Peruse the web for five minutes and it becomes apparent that Christmas cookie recipes are in no short supply. Chocolate-covered shortbread cookie? Been there, done that. We know our readers are readily looking for a challenge, looking to take on something new. So we asked four top baking bloggers to share their favorite holiday dessert that is not in cookie form.
Poires au Chocolat‘s Emma Gardner shares with us her traditional Mince Pie recipe from across the pond, a dessert she’s been making with her mom around the holidays for as long as she can remember. Note to all Americans: there is no meat in mincemeat. It’s more of a delicious Kind bar nestled into a buttery pie crust. Heather Baird of Sprinkle Bakes and Clara Artschwager of Channeling Contessa give us two variations on a Gingerbread Cake, one in bundt form and drizzled with a coffee glaze, the other a traditional pound cake and sprinkled with peppermint candy canes. Lillie Auld of Butter Me Up, Brooklyn! shares her quick-and-simple go-to treat—Salty Chocolate-Covered Toffee Crackers—perfect for bringing along to any party this holiday season. And finally, Rachael Ray’s food editor Stacy Adimondo of Ever Hungry shares her easy-to-switch-up Biscotti recipe, so you can make them just the way you like them!
Tell us—what’s a family recipe you’ve always made around the holidays?
RECIPE 1: Mince Pies by Emma Gardner of Poires au Chocolat
EMMA’S RECIPE STORY:
Along with most of Britain, I can’t imagine Christmas without mince pies. Together with their cousins, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding, they’re an integral part of our festive culture. There’s no meat involved in modern mincemeat – it started being phased out in the seventeenth century (meaty mince pies had been around since the twelfth century and associated with Christmas since the sixteenth). In my family we’ve always made the mincemeat filling and pastry from scratch and the yearly ritual is one of my favorite parts of the holiday – especially the smell that fills the kitchen and the spoons that somehow end up in my mouth from the mincemeat tray.
The recipe does have quite a few steps and takes time but it’s not very labor intensive. You could use your favorite pastry recipe if you prefer–I use this recipe as it’s plain in contrast to the rich, spicy, fruity filling.
3 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins and sultanas with a few currants or cranberries)
1 cup of brown sugar (dark or normal)
1 stick of unsalted butter, cubed
1 large sour or cooking apple, peeled and chopped into very small chunks
¼ cup whole almonds, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
3 tbsp brandy
Place the dried fruit, brown sugar, cubed butter, chopped apple, chopped almonds, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves into a medium sized roasting tray. Zest the orange and lemon, add to the tray and stir it all together. Juice the orange and lemon then pour into the tray with the brandy. Stir well then cover with foil and leave overnight, stirring occasionally and breathing in the amazing smell.
The next day preheat the oven to 225F/120C. Stir the mixture again (it will look quite different – browner) then place the foil-covered tray into the oven for 2 hours. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. Spoon into clean jam jars.
2 tbsp clementine juice (approx. 1 fruit)
3-4 tbsp cold water
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (spooned into the cup)
big pinch of fine sea salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
Juice the clementine and place the juice in the fridge to cool. Put the water in to chill too in a separate container. Measure the flour into a big mixing bowl. Tip the cold cubed butter into the bowl and start to rub it in, squishing the butter into the flour (if you’d like some tips on this look at this guide – http://www.poiresauchocolat.net/2012/05/foundations-no1-rubbing-in.html). When there are no big lumps of butter left and it looks a bit like breadcrumbs pour in the clementine juice and three tablespoons of water. Use a knife to mix the liquid into the buttery flour until it starts to clump together – if you need to, add an extra teaspoon (up to three) to the mixture. Use your hands to bring it into a ball, squishing it once or twice to combine any loose bits. Flatten into a thin disc and wrap with cling film. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it up to 24 hours).
Lightly grease the cups of a muffin tin with a little bit of butter. Dust your work surface with flour then roll half of the pastry out, turning it regularly to make it even– it needs to be thin, about 2 mm. Use an 8-9cm (approx. 3.5”) round cutter (or a glass of a similar dimension) to stamp out as many circles as you can. Place each one into the muffin tin, pressing gently into the sides and bottom. Repeat with the other half of the pastry. Spoon about three teaspoons of mincemeat into each pastry case. Use the pastry scraps to cut out any decorative touches and put them on top. Don’t worry if they look a bit rustic – they’re meant to look homemade. Chill the whole tray for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Bake the mince pies for 20 minutes (turning halfway if your oven has a hot spot) until the pastry is golden brown and cooked. The mincemeat may have bubbled over in a few places – I think these bits are particularly tasty. Remove from the muffin tin to a wire rack immediately (those spilled caramelized bits go hard quickly, making them difficult to remove) and leave to cool a little. Serve warm with pouring cream. Reheat the pies in the oven for a few minutes if you want to serve them later. They keep in an airtight box for 3-4 days.
Makes 2-3 small jars of mincemeat, enough for 2 batches of 12 pies with a little spare.
RECIPE 2: Gingerbread Cake with Coffee Glaze by Heather Baird of Sprinkle Bakes
HEATHER’S RECIPE STORY:
My grandmother was famous for the gingerbread she made at Christmastime. I’d love to share her recipe, but she didn’t have one! She measured everything by “feel.” She’d scoop flour and sugar with her hands (can you imagine?!) and magically, it was perfect every time. Sometimes we ate as much of the dough as we did the baked gingerbread. It was that good!
The flavor of this cake reminds me so much of her gingerbread. The recipe is delightfully unfussy and if you’re a coffee lover like me, you’ll love the added depth and sweetness the coffee glaze gives the cake. A slice makes a good Christmas morning breakfast, or you can bake it in loaf pans to give as gifts. I love to bake it in the Bundt pan my mother passed down to me.
2 ½ c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
1/2 c molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 c strongly brewed coffee
1 ¼ c unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ c light brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs plus, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease a 10 cup Bundt pan with vegetable shortening and flour. Tap out excess flour and set pan aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
In a small bowl, combine the molasses with the brewed coffee.
Cream the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the brown sugar and beat until lightened, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and yolks, adding one at a time and scraping down the bowl intermittently. Add the flour and coffee mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Gently drop the pan onto a work surface two times to remove any air pockets. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cake cool in the Bundt pan for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a wire rack and allow to cool until just barely warm.
COFFEE GLAZE INGREDIENTS:
1 c confectioners’ sugar
1-1/2-2 tblsp strongly brewed coffee
COFFEE GLAZE DIRECTIONS:
Combine the confectioners’ sugar and coffee in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth. Pour glaze over cake. Drizzle the cake with the glaze and then let cool to room temperature before serving.
RECIPE 3: Salty Chocolate-covered Toffee Crackers by Lillie Auld of Butter Me Up, Brooklyn!
LILLIE’S RECIPE STORY:
For most of us, there comes a time in life when one must brave The Office Holiday Party (TOHP). Your first one is always the hardest. TOHP must be navigated with care. This delicate event begins with the The Sign-Up Sheet. When it first goes up in the shared kitchen space, you know there is no turning back. This is no joke. Since this is your inaugural year attending TOHP you probably think that it is a good idea to sign up for napkins and paper plates. Resist. Remember, you are a newbie and these items are not meant for you.
This line on the sheet is for the old-timer who strolls in twice a week at 11am, but it’s cool and no one cares – he’s important and can make his own schedule. He probably could get away with showing up to TOHP empty-handed but he wants to contribute because he also happens to be a nice guy, so the organizers throw him a bone and let him clear out the party supply aisle at the bodega.
At this point in the story, I’m going assume that we are friends, which means I’ll let you in on the secrets of success at The Office Holiday Party: Year One.
What is sweet, salty, crunchy, covered with chocolate, feeds a crowd, travels well, and can be made days in advance? This is no riddle. The answer is a magical creation, and goes by the name of Salty Chocolate-Covered Toffee Crackers. One batch and you will never have to worry about what to bring to TOHP again. This is your ticket to TOHP success, my friend!
Do not be shy—but also don’t be the first (or last) person to add to the list—and sign your name with confidence in the “Sweets” category. You have this little secret in your back pocket. I brought these when I attended my first year of TOHP and have never once since looked at the sign-up sheet in fear.
makes enough for a party (or about four dozen 2-inch pieces)
40 saltine crackers (or about one sleeve of crackers)
2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 c (200 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 12-ounce bag (2 cups or 340 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Flaky salt (such as Maldon), for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350.
Line a rimmed 18×13 baking sheet with foil, and generously butter the foil. Line the pan with crackers, making sure they are as close together as possible, and break crackers in half so they fit right up to the edge of the pan.
In a medium saucepan combine the butter and brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture is completely melted and smooth. As soon as it begins to boil, turn down the heat slightly and simmer the caramel for three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Slowly pour the caramel evenly over the saltines and spread the caramel all the way to the edges of the pan to completely cover the crackers. The crackers will want to move around, but don’t let them, you are the boss of those crackers! Bake the crackers for 12 minutes.
Carefully remove the pan from the oven (the caramel will be bubbling) and set the pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crackers. Let the chips stand for a few minutes until they have completely melted, then use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate evenly over the crackers. Sprinkle with salt.
Cool for several hours or until the caramel has completely set and the chocolate has hardened. Remove from the pan, carefully peel away the foil and cut or break into bite-sized pieces. Store in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper for up to a week.
RECIPE 4: Gingerbread Pound Cake with Peppermint Frosting by Clara Artschwager of Channeling Contessa
CLARA’S RECIPE STORY:
My family is all about classic flavors and homemade food during the holiday season—especially my mom. She’s the queen of un-fussed around with desserts. With gingerbread being, perhaps, one of the most classic holiday flavors, we always have some sort of dessert featuring this spice profile around the holidays. Some years it’s in the form of a cookie Christmas eve, or a decadent gingerbread coffee cake Christmas morning. But most recently it’s been this velvety pound cake topped with a vanilla infused peppermint frosting. The cake really represents the coming together of generations as the cake part is totally my mom, and the frosting is totally me! My mom may or may not scrape some of that frosting off and put it on my plate—but I personally think it’s better that way. And besides, I’ll always take more frosting!
Recipe makes one 9×5 inch loaf cake.
2 c cake flour (or all purpose)
1 tblsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
12 tblsp unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese softened
½ c sugar
¾ c packed lighted brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c molasses
1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter and flour a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Whisk together the flour, spices, salt, and baking powder and set aside.
2. Place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium high speed until smooth. Add in the sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Scrapes down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour in the molasses and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add in the eggs, beating well after each addition, for a total of two minutes. Add in the dry ingredients and beat on low until jut combined. Pour batter into the pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the cake is a dark chestnut brown, the top is cracked, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.
5 oz cream cheese, softened
5 tblsp unsalted butter, softened
1 c confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
seeds scraped from half of a vanilla bean
2 candy canes, crushed
In a bowl beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds, and beat until well combined. Scoop the frosting on top of the cake, and smooth out with a frosting knife (or rubber spatula, or butter knife). Top cake with crushed candy cakes. Serve immediately or store covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.
RECIPE 5: Any-Way-You-Like-‘Em Biscotti by Stacy Adimando of Ever Hungry and Every Day with Rachael Ray
STACY’S RECIPE STORY:
All of the women in my family are pretty solid bakers, so our holiday dessert spread is always impressive (at least, so say the men in our family!). The tricky thing about the dessert course is that it doesn’t vary much from year to year: The fam likes what they like, and it can be touchy to take away an old classic to replace it with something new.
When I was developing recipes for my cookbook The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking and Reinventing the Classics, I was lucky to have my sisters there to cross-test some of the recipes. If I could make fans of them, I knew I had invented a winning cookie. Just before Christmas, I shot my sister the recipe for Almond Biscotti for a trial run. She called me back that night with a review I was shocked to hear: She said they were the best biscotti she’d ever eaten, and her husband had a new favorite snack she would have to keep around! My original version used almonds and vanilla—a classic recipe, which we served that year at Christmas to rave reviews. For holidays since, we’ve taken it to the next level and begun improvising. I’ve added lemon zest, orange zest, changed the nuts to pistachios or hazelnuts. She’s played with dried fruits and all kinds of chocolates and extracts. There’s no bad way to make this biscotti! The only thing we could do wrong at this point would be not to serve a batch every year.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted
1 cup almonds, coarsely
1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Beat together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, working them in one at a time until fully incorporated.
2. Add the vanilla and butter, mixing well until the dough begins to form. It will not come together completely. Add the almonds and stir to evenly distribute.
3. Turn out the dough onto a cookie sheet with lightly floured hands. Divide it in half and shape it into two logs, each about 1∂ inch thick and 2 inches wide.
4. Bake the biscotti for 20 minutes (this is the first of 2 times you’ll be baking them), rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Take it out and let the logs rest on the sheet for 20 minutes. They’ll still be slightly spongy to the touch, kind of like dense bread. Lower the oven temp to 250°F. After 20 minutes more, transfer the logs to a cutting board. Cut them into 1/2-inch slices using a serrated knife. Finally, move the slices (cut slice biscotti inside up for any ends) back to one sheet and bake one quick motion—no sawing. for 40 minutes more. The biscotti will still be slightly soft while warm but will harden fully once they’ve cooled.
More to try!
Add flavors, chocolate, fruit or nut mix-ins—or dip baked biscotti in melted chocolate.
Add the zest of 1 lemon when you add the vanilla.
Replace the almonds with raw or toasted unsalted pistachios.