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.

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