I LOVE the smell of sweet, bready things baking in the oven, especially around Christmas time. When I think of Christmas sweet, bready treats, I think of rich, buttery, fragrant, spiced treats like muffins, rolls, and sticky buns. I think of smells like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, orange, and anise. I think of the movie A Little Princess–the scene in which Sarah and Becky wake up to find their attic room covered in rich, bright drapes and tapestries, and a table topped with juicy sausages and berry muffins.
That’s why I made cranberry orange cinnamon rolls for breakfast for my family over Christmas. I wanted to experience that kind of delight and deliciousness.
This cinnamon roll recipe is super easy. The dough is your standard dough, but the fillings and cinnamon/sugar/butter mixture can vary depending on what add-ins you want to incorporate. In this Christmas batch, I added ginger, cloves, and nutmeg to the cinnamon/sugar mixture to give it a more holiday spin. I also added in some orange zest and chopped cranberries. Yum. My mom said it was better than Cinnabon. And that’s saying something coming from her.
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine, softened
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in butter; stir until melted. Let cool until lukewarm.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 1/4 cup flour, yeast, sugar and salt; mix well. Add water, egg and the milk mixture; beat well. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has just pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.
- Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and softened butter. In another small bowl, mix the cranberries and orange zest.
- Roll out dough into a 12×9 inch rectangle. Spread dough with butter/sugar mixture. Then sprinkle the cranberry/zest mixture. Roll up dough and pinch seam to seal. Cut into 12 to 16 equal sized rolls and place cut side up in a 9×13 baking dish. I use dental floss to cut the log into rolls; much easier than a knife!
- Cover with saran wrap and let rise until doubled. I’ve also made this two days in advance and placed in the fridge until ready to bake. If making in advance, be sure to let the dough rest and rise at room temp for a few hours before baking. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until browned.
- Prepare icing by mixing in powdered sugar into the orange juice. Serve warm and top with icing.
This Christmas, I decided to make various little treats to share with my friends and family. To give away to friends, I made gingersnaps, chocolate candycane cookies, and shortbread squares.
For my parents’ Christmas day party, I made a chocolate peppermint truffle tart and a delightful cheese and crackers spread.
None of these recipes are entirely my own. I added bits and pieces here and there, and made some modifications, but overall, thanks to the world wide web, I found awesome, tried and true recipes already in existence!
For the gingersnaps, I adapted Grandma’s Gingersnaps from allrecipes.com, using half whole wheat flour and half white flour to make it a little healthier, as well as adding in some Trader Joe’s candied ginger bits.
- 3/4 cup margarine
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar for decoration
- chopped candied ginger bits
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- In a medium bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and molasses until well blended. Combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; stir into the molasses mixture to form a dough. Stir in candied ginger. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and roll the balls in the remaining sugar. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the chocolate candycane cookies, I also referred to allrecipes.com. But I added in some crushed candycane bits for some added mintyness as well as color.
Chocolate Candycane Cookies
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoon peppermint extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 5 crushed candy canes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, then stir in vanilla and peppermint extracts. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.
- Bake 9 minutes.
I loved baking and making these treats. I know they say home is where the heart is. I say, home is where the heart and food are. 🙂
food processor (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ large yellow onion, minced
2 medium carrots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp Italian seasoning (or combo of rosemary, thyme, oregano)
1 tbsp parsley
3 tbsp tomato paste
splash Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
splash A1 steak sauce (to taste)
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cups beef broth
1 cup non-fat milk
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat your saucepan to medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the minced onions and carrots (I like to use my food processor to get the veggies super fine). Saute for 5 minutes.
2. Add your garlic and saute for a couple more minutes.
3. Add your bell pepper and saute for a couple more minutes. (Most recipes call for celery, but I like the subtle spice of green bell pepper.)
4. Add the bay leaves, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, paprika, and Italian seasonings. Stir to combine.
5. Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink (about 5 minutes).
6. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and A1 sauce. Cook for 1 min.
7. Add in the beef broth, tomato sauce, and milk. Bring to a boil and cook for a couple of minutes to reduce down to thicken. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for at least another hour to allow the sauce to continue to thicken, the meat to tenderize, and the flavors to intensify.
One of my most favorite dishes of all time is gnocchi with truffle oil cream sauce. I first encountered this delectable dish at List, one of Seattle’s best happy hour hot spots; all the food is half off! Each bite of List’s gnocchi melts in your mouth. The gnocchi is soft, pillowy, and airy, and the cream sauce is so rich, yet light. I just HAD to replicate this dish at home.
I followed this recipe from Tyler Florence for the gnocchi. For my first time making gnocchi, it was easier than I thought. The trick is to get the dough to be the right consistency without overworking it. Too floury, and it sinks when it boils and is too dense. Not enough flour and it comes apart in the water. When rolling the gnocchi out, you want to roll OUT, putting pressure out as you roll, not down toward your work surface. This will help keep the gnocchi light. With Jeff and my sister helping me make the gnocchi, our gnocchi pieces were not very uniform. And that’s okay. They were still good!
For the cream sauce, I created my own recipe to replicate List’s sauce as best I as I could. I opted for healthier ingredients. Instead of butter, I used olive oil. Instead of heavy cream, I used skim milk. To be honest, my own sauce was just as rich and creamy as List’s. No need for the extra calories.
Truffle Cream Sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 head shallot, minced
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups non-fat milk
¼ cup flour
1 tsp white pepper
½ tsp nutmeg
¾ cup parmesan cheese
salt to taste
1 tbsp black (or white) truffle oil
2. Add chicken stock and milk and whisk together. Bring to a boil on high then immediately bring back to low.
3. Whisk in some of your flour to thicken the sauce, stirring constantly to prevent clumps.
4. Add nutmeg and white pepper and whisk.
5. Reduce down for at least 30 minutes. Add flour to thicken or milk to thin, depending on your preferences.
6. Just before serving, whisk in grated parmesan cheese and whisk until smooth. Add truffle oil and stir again. Serve over fresh, hot gnocchi. Voila!
I made salmon dip and tuna dip recently for a potluck affair, and needed some crackers to accompany the dips, but I HATE serving store-bought anything when I contribute food to a potluck occasion. I feel like what I share should be made with love. Not purchased someplace else. Hence, to go with my dips, I made savory crackers.
To be honest, making crackers is a time-consuming, neck-straining process and it is unlikely I will ever make them again. But, just in case I want to again, I documented the recipe I used.
Home-made crackers are fairly simple to make. It just requires time and patience.
1 cup all-purpose or white flour
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ cup ground flax seed
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ cup (or 1 stick) butter
1 cup water
extra white flour for dusting
pastry mat or lots of counter space to work
parchment-lined cookie sheets
pizza cutter or other utensils to cut crackers
1. Sift all the dry ingredients together in your mixing bowl.
3. Add water and knead until dough holds together.
4. Transfer dough to your work surface. Divide the dough in half and set one half aside. Dust some flour on your work surface and work with dough until it is no longer sticky. Roll out your dough until about ⅛ inch thick (or thin, shall I say). The thinner your dough, the crispier your crackers will be (though the more likely it will burn when baking).
5. With your pizza cutter, cut the dough into small squares (about 1×1 inch).
There you have. Easy, home-made savory crackers!
Making biscotti at home always seemed like such a hassle, so I never really tried making it until now. Fortunately, I have an amazing cook and baker friend, Liz (she is Italian), who gave me a biscotti baking lesson.
We made two batches–apple cinnamon and chocolate coffee toffee.
It’s actually easy to make, if you know what the dough should look and feel like. Not too sticky, but not too flour-y. Just right.
Biscotti is great because the base for any biscotti is exactly the same–2 eggs, 1 stick butter, 2/3 cups sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, dash salt, 2 cups flour…add whatever wet and dry flavorings/extra ingredients, and you have yourself a perfect canvas for sweet, bready treats. (Note that if you add dry flavorings like cocao powder, you will need to use less flour because the cocao powder would take up some of the dry ingredient space.) Here is the recipe, plucked straight from an email Liz sent to me. In her own words:
They are super easy to make; you just need some time and go with your feeling (literally). The base recipe is so basic – all you really need is that and then add any of the flavor combinations you want (adding wet and dry ingredients at the right stage).
– 1/2 cup butter (softened)
– 2/3 cup sugar
– 2 eggs
– 1 3/4 or 2 cups flour (depending on the dry ingredients)
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
The chocolate ones came from a website you shared with me! I used this site to give me proportions for the cocoa powder. http://www.italian-dessert-recipes.com/italian_biscotti_recipe.html. I also, incorporate some of my mom’s tweaks. Don’t forget egg wash before you start baking to give it that extra sheen. I don’t believe that’s in the recipes in the site above. Really just stick to the base and then let your imagination fly.
– preheat oven to 350
– cream butter and sugar
– add eggs
– add any other wet flavorings (liqueurs, coffee, extracts; this includes zests as well)
– In a separate bowl mix/sift (the sifting isn’t 100% necessary especially if you use a stand mixer, if not then you probably should) the flour, baking powder, salt
– slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until just combined; don’t over mix
– fold in other flavors (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, etc).
– divide dough in half; on lightly floured board, roll into logs and pat down gently (forms an elongated dome shape)
– place logs on lightly greased baking sheet and brush with egg wash
– bake approx 20-30 min (depends on size); you know to take them out when they are slightly firm to the touch.
– remove and let logs cool for 5-10 minutes; lower oven to 325; once they are cooled slice the biscotti and place on ungreased baking sheet on their side.
– bake about 8-10 min, then flip and bake for another 8-10
– remove and let cool completely
If you have any questions when you bake them let me know. This recipe follows closely to the one on the website and my mom’s. The trick is that they don’t always follow the cooking times. You’ve got to pay attention to them – I usually bake and keep an eye to the lower end (20-25 minutes) then go with touch to judge whether or not to take them out or leave them in for a few more minutes. Also, when you bake them again you’re not necessarily going for golden brown, especially with the chocolate because you can’t tell. You’re going for firmness and not over drying them out.