Candy Cane and Cookie Forest Christmas Cake

Candy Cane and Cookie Forest Christmas Cake
If you have not seen Elf, then I hope you will immediately stop everything you're doing and watch it.  It's one of my favorite Christmas movies, and for this year's Christmas cake, I was inspired by the candy cane forest he travels through to find his dad in the city.  In addition to the candy canes, I also dipped Oreos in white chocolate and sprinkled them with red, green and white sugar to create a whimsical little forest of candy canes and cookies on top of my cake.

The cake itself was an eggnog cake, moist and fragrant, and frosted with eggnog buttercream which I tinted a pale pink... 

Peppermint Bark Pops

Peppermint Bark Pops
How beautiful are these little peppermint bark pops?  Shaped like an old-fashioned sucker, you might even call them Christmas lollypops.  As time (and baby napping) allows, I've been baking and freezing little treats for Christmas.

We have an assortment of cookies that I've packaged up into pretty polka-dot boxes for a few neighbors, including shortbread cutout cookies with almond-flavored royal icing (the shortbread being my favorite), spice bars with cream cheese frosting, salted caramel-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, and brown butter ginger molasses raisin cookies.

We also have white chocolate dipped Oreos, soft vanilla bean salted caramels, jars of dark and spicy apple butter, and lots of nuts in their shells for snacking.  And for Christmas Day, there will be eggnog cake with bourbon vanilla buttercream and chocolate cream pie...

Christmas Tree Napkins

Today, I have a fun and easy little project for you to dress up your holiday table - napkins folded into Christmas trees.  I picked up these plaid cotton napkins at World Market yesterday, but you can stick with solid green napkins for your trees, or play around with the color and pattern...

Christmas Baby

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.  I love the lights and sparkle, the glittery decorations, the cookies, the romance in the air, eggnog, cozy nights at home with Hallmark movies and popcorn, Christmas music, pretty wrapped packages, warm crackling fires, family time, baking, snow... I love it all.  This is my baby's first Christmas, and even though he won't remember it, I want to make everything so special.

Phoenix and I spend a lot of cozy hours together while my husband is at work, much of that being my trying to get him to sleep for his naps and keep him sleeping.  He's been a good sleeper at night, but naps are a different story.  So I set myself up with my laptop, phone, books, hot tea and water, and settle in to snuggle with him while he sleeps...

Pink and Gold Princess Party Cake

One of my good friends planned and decorated a beautiful princess party for her daughter's fifth birthday last weekend, and she asked me to make the cake and cake pops in a pink and gold theme.  The two tiered cake is frosted in buttercream of the palest pink and white, and decorated with edible gold sugar pearls and little fondant cutouts I brushed with gold luster dust.  The only non-edible piece is the crown topper, and the whole cake is lightly sprinkled with luster dust for a sparkly sheen.

I made coordinating cake pops dipped in pale gold candy coating, and decorated them with sugar pearls, tiny piped buttercream roses and sparkling sugar.  I especially love the gold wired ribbon ringlets tied around the paper straws...

Getting ready for Thanksgiving...

















It's looking very fall-ish around here as I've gradually been getting the house ready for Thanksgiving.  My in-laws will be arriving on Thursday and staying through the weekend, and it will also be their first time to meet their new grandson.

Other than Christmas decorations, I don't have much seasonal decor, so our house pretty much looks the same year round.  But I love to make the holiday special, and that starts with setting the table for dinner, because a holiday shouldn't feel like every other day of the year.  My husband designed and built our beautiful dining room table last year, and I collected the mismatched chairs, mostly from antique stores.

Like I did last year, I dried a handful of leaves from the trees in our backyard before the wind stripped them completely bare, and scattered them down the length of the table.  A few branches cut from our maple tree, leaves still clinging stubbornly and arranged in a vase in the center of the table is really all the centerpiece I want.  After Thanksgiving, I'll keep the same arrangement for Christmas, and hang a few ornaments from the branches.  I think it's dramatic and beautiful in its simplicity.

The rest of the fall touches throughout the house are simple.  The red lantern on the coffee table.  Warm quilts and vintage wool blankets.  Pretty copper mugs, cinnamon sticks and mulling spices on a silver tray, all ready for mulled wine.  My kitchen chalkboard that I doodle on each season.  Bowls heaped with fruit and vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner.  Candles, nuts for cracking, and homemade rhubarb liqueur that I made in the summer and is now ready for pretty pink cocktails on cozy evenings by the fire.

Although our baby boy occupies most of my time during the day, as I have a few minutes here and there, I've been trying to get ahead on the meal preparations for anything that can be done in advance.  I simmered cranberries and raspberries with sugar and spices for a wonderful, jammy cranberry raspberry sauce.  I cooked the custard base for molasses ice cream, to which, after churning, I'll add a buttery brown sugar swirl.  I think the ice cream will pair beautifully with the pecan pie and blueberry crumb pie I'll be baking tomorrow.

And lastly, our menu!  We're pretty traditional, although I rarely make pumpkin pie, because it's just never been my favorite...
  • Turkey, of course (My husband is in charge of the turkey prep, brining, seasoning, roasting, etc.)
  • Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
  • Cranberry Raspberry Sauce
  • Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel (never with marshmallows)
  • Cabbage Rolls (This is a traditional North Dakota dish my husband makes every year, that his grandma made every year...  cabbage leaves are steamed until soft, filled with a mixture of rice, bacon and vinegar, then rolled up and baked.  It's delicious.)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Leeks
  • Stuffing?  still undecided, since it's not a dish I usually make...  Same with rolls - they seem unnecessary to me with all the other wonderful side dishes to eat...
  • Upside-down Cranberry Chocolate Cake
  • Pecan Pie
  • Blueberry Crumb Pie
  • Molasses and Brown Sugar Swirl Ice Cream

Winter Coconut Cake







We've been enjoying a warm, beautiful autumn, but two days ago our first snow came, and now my mind is on all things wintery and Christmasy.  On that note, I would call the color of the buttercream on this cake winter pink.  It came about by accident, as I was going for various shades of purple, but I wasn't thrilled with the color and in adding some pink food coloring to the purple, ended up with this, which I thought was pretty after all.  I especially like the swirled lowlights and highlights of color and the texture of the buttercream topped with a light snowfall of coconut.

The cake is coconut, and I haven't posted a recipe in this blog post because I already have two wonderful coconut cake recipes in my blog index if you'd like to try them.  One uses a box mix to start, and can be found here, and the other, a from scratch white chocolate coconut cake, is simply to die for.

It's almost Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for this year.  We have a perfect little baby boy who's growing more every day, and life is wonderful.

Who else has had their dessert menu planned out for weeks?  We will be having pecan pie and blueberry crumb pie, as well as an upside down cranberry chocolate cake which I'm so looking forward to making.  I love the holidays.








Almond Poppyseed Muffins






Almond pastries are something I never tire of.  Sweet almond treats are, and always have been, one of my favorite things to eat, and something I can never resist.  Last month, while we were getting ready to have our baby and before we left for the hospital, I baked a few batches of muffins.  Besides a batch of banana chocolate chip muffins, I made these almond poppyseed muffins.

We ate a few and froze the rest, as I suspected that when we came home from the hospital, I'd want to have some things to eat but no time to cook or bake, and I sure was right.  Taking care of a newborn is exhausting!










It's been wonderful being able to grab one of these muffins from the freezer and warm it up in the microwave for a quick breakfast for myself while I'm feeding my baby.  I just finished the last one yesterday, actually, and I'm sad they're gone.

The muffins are light and fluffy, moist with sour cream and filled with a sweet almond paste filling, then topped with crumbly streusel.  Aren't the poppyseed speckles pretty?













Almond Poppyseed Muffins
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Muffins.
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 can almond paste
Topping.
  • 6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Muffins.
Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with 12 paper liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, poppy seeds and sugar until combined.  Add the eggs, sour cream, oil and extracts and mix just until moistened.  Spoon half the batter into the muffin pan, filling them just 1/3 full.

Remove the almond paste from the can and divide into 12 portions, rolling them into balls.  Place the almond paste balls on top of the batter, then spoon the remaining batter over the almond paste, filling the muffin pan full.

Topping.
For the topping, use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the sugar, flour, salt and poppy seeds until crumbly.  Sprinkle over the batter.

Bake the muffins for 17-20 minutes, until done.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then serve warm.

Yields 12 muffins.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Peanut Butter Maple Caramel Cheesecake






I came up with the recipe for this caramel sauce one afternoon while my baby was napping, and now I want to put it on everything.  I've dipped apple slices in it, spooned it over ice cream, and of course, drizzled it all over this creamy cheesecake, and, undoubtedly, there will be a cake this fall featuring a pretty caramel drip.

It's a simple caramel to make - no thermometer required - and cooks up in just a few minutes, which is helpful for me these days with a little baby.  The combination of the peanut butter with brown sugar, vanilla and maple, and a touch of salt, is a beautiful marriage of fall flavors that pairs beautifully with the silky vanilla bean cheesecake.

This is my favorite no-bake vanilla cheesecake made with gelatin, and if you've followed my blog for a while, you'll know that I never bake cheesecakes anymore.  This version is just so smooth and creamy, without the tedium of baking a cheesecake in a water bath and then waiting for it to cool, that all my cheesecake recipes are now based off of this one.

Have you ever loved something or someone so much that you miss them, ache for them, even when they're right next to you?  I used to feel that way every Sunday night, the first year my husband and I were dating.  Since we lived so far apart, we'd spend every weekend together before having to say goodbye until the next weekend.  Those Sunday nights together, the last few hours of another wonderful two days together, were shadowed with the awareness of the night's end, goodbye kisses, and a long drive back to a quiet apartment.  Who knew that five days could last so long?

I didn't know it was possible to feel that way again until having a baby.  While I was making lunch this afternoon, he fell asleep in his swing in our living room, which is unusual for him, since he likes to be held to fall asleep.  And now, looking at his sweet little scrunched face across the room from me, listening to him as he sighs and whimpers in his sleep, he's simply too far away.  He's right there, but I miss him so much.











Peanut Butter Maple Caramel Cheesecake
printable


Cheesecake.
  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped, or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
Caramel.
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • salted peanuts
Crust.
Preheat the oven to 325 F.  In a bowl, combine the graham crackers and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press against the bottom of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant.  Set aside to cool while you make the filling.

Filling.
Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave-safe dish.  Stir in the gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin and stir with a fork.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the vanilla at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, gradually adding the powdered sugar as the cream thickens.  In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the cream cheese and gelatin mixture to the mixing bowl and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps.  Immediately spread over the crust and smooth out the top.  Refrigerate for about 4-6 hours, until set.

Caramel.
In a saucepan over medium low heat, warm the peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, cream, vanilla and maple extracts, whisking occasionally until the ingredients are melted and smooth.  Whisk in the powdered sugar and cook, whisking occasionally to smooth out the sugar, for about 5 minutes, until bubbly and thick.  Pour into a glass jar and let cool to room temperature.

(This recipe yields about 1 1/2 cups of caramel; refrigerate any unused caramel for topping ice cream or cake.

After the cheesecake is set, remove from the springform pan.  Drizzle with the caramel and sprinkle with peanuts.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Apple Pie with Cinnamon Roll Crust







It's almost Thanksgiving, and there is so much to be thankful for this year.  We have a healthy baby boy who is sweet and happy and growing more every day, we have friends and family who love us, we have food, warmth, employment, and we want for nothing.  Other than an uninterrupted night of sleep, that is...

And since it's Thanksgiving, that means there will be much pie making, am I right?  For a while now, I've wanted to make an apple pie with a stunning crust on top of swirled pie dough slices that resemble little cinnamon rolls, and I think this is the perfect pie for the holiday that not only tastes amazing, but is also so pretty and fancy.  And I do like to be fancy.










When my parents came to visit last week to see our baby, they brought with them a bag full of apples they'd picked at an orchard with my sister's family on their way here.  The bag was full of a wonderful mix of apple varieties, and so I used what they brought, but usually I'd use Granny Smith apples for their tartness, or half Granny Smith and half of another type to vary up the flavor.  But just use your favorite apples for pie, and it will be fantastic.

The apples are perfectly sweetened and spiced, and the cinnamon roll crust is so beautiful and really makes this pie something special.









Apple Pie with Cinnamon Roll Crust
printable


Crust:
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 4 tablespoons cold whole milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Cinnamon Swirl:
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • cinnamon
Filling:
  • 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (1/8 inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 450.

Make the Dough:
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of peas.  Whisk together the milk, egg yolk and vinegar; drizzle over the flour/butter and then use your hands to bring the dough together; it should be just moistened enough to barely hold together.

Divide the dough into two equal parts, flatten into round disks, wrap each portion with plastic wrap, and then refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before rolling out.

On a floured surface, roll out one portion of dough to approximately 1/4 inch thick.  Fit into a deep-dish pie pan and trim the edge.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Roll out the other portion into a rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick, measuring approximately 14 by 10 inches.  Brush with the melted butter, sprinkle with the sugars, and sprinkle generously with cinnamon.  Roll the dough up into a log so that you have a roll that's 12 inches long; seal the edge with a little water to get it to stick.  Use a sharp knife to cut 1/4 inch slices.  Place the slices on parchment paper.  Freeze for 30 minutes.

Make the Filling:
Peel, core and thinly slice all the apples and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice, brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons flour and toss to coat every slice in the mixture.

Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons flour over the bottom of the crust in the pie pan (to prevent it from becoming soggy).  Pile the apples into the crust, making the surface as flat as possible.  Arrange the cinnamon roll slices over the apples.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake the Pie:
Place the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 and bake for another 45-60 minutes, or until the juices bubble and thicken.  Be sure to cover the pie with foil once it is browned enough, to prevent over-browning.

Cool pie completely on a wire rack before cutting.

Yields 8-10 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen