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.

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