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Holiday Sweets Bring Joy to The World

Original post made by Jacqui Love Marshall on Dec 14, 2009

'Tis the season…to bake a plenty and treat your loved ones to the best desserts of the holidays! If you're a little more ambitious, you can even bake some delectable gifts to give.

I usually bake Christmas cookies but, this year, I'm focusing on holiday cakes. It's nice to have a tasty cake on hand to serve with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate when friends stop by, to offer a warm slice to a neighbor just as it comes out of the oven, or as an offering to de-stress your out-of-town guests as they wearily arrive from the airport. And, with a clear cellophane bag and some bright ribbon, a homemade holiday dessert becomes a charming hostess gift welcomed in any household.

Now, if you're more of a cookie maker, check out The Food Network's annual "12 Days of Cookies." On their web site, you'll find the last few years of their featured cookie recipes: Web Link

To get yourself in the holiday baking mood, set the stage: Light some scented candles, start a pot of coffee and put on your favorite holiday music. Clear a large space so you can easily access all essential ingredients and supplies. Be sure to select a day with no other commitments so you can work without interruption. Consider inviting a friend to bake with you and share the final results. Whatever and whenever you bake, turn your work into a fun holiday event.

So, before December 25th comes and goes, pull out the containers of flour, sugar, spices, nuts, etc. Then, tie on that apron, roll up your sleeves and start baking. For making holiday treats that bring joy to the people in your world, you'll immediately go to the top of Santa's "especially nice" list for 2010…and theirs too!

Ginger-Rum Bundt Cake

Cake:

1 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

3 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp table salt

¾ cup whole milk, room temperature

1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed golden brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 large egg yolks, room temperature

Syrup:

1 cup dark rum

¼ cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger

1. For the cake: Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the lower third. Brush a 12-cup Bundt pan thoroughly with melted butter, coat with flour, and tap out the excess. Sprinkle nuts in bottom of pan

and set aside.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl until evenly combined; set aside. Whisk together milk, ginger, and vanilla in a second small bowl until evenly combined.

3. Combine butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until mixture resembles wet sand and is light, about 3 min. Add eggs one at a time until mixture is smooth. Scrape down mixer and sides of bowl. Reduce mixer to low, add 1/3 flour mixture and whisk until just moistened through. Whisk in ½ milk mixture and whisk until just moistened. Repeat until all ingredients are added, ending with flour. Transfer batter to prepared Bundt pan and smooth out so batter is even.

4. Bake until cake is set, golden brown, and a cake tester inserted in middle comes out clean, about 50 min. Transfer to a rack, let cool 10 min. then invert onto a wire rack, remove from pan, and cool

completely.

5. For the syrup: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly syrupy, about 5 min. Strain and set aside to cool slightly.

6. When cake is at room temperature, use a skewer to poke holes all over the top. Drizzle the syrup into the holes in the cake, small spoonful by spoonful, making sure it goes into the cake and doesn't flow down. Let sit at least 4 hours so the syrup can soak into the cake.

Pistachio Cherry Biscotti (makes ~40)

3 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

2 Tbsp canola oil

2½ tsp almond extract

¾ cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios

1 cup dried cherries (about 5 ounces)

½ cup chopped high-quality white chocolate (e.g. Lindt, Perugina)

8 ounces Ghiradelli or Guittard white chocolate

8 ounces Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, oil, and almond extract in large bowl until well blended. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth. Stir in pistachios, dried cherries and ½ cup chopped white chocolate. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls in two 12" strips on prepared baking sheet, spacing strips 3" apart. Using wet fingertips, shape each strip into 3" wide logs, pressing evenly (logs may look slightly lumpy).

3. Bake logs until lightly browned and almost firm to touch, about 30 min. Cool logs on sheet 30 min.

4. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Carefully transfer logs to cutting board. Line same baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut each log crosswise into generous ½"-thick slices [should yield ~40. Stand

biscotti upright, spacing about ¼" apart, in 3 rows on prepared baking sheet. Bake until pale golden (biscotti may be soft but will firm as they cool), about 20 min. Cool completely on baking sheet.

5. Line another large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 8 oz. chopped white chocolate in medium glass bowl. Place 8 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate in another medium glass bowl. Microwave

separately on medium in 20-second intervals just until chocolate is soft to touch, ~40 seconds total (do not overheat or chocolate will burn or seize). Stir chocolate until smooth.

6. Dip 1 end of each biscotti in chocolate; place on baking sheet. Dip half of the biscotti in white and half in dark chocolate. Chill until chocolate is set, about 30 min. (Note: Can be made ahead. Arrange in single layer in airtight container and chill up to 5 days).

Pumpkin Seed Brittle (1½ pounds)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, plus additional for coating

7 ounces hulled pumpkin seeds (these are the green ones)

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp kosher salt

1 pound-6 ounces granulated sugar

12 ounces water

1. Place the oil and seeds into a 10-inch saute pan and set over medium-high heat. Toast the seeds while constantly moving the pan. You will smell their aroma and hear some of them begin to crackle when they are toasted, 4-5 min. Transfer the seeds to a small mixing bowl, add the cayenne, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine.

2. Line a half-sheet pan with a silicone baking mat. Place a 3-quart saucepan inside a large cast iron skillet (to diffuse the heat). Add the sugar and water to the saucepan, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it comes to a boil. Stop stirring, cover and cook for 3 min. Uncover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sugar is a light amber color, approximately 25 min. Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin seed mixture. This will greatly reduce the temperature of the sugar so work quickly to evenly mix.

3. Using an oiled spatula, pour the mixture onto the prepared half-sheet pan, spreading thin. You will have to work quickly when pouring out and spreading the mixture in the pan. Cool completely, approximately 30 min., and then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Mazurkas - Polish Fruit Bars

Cookie:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp fine salt

1 cup unsalted butter, soft, but still cool

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1½ tsp pure vanilla extract

Fruit:

4 tsp cornstarch

4 tsp sugar

½ cup dried apricots, diced

½ cup dried dates, quartered

½ cup dried cherries, each halved

½ cup dark or golden raisins

3 Tbsp candied orange peel, diced

½ cup raw peeled pistachios

Finely grated zest of ½ lemon

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 9" x 13" baking pan with butter or nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl, with an electric mixer, at medium-high speed until creamy, ~2 min. Scrape down the sides and add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat well, and then scrape down the sides. While mixing on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 batches. Scrape down the bowl between each addition, and mix until just blended.

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake until light golden brown with spots of darker golden brown and darker edges, ~30 min. Cool completely, ~45 min.

4. Fruit: Whisk the cornstarch and sugar together in a small saucepan. Whisk in orange juice until mixture dissolves. Stir in the fruits and candied orange peel. Bring to a simmer over medium, stirring often; continue to cook, stirring until thickened into a compote, ~3 min. more. You should be able to draw the spoon along the bottom of pan and see the pan with no liquid seeping back. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the nuts and lemon zest.

5. Spread fruit evenly over the top of the cooled crust. Heat oven to 350°F. Bake mazurkas until golden brown around edges and fruit sets but is still slightly glossy and jewel-like, about 10 min. Cool in pan on rack. Cut, using an oiled knife, into 24 bars. Serve. Note: When double-wrapped, the cookie base keeps at room temperature for 3 days or frozen for 1 month. The fruit compote can be made up to 1 week ahead and refrigerated. Store completed cookies in an airtight container, layers separated with parchment paper, for up to 5 days.

Southern Pecan Pie

Dough for a 1-crust pie

1 cup dark corn syrup

¾ cup sugar

6 Tbsp butter

3 large eggs

Pinch salt

2 Tbsp Bourbon

2 cups pecan halves or pieces (or a combination)

1. Prepare and chill the dough.

2. For the filling: Combine corn syrup and sugar in saucepan and stir to mix. Place over low heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. Remove from heat, add butter and allow butter to melt.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs to break up and whisk in salt and bourbon. Whisk in syrup and butter mixture, being careful not to over mix. Cool mixture while preparing bottom crust.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F and set a rack in the lowest level. For the crust, lightly flour the work surface and the dough and roll it to a 12" disk. Fold the dough in half and place it in the pan; unfold the dough and press it firmly into the pan. Trim away all but ½" excess dough at edge of pan. Fold dough under and flute edges.

5. Arrange pecans in bottom of crust. Skim foam from top of filling (or the top will have an unattractively mottled surface) and pour over the pecans. With the back of a fork, press the pecans down into the filling so that they remain immersed.

6. Bake the pie for ~45 min., until the crust is baked through and the filling is set and well puffed in the center. Cool the pie on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Marcus Samuelson's Apple Cake

2 Tbsp unseasoned bread crumbs

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

2 Granny Smith apples

1 tsp ground cinnamon

4 Tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan

1 large egg

1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

2/3 cup half-and-half

2 tsp confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" spring-form pan and coat with the bread crumbs.

2. Toss together the granulated sugar and brown sugar; set aside.

3. Peel and core the apples, then slice one apple into 16 wedges. Combine the cinnamon and 1/3 cup of the sugar mixture in a medium bowl. Add the apple wedges and toss to coat. Roughly dice the remaining apple.

4. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and the remaining sugar mixture on medium speed until light, fluffy, and lemon colored, about 2 min. Add the egg and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and baking powder. Slowly add the half-and- half, and mix until combined. Fold the diced apple into the batter.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange 14 of the apple wedges fanned along the outer edge of the pan and place the 2 remaining wedges in the center. For a more festive look, sprinkle "craisins" (sweetened dried cranberries) on top as well. Bake for 35-40 min. or until the center is golden brown.

6. Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool completely. Run a small offset spatula around the edges to release the cake from the pan and remove the spring form. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. To serve, cut into 12 wedges.

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Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks. She loves to cook…and eat good food. E-mail her at jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

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