Crème Brûlée

This Christmas I received a very exciting present: a chef’s torch, which neatly combines my love of making fancy desserts with my love of setting things on fire. I have wanted one since I was about 15 years old, and this year my husband obliged me. It was easy to fuel and use, not to mention being a (literal) blast!

The recipe I used was from King Arthur Flour’s website: Crème Brûlée. Straining the custard is very important for achieving the incredibly smooth and creamy texture. I used turbinado sugar instead of demerara, but it worked fine and caramelizing it was really fun. The instructions are simple, but so is the dish! Aside from all the equipment required . . .

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Bûche de Noël (the Yule Log)

 

Ah, the pièce de résistance of the Christmas table. Ever since I found about this magnificent dessert, I longed to make one.

A bûche de noël is a chocolate roulade (a sponge cake, such as that used to make a Swiss/jelly roll). I used a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, of the November/December 2000 issue. It has many steps, but if you’re willing to take the time, it is a beautiful dessert, which can be used as a centerpiece on your Christmas table.

Don’t worry if the cake cracks a little while you’re rolling it up–it will be covered by the ganache, which can be made to resemble tree bark by running a fork through it. Cut off the ends of the sponge cake to add stumps to your log, and sprinkle with powdered sugar for snow!

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Dusted with “snow” (powdered sugar)
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The Yule Log
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Cutting into the cake: it sliced like a dream!
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It was delicious! The texture of the cake was particularly appealing

A dessert that requires such a significant investment of time and energy should be as delicious as it is visually impressive, and this recipe fits the bill. This dessert proved very popular with my family, and disappeared quickly. I hope to make it a tradition.

American-style Panettone

My husband used to live in northern Italy, where a Christmas fruitcake called panettone is traditional. Last Christmas, I had a bite of an imported cake and thought it was delicious, but I certainly wasn’t about to pay $37 for a cake, no matter how Italian it was. So I resolved to someday make my own.

This Christmas I looked at numerous recipes, and the one I finally settled on is from King Arthur Flour’s website. They also have a blog post about making it, which I found very helpful. I made some modifications to the recipe, and it turned out even as well as I had hoped, which is little short of miraculous. In fact, it was my favourite of all the things I baked this Christmas. I highly recommend it.

As suggested in the Flourish post, I used a bread machine to make it, which worked very well. The dough is sweet and rich, but rises well. They don’t give a specific amount of time for kneading the fruit into the risen dough, so I will say here that five minutes on the dough cycle were sufficient.

I made the biga, the overnight starter, on December 22nd, and made the dough and baked it on the 23rd. I served it on Christmas day–it takes forethought to have it ready in time, but it’s lovely to have something ready to eat on Christmas with no fuss on the day.

My changes to the ingredients: I omitted the fiori di sicilia (which provides some of the citrus flavour), because I didn’t have any. For the fruit, I used dried cranberries and pears, which I soaked in about a 1/3 cup of lemon and orange juice. I added 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 1 tablespoon orange zest. This made the cake smell heavenly, and soaking the fruit made it juicy and tender.

My husband said it smelled perfect, and that its taste and texture were just like the panettone he had eaten in Italy.  In fact, it is in the way of becoming a new tradition for my family–it was quite a crowd-pleaser and my dad declared I am now stuck making it for Christmas breakfast for the rest of forever!

All the steps (mouse over or click for captions):

My one idea for improving it, which I will try next year, is brushing it with a glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar after its first serving (including over the open ends), to seal in the moisture.

Holiday Hiatus

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Our little Christmas tree, complete with angelic Troll doll ornament.

I apologize for my lack of posts lately. I have my reasons, of course. I’ve been busy with holiday things, and I had a setback with my health from which I am still recovering. Also, some of my projects are a surprise, so I can’t post about them until after Christmas. I promise to update and show what I’ve been working on, but I can’t guarantee anything before the new year. I wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a wonderful new year.

 

Grandma’s Christmas Sugar Cookies

Every year at Christmas, my paternal grandparents would drive up to our house and have Christmas dinner with us. Grandma would bring a box full of cookies, the highlight of which were the sugar cookies. She made trees for the boys and stars for the girls, and our names were written on them in icing.

In recent years, Grandma has not had enough energy to make cookies, so I thought I would step into the breach and make them myself. I love Grandma, Christmas, baking, and traditions, so it was a perfect fit!

Basic Sugar Cookies, Grandma’s recipe

  • 2 cups sifted flour (all purpose flour is fine)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick, 8 tablespoons)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat till smooth and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and milk.
  3. Add flour mixture to the mixing bowl and blend thoroughly.
  4. Chill cookie dough till easy to handle. You may cover and store it in the fridge for one or two days before using it.
  5. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on lightly floured surface.
  6. Bake at 400°F for six to ten minutes. Never bake longer than ten.

Here are my tips: my dough was sufficiently chilled after 20 minutes in the fridge and 10 minutes in the freezer. I rolled out the dough on floured parchment paper, sandwiching the dough in between two sheets of it. Peel away one layer to cut out the shapes, and just slide the cookies on the baking sheet with the other!

If it becomes too soft, put it back in the fridge. To keep the cookies from expanding too much while baking, refrigerate them for 15 minutes after cutting them out. If the cookies are small, take them out after 5 minutes of baking so they will not dry out. Sugar cookies don’t look done when they are done, so don’t be afraid to take them out when they’re still very pale! They are tricky little things.

Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup softened butter (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/8 cup milk (2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or other extract (almond, lemon, etc.)
  1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and milk. Put it one drop of food coloring for a pale frosting.
  2. Add more sugar to thicken or more milk to thin. Put it the fridge for 20 minutes if you want to stiffen the frosting.

I’ve made them for my family, and I’ve made sure to save some for my grandparents. I know Grandma is pleased I’m carrying on the tradition.