Archive for the ‘Holiday sweets’ Category



For Christmas I always make some form of homemade food present for my friends and family. The first year of my adulthood I made tins full of Christmas cookies. I loved the process of setting aside two days close to Christmas and turning my kitchen upside down with 10-12 different types of cookies. It felt so festive. I kept the cookie tins going for a few years, but eventually job responsibilities took over and I began to have less and less time to bake close to the holidays.

This year I needed an idea that was easy to execute and not as perishable as cookies, since I would be seeing different groups of people at different times. The answer – Extracts! I wanted to make my own extracts for a few years now but had never tried.

For Christmas 2012, I made vanilla and peppermint extracts. This is a great gift for the holidays, or any time of year. It’s incredibly easy and will definitely impress the recipient. It just requires some advance thinking, as the brewing process takes 4-8 weeks. I purchased small bottles from Amazon and made my own labels. If you’re giving these away as gifts, I would recommend using one or two ounce bottles. Amazon is also a great place to purchase vanilla beans.

For your friends who are more adventurous in the kitchen, you can easily vary this base recipe to make orange or lemon extracts by using the peel of the fruit or nut extracts by using whole, skinned nuts. The sky is the limit!

Vanilla Extract
Makes 1 ½ cups of extract, or enough to fill two small mason jars

Ingredients / equipment
8 vanilla beans
1 ½ cups of your favorite vodka (I used Svedka)
2 small mason jars with lids

To make the extract
Split each vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the beans. Add the beans and bean stems of 4 vanilla beans to each mason jar. Split the vodka between two mason jars, filling each with approximately ¾ cup. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark cabinet for 4-8 weeks. Shake the jars a few times a week to redistribute the flavor.

Peppermint Extract
Makes 1 ½ cups of extract, or enough to fill two small mason jars

Ingredients / equipment
Bunch of fresh mint leaves
1 ½ cups of your favorite vodka (I used Svedka)
2 small mason jars with lids

To make the extract
Bruise a handful of the fresh mint leaves by roughly pulling the leaves apart with your fingers. Fill each mason jar about ¾ of the way with the leaves. Split the vodka between two mason jars, filling each with approximately ¾ cup of vodka. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark cabinet for 4-8 weeks. Shake the jars a few times a week to redistribute the flavor.



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Frothy eggnog and warm madeleine cookies

Christmas is almost here!  Can you believe it?  I finally had a few minutes to soak up the season this weekend and jumped at the opportunity to make homemade eggnog and admire my Christmas tree.

Making eggnog at home is easy and fun. I started out with this basic recipe from Martha Stewart and made some changes along the way to create the recipe below.

This was actually the first time I’ve made eggnog from scratch.  I’ve enjoyed homemade eggnog many times, and wow, there is nothing like it. It was fun to finally make it at home and add my own personal touch. I thought I’d share my story and the recipe I used, which turned out to be a big success.

You can make eggnog with raw or cooked eggs. I prefer eggnog with raw eggs, but both versions are delicious. It’s really just depends on your preference. One thing I’ve learned in culinary school is that while the eggs in the below recipe are technically raw, the sugar breaks down and cooks the yolks, while the presence of liquor (should account for approximately 20% of the eggnog) inhibits bacteria growth.  If you prefer to cook the eggs and create an eggnog custard, here is a good recipe.

Merry Christmas!

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 12

6 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup spiced or dark rum
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon allspice

In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat yolks until thick and pale yellow, 2-3 minutes.  Slowly beat in sugar.  Slowly whisk in milk and 2 cups cream.  Add bourbon, rum, and brandy. Cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Just before serving, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whites into the eggnog.  Beat the remaining 1 cup cream until stiff peaks form, and fold 3/4 of the whipped cream into the eggnog.  Ladle the eggnog into a decorative class and top with a dollop of whipped cream and light sprinkle of nutmeg.


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Christmas cookies and Hanukkah doughnuts are no more.  Your future involves a dense and flavorful cake filled with goodies like nuts, fruit and plastic babies… 

Also known as the Twelfth Night Cake or Epiphany Cake, the King Cake is a January tradition that is today associated with the festival of Epiphany and offers eaters a glimpse of their fortune for the New Year.  It traditionally makes its debut on January 6, (when the three wise men visited baby Jesus, 12 days after his birth) but can really be served anytime from January to March.

The King Cake can take many forms, from brioche twists and fluffy puff pastry to a more dense fruit cake, and is most popular in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyrus and Bulgaria.  Here in the U.S., the King Cake is widely celebrated as part of Mardi gras traditions in New Orleans.  Learn more about international variations here.

Colored sugar or frosting in purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power) sits atop the cake and a small plastic baby, who represents baby Jesus, is baked inside.  The person who receives the lucky piece of cake with the baby is rumored to have the best fortune in the coming year, and is obligated to buy or make next year’s cake.

Below are a few great King Cake recipes and photos that I hope inspire you to try out this fun tradition.  Happy New Year!

Traditional American King Cake

Lenten King Cake

King cupcakes

La Galette des Rois (French King Cake)

A few recipes worth trying…

John Besh’s King Cake

Emeril’s King Cake

Dorie Greenspan’s Galette des Rois

Mardi gras King Cake with cream cheese filling

Andrea’s King Cake with fruit and cream cheese filling

Gluten-Free King Cake

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Mini nutmeg doughnuts

Happy Hanukkah!  To celebrate this festival of lights, I brought these mini nutmeg doughnuts to my sister’s Hanukkah party this weekend for dessert.  Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods  – making latkes and fried dough popular choices.

The below recipe was adapted Saveur and it makes a fluffy, cake-light doughnut with well-balanced flavor.  They are great paired with your favorite ice cream (pumpkin anyone?).  You can also skip the sugar coating and opt for an orange glaze by mixing confectioner’s sugar with a little fresh orange juice (or use this recipe).

Not to worry, there isn’t enough nutmeg in the recipe to make you hallucinate…for those of you don’t know about nutmeg’s magical powers, click here.

Nutmeg Doughnuts

3 1/2 cups flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 1/2 tbsp. freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg is fine too)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1 egg white
1 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Canola oil, for frying

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 2/3 cup sugar, 1.5 tbsp nutmeg, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together egg and egg white until frothy. Whisk in buttermilk and butter. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients to form dough.

Dough will be sticky.  Mix in extra flour, as needed to get a nice consistency.  Transfer dough to a floured surface and gently roll to 1/2″ thickness.

Using a floured doughnut cutter, cut out doughnuts and holes and place them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.  Chill doughnut cutouts in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Combine cinnamon with remaining sugar and nutmeg in a pie plate (or shallow bowl) and set aside.

Pour oil into a 6-qt. Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Working in small batches, fry doughnuts and holes, turning halfway throuh, until golden brown, 2 minutes for doughnuts and 1 minute for holes.  Using tongs, transfer doughnuts to a wire rack to drain. Place warm doughnuts and holes in the sugar mixture to coat.

Some other Hanukkah treats…


Kugel with raisins

Cardamom carrots

Chag Chanuka Sameach!

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It’s Cyber Monday, which means Thanksgiving is over and it’s on to the festive holidays that make up December.  But before the sugar plums come calling, I’m still dreaming of Thanksgiving treats.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the amazing food I spent last week gobbling up…

Apple cornbread stuffing with raisins

Fluffy white mashed potatoes

Clove cranberry sauce

Aunt Ethel's dinner rolls

Roasted Brussel sprouts

Baked sweet potatoes in a brown sugar sauce

The main course

Apple cream cheese crumb pie

Chocolate pumpkin joconde cake

Chocolate pumpkin joconde cake

Ahhh…can’t wait until next year!

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Apple Crisp served with maple pecan ice cream and a honey drizzle

I love apple pie, but I think I may love apple crisp even more.  It’s something about that crunchy topping mixed with those soft, spicy apples that seems to make the perfect dessert.

The best thing about apple crisp is it’s EASY.  For those of you that think baking is hard, make this.  There is no pie crust needed, which means no folding, rolling or fitting temperamental dough into a pie plate.  Apple crisp is about the apples and crisp, and that’s it.

Now about those apples, everyone has their apple loyalties.  My grandmother, for instance, will only bake with Cortland apples.  Others may prefer Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji or even Braeburn.  For pies and crisps, I like to use a mix of apples, which creates a nice balance of tart, sweet and juicy varieties.  At most farms and markets I would recommend buying the “mix” basket.

Here’s an easy and flavorful apple crisp recipe that’s great served warm and topped with your favorite ice cream or gelato.  I served this to my dad recently with a heaping scoop of homemade maple pecan ice cream and a honey drizzle. Luckily, he was able to get it all down.  : )

November Apple Crisp

6 large apples (variety mix)
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt

To make the apples:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish with butter or cooking spray and set aside.

Peel and core the apples, thinly slice them and place them in a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the apples and toss the apples to keep them from browning. Add the white sugar, 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg and toss together, evenly coating the apples. Pour the apple mixture into the prepared 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

Spiced apples in pan

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, oats, remaining 1/2 cup of flour, brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, ginger and salt using a pastry cutter or two forks. Combine until it becomes clumpy. Place topping mix over apples in baking dish, evenly covering them.

Ready for the oven!

Put in preheated oven and bake for one hour, or until the topping is golden brown.

Ta da!

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