someone the back of my hand and went to rub my eyes?
So, here was my game plan and you can see executed in the pictures:
Log # 1: Coffee – Burnt Orange
– burnt orange genoise: instead of mixing orange zest in the batter, I scattered it on top and put the tray in a hot oven. The zest got darker but nor bitter.
– Once cooled, I brushed the cake with a Grand Marnier simple syrup
– Coffee Swiss meringue for the frosting where I dissolved the coffee with Grand Marnier instead of the brandy called for in the recipe. (French meringue is egg whites whipped firm with sugar, Italian is hot syrup drizzled over whipped egg whites and continuing whipping until is cools, Swiss is egg whites and sugar brought to 140F over double boiler then whipped until cooled)
– Filling: Orange Confit Coffee Mousse; part coffee buttercream, part whipped cream with added coffee and bits of orange confit scattered in it. Some broken meringue mushroom pieces for a crunch
– Decorations: Meringue mushrooms called for in the recipe and then I needed to challenge my sculpting skills so I made a marzipan teddy bear (Theodore), a red hatted snowman (Albert) and green hatted snowman (Truman). Lisa challenge me to a moose which turned out looking like a donkey so I ate it…I am evil, I know!
Log #2: Chocolate – Vanilla Crème Brulee – Chocolate Sauce
That’s where I challenged myself and the log almost won: I had the crazy idea that it would be cool to have a layer of vanilla bean crème brulee inside the Yule Log. How was I going to come up with that? I made a classic brulee batter, threw in some gelatin, poured it into a sheet pan and let it set in the fridge. Rolling that thing in the cake proved to be a challenge as the set batter had only one thing in mind, escape!! But I stepped away, took a deep breath and rolled again, tighter this time,and closed the thing shut.
– genoise was left plain, with some vanilla in there for good measure
– layer of chocolate ganache, layer of chocolate buttercream, layer of vanilla crème brulee
– chocolate buttercream to cover it all
– decorations: I drew rounds on top of the log with a glass and carefully spooned out some of the cream, filled the indentation was homemade chocolate sauce. That way the log comes with its own sauce and everybody get a little extra chocolate!
The final testing for that one will be Tuesday, for now it is parked in the freezer, well wrapped, hoping I don’t crush it with a bag of cauliflower! Did I mention I also buttercreamed my dog? My spatula was overloaded, he yapped, I turned abruptly and a big dollop landed on his snout. He spent ten minutes chasing it around, on its own nose…a sight to be seen!
The cake was light and airy and the buttercream smooth and oh so good sandwiched in between chocolate shortbread cookies! I had a blast, as you can see by the pictures and should you want the recipe, check either Lisa or Ivonne for the full lowdown. I am having issues with blogger so not posting the recipe just yet. Make yourself a good cup of coffee and check out all the beautiful logs out there.
Are you ready for Christmas? I am not, but my kitchen is! My oven has been rehearsing its favorite carols and humming a happy Christmas Cookie song. You don’t know the Christmas Cookie song? Goes something like this:
"99 Christmas Cookies in the jar, 99 Christmas Cookies in the jar. Take one down and pass it around, 98 Christmas Cookies in the jar.
98 Christmas Cookies in the jar, 98 Christmas Cookies in the jar. Take one down and pass it around, 97 Christmas Cookies in the jar.
No Christmas Cookies in the jar.
Crank the oven on and bake some more, 99 Christmas Cookies in the jar."
And now you know how I get through an entire weekend of baking for us, the neighbors, the family, the friends, clients and patrons. Cookies, macarons, truffles, you name it. My fridge and freezer look like some kind of nut case replaced all food groups by just one, sugar. It leans towards that trend the other months of the year, but really I had a chuckle earlier when I reached for the veggies I needed to make ratatouille. I need to start making my holiday boxes and deliver/mail them soon or I am going to break down and start eating them all!
I like to include a variety of down home treats like chocolate chip cookies, marshmallows, biscotti, and more delicate things like truffles, macarons, madeleines, etc… I like bringing my heritage into a bit of everyday style baking. I know I am not the only one and I love all the family recipes popping around on blogs during the holidays. I am learning so much about holiday traditions from other countries and other people. It’s like food traveling somewhere new everyday. Thanks to all of you out there sharing with me/us. And if you wish to find a list of tried and true Christmas Cookie recipes, visit Susan’s Food Blogga blog where these Pistachio Cocoa Nibs ccokies are heading for her Christmas Cookies From Around The World Event.
Now here is a recipe I tried recently that I think will become a regular in the Christmas cookie repertoire. I found it while reading one of my favorite blogs "Cake On The Brain". Her posts are funny, from the heart and always challenging her self and the way I think about things I deal with everyday. Sometimes I feel jaded by the world I bake for: catering, restaurant, private parties,etc… Her fresh and vibrant perspectives recharge my battery quite often. Go look at her latest macaron creation…with grated dried raspberry on top…how ingenious!! The original recipe is from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet calling for pecans, cocoa nibs and bourbon, which she adapted and which I adapted a little also by using pistachios and Cognac. The result, a delicate crumb, a punch from the cocoa nibs (thanks Lisa for the stash) and a little flavor from home with the Cognac.
Makes about 2 dozens
1 cup raw skinned pistachios, finely chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tb. Cognac
Combine the butter and sugar, in bowl of electric mixer and beat on high speed until smooth and creamy (1 minute). Add the vanilla and Cognac. Beat in the pistachios and cocoa nibs. Add all the flour at once. Beat on low speed until flour is incorporated.
Form dough into 12-inch log about 2 inches thick. Wrap in parchment and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. At this point you can freeze the log for up to 3 months.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges. Let cookies firm up on the pans for about 1 minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Try to save some for the day after, they taste even better 24 hours later. The cookies can be stored in airtight container for at least 1 month.
Two more very important things:
The first one is a shameless plug for a friend: Hannah from Bittersweet just published her first book, My Sweet Vegan.
I am among the lucky few to have received a preview copy and I have to tell you to run and get it, regardless of your dietary preferences. I am not a vegan and yet I am wowed by the delicious recipes she wrote. I made her Lemon Lime Sunshine Bundt cake last night and could not stop nibbling on it all day long. Congratulations on your first book Hannah and I can’t wait to see what is up next!
The second one is to tell you about Menu for Hope. Although I realised too late the deadline to send in a participation item, I still urge you to go and donate. The amount raised will go to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa.