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Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake
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In my neurotic holiday menu planning mind, no holiday celebration would be complete without a killer cheesecake.  Now, for the past 4 years, I have lived and breathed for the tall and creamy cheesecake.  For a “plain” cheesecake, there is no comparison whatsoever.  But I think I’ve scared Kyle this year.  I’ve taken away his security of the tall and creamy and replaced it with two other cheesecakes this holiday season.  There has been no inkling of disappointment though.

This cappuccino fudge cheesecake is completely over the top.  Its chocolate cookie crust is covered with a layer of fudgy ganache followed by a smooth cappuccino cheesecake filling and a sour cream topping, then finally some extra ganache and chocolate-covered espresso beans to pretty the whole thing up.  Rich, decadent, breathtaking.  Even with the thinnest of slices – I cut 1-inch slices – you’ll need plenty of extra room in your belly to handle this cheesecake.  If you’re a coffee- or cappuccino-anything lover like my entire family is, you cannot possibly go wrong with this dessert.

Holiday Treat Ideas
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Whether you’re stuffing your treat packages, decorating the tree, heading to a cookie swap, or hopping from one holiday party to another, here are some fabulous homemade treat ideas for you!  I also pulled a few of our favorite cookies together last week for quick access in the sidebar column to the right so be sure to check ‘em out.  Merry Merry!

Cakes, Pies & Tarts:

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

Black & White Cranberry Tarts

Black & White Cranberry Tarts

Chocolate Truffle Tart

Chocolate Truffle Tart

Grasshopper Pie

Grasshopper Pie

Cookies & Brownies:

Lofthouse Style Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

Lofthouse-Style Soft Sugar Cookies

Orange Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti

Orange Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti

Peppermint Brownies

Peppermint Brownies

Chocolate Dipped Orange Butter Cookies

Chocolate-Dipped Orange Butter Cookies

Candy & Confections:
Baileys Marshmallows

Bailey’s Marshmallows

Homemade Peppermint Patties

Peppermint Patties

Orangettes

Orangettes

Sea Salt Caramel Corn

Sea Salt Caramel Corn

Drinks:

Cranberry Lime Champange Bellinis

Cranberry Lime Champagne Bellinis

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

The Packaging:

Treat Packaging Ideas

Putting it All Together

Red Velvet and Strawberry Trifles with Cheesecake Filling
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Red Velvet and Strawberry Trifles with Cheesecake Filling

For the most part, Kyle and I agree on pretty much everything that comes out of our kitchen.  It makes for pretty easy living in this house and loads of fun when I menu plan and decide on what kind of sweets to bake.  The only recent exception to this lovely mutually agreeable relationship is cream cheese frosting.  While I can eat the tangy frosting with a spoon, Kyle can take it or leave it.  And yet I keep making it not because I forget how he feels about it, but because I think I can change his mind with different recipes.  It never works.

Red Velvet and Strawberry Trifles with Cheesecake Filling

So when I made red velvet cupcakes last weekend, I ended up with a few extra frosted cupcakes and a moment of panic about what to do with them since I knew Kyle wasn’t about to bring Valentine’s cupcakes to his construction site at work.  It took me all of about .2 seconds to decide what needed to be done: repurpose them!  I scraped off the frosting (did you really just question what happened to it?), cubed up the cupcakes, sliced some fresh strawberries, and pulled together a no-bake cheesecake filling for some Valentine’s Day trifles.  And when I tell you that we both swooned with the first bite, I’m not kidding.  The silky filling has a touch of lemon that blends perfectly with the strawberries and soaks into the cake layers after a day-long refrigeration, resulting in a decadent and brightly-flavored dessert that would make the perfect ending to any sort of Valentine’s Day celebration.  We were hoping to celebrate this year in our new home but after another delay (?!*$), these trifles will be the perfect way to be celebrate how happy we are together, regardless of the situation.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
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Red Velvet Cupcakes

It’s known far and wide around the interwebs that anything red velvet is humungously popular around Valentine’s day and strangely enough after almost 5 years of blogging, I’ve yet to post a red velvet cake recipe.  So after quite a few reader requests in the past couple of weeks for a great red velvet scratch cake recipe, I decided it was about time to share.  And believe me, it wasn’t like you guys had to twist my arm!  I scoured a few recipes on Pinterest and my favorite blogs and decided on this one since it’s made with both buttermilk and vinegar to boost the tang that is so beloved in red velvet cake.  Topped with a swirled dollop of silky cream cheese frosting, these red velvet cupcakes are an outstanding way to say “I Love You” to the hunnies in your life.  And yes, if you’re thinking about making a layer cake instead of cupcakes, Annie says that it’s a great recipe for that too – just grease three 8-inch pans, divide the batter, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Homemade Peppermint Patties
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When I set out to create my holiday treat packages last year, I knew I wanted to make treats I’d never made before but that had been on my to-make list for a while.  Like marshmallows.  And hot chocolate.  And these peppermint patties.  And let me tell you, these little minty treats probably made me the most proud I’ve been in the kitchen in quite a while.  The filling is easy to put together, but dipping them in chocolate will require some patience.  You’ll need to dip them in batches and keep the extra little rounds of filling really cold (like frozen) while you dip because as soon as they start to come to room temperature, dipping them in warm chocolate is impossible.  And impossibly messy.  Trust me.  The chocolate will harden but make sure all of the filling is covered by chocolate – otherwise it will ooze out.  But needless to say, my peppermint patty connoisseur (Kyle) LOVED these (so did I!), as they are waaaay better than the store-bought version.  You’ll find that they will be gushed over and will certainly be worth the little extra effort it takes to make them.

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake
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Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

I won’t lie to you…eggnog exists in our house at Christmastime.  Ever since I found vanilla eggnog a few years ago, we always have a carton on hand from the first week of December when we put up the tree right through New Year’s and into January.  And this particular vanilla eggnog tastes like a vanilla milkshake which probably makes it all that much more addictive.  But frankly, I’m not here to lament about eggnog today.  And I’m also not here with a healthy meal post to kick off the new year.  No apologies from me. :)

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

I’m here to talk about this vanilla bean eggnog cake that so many of you were excited about when I mentioned it on Facebook last week.  This recipe is a fantastic way to use up that leftover ‘nog.  You’ll only need 1 cup for the cake – don’t we all usually have just a wee bit left in the container right before we toss it?  The cake comes together quickly and the result is a rich pound cake-like Bundt with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon (my adaptations from the original recipe).  The eggnog shines through beautifully, especially on the crunchy bottom of the cake (which is actually the top of the cake in the pan and my favorite part of a Bundt cake), and with some lightly dusted powdered sugar, all you’ll need is a fork and a cup of tea or coffee to round out this delightful dessert.

Vanilla Bean Eggnog Bundt Cake

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 12-16 servings

This vanilla bean eggnog Bundt cake is a stellar way to use up leftover eggnog from the holiday season. A rum or bourbon glaze drizzled on top would be a great alternative to the traditional dusting of powdered sugar.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, split and seeds removed
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup eggnog (vanilla, if you can find it)
  • ¼ tsp eggnog flavor OR 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and 1 tsp rum extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  3. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stir together the eggnog and eggnog flavor (or vanilla extract and rum extract). With the mixer on low speed, alternately stir in the dry ingredients and eggnog mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix in each only until they are just incorporated, about 10 seconds each – do not overmix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and level off the top with a spatula. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a long toothpick or sharp knife reveals just a few crumbs stuck to it upon testing for doneness. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack then invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely before serving. Well-wrapped, the cake will last for 3-4 days at room temperature.

Source

adapted from The Naptime Chef

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http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/01/vanilla-bean-eggnog-bundt-cake/

Baileys Marshmallows
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Baileys Marshmallows

I swear my candy thermometer has gotten more of a workout this past week than in all of the past year!  As I mentioned a couple days ago, I’m not making a whole lot of cookies this Christmas and have opted instead for candies, confections, and other treats for my treat boxesHot chocolate mix and homemade marshmallows were the first items to go on my list and it wasn’t until Shawnda posted these Baileys marshmallows was I sold on a recipe.

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This was my first time making marshmallows for the sake of actually making marshmallows (i.e., not marshmallow filling in other recipes) and I’ve learned from this attempt that my mixer is more powerful than I thought.  While the recipe instructs to beat the mixture for 15 on high, I think my mixture was finished at about 7 minutes because it only deflated from there, leaving me with semi-flat marshmallows.  Regardless of how they looked, they tasted fabulous and if I wasn’t already a Baileys Irish Cream fan to begin with (which I was – yum!), these marshmallows would have sealed the deal.  The flavor of the Baileys really comes through since it isn’t cooked and the combination of the melted marshmallows in a mug of rich hot chocolate is certainly the perfect way to end a harried winter day.  Dessert anyone?

Putting It All Together: The Packaging
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When I first decided to put together treat packages for our Christmas gifts this year, the first thing I thought about wasn’t the treat themselves.  It was the packaging.  To me, the treats are usually able to stand alone but it’s the packaging that makes everything so festive and I don’t know…complete.  And by complete, I mean finished, done, ready-to-go, now I can sit down with a glass of vanilla eggnog (perhaps with a shot of something in it).  So, at the request of a few of you, I’m going to show you just a few ideas about how I’m packaging up my treats and also send you over Annie’s way since she wrote a great post about this yesterday as well.

This year, I got crazy organized.  I started out by outlining everything I wanted to make, when I needed to make each treat, and all of the ways I wanted to package everything.  A spreadsheet was the easiest way for me to do this since I can keep track of everything in one place and change things as needed without scribbling out my notes on paper.  Note that I also included the names of the treat receivers in my working sheet in the gray cells that are blank in the first column but I removed them for this screenshot because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if those people are reading this.

I found all of my printable tags via Martha Stewart and saved the files to my desktop so I don’t have to go back to the website every time I need to print more tags; two of those tags are shown in the first photo of the post.  The MS site also has a link to Avery that has customizable holiday templates that you can print on labels or paper (which is where the tags in the photos above and below came from).

My go-to packaging method has been to use cello bags since I haphazardly buy them at least once a year, forgetting that I still have a whole stockpile somewhere in the house.  I also put my granola in mason jars to keep it fresh for a little while longer and well, because I just love mason jars!  I bought a couple rolls of raffia and went with a more rustic look rather than the traditional green and red ribbon that I’ve used every year since I was a teenager.

All of the treats will be packaged up in these adorable and sturdy Christmas- and winter-themed boxes that I found at Michael’s last week with either tissue paper or the brown packaging paper from the Amazon.com boxes we’ve received recently (yay recycling!).

I’ve still got a few more things to make this week but so far, I’m loving how my treat boxes are turning out!

What are you putting in your treat packages this year?

Butter Cookie Sandwiches with Dulce de Leche Cream Filling
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When I set out to make my list of goodies to make this Christmas season, I vowed to not make a ton of cookies.  I had planned early on to put together treat packages for everyone this year and I wanted to focus my attention on getting them squared away early so that I could actually relax on Christmas Eve day, something I never seem to be able to do.  But then my cousin and I came across this recipe for butter cookie sandwiches.  And goodness knows, I’m a sucker for butter cookies!  The original recipe called for the filling to include chestnut cream (crème de marron) but because of Kyle’s allergies, that wouldn’t work so I swapped dulce de leche in place of the original ingredient.  And umm…genius?  Rich butter cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche cream filling might just be one of the better ideas I’ve had lately.  I did feel like the chocolate slightly overpowered the flavor of the dulce de leche so I think next time I’ll skip the chocolate (the horror!) because the filling needs to shine through.  But overall, adding these cookies to you cookie platter will not disappoint anyone and you’ve still got plenty of time to work them into your schedule!

DIY: Homemade Dulce de Leche
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DIY: Homemade Dulce de Leche

How many times have you come across an ingredient in a recipe that you just can’t find in your regular grocery store?  For me, it’s been countless times, and dulce de leche is one of those elusive ingredients that continues to confound me.  I often think that my grocery store has a fairly extensive selection of ethnic food but then again, I can’t find things like decent lo mein noodles or Thai chili paste…or dulce de leche, a product as common in Latin American markets as peanut butter is in any traditional grocery store in the U.S.  The first time I needed dulce de leche for a recipe, I foolishly spent over $10 on a jar from a specialty food store.

DIY: Homemade Dulce de Leche

Well, never again.  Never.  Ever.  Because I have found the secret to this elusive ingredient: a $2 can of sweetened condensed milk.  Yup, that’s all you’ll need!  Prick a tiny hole in the top of the can (this is a must!!), boil the heck out of the can for about 3 1/2 hours, and you will end up with simply gorgeous and over-the-top amazing dulce de leche.  It’s deeper, richer, and thicker in consistency than caramel and is fantastic in frosting (or this recipe), over ice cream, as a dip for apples or pretzels, as a filling in cupcakes or cookies, swirled into hot chocolate or a latté, spooned into mason jars for Christmas treat packages (it does need to be refrigerated though!)…I’m sure you guys could come up with a 100 more uses aside from eating straight off a spoon.  I have two more uses for it that I’ll share with you before Christmas so you may want to pick up a can or two sweetened condensed milk this weekend!

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
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Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

With the bustling and chronically insane holiday season upon us, sometimes all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a cozy blanket (which usually involves a fight with the cat for usage rights), a book I can get lost in, and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  OK, maybe it’s more like that’s all I want to do this time of year but life always seems to get in the way of these things.

Regardless of your crazy schedules, I urge you to take a few minutes in the kitchen to whip up this homemade hot chocolate mix and treat yourself to a divine mug of it.  I can guarantee that this homemade mix surpasses any of the higher quality mixes you can buy and what’s even better is that you control what goes into it.  Not a huge fan of bittersweet chocolate?  Replace some or all of it, if you’re feeling adventurous, with milk chocolate.  I added a few tablespoons of instant espresso powder because I love a shot of espresso in my hot chocolate but I don’t have an espresso maker at home.  If you’ve made enough chocolate recipes, you’ll know that coffee in one form or another amplifies the chocolate flavor and that’s what I was going for here.  This is also the time to consider making a big batch of vanilla sugar in advance of making the mix since you can use it quickly rather than having to wait 24hrs as this recipe instructs.  The recipe makes a huge amount of hot chocolate mix (almost 2 quarts, dry) and because it lasts up to 6 months, it will make the perfect addition to my Christmas gift packages this year.  I love my cocoa with a heaping spoonful of whipped cream but perhaps some homemade marshmallows are in my future as well…

Peppermint Brownies
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Growing up, I was all about cherry-flavored candy canes – you know the rainbow-colored ones!  These days candy canes come in all different flavors so theoretically, I should be in heaven with all the choices, but for some strange reason, as an adult I have developed this insane love for peppermint.  And these brownies are exactly what satisfy every craving I have at Christmastime.  Rich chocolate and peppermint brownies have a layer of milk chocolate chunks inside and are topped with Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses…and they will make any holiday package or treat tray sparkle!  Both Kyle (who only mildly likes peppermint desserts) and I truly fell for these brownies and I had to wrap quite a few up to freeze before they all mysteriously vanished from the house.  Luckily though, I’m in charge of desserts again at Christmas so pulling them out of the freezer will make for a quick and easy addition to my dessert extravaganza!

Peppermint Brownies

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
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Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

For two years, every time I pull out this cookbook, these drool-worthy cookies have been staring me down, begging me to make them.  And when I finally figured out they were these chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies, I immediately classified them as Christmas-only cookies.  (Seriously, who makes gingerbread at any other time of the year?) The first Christmas with this book in my possession, I had no clue which recipe it was.  Last Christmas, I had them on “the list” but they never got made and I vowed to make them this year.  And goodness gracious am I happy I made them a priority this year.  By far, these are some of my favorite cookies to date, and hands-down they are in the top 5 best Christmas cookies I’ve ever made.  Loaded with warm spices, dark brown sugar, molasses, and candied ginger, they smell amazing while baking and will rock your Elf on the Shelf, Muppet Family Christmas, or It’s a Wonderful Life world (depending on which generation you are a product of) once you bite into them.  The chocolate chunks and cocoa powder lend an extra level of greatness to these soft and chewy gingerbread cookies and I dare you not to go back for seconds.

Don’t forget!  The giveaway for the very cookbook these cookies come from ends tomorrow night at 11:59pm ET.  Three winners will be chosen!

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Pecan Linzer Cookies with Raspberry Filling
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Pecan Linzer Cookies with Raspberry Filling

These sweet little cookies may just have made me the most proud I’ve been in the kitchen in some time now.  When I say that I’ve been wanting to make linzer cookies for the past 7 Christmas seasons, I’m not kidding you.  And with all that waiting came a lot of anticipation and high expectations for what these cookies should be.  But they turned out just perfectly and met every one of those expectations.

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While they look delicate and difficult, they are actually quite easy to put together, though involving a few steps that require some patience, as my cousin and I learned this past weekend while making them.  You’ll make the dough and chill it for a few hours.  Then roll, cut, bake, and cool completely.  In the meantime, you’ll reduce some jam; I used seedless raspberry but any kind will work.  While the jam is cooling, you’ll dust the cut-out cookies (we made hearts) with powdered sugar.  When the jam has cooled, you’ll spread it on to the full cookies (the ones without the powdered sugar) and sandwich it with the sugared halves…and you’ve got these picture-perfect Christmas cookies!  Like I said, they do require a few steps but they would be the perfect weekend baking project for a few friends or even for your kids or grandkids to help you with.

Pecan Linzer Cookies with Raspberry Filling

Oh, you want to know about how they taste?  Well, think of the best light shortbread you’ve ever eaten, combine it with a tiny dollop of a reduced jam that is almost savory in comparison to the sugared linzer cookie, and you’ve got quite possibly the best Christmas cookie I’ve ever made..the cookie that all Christmas cookies will be judged against this year and maybe for years to come.  That’s quite a cookie!

Pecan Linzer Cookies with Raspberry Filling

King Arthur Flour Store Goodies and Gift Card Giveaway – CLOSED
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[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.]

Happy Monday!  I don’t know about you, but I’ve already got a list a mile long of new ideas and old favorites for my holiday baking…and I expect it will only be more difficult to narrow this list down as November wanes on and holiday recipes explode all over the Interwebs.  Now truthfully, I may not be able to help you narrow down your list but how about a little help with the ever-expanding expense of holiday baking?

King Arthur Flour has long been one of my favorite resources for baking supplies and every time I’ve stepped foot in the Baker’s Store in Norwich, VT, I’ve been transported to a baker’s heaven.  So….to kick-off my “Favorite Things Holiday Giveaway” series that you may or may not have seen on Facebook, I feel like you need to know about the greatness that is KAF via a few of my favorite King Arthur products, especially if you give away food gifts at the holidays and a few possibly unknown facts…

  1. Did you know that the KAF website supports a 2000+ recipe collection with recipes that are tested in their own test-kitchens.  I’ve made and blogged a few of these recipes…and have a ton more on my t0-make list…and you will too so go there now. :)
  2. Ever need a baking question answered while you’re in the middle of making a recipe with no one around to ask it to?  Well, how about using KAF’s free Baking Hotline?
  3. Have you been trying to bake gluten-free?  I’m definitely no expert in this field, but I’ve heard awesome things from gluten-free bakers about KAF’s gluten-free line of flours, mixes, and recipes!
  4. For more information, recipes, and sales/promotions, be sure to sign up for KAF’s emails (I get these emails and I promise they don’t bombard you with emails!) or follow them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.]

So…here’s what you can win in this giveaway:

(1) Set of Holiday Gift Tags and Ribbons (no more rooting around for pretty food-related gift tags!)

(1) 24oz bag of Baker’s Cinnamon Filling (for cinnamon buns or cinnamon swirl bread)

(1) 16oz bag of Malted Milk Powder (just ’cause you’ll love it as much as I do)

(1) 5lb bag of the famous King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, AND…

(1) $50 Gift Card (oh yeah baby!!) — This is an e-card so you won’t have to wait for it to be shipped!

To enter this giveaway here are The Rules:

  1. Answer this question in the comment section of this post (and only this post):  What is your favorite holiday cookie?
  2. Only one entry per person will be accepted and you MUST include a valid email address with your comment.
  3. If you don’t see your comment post right away, please don’t post another comment.  The delay happens because I moderate all comments.
  4. You have until Thursday November 17, 2011 at 11:59pm Eastern to enter this giveaway.
  5. One winner will be chosen by that handy-dandy random number generator we’re all familiar with.
  6. The winner will notified on Friday November 18, 2011.  If you do not respond to my email within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen (also at random).
  7. Giveaway is open to entries with U.S. addresses only.

Disclosure:  King Arthur Flour is helping to sponsor this giveaway by graciously donating the 5lb bag of flour and the shipping costs associated with sending the flour.  All of the other products and the gift card are given by yours truly.

[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.]