It doesn't feel like Christmas for me unless I've made batches and batches of assorted cookies to be handed out, along with the cashew toffee, as gifts for family, friends and colleagues. Because I do have a day job and can't bake at home all day long (I wish!) I tend to stick to cookies that can be made somewhat in advance. Usually that means I can make the dough ahead of time and bake them as needed or the baked cookies keep in airtight containers for more than a few days.
The cookies that made the cut this year are, clockwise from the left (in the box): cranberry-pistachio biscotti, coconut macaroons, iced sugar cookies, checkerboard sablés and walnut snowballs.
I tried something new with the packaging by using natural kraft boxes and card stock. The snowflake border on the white card stock was made using the Aspen Snowflake punch set from Martha Stewart. The tags were created using pink card stock printed with a greeting I made in Word and stamped with a cupcake design and then punched out. Everything was tied together with red and white bakers twine. I was trying to go for a more "organic and natural" look and I hope I've achieved it.
Nothing screams Christmas and the holidays like a Yule Log or Bûche de Noël. It was created by Parisian pastry chefs in the 19th century and is meant to resemble one of the logs you might burn in your fireplace on a cold winter's night. I tell you, only the Frenchies would think to make a dessert that's supposed to look like a piece of firewood.
Traditionally the cake is made of chocolate sponge cake and some type of filling and then rolled up in a long cylinder. Both ends of the cylinder are cut off; one end is placed on the side of the log and the other is put on top to look like a stump. The entire cake is then covered in chocolate frosting and decorated with meringue mushrooms.
For this cake I filled it with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream and the frosting is dark chocolate ganache. I didn't have the patience to make the mushrooms out of meringue since the humidity in San Francisco normally makes them too soft. Instead I piped the mushrooms out of some leftover vanilla buttercream and it worked great.
Call it blasphemous, but doesn't the finished cake look like a big ol' Hostess Ho Ho? Not sure that the French would appreciate that comparison..hahaha!
One of my all-time favorite things to make for Christmas are hand iced sugar cookies. Don't get me wrong, I make them all year round for gifts and commissioned orders, but there's something about the holidays that make them seem even more special.
This year I tested out two new cookie cutters, the mitten and the snowman. Both cookies were embellished with sanding sugar to get a shimmery texture. The technique is pretty simple but the results are quite stunning. After applying royal icing to the cookie sanding sugar is sprinkled over the still wet icing. Once the icing has dried the excess sugar is shaken off.
These cookies are just begging for a hot mug of cocoa, don't you think?
Mention madeleines and most people associate them with Proust. He put these little cookies on the map when the mere sight of a madeleine was able to trigger memories of long ago. Ever since then they've become somewhat of a cult item. I never got around to reading Remembrance of Things Past but after eating madeleines I don't blame Proust for glorifying them one bit.
I made these madeleines for my friend Gracie who very graciously did me a favor this weekend. She loves these cookies so I thought it was a nice way of thanking her. I had been searching high and low for a particular Martha Stewart Crafts paper punch that I had seen in the December issue of her eponymous magazine. Apparently it was more popular than I thought and I was having no luck finding it at any of my local Michaels craft stores. Judiciously I called the store near Gracie's house and, sure enough, they had the punch in stock which I then put on 24hr hold.
After several instances of salesperson incompetence and digging around on her hands and knees scouring through inventory Gracie was able to find what I was looking for. Eureka! As good a friend as any I've ever known. Thanks again Gracie!!!
Cannelés are a French treat that are a bit hard to classify. They're sort of like a cross between a cake and a crepe. The crust is dark and crunchy but inside it's like a sponge-y custard. Hard to describe, but delicious nonetheless.
When I lived in France I didn't really pay much attention to cannelés. I stuck to the classics: croissants, pain au chocolat, lemon tarts, etc. But my sister really loves these things and they're not what you'd call standard bakery fare here in the US. Sure, in San Francisco we've got several French boulangeries that sell them, but who wants to pay $3 each? Not me!
I figured I'd take a crack at them since I'd never made them before. My mom always says you should try something at least once to know how it is and I'm always looking to expand my baking repertoire. Only downside to making them is you've got to use a cannelé mold if you want to be authentic. Traditionalists swear by the individual copper molds, but I'm not rolling in the moolah as of late (each small mold is about $17!) so the mini silicone ones worked just fine for me. If it ended up being a disaster then it wouldn't be too much of a dent to my wallet.
For a first attempt I think these turned out pretty good. At least they taste good and that's half the battle.