These days after Christmas are quiet and there always seems to be another scrap of wrapping paper to tidy away. Little preparations for New Year's Eve are on my to-do list - like these petite champagne cream shots. They can be made ahead and are the perfect size for sampling without breaking any newly made resolutions (if such things apply).

I only have one resolution this year and that is to do more good than harm. And hopefully I can manage no harm at all!  Let's do our best to take care of each other, okay? (smile)

My Christmas looks like...

If you follow me on Pinterest, then you know that I'm a teeny bit obsessed with crinkle cookies right now.  I had planned to make red velvet crinkles for Christmas all along, but something wonderful and miraculous happened.

An unopened package of Oreos.
In my pantry.

This is something that never happens. They're usually eaten so fast I don't have a chance to use them in a recipe. I felt a sense of urgency, and surely Oreo-stuffed red velvet crinkles would be the best thing ever, right?!  Right.

These bake up extra-large and pillowy. One cookie should get you through a vigorous present-wrapping session. You may need two if little pugs are running off with your packing tape.

I could get lost in those nooks and crannies!

It's no secret that I've been counting down the days until the arrival of The Hobbit movie. And all the while there's been much constructing going on in my dining room.  I've been working on my own little piece of The Shire in gingerbread form.

The inspiration for this particular hobbit hole comes from Bag End, but it's by no means an exact replica. It's just a place where I imagine a hobbit could be very comfortable.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." - The Hobbit, Chapter 1

Many of my original dessert recipes come from a thought or memory tied to my heart. Two days ago I found myself daydreaming while mixing up a bowl of cookie dough for truffles. When I finally snapped out of it, I laughed. "Where did I go just now?"

Oh yeah. 

It was my thirtieth birthday. My husband had taken me to a nice restaurant and I was wearing a new green dress. The waiter brought out the biggest piece of chocolate zuccotto cake I'd ever seen!  People in the restaurant were turning around to look at the tremendous piece of cake in front of me.  I felt happy.

Needless to say, the truffle-making was history. Instead, I pressed the chocolate chip cookie dough into a stainless steel bowl.  It was the beginning of a very good thing.

Every year I look forward to immersing myself in all the little details that come with assembling and decorating a gingerbread house, and this year is no different!  The inspiration for this gnome home comes from the winter woodland decorations on my Christmas tree. (I even have a gnome Christmas tree topper!)

Get all the specifics with step-by-step photos and detailed instructions HERE on the Etsy Blog!

Viennese shortdough or Mürbteig is my new favorite Christmas cookie. I've only just discovered the recipe and I'm already on my third batch this week. I'm usually not so enthusiastic about making Christmas cookies because I tire easily of the repetition it requires, but this cookie dough changes everything!

First of all, it's delicious. Like a cross between a sugar cookie and shortbread, it has a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Secondly, the baked cookies improve upon standing. How perfect for busy holiday bakers! The cookies can be made several days ahead, and they mellow and become more flavorful over time. The unfilled cookies keep for two weeks and the dough can be frozen for up to six months!

L to R: Blackberry jelly sandwich cookies, pistachio red currant hussars,
sugar dusted wing cut-outs, cherries-in-the-snow tassies
I especially appreciated being able to make several types of cookies from one batch. The diversity of tasks kept my mind active and free of cookie fatigue.

Christmas time's a-coming and in the spirit of holiday giving I'm wrapping up some of my favorite cookbooks for YOU!

This week has been filled with holiday songs, gift buying, gingerbread decorating, cake baking and advent calendaring. I'm trying to be fully present in the season despite the unusually warm weather here in East Tennessee.

This cake helped a little with that.
Let your heart be light, dear friends.  And your frosting, too.

Hot chocolate on a stick is one of my favorite sweets to gift for the holidays.  I first blogged about it back in 2009 and I've made it every year since! They're so cute packaged individually and make great stocking stuffers. Today I'm sharing my own recipe for a spiced version on the ModCloth Blog!  It's my favorite adaptation so far.  It's subtly spicy and a great way to warm up in chilly weather.  Get all the details HERE!

A few weeks ago The Everygirl editors asked me share one of my favorite holiday recipes for a feature on their site. The first thing that came to mind was this delicious gingerbread bundt cake.  It reminds me of the gingerbread my grandmother used to make and it's so easy to whip up.  My favorite thing about it is the sweet coffee glaze. It's makes a good breakfast!

I'm sharing the recipe here on my blog today, but you should certainly check out the entire feature (HERE) that includes 4 other baking bloggers and their favorite holiday recipes.  (I can't wait to make those little mince pies from Poires au Chocolat!).

A few years ago when I first began baking in earnest, my results with yeast-risen breads and pastries were mixed at best. Sometimes I'd have gorgeous risen dough and other times I'd cry over brioche buns that could double as hockey pucks. I blamed the yeast.  Living things can be unpredictable, right?  That was my excuse.

I've corrected some novice mistakes since then. Simple things like checking the expiration date before purchase and use make a big difference, and proper storage is very important too.

Sugar cookies are a Christmas tradition at my house. This year I've decided to show off our decorating skills by creating a cookie centerpiece!  It's a fun baking and crafting project, and a festive way to adorn your holiday table.  Get the picture tutorial with detailed instructions HERE, on the Etsy Blog.

Each year around the holiday season I get the sensation that time is speeding up. Today I'll be RSVP-ing to Christmas parties and tomorrow I'll be wishing you a Happy New Year! So, even though it's not yet December I've decided to start my Christmas baking full force.

One sweet treat I love to take to holiday parties is cheesecake.  It feeds a crowd and is always well received. This is probably the fluffiest baked cheesecake I've ever made!  I was really surprised because it wasn't as dense as others I've retrieved from a water bath.  It has a shortbread cookie crust and a sweetened sour cream layer on top that holds on your choice of Christmas candies.

You can really put your own individual stamp on this cake by using a mixture of your favorite candies. Kids will love to help with the decoration and there's really no way to mess it up!  

I used dark chocolate M&M's, Sixlets, coconut Ferrero Raffaello confections, gumdrops, jelly beans, jimmies, confetti quins and soft puffy peppermints. Even though I fully encourage you to go crazy with the adornment, I would like to recommend using candies that are all relatively soft.  Hard candies are not welcome to this party.

My sister Megs (a.k.a. Queen of the Pies) is making pumpkin and pecan pie for Thanksgiving, so I get to have fun baking up something a little less traditional.

This tart has been bookmarked for ages.  The simplicity of its components drew me in: buttery tart crust, caramel, ganache, sea salt. I love all of those things individually so I could imagine how heavenly they would be all together! 

Caramel is my favorite above chocolate (have I mentioned that before?) and because I'm very particular about it, my own caramel recipe is substituted in this tart. It's firm enough to hold its shape and won't spill out of the tart when cut, but it's soft enough to be ooey-gooey good!

Around this time each year I begin to get emails from readers asking about my favorite kitchen essentials. Instead of trying to reply individually, I'm going public with my favorites! I use all of these items in my own kitchen. You may even recognize some of them from previous posts on this blog. This is a short list of things that work for me, the "Necessities" keep me functioning and the things "For Fun" keep me inspired.

This is a bit of a departure from my normal posting, but I feel it could be helpful if you've got a special baker on your Christmas list.

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to cozy up with a mug of hot cider, and these little cinnamon mulling sticks make spicing your cup a no-brainer.  They're so easy to make, too!  I didn't even get out my candy thermometer - they're made in the microwave!

I have a great big list of make-and-give goodies to share this year, and this is one of my favorites so far. These can be made a week ahead of time (in a non-humid environment) and they look extra cute packaged in cellophane bags or little boxes. 

When my husband saw this pie he said " Pie?  That looks more like a cheesecake!"

I had to laugh because's he's right, but I assure you it's 100% pumpkin pie! And it may look a little fancier than its classic counterpart, but it's no more difficult to make. Essentially, it's buttery crust and pumpkin custard like any normal pumpkin pie, but I've added walnut streusel and a generous drizzle of dulce de leche on top.

It certainly seems like all that caramelized goodness on top would steal the show, but with one bite you'll know pumpkin is the true star.  There's miles of it in this pie!

I guess you could say this recipe is my love letter to pumpkin.

I love you.
I do.

Here's something that feels weird to say - I'm the boss of me.  It's true!  Last Friday was my last day of working for someone else.  It feels a little strange.

It's a little strange in the mornings too.  Biscuit-the-pug's internal clock still goes off at 5:45 a.m., and he nudges me in my sleep as if to say "you're late."  He's trudged downstairs to my office with me every morning for four years at this early hour - while everyone else in the house snoozed on.  This morning he slept until exactly 7:32.  I'm hoping this becomes a new trend.

I've never been overly fond of fudge.  It's one of those desserts that I pass by because it's too much.

Too dense.
Too sweet.
Too one-note in texture.

This fudge recipe changes everything.

There's so much going on here, I don't even know where to begin.  All at once it's salty, sweet, crunchy and smooth! The bottom layer is a chocolate-pretzel crust.  Layer two is silky maple-peanut butter fudge that is so easy to make! It's all topped off with a layer of chocolate ganache embedded with pretzel sticks and more crushed pretzels. Crazy. Delicious.

Did I mention this recipe makes FOUR POUNDS of fudge? Yeah. I'd seriously consider bookmarking this one for the Thanksgiving crowd or for gift giving at Christmas! I'll definitely be making a batch for the people on my bake-and-give list.

This fudge is definitely rich, but it's very well balanced with the saltiness of the pretzels.  And I'm crazy about the maple peanut butter fudge.  It reminds me a little of  the breakfast waffles I  make - sandwiched with plenty of peanut butter and maple syrup!

Since Halloween is this Wednesday(!), I couldn't resist sharing this little gem from the SprinkleBakes book. Believe it or not, this is a delicious Black Forest Cake! It's one of my favorite recipes in the book and a great "trick" for your Halloween party buffet.

(I think it would make a great Valentine's day cake, too!)

Even though I'm not sharing the recipe online quite yet, it's all broken down in step-by-step pictures and easy to understand instructions in the SprinkleBakes book. And I'm giving away 5 copies!

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Cinnamon, spice and little magic are the ingredients in these cookies!  Package them up with candy "pins" as fun favors for your next Halloween bash.  You can find my detailed instructions along with LOTS of step-by-step photos HERE on the Etsy blog!

There's a celebration happening today! It's a virtual baby shower for my pal Kristan of Confessions of a Cookbook Queen! She's expecting Princess Lucy next month, so I've created a special cupcake for her inspired by the traditional Swedish Princesstårta.

I've always thought the Princess Torte looked extra sweet and dainty with that little pink rose on top. Don't you think they'd be perfect for a little girl's tea party?! No question.

Kristan, please invite me over when it's little girl tea party time. I'll bring the cupcakes!

Halloween is fast approaching and I've got candy on the brain!

I have a special love for the nostalgic goodies that ended up in my treat bag as a kid, so I've re-created one of the classics.  This is my no-bake/no-cook version of Tootsie Rolls®!  You can find the recipe and instructional photos on Food52's Small Batch!

My good friend Heather Alexander of  The Mommyhood blog has written a brand new book for first time moms - and I'm giving away two copies!

Now, I know this book is for new moms but even as someone who doesn't have children I learned some valuable lessons just by glancing through the preview.


When a relative comes to your book signing with her new baby you shouldn't play patty-cake after shaking hands with 75 people. Turns out, babies love to stick their hands in their mouths.

(Leslie, I'm sorry for germing up your baby.)

In my defense she was really cute and I couldn't help myself.  But I know better now.

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