Christmas

Gingerbread Houses

Homemade Gingerbread House: Etched Chocolate Bat Door The concept of making and decorating a gingerbread house is appealing in so many ways.  You can expressive yourself in a creative, artistic manner through baking.  And you do it during the holiday season with family and friends. Win, Win, Win, Win! I am a late bloomer to the gingerbread house game, as last Christmas was the first time that I EVER constructed or decorated one (I never even did the milk carton/graham cracker thing in school).  Last year gave me a glimpse into the planning and dedication that is needed to construct and decorate a gingerbread house.  The entire project can be completed in one day, but it's much easier if you plan in advance and construct/decorate over a couple of days.

Gingerbread House Igloo: "Ginger-gloo"

<!--more-->Over Thanksgiving, my mom, sisters, and I decorated gingerbread houses.  It was so therapeutic to post up in the dining room with Christmas music playing, making shingles from non-pareils and walls from sugar cubes.  I decided to switch things up this year and not make a "traditional" gingerbread house, but instead a gingerbread igloo.. or a gInger-GLOO.  It took me multiple attempts to bake the dome and tunnel, but it worked out!  The most difficult part of making a gingerbread house for me is the actual home construction--making the walls, and roof pieces all line up, and stay together with only royal icing!

Gingerbread House Recipe, adapted from Making Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread Dough (Enough for 1 house or an army of gingerbread men)

Ingredients:

1 c. butter, softened (2 sticks) 3/4 c. (100g) firmly packed brown sugar 3/c. (250g) molasses 5 1/4 c. (630g) all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking soda 2 teaspoons cinnamon 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 c. (6 oz.) cold water

1.  Cream first two ingredients until light and fluffy.  Add molasses and blend on low speed.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves into a large bowl. Stir in salt.  Add flour mixture and water to butter/sugar/molasses mixture, and blend until all of the flour is absorbed.

3. Spread the dough out on a sheet pan, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until you're ready to roll it out (at least 3 hours, ideally overnight).  It will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or the freezer for up to one month.

rolling out dough with a rolling pin

Baking gingerbread over a bowl in the oven

Gingerbread Tunnel

Decorating the Gingerbread IglooDecorating with Sugar Cubes- Decorating with Sugar Cubes

Gingerbread House Assembly

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Roll out the dough on a clean, flat, floured surface.  Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin.  The dough should be 1/2 inch thick so that the structure can support the weight of itself and the decorations.  Using a template, cut the dough with a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife, and transfer to a baking sheet.  Bake until deep brown, but not black (about 20 minutes). **Be sure to bake it until crisp and completely dry--this is building material--not a cookie!

2. Transfer the pieces to a cooling rack, and allow to cool completely (at least 25 minutes).

3. Using a 12 or 14 inch cake board, commence assembly.  Using a pencil, lightly mark where you want the house to sit on the base (cake board).  Place royal icing in piping bag, and use the icing like glue to assemble the house.  Let the pieces dry completely before beginning to decorate.

Royal Icing Recipe

Ingredients:

5 1/4 c. (630g) powdered sugar 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar 1/2 c. egg whites

1. Sift the powdered sugar after measuring it. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the sugar.

2. Combine the ingredients with a mixer on low speed, then beat them on high for two to five minutes (until snow-white and fluffy).  **Keep the icing bowl covered with a damp towel to retain moisture.  The mixture hardens and crusts quickly when exposed to air.

My favorite 7-year old's gingerbread house.  Her little house improved SO MUCH from last year!

We even invited some youngsters over and helped them to each construct and decorate a gingerbread house.  The kids--ages 7-14--were all entirely engrossed in the project.  It was really great to see them so focused on being creative little decorators.

decorating gingerbread houses

Red Velvet Pancakes

Red Velvet Pancakes: Cream Cheese Syrup These pancakes are a twist on red velvet cake, and they are just as delicious.  The bright red color makes them festive and perfect for a holiday brunch!  I recommend making them with a cream cheese syrup, but they would also be delicious with a chocolate sauce, freshly whipped cream, or plain ol' maple syrup.These pancakes are super rich, and they are great for special occasions.  They pair perfectly with a freshly-brewed cup of Community Coffee (which grew from a small country store in Baton Rouge 90+ years ago!)  Of course, mimosas or sparkling wine are also a great option for any brunch.

Tower of Red Velvet Pancakes

Red Velvet Pancakes Recipe, Adapted from The Loveless Cafe in Nashville.

Ingredients:

2 c. all purpose flour 1 c. powdered sugar 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1 1/2 c. buttermilk 2 large eggs 1/2 c. granulated sugar 2 tablespoons red liquid food coloring cream cheese syrup (see recipe below)

1. Sift together flour, powdered sugar, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. [Sifting is important to break up any lumps in the powdered sugar, cocoa, baking powder, or baking soda.]

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Whisk in buttermilk until thoroughly combined.  Whisk in red dye.  [This step can be done with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer.]

3. Gradually stir buttermilk mixture into dry mixture, just until ingredients are moistened.  [The batter may be slightly lumpy.  Do no over mix on this step.  If you over mix, your pancakes will not be light and fluffy.]

4.  Pour 1/4 cup batter for each pancake onto a hot, buttered griddle or a non-stick skillet.  [If using an electric skillet, set to 350 F.]  Cook until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look dry and cooked [about 3-4 minutes].  Turn and cook 3-4 minutes, or until done.  Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and keep warm in an oven at 200 F for up to 30 minutes.

Cream Cheese Syrup Recipe

Ingredients:

1 package cream cheese, softened (8 ounces) 1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks) 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted 1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended after each addition.  Add vanilla, beating until blended.

2. (Optional)  Gently heat for a more pourable consistency.

Buche de Noel (Yule Log)

Buche de Noel (Yule Log)

I love pies, cakes, and cookies at Christmastime.  But, I also like trying new things, and I wanted to bring a little bit of France with me home to Lousiana for the holidays.  The buche de noel (Yule Log) is a traditional Christmas dessert in France, Belgium, French Canada, Lebanon, and Vietnam.  It is traditionally made from a sponge cake , and filled with chocolate buttecream rolled up to ressemble a log.

I wanted to make one a little more--interesting. I found a recipe that combined Nutella, whipped cream, and toasted almonds. I couldn't resist!

The toasted almonds really bring out the nuttiness of the Nutella, and compliment the Genoise cake splendidly.  The finished product is so festive and really adds a nice flair to any dining table set for Christmas dinner.  You can always enjoy a left over piece the next morning with coffee for holiday-only guilt-free breakfast ;)

This Yule Log recipe is particularly wintry since the whipped cream frosting symbolizes snow on the log.  Get creative and really create a winter wonderland! Enjoy!

Buche de Noel (Yule Log), courtesy Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

Nonstick cooking spray, for pan 4 large eggs, separated ¾ c. granulated sugar ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract ½ c. all purpose flour ¼ teaspoon salt Powdered Sugar, for dusting ½ c. sliced almonds, toasted Chocolate-hazlenut filling and whipped cream frosting (recipes above)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Coat a 10 x 15 inch jelly roll pan with nonstick cooking spray; line bottom of pan with parchment paper.  Coat parchment paper with cooking spray.  Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk egg yoks with ½ c. granulated sugar until pale yellow.  Whisk in almond extract and flour just until combined (do not overmix!).  Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form.  While beating, slowly add remaining ¼ c. granulated sugar (1 tablespoon at a time) and beat until stiff and glossy.  Whisk 1/3 of beaten egg whites into yolk mixture.  Gently fold in remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan; bake until center of cake springs back when lightly pressed, 15-17 minutes.
  4.  Immediately after removing cake from oven, run a knife around edge of pan.  Dust top of cake with powdered sugar.  Invert cake onto clean parchment paper and gently peel off the lining paper that is now the top of the cake.  Starting from short side of cake, gently roll cake, along with clean paper, into a log.  Let cool, seam side down, 30 minutes.
  5. Once cake has cooled, prepare filling and frosting.  Gently unroll cake and spread with filling, leaving a ½ inch border.  Starting from a short side, carefully re-roll (do not roll paper in cake), and place, seam side down, on a baking sheet or serving platter.  Spread log with frosting; sprinkle with almonds.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

 

 

 

Chocolate-Hazlenut Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin ¼ c. Nutella 2 ¼ c. heavy cream ¼ c. sugar

  1. Place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan; sprinkle with gelatin, and set aside to soften, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk Nutella with ¼ cup heavy cream.  Set aide.
  3. Heat gelatin mixture very gently over low heat, stirring just until dissolved.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat remaining 2 cups heavy cream with sugar until soft peaks form.  While still beating, pour dissolved gelatin mixture over cream all at once (gently reheat gelatin mixture if it has stiffened).
  5. Fold half of whipped cream into Nutella mixture to finish the Chocolate-Hazlenut filling.  The remaining whipped cream is the whipped cream frosting.