A Christmas Carol holds a play in my household as a cornerstone of Christmas. In fact the 1984 version starring George C Scott is held in such high esteem as THE quintessential version that it heralds the “official” start of yuletide festivities on December 1st for us. Each time there is a new version I look forward to seeing how each of the ghostly visitors will be portrayed. My favorite being the largest of the all- the bountiful and exhuberant Ghost of Christmas Present. Maybe it’s their jovial grasp of transient life and joie de vivre? Or maybe it’s that they are a harbinger of plentiful – cornucopia overflowing with festive bounty. This is what brings me to this recipe- the couronne.
So many things about it that instantly makes me think of the Ghost of Christmas Present. From it’s wreath shape, to the fluted edges blossoming with sweet, festive fillings, to the sweet, heady flavor of marzipan (always a signature festive flavor for me). Consider it in the same vein as that other Christmas classic- stollen, alebit not as heavy I find. The braiding can be a little bit tricky to master – I’m not kidding when I swore at one point it must be like wrestling an octopus. Filling will fall out- just accept it. It is not a testament as to your prowess, it’s just inevitable. Any loose stray filling can just be sprinkled back over the fully shaped dough and nobody, aside from you and the kitchen walls, will be any the wiser.
Although this couronne is good for a week in an airtight container, it really is at it’s best up to three days after baking.
3/4 cup milk
1/2 stick butter
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups Bread Flour
2 1/4 tspn yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 Tbspn salt
3 Tbspn and 1 tspn sugar divided
Zest 1/2 orange
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup Thompson raisins
1/4 cup cherry wine (or orange juice for kid-friendly)
1 tspn vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly copped
1 cup almond marzipan
To glaze and decorate
1/3 cup apricot jam
1 cup icing sugar
1 tspn water
1/4 tspn rum or rum extract
2 Tbspn Flaked almonds, toasted
The night before you want to make the couronne, in an airtight container or jar combine the dried fruits, cherry wine and vanilla extract and mix well. Seal and set aside for the fruit to soak up the liquid, occasionally shaking/ stirring the mixture
The following day, in a small pan combine the milk, butter and cinnamon stick. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the butter has melted fully. Remove from heat and set aside to cool until tepid
In a small bowl mix together the yeast, warm water and 1 Tbspn sugar until combined. Set aside for 10 minutes until frothy
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, remaining sugar and salt
Add in the frothed yeast mixture and the butter/ milk (depending on the humidity of your kitchen you may not need all of the butter/ milk mixture. Start with 3/4 of it and add more slowly if needed)
Knead with the dough hook attachment for 6-7 minutes until it comes together as a dough. Continue mixing until the sides of the bowl are clean and the dough is soft. It should stop feeling sticky and have a smooth exterior
Transfer the dough to a large pre-oiled bowl, cover with cling film and set aside to prove in a warm place approximately an hour
When the dough has about doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Without knocking it back, roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 13x10in in size
Sprinkle the soaked plump fruits over the surface of the dough
Scatter the chopped pecans over the surface of the dough
Break/ tear the marzipan in to rough pieces 1/2″ to 1″ in size. Scatter these pieces over the surface as well
By the time you’ve finished the surface of your dough should be covered with soaked fruits, pecans, and marzipan
Roll the dough tightly like a Swiss roll along the long edge so you end up with a sausage shape approximately 13″ long and transfer the roll to a large lined/ prepared baking sheet.
Cut the roll in half lengthways, all the way along it’s length. Turn the roll lengths so that the cut layers are exposed on top. Keeping the cut layers to the top overlap the two lengths of dough together forming a simple braid.
Form the braided length into a circle shape and join/tuck the ends to form a ring shape. *I use a heatproof greased/ oiled can or circular bowl placed in the middle to wrap the dough around to help give the circular shape
Cover the couronne ring and set aside in a warm place for 30-40 minutes to rise, until the dough springs back quickly when lightly prodded
Preheat your oven to 425F
Bake the proved couronne for 25-30 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool
While the couronne is cooling, heat the apricot jam with a splash of water in a small pan over a medium heat until runny. Pass through a sieve to remove any pieces of fruit, then brush the sieved jam all over the warm couronne to glaze. Set aside to cool completely
For the icing glaze mix together the icing sugar, water and rum (extract) to form a runny glaze. Drizzle over the cooled couronne and scatter with the flaked almonds
The couronne will keep for up to one week at room temperature in an airtight container
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas Let your heart be light Next year all our troubles will be out of sight”
So I’ve finally ventured into the world of online baking, albeit to a select audience- my kids school. Living in the time of Covid-19 has us all at sea, missing connections and striving for some semblance of normality and familiarity in what has become a very isolated, displaced cyber age. Exchanging hugs and handshakes has become thing of the past replaced with online reactions of ‘thumbs up’ and real-time fleeting grabs at proximity with elbow bumps.
It was this want for maintaining connectivity that led me to the small cyber-screen. My kids’ school has a pretty close-knit community of parents and an active parents council. The sundering of this by the Corona virus and the resulting division between “in life” and virtual schooling presented a challenge- how to keep “everyone in the loop”? Both parents and kids missing school-yard friendships and school-gate gossips. Nearly 9 months of following covid-responsible protocols, vastly reduced personal interactions and hyper-vigilant hygiene routines have taken it’s toll on us all – I know they have on me and my family. Now there are feelings of covid-fatigue playing tug-of-war with impending excitement for festivities, all the while trying to hold some together some semblance of normality for ourselves and our children.
Yes, all of this might seem like an overly dramatic preamble to a few festive themed recipes. However, I think it’s in times like these that maybe were forced to look at things differently. Everyday habits and tasks becoming life-buoys helping to navigate the way. We look inward and discover dormant strengths. Especially when it come to our kids. Let’s face it as much as we might complain about them sometimes (oh, I’ll openly admit I do!) there is no judge, jury or executioner that will harm a hair on their heads will we draw breathe. So if distracting them for thirty minutes with cookie making and hot chocolate gives them a well needed little spark of festive joy; a diversion so they aren’t so down about missing playdates or such- then I’m in. I also know as a parent that in times like this when the children are otherwise occupied, you can breathe. Finally exhale and exchange a look with your significant other that says “You okay?… We got this.” Thirty minutes to centre and steady yourself.
A friend of mine said of our current times, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.” There is no cookie-cutter (forgive the pun) or one-size-fits-all way of dealing with this. But we’ll find ways to make it through. It’s what we do as humans and as parents. It’s what we’ll do this holiday season…look for and create some tinsel-tinged spark of festive joy to light the encompassing winter nights. If baking some cookies helps do that then you go ahead and break out those mixing bowls and fire up the oven. I know I will be.
The segment I “zoomed” (?) was just for making and decorating vanilla cookies, along with making peppermint candy cane hot chocolate. I’ve included a couple of other recipes that you can try out if you feel like it. All suitably festively themed and can be made by one or all. Whatever you make or do I hope you and your family have fun. Enjoy the time, the flavors…heck even enjoy the mess.
Wishing you all a happy, safe and healthy Christmas and holiday season. Enjoy the cookies!
“Someday soon we all will be together If the fates allow Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow So have yourself a merry little Christmas now”
Vanilla Sugar Cookies
*Chilling the dough for at least 2 hours is required or else its too tricky and unworkable. I prefer to chill it overnight.
You can’t really go wrong with sugar cookies. Well you can actually. In my experience store bought sugar cookies err on the side of fudgy staleness enrobed in the tooth-aching sweetness of excess icing. This is definitely a case of “homemade is better”.
The only thing to bear in mind with these is the chilling time. I’ve seen various recipes suggesting 30 minutes, whilst others have up to overnight recommended. I’ve found that longer works better so I follow the overnight direction. If you find the dough becoming too soft, gummy and hard to work, wrap it back up in clingwrap and pop it back in the fridge for 30mins or so.
Makes approximately 48 cookies (this depends on your choice of cookie cutters)
Ingredients (all at room temperature)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups icing sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp light corn syrup
½ tsp almond extract
Food coloring (your favorite festive colors) *see note on coloring
Nonpareils; sprinkles; dragees (take your pick!)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with an electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and vanilla until mixture is creamy, about 5-7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. The mixture should become pale, fluffy and not feel grainy when you rub some between your fingers
Whilst your mixture is beating, in a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt and stir to combine. Set aside until needed
To your sugar/ butter mixture, add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, until fully incorporated. If you notice your mixture starting to split, add teaspoon of your flour mixture to bring it back together
Once the eggs have been added, beat in the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, until well combined. Increase the speed until the mixture comes together in a soft dough
Remove the dough from the bowl and divide in to four even balls, flatten to discs and wrap in cling wrap
Chill in the refrigerator for a least 2 hrs, or overnight (I personally find overnight works better
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350°F
Remove your chilled dough from the fridge, one ball at a time, and leave to become pliable whilst your oven heats to temperature. When your oven reaches temperature, roll out the dough to 1/4″ (0.6 cm) onto a well floured surface. (Avoiding rolling the dough too thin as it may stick and tear). Flour is your friend here – make sure you amply dust everything- counter surface, rolling pin, your hands, cutter
Use cookie cutters of your choice for a variety of different shapes and sizes. Using a palette knife, or spatula, place cookies on your lined cookie sheets
Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until the edges are just turning golden brown
Remove from oven and leave to cool on their trays for 5 mins before using a spatula to transfer to cookies to racks to cool completely
Combine icing sugar with milk; corn syrup and extract to reach desired spreading consistency. It should be quite thick. If it is much too thick, add 1/2 Tablespoon more milk. If it is much too thin, add 2 more Tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar. If you drizzle a little of the icing with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing.
Stir in food coloring or leave icing white. You can pour some icing into different bowls if using multiple colors
You can pipe the icing on to the cookies using a piping bag or squeezy bottle, or using a pastry brush, paint frosting over cooled cookies and decorate with your choice of sprinkles
Allow to set for at least 30mins before eating (note: the icing will still be a little soft at this point. If you want the icing to be fully hard for gifting, leave the decorated cookies to air-dry on a rack overnight
*A note on adding coloring: I prefer to use coloring gels when coloring the glaze. They are a concentrate which with very little will pack a real punch of color without affecting the consistency of your glaze. If you’re using the squeezy tube color dyes be aware that because they have a more form you are adding more liquid to your icing mix.
Rudolph Oreo Cookies
Now these look like SO much more work than they are. At worst they can be a little fiddly but that just means there’s more “mis-shapes” for the family to enjoy. This is a great recipe to get the little ones involved in. Once the chocolate is melted you can pretty much give them free reign! Step back and enjoy some chocolate covered chaos.
“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
24 Double-stuffed Oreo cookies (if you can find “Mega-stuffed” even better
Large twist pretzels
48 White chocolate chips (or candy eye decorations)
24 red candy shell chocolates (M&Ms are ideal)
160z chocolate (sweet or semi-sweet, to taste)
Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment or silicone baking matt
Start by cutting up the pretzels. Use a sharp knife to cut them in half, then carefully cut away the center section where the pretzels were joined until to have a vaguely “antler” shape. This bit can be a bit fiddly as the pretzels can break easy but do remember they don’t have to be exact – all reindeers antlers are different after all! Repeat until you have 24 sets of pretzel antlers
Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a pan of water OR in the microwave, stirring after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating. Once it’s melted and smooth, using two forks or a confectionary dipping scoop dip and coat an Oreo cookie until it is full coated. Remove using your chosen tools, then place the dipped cookie on the prepared baking sheet.
While the chocolate is still wet, press a red candy chocolate into the center of the cookie- there’s your nose!
Make your eyes using two white chocolate chips or candy eye decorations
Create two pretzel antlers by pressing them between the cookies and into the space where the cream filling is. You may need to use a fork to hole the top cookie layer pressed in place while you poke the “antlers” in. Once you’ve assembled one reindeer this way, repeat until all of the cookies are dipped and decorated
Lastly to give your reindeer more “eye appeal” dip a toothpick in the melted coating and give each reindeer two black dots in the center of the white chocolate chip eyes
Refrigerate the tray to set the chocolate completely, for about 20 minutes. Store Oreo Reindeer Cookies carefully in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for several weeks, but for the best taste and texture, enjoy them within a week
Candy Cane Hot Chocolate
Well…we need something to wash those cookies down with don’t we? If you want to REALLY treat yourself, dip the rim of your mugs into some melted chocolate and then some crushed peppermint candy canes for a stress-free, festive finishing touch.
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
4oz semisweet chocolate, broken in to pieces
4 peppermint candy canes, crushed
1 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
Crushed peppermint candy canes
4 small peppermint candy canes, to stir
In a saucepan, combine the milk and cream and heat over a medium heat until hot, but not boiling
Whisk in the chocolate and the crushed peppermint candies until melted and smooth
Pour hot chocolate into four mugs, and garnish as preferred. Serve each with a candy cane stirring stick
Baileys Edible Cookie Dough
Because even the grown ups need a li’l something in the festive season. This can easily be made kiddie-friendly by omitting the Baileys liqueur. Looking for that gift that’s a bit different? Then look no further! Place in mason jars, decorate and tag accordingly et viola! Cookie dough can be stored (in jars or other air-tight containers) in the refrigerator for up to a week. To enjoy at it’s best remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup butter, softened
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp Baileys liqueur
(added to taste but I usually keep it to including 2-3)
Festive Candy Sprinkles
Dark Chocolate Chips
Crushed Peppermint Candy Cane
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.
Add in extras and stir until well incorporated. Enjoy! (A note here – I usually keep the extra fixings to a maximum of 3, or else your cookie dough is in danger of becoming an over-sweet mess).
Store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Before eating, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature for a softer texture.
A li’l bit late to the game but here we are- Pumpkin Toffee. Enough said.
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
1 cup salted butter, chopped
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1 tspn salt
1 tspn light corn syrup
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 and 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, divided
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat- the silicone baking mat being the better of the two. Set aside until needed later
In a pan lightly toast pecan pieces for 7-8 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside on a plate until needed
In a large heavy pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the water, 1 cup sugar, salt, corn syrup and pumpkin puree. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves, then brush down the sides of the pan with a water-moistened pastry brush. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan
Now get comfortable- you’re going to be stirring a LOT. Constantly but gently stir the mixture until it reaches 290°F (143°C; soft crack stage). Be watchful– the temperature slowly rises in the beginning, but then moves quickly. I usually take mine off the heat when the toffee reaches 285°F (141°C), as it will continue to cook in the few seconds after
Immediately remove the pan from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 1 cup toasted pecans. Pour the toffee out onto the prepared. lined baking mat. Your mixture should be thick and not spread all the way to the edges of the pan. Cool the toffee for 5-10 minutes
In a microwaveable bowl melt the chocolate chips until smooth. I melt it in the microwave in 20 second increments, stopping and stirring after each
Spread the melted chocolate on top of the toffee, then sprinkle with remaining pecan pieces and sprinkle over the remaining pumpkin pie spice
Refrigerate toffee for 20 minutes or until the chocolate has set. Peel off the silicone baking mat and break toffee into pieces- sized to personal preference of course!
Store toffee in an airtight container at room temperature in a cool dry place for up to 2 weeks
*If you notice the butter separating at any time during the cooking process, remove the pan from heat and beat vigorously (but carefully!) to bring the mixture back together
Are we sitting comfortably? Yes? Good…because here’s another pumpkin recipe. In the spirit of the season, and let’s face it impending CV-19 induced re-lockdown, I’m going to be trying out the wide and various ways of using that seasonal wonder that is pumpkin. You lucky, lucky people! I’ll say right away that they’ll all be sweet bakes – well that’s the plan at the moment, so if you’re holding out for an orgasmic recipe for pumpkin risotto I’m afraid you’re out of luck.
If you follow my blog and recipes you’ll know that brownies are near and dear to my heart. Some people have comfort blankies ala Linus, I have brownies. So it was only right that I should try weave together in kitchen mysticism (it is Halloween season after all!) my love the fudgey (never cakey) traybakes and that bulbous orange cucurbit.
Using pumpkin in the cheesecake element of these brownies instantly renders them fudgey and decadent. I wanted to add another layer there, something to counter thought of sugar-laden PSL. So why not introduce a smokey element- camp-fires, late night and extra complex earthiness working to counter any lingering memories of saccharine heavy beverages.
And why not make them a little more grown up too? These are, after all, brownies for the aficionado. Let’s chuck in some bourbon while we’re at it! For me the flavors of the sweet whiskey go so well with chocolate that it’s too good an opportunity to miss. I’ve also used some chocolate extract here as I really wanted to elevate the chocolate intensity too – like I said these ain’t no five ‘n’ dime brownies. To really bring out the texture of these brownies I find they taste so much better when served straight form the fridge.
So yes- buckle up people…I’ve got 4 weeks of pumpkin recipes left and so far it’s brownies and nanaimo bars down. Any guesses what’s next?
*All ingredients to be at room temperature unless otherwise stated
Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees. Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with cooking oil then line it with parchment paper
In a large bowl, add the cream cheese and beat it until smooth and creamy. Add the rest of the cheesecake batter ingredients mix until well combined and smooth. Set aside until needed later
In a small bowl a bowl set over simmering water, combine the butter and chocolate chips to melt, stirring them together to combine. Once fully melted remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool
In a large bowl if a stand mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and whisk at high speed until pale, fluffy and increased in volume
While you eggs are whisking in a bowl combine the AP flour, cocoa and salt
Into the melted chocolate/ butter mixture add the chocolate extract and bourbon. Stir well to combine. Add these wet ingredients into your whisked egg mixture. Gently fold in until fully combined and uniform in appearance
Sift in the dry ingredients and again gently fold in until well combined and uniform in appearance
Pour about 2/3 of the chocolate batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out. Spread the cheesecake batter over the brownie batter. Dollop the remaining brownie batter over cheesecake batter by spoonfuls. Swirl the batters together by running aknife or a skewer back and forth through the pan
Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until center is set. Using a cake tester or skewer test the centre of the brownie pan – it should come out with few crumbs or a little mixture still on it. The brownies will continue to cook once removed from the oven
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on wire rack and chill before cutting and serving. I usually cut mine in to 4 x 3 giving me 12 brownies. They’re quite rich so I’ve found this to be the ideal size
And here we go again. After the summer that wasn’t it’s time to seek solace in all things autumnal. Shades of ochre and ember signaling days dwindling in trade for shaking out cozy TV blankets; warming comfort foods and pumpkin. All things pumpkin! As much as we deride it Pumpkin, or more to the point Pumpkin Spice, has a unique and habitual place in our hearts.
Yes- we role our eyes with derision at the comically esoteric figure of “Becky” swaddled in her fall knitwear, demanding her PSL but we’ll all still be in the coffeeshop line-up with her- upsizing our regular morning caffeine to the mythical spice-laden liquid crack of meme heaven. Aside from the trees, foodie feeds all over social media turn fall shades of red and orange, taken over by recipes and plates of pumpkin inspired/ derived foods and bakes. How do we love pumpkin? Let me count the ways.
You may be thinking I’m lining up for an utterly dismissive and scathing post on pumpkin affairs, but let me say no. I’ve become as much a fan of warmly spice fall bakes as Becky (albeit with less of a penchant for chunky knit cardigans). So here we are at this recipe- my love for the Canuck stalwart that is the Nanaimo Bar embracing the gentle spiced earthiness of pumpkin. The first attempt at this recipe had me overshooting the mark on the addition of the pumpkin puree. The filing layer wasn’t so much the familiar creamy spreadable mixture as it was pourable, in fact pretty much bordering on soup. So- it was back to the recipe board with that one! After some tweaking a more workable result was achieved- creamy, orange-tinted and subtly spiced.
Keep these bars in the fridge to avoid them becoming too soft and undesirably squishy. I personally think the creamy pumpkin layer tastes so much better when chilled too. But that’s just my personal preference and I guess the only way for you to find out is for you to make them yourself- so what are you waiting for?
Makes 18 bars
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup cocoa powder, natural
1/4 cup fine sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp ground ginger
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
3 Tbsp pumpkin purée
2 Tbsp custard powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, broken/ chopped into pieces
1 Tbsp corn syrup
2 Tbsp butter
To prepare the base layer
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper
In small saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, cocoa and sugar, stirring occasionally until butter has melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool
Stir in egg, graham cracker crumbs, ground ginger and coconut
Transfer to your prepared pan. Press firmly and level as much as possible
Bake for 10 mins, then remove and leave to cool completely
To prepare the middle layer
In bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream together icing sugar, butter, pumpkin, custard powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, vanilla and salt. Spread the mixture evenly over bottom layer; smooth and chill for at least an hour
To prepare the top layer and finish
In a bowl set over barely simmering water, melt chocolate, corn syrup and butter together, stirring occasionally, until smooth and shiny. Pour over the pumpkin layer and smooth
Chill in the refrigerator overnight, or 2 hours minimum. Cut into bars (6 x 3). Keep the cut bars in a covered container either in the refrigerator (3 days) or frozen (3 months)
*To cut the bars, run a sharp knife under hot running water until the blade is hot. Quickly, and carefully, slice down through the bar layers into the number required- here is use 5 x 2 cuts to give 18 bars.