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Standing on the precipice of each new year, I always find myself wondering what the coming year will look like. I usually get that roller coaster stomach-flip feeling of anticipation. (Maybe you get it too?) It's exciting to me, especially considering the amazing things that happened in 2013. There were ups and downs of course, but creatively speaking, I've never been more fulfilled. For me, that's a huge deal! It's a big part of my happiness in life. So, believe me when I say that it's been my pleasure to bake for you -and with you- this past year.


I whipped up these pomegranate gelée spritzers in a hurry because I've spent the better part of today thinking it was December 30th. (How did that happen?) Luckily, I'd done some prep work yesterday and already had the macarons baked and filled. I used a combination of pomegranate juice and sparkling white wine for the spritzer gelée, and it really turned out delicious. If you don't have time (or are totally confused about what day it is- ahem.) you can short-cut these parfaits by purchasing macarons from a local bakery.

Last week we packed up the pugs and some warm clothes and headed to a little cabin in the mountains for a pre-Christmas-Christmas. Gifts were exchanged, naps were taken, and most importantly, waffles were made. It's become our tradition to always have waffles for breakfast during our cabin stay.

The waffle mix I use couldn't be easier to make. I whisk up a batch just before we leave and it totes away easily in an air-tight container. There are a few extra things we have to bring along too, like our waffle maker and a bottle of maple syrup, but we shop for the perishables at a local mini mart after unpacking (eggs, butter, buttermilk).

Waffle mix makes a good last minute gift, too - just put it in a pint jar tied with pretty ribbon and write the additional ingredients needed on a tag.


My favorite part of making a yule log cake has always been the adornments - bark made from chocolate pieces, powdered sugar snow, almond pine cones and above all - meringue mushrooms. Since I've been using meringue mushrooms this year in other less traditional ways (see here and here), I decided that this cake didn't need them. But that was only after my discovery of mint chocolate twigs. I knew they'd be just the thing for a more modern take on Bûche de Noël.


The top layer of this "cake" is a mint-flavored no-bake cheesecake. It's so creamy and mild, which is exactly how I like my minty sweets (aggressive peppermint is such a turn-off!). The chocolate mousse layer is slightly more airy texture-wise but it's right at home with the other cold, creamy no-bake elements.

This is a fun and easy project for holiday gift giving, and one that you can - quite literally - put your own unique stamp on! Peppermint pastilles are made with confectioners' sugar, powdered gelatin and mint extract. When the candies harden, you can turn them into little works of art using rubber stamps and food color.




To get all the instructions with step-by-step pictures, head on over to the Etsy Blog!




Our family tradition is to make Snow Cream on powdery winter days. There's something about its sweet, creamy flavor that reminds me of Tres Leches Cake (no doubt it's all that sweetened condensed milk and vanilla in the three milks mixture). I had the idea to marry the two as a cake-cone, and since the paper cones are made to hold ice and syrup, I figured they would hold up to the saturation of tres leches.

Today is St. Lucia day! The day that our Scandinavian friends celebrate Saint Lucy, a symbol of hope and light in dark times. If you're not familiar with her story, you should definitely read up about it here and watch the adorable video here. In short, The festival of St. Lucia begins the Christmas season in Swedish custom, and she comes as a young girl crowned with fresh greens and lit candles carrying a tray of baked goods. These sweet, spiral buns are traditionally served on this day.

I decided to create a traditional candle crown to surround my bowl of Lucia buns, so I spent some time yesterday in the woods collecting pine branches. I'm not at all qualified to play Lucia, but I couldn't resist trying on the crown. It's hard for me to imagine anyone walking around with lit candles on their heads! These days a safer battery operated candle alternative is offered (which I think is a good idea, considering the use of flammable hair product and whatnot).



It's difficult to be in a bad mood with the delicious aroma of yeast buns and evergreen floating around the house. Even the little sleeping dogs got feisty once I brought in those branches. You'll notice Churro-pug in some of the pictures here -I couldn't keep his sniffer out of my wreath pile!


This is one of the easiest yeast breads I've ever made. It's almost no-knead, and the dough can be refrigerated overnight, which is a nice convenience if you're considering these for breakfast. I really love the flavor and golden color the saffron lends to these airy, puffed buns. If you can't find the non-melting Swedish pearl sugar in your grocery store, it can be ordered online.

Note: Whenever you participate in a tradition that you admire - but don't necessarily belong to - you often run the risk of missing a detail and upsetting those who hold it dear. I've received a couple of messages about these buns saying there's not enough saffron in the dough, and that they should be much more yellow in color. The recipe I used was from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas, and I followed her recommendation for the amount of saffron to use. I appreciate the correction/instruction from my Swedish readers and will apply it to my next batch of St. Lucia buns. Thank you!


St. Lucia Buns: Swedish Saffron Christmas Bread 
[click for printable version]
Source: Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
Yield: 24 buns

2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, 110F to 115F
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Glaze
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
Swedish pearl sugar
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast in the warm water; stir gently and briefly with a fork. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir again. Let mixture stand until the yeast foams, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, butter, cream, milk, saffron, salt and eggs. Fit mixer with the paddle attachment and beat well on medium-low speed until combined. Remove paddle attachment from mixer and fit with the dough hook. Add flour 1 cup at a time mixing well with each addition to keep the dough smooth and satiny. You may not need to use all of the flour.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 24 even pieces (about 2-inches square). Roll each square into a long rope, about 12-inches long. Curl each end of a rope in opposite directions, creating an "S" shape (or a backward "S" shape). Lift the bun onto the parchment; repeat curling with remaining dough ropes until there are 12 per baking sheet.
  5. For the glaze, beat the egg in a condiment cup and stir in the milk. Brush each bun with the glaze then sprinkle over pearl sugar.  Place sheets in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy.
Heather's notes:
I use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make this bread, but it requires no intensive kneading. You can stir the ingredients by hand until a satiny, soft (but non-sticky) dough is formed.
You may not have to use all the flour. I used a little less than 4 cups. I stopped adding flour when the dough started pulling away from the sides of the mixing bowl (while beaten with the dough hook).
I place the sheets of buns on the range-top of my preheated oven. The heat from the oven encourages the dough to raise.







I was so happy when my husband offered to put up our Christmas tree this year. With all the baking and book-writing going on, I simply didn't have the time or inspiration to spare. He's a pretty creative guy (in a software developer kind of way), so I was excited to see what kind of tree-decorating magic he could work.

When he called me over to see his design, I was amazed at how beautifully woodsy and natural the tree looked. As I studied the tree in greater detail, I noticed some things were missing. Then I noticed a box set aside, and therein was every sparkly ornament I'd ever bought.

"What about these?" I picked two sequined birds from the box.
"Nope." he said.
"They're woodsy!" I argued, which garnered an eye roll.
I held up a glittered pear. He shook his head.


The good news is, I didn't even feel like sulking about the lack of sparkle because the tree was undeniably beautiful - and I didn't have to lift a finger!  Anyway, I've more than made up for the lack of holiday glitz with these sparkly,spiked eggnog cupcakes.


Black forest cake has been on my baking bucket list for ages. I've attempted it several times - and made it as far as the deep chocolaty cake layers - only to find that my jar of cherries had gone missing (i.e., eaten by a forgetful me). This time I bought two extra jars and resolved to just make it already! 

My previous attempts always gravitated toward the standard 9-inch round double layer cake covered in whip and chocolate shavings et al. But not this time. I'll claim the muse led elsewhere, but it could just be my inability to ever make something exactly as it is intended to be made. Either way, what resulted is a rather stately black forest-zuccotoesque (that's not really a word)-dome cake. It's mighty good, too!



Gingerbread houses are a favorite of mine to make during the Christmas season. You might already know this if you're a regular reader (if not, see here, here and even here!). This past summer HGTV cooked up an idea for three different takes on gingerbread structures, and they asked if I'd be willing to whip them up for a holiday feature. I was more than happy to oblige!



The first on my list to design was a log cabin. The walls are made of gingerbread, but then they're covered with pretzel rods cut to size. It's hard to pick a favorite of the three houses, but this one may be it (it's the coziest, if you ask me!). If you'd like to try your hand at making it, click here for the template, here for the recipe and here for a step-by-step image gallery.


Next is the Cape Cod home. It uses the same template as the Log Cabin, but the structure is turned differently (using the long side as the front). My husband and I live in a Cape Cod house, so this one had special significance for me. Despite lacking dormers (for simplicity's sake), I think it represents the style fairly well.

Want to give it a try? You can find the recipe here and the step-by-step image gallery here.


Last but not least is the Victorian. The original idea was to use one template for all three houses, but I felt the Victorian needed more character. So, this house uses a different set of plans (you can find them here). It seemed daunting to design turrets and bay windows, so I kept things fairly simple.

If you'd like to try your hand at recreating it, you can find the recipe here and the step-by-step images here. The pine tree cupcake picks I used to decorate around all of the houses can be found here.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing my cookie architecture, and I hope it inspires you to make your own!
Happy building!
xo
-h

Many of you know that I've spent 2013 baking for Betty. It's been a lively year of fun minion cakes, candy bar creations and snickerdoodle skillets. I'd anticipated some special holiday projects, and I was thrilled to learn I'd be recreating one of their Red Hot Holiday Trends! You see, each year the sweet minds behind Betty Crocker gauge what's new and exciting in the baking world - turns out, fruitcake is so in!

But not just any old fruitcake (so leave those bright green and red candied cherries on the shelf!). We're talking bourbon-plumped figs, juicy dates, plum jam filling and homemade cream cheese frosting. Frosting on fruitcake? Heck yes. Cheese paired with fruit is almost always a heavenly match.


How funny are these little guys? I couldn't help but giggle as I made them because each seemed to take on a different personality. They're simply made from meringue and candy canes. I used jumbo confetti sequins (like these) for their ears, but slivered almonds would work well, too. I love how they're like a lollipop with an edible stick.

Even though these are pretty easy to make, Biscuit and I decided to make a short video tutorial!

(email subscribers click here or here to view)



You can make these using stiff peak royal icing also, (which eliminates baking) but the baked meringue version is my favorite, and that's what I chose to demonstrate in the video.

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