Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A White Christmas

I hope you all had a happy and peaceful Christmas with the people you love.  Jamie and I were able to spend time with some of both our families, and we had a white Christmas wherever we went!  Colorado was already blanketed in snow, and when we arrived at Jamie's sister's place in Washington, freshly falling snow greeted us there, too.

The Friday before Christmas, we had my parents over for the day, and started the morning with a late breakfast of Eggnog Cinnamon Rolls, drizzled with warm Lemon Curd I made that morning, and a Frittata with Mushrooms, Spinach, Onions and Ham.

After breakfast there was lots of time to relax, watch movies, drink coffee, snack on popcorn, nuts and veggies, and talk.  We kept the dinner fairly simple, but delicious, so that no one had to spend all day cooking.

Jamie cooked Prime Rib, seasoned with Peppercorns and Garlic, with a creamy horseradish sauce on the side and a little au jus.  The beef was perfectly tender and juicy.  For my contribution, I made a Butternut Squash Risotto.  It was the first time I'd made risotto, and was surprised at how easy it was since people are always saying how tricky it is.  Probably the same people who say that making caramel is easy!

I didn't think it was difficult at all, just time-consuming since I had to stand there stirring it constantly while adding broth for 30 minutes, but it was so creamy and fragrant, with bits of butternut squash, creamy Parmesan cheese, and a hint of lemon.

My mom made her Pretzel Salad, which has been a Christmas tradition in our family for years, but I don't know why it's called a salad.  It's really just dessert.  It starts with a crushed salted pretzel crust, topped with a creamy layer of cream cheese and whipped cream, and then a layer of sweet strawberry jello and whole strawberries.  If you're thinking this sounds like a kid dessert, it sort of is, but I still love it!

She also made yeast rolls and roasted some green beans with a little garlic and lemon, with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

For dessert, I made a 4-layer Chocolate Cake with chocolate and vanilla buttercream, and a sprinkling of white chocolate "snow".  In my mind, I was planning to decorate the cake with fancy piping that looked like a snowflake...  but in reality, my decorating skills are just not what I'd like, so what you see in the pictures is the final result.

Remember the Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes from last week, with the first batch not being quite right?  With the leftover cake crumbs from that first batch of cupcakes, I made Christmas Truffles by combining the crumbled chocolate cake with cold coffee to create a moist filling that, after chilled, I rolled into balls and dipped in white and bittersweet chocolate, sprinkling each with a variety of sprinkles, crushed peppermint and sea salt.

It was a sweet finish to the day.

There were presents, too, of course, and the living room was a flurry of bright paper, ribbons and boxes.  Jamie and I each ended up buying each other the same present - a convection oven!  So we'll keep one and return the other, and we're both looking forward to using it.

Early the next morning, we left in the freezing cold to fly to Spokane, where we spent a few days with his sister and family, and their parents.  There's nothing like seeing the excitement in a kid's face over new Legos, battery-operated robot bugs and remote-controlled monster trucks!  Makes me miss my brother and sister and nieces.  It's been too long since we've gotten to spend Christmas together.  And of course, there's also nothing like a 2-hour flight home full of crying children who are screaming "I want to get off!" for the entire flight.  :)

Immediately after landing, we headed to the Pepsi Center for a performance by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and it was a wonderful and inspiring ending to our Christmas weekend.

Home now, I'm looking forward to a few days with Jamie to enjoy the rest of the holidays.

Chocolate Christmas Cake with Chocolate and Vanilla Buttercream and White Chocolate Snow
printable recipe

chocolate cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup boiling water
chocolate buttercream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk
vanilla buttercream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped white chocolate

Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare two 8 inch round cake pans by spraying the bottoms only with non-stick spray.  Line the bottom with parchment paper, then spray the paper with the non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine then beat for three minutes on medium speed.  Scrape the bowl down and gently stir in the boiling water - the batter will be very thin.

Divide batter between the cake pans.  Bake for 25-28 minutes until the center of each cake springs back when gently touched.  Set the pans on wire racks and cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Cool completely in the pans.

Make the Frosting:
For the vanilla frosting, place all ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Mix on low to combine, then increase speed to medium high and whip until very light and fluffy.

For the chocolate frosting, place all ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Mix on low to combine, then increase speed to medium high and whip until very light and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:
Remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Use a sharp knife or cake leveler to level the tops of the cakes and to split each in half for a 4-layer cake.

Set the first layer of cake on a cake plate.  Spread with a layer of the vanilla buttercream, about 1/4 inch thick.  Repeat with the 2nd and 3rd layers of cake and vanilla buttercream.  Top with the 4th layer of cake.  Frost entire cake with a thin "crumb coat" of vanilla buttercream.  Let frosting set for about 20 minutes.  Frost the top of the cake with vanilla buttercream.  Frost the sides with the chocolate buttercream, swirling as desired.  Pipe additional chocolate buttercream around the top and bottom edges.

If desired, sprinkle the chopped white chocolate on top of the cake to resemble snow.

There's no need to use all the buttercream if there's extra left - just store in an airtight container in the fridge for another cake.

Eggnog Cinnamon Rolls with Lemon Curd
printable recipe

  • 1/4 cup very warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup eggnog, warmed slightly (substitute milk for standard cinnamon rolls)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 - 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins and/or chopped pecans (optional)

Pour the warm water into the bowl of your electric mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the water.  Let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.  Add the warmed eggnog, sugar (2 1/2 tablespoons), oil, baking powder, salt, egg, and 2 cups of flour.  Mix with the dough hook until smooth.  Add 1 1/2 cups more flour, a half cup at a time, with the mixer on low.  Knead the dough for 8 minutes on medium-low speed, adding the last half cup of flour a little at a time, as needed.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in size.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a rectangle, about 9x15 inches.  Brush with 4 tablespoons of the melted butter.  In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cups brown sugar and white sugar and the cinnamon.  Sprinkle sugar mixture over the dough.  If adding nuts or dried fruit, sprinkle them over the sugar mixture.  Roll the dough up into a log (from one short side to the other).  Dip a sharp knife in flour and slice the log into 12 equal pieces.

Brush 1 more tablespoon of the melted butter on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Place the cinnamon rolls, cut side down, in the pan.  Brush the rolls with the last tablespoon of melted butter.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  At this point, you could also wrap the cinnamon rolls in plastic and then foil, and freeze for a month or two until you're ready to bake them.

Take the rolls out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you're ready to bake them and let them rise a little in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the rolls, uncovered, until risen and golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

While the rolls are hot, drizzle with warm lemon curd, or a powdered sugar glaze.

Yields 12 cinnamon rolls.