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Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting In the Holiday Mood

Nothing fills me with the holiday spirit quite so much as baking. Bourbon balls, whiskey cake, bourbon-soaked fruitcake (are we sensing a theme, here?) as well as lemon cranberry tea bread, gingerbread cookies, and more. In years past, I've baked most of the gifts we've given out to friends, neighbors, and officemates, not to save money but just for the love of it! Of course, this year, baking gifts feels smart for many reasons--it's something you can do to show people you care about them without spending tons of moolah, and in a lot of ways, I think a gift of cookies or cake you made yourself is more meaningful than something purchased in a store.

My mother's whiskey cake, formally known as Mississippi Nut Cake by my teetotalling Baptist ancestors to gloss over the heavy presence of bourbon, is a universal favorite. I make it every year, and just getting out the nutmeg and the golden raisins, the Jack Daniels and the pecans, makes it feel like Christmas to me.

Another great gift, and one maybe better suited to a family with members under the age of 21, is this Walnut Crown Coffeecake. This recipe comes from Martha Wertz, a great cook and my mother's best friend, and it is divine.

Walnut Crown Coffeecake

In a bowl combine 1/3 cup ground walnuts with 3 TBS sifted light brown sugar. Butter a 2 1/2 cup Kugelhupf pan or tube pan (I use a regular bundt cake pan) and coat it with the walnut mixture. Into a bowl sift together 2 cups sifted flour, 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl beat 1 egg and add 1 cup buttermilk, 2/3 cup melted butter, cooled and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth. Turn into the prepared pan and bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, turn it out on a wire rack, and let it cool completely. Wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and foil and let it stand at room temp. for up to 7 days.

Note: This cake was one of several recipes that were meant to get better and better as they age. I have never kept it up to 7 days, but it has been good at all stages. It is also so rich that it is meant to fall a little as it cooks. I think I bake it in a larger pan than the recipe anticipates, so check it after 30-40 minutes of baking. It is sometimes so tender that it falls apart, but the crumbs taste great.

So what holiday baking traditions do you hold to every year, or do you try something new? I always want to make at least one thing I've never made before; this year, I think it's going to be these pistachio cranberry icebox cookies.

If you've got a great holiday recipe, please feel free to share!


My holiday baking tradition is the instant cookies ready to bake. Yum!

I make grapenut pudding every year. It's so good. My grandmother makes it twice a year...once for Thanksgiving and then again for Christmas. Since I can't be there to eat it, I have to make it myself.

Kwana - I am so with you on the instant cookies. We have buckets we bought for a fundraiser at my sons' school. So easy!...maybe too easy! :-)

Kwana - Which brand do you like? I find some drastically better than others.

Christ - Grapenut pudding! I love it! Are you by any chance from New England? *grin*

For years I've tried to create the lekvar cookies my grandmother made. It was one of those things that she must have known by heart because despite inheriting her recipe box and cookbooks, I have yet to find the recipe.

Just the thought of them makes my mouth water and reminds me of her and happy childhood memories.

I came close one year, but hers had a light flakiness to the pastry that I've yet to capture.

Louisa - What makes you think that? ;-) Yes, RI born and bred. My husband is in the foreign service so I make it for all of our community events. It usually goes over well, even if people haven't heard of it before.

Now I know I'll be making both !!
Just yesterday I found on one of my favorite blog (Joy the Baker) a yummy recipe of Buttermilk pie with a warm blackberry sauce. I think I might do date over the week-end (although I have some fresh pumpkin in my fridge so I may also bake yet another pumpkin pie... but it really is sooo good, you know ;-).

About the Kugelhupf pan you mentioned, is it the same thing as the Kouglof pan we have in the east of France?
Its' funny because just this morning I was wandering if you had those pans in the US and what was the name for it...

I make chocolate peanut butter truffles. The ladies in my RWA chapter liked them, too. I was asked to make them every year.

Easy recipe that also can be used as fudge.

Tambra Kendall/Keelia Greer

This sounds so incredible. Do you have any cookie recipes that I can also share?

I'm totally drooling. Thanks a lot! :)

Okay, check back tomorrow for my mom's famous Bourbon Balls recipe!

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