My week to host Project Pastry Queen fell during Christmas so I picked the most Christmasy recipe I could find: Glazed Lemon-Cranberry Loaf Cake.
It’s “just” a small loaf cake scented with lemon zest, studded with fresh cranberries, and topped with a lemon syrup that soaks into the cake. I brought the cake to Christmas Eve dinner and it “just” went over really well.
I stayed true to the recipe but have no doubt it would work as beautifully with orange instead of lemon.
Glazed Lemon-Cranberry Loaf Cake
A moist lemony cake studded with fresh cranberries and glazed with a lemon syrup.
For the cake:
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 2/3 cup flour + 1 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar (I reduced to 2/3 cup)
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk (I used 0% fage)
For the glaze:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350.
Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
Toss the cranberries with 1 Tbsp flour and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs and lemon zest and beat until thoroughly combined.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add half of the mixture and mix on low speed just until combined.
Add half of the milk and mix on low speed just until combined.
Add the remaining flour, mixing just until combined, and then the remaining milk.
Add cranberries and mix a few seconds longer.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake 45-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out with moist crumbs attached.
Cool the cake for 15 minutes and then remove it from the pan.
To make the lemon glaze, combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan.
Bring the mixture to a boil for 30 seconds.
Remove the pan from the heat.
Gently pierce the top of the loaf cake many times with a toothpick.
Use a pastry brush to apply the warm glaze evenly over the top of the loaf.
Slice into ~10 slices to serve.
Store leftovers tightly wrapped, will keep ~3 days.
One of my husband’s favorite candies are Andes mints. They typically run a close second to peanut butter cups but during the holidays, they take the top position. When we were hammering out the details of our Christmas gift baskets, we came up with a super easy way to incorporate Andes mints with Grasshopper Chocolate Bark: a minty green (white) chocolate layer, a semisweet chocolate layer, and chopped Andes mints.
The beauty of chocolate bark is that the flavor combinations are limited only by your imagination. Or your pantry. It’s super easy to put together: you chop chocolate (the time-consuming part), melt it, pour it into a pan, and then let it cool. And thanks to that overpriced shiny kitchen store in the mall, people can’t get enough of it at Christmas time.
A couple of notes on working with white chocolate: “Real” white chocolate is finicky. It doesn’t melt like regular chocolate – it’s delicate and can easily be overheated or seize. And considering how pricey it is, that’s a problem. If you’re going to use a pricey white chocolate, be sure to heat it gently and slowly in a double boiler (or a glass bowl set over a simmering pot of water, ensuring no water gets into the bowl). Mint extract and food coloring (I use Americolor gel paste) contain some water and can cause the white chocolate to seize – but it always smooths out for me after adding a little more vegetable oil. If you’re really worried about it, you can always omit it or add the mint extract to the darker chocolate layer. My favorite brand is Peter’s – I get it in 10 lb bars from a bakery supply. And if you’re wondering, yes, I used the entire 10 lb bar this Christmas
And then there’s white baking bars or melting chips (this is not candy coating or almond bark). This isn’t white chocolate but it has a similar buttery, sweet taste. And it melts much more reliably. If you’re melting down a few bags of baking chips or chopped baking bars, you shouldn’t have any issues at all. I’ve melted down Ghiradelli, Bakers, and even Nestle white baking chips before with great results.
Grasshopper Chocolate Bark
A minty chocolate bark made with white chocolate and Andes mints.
I have a knack for loving things that seem to quickly go out of style. Or TV shows that get canceled (I’m looking at you, Jericho and Flash Forward). But some things are just way too awesome to ever go out of style. Like yoga pants, cupcakes (not the $4 boutique variety, but in general), putting bacon in and on everything, and jalapeno pepper jelly.
Pepper jellies used to be all the rage, making appearances along side a block of cream cheese and a bowl of crackers, at every single party I attended in 2004 and 2005. But then it just kind of disappeared. Sweet and spicy, it paired wonderfully with tangy cream cheese and a salty, buttery cracker. I could go on and on, but I’m going to quickly run out of adjectives.
This year, we’re including a jar of red and green jalapeno pepper jelly in our gift baskets. Because we’re still harvesting 50+ jalapeno and serrano peppers a week from our garden. In December. I’m a complete novice when it comes to canning – I can make freezer jam like it’s nobody’s business and turn out a batch of candied jalapenos in no time, but more advanced things make me a little twitchy. But there’s no twitchiness involved here because this recipe is that easy.
For this batch, I used all red jalapenos and serranos – when you put off harvesting them, they actually turn a beautiful bright red! I also think that’s when they go from being “just” a spicy pepper to a seventh-circle-of-hell-hot pepper.
Red Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
Sweet and spicy red pepper jelly, serve it with cream cheese and crackers. Make a festive green jalapeno pepper jelly by using green peppers and adding a few drops of green food coloring at the end of the cooking time.
1 orange bell pepper, halved and seeds and stem removed
1 lb red jalapeno peppers, seeds and stems removed (for a spicy jelly, use a couple of serranos and leave in the seeds to half/all of the peppers)
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 pinch salt
6 cups sugar
3 oz liquid pectin
1 Tbsp butter
Put the peppers into a food processor and process for 7-10 seconds. Alternately, you can finely chop them by hand - wear gloves!
Transfer the peppers to a large pot and add the vinegar.
Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Pour through a fine mesh sieve to separate the peppers from the liquid, you should have 1 cup of liquid. Simmer longer to reduce, if necessary.
Return the liquid and as much of the pulp/seeds (more for a much spicier jam, less/none for a slightly spicy jelly) to the pot and add the salt and sugar until dissolved.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
When the mixture comes to a rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down), boil for one minute, and then add the butter.
Stir the butter into the mixture and then add the liquid pectin, stirring to mix.
Let boil for 3 minutes.
Ladle into sterile jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
To store jars at room temperature, you'll need to seal them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Otherwise, let the jars come to room temperature, place the lids on them, and then store them in the fridge (the jelly will keep a couple of months this way).
Some days, regardless of how bright it is outside, are just… gray. A dear friend I made through blogging lost her father recently. We’re all just so heartbroken for her and her family’s loss.
Grief and comfort is so very individual and we all cope differently. Often you just can’t find the right words. Or when you do have plenty to say, sometimes the words themselves just seem so insignificant. Or they tumble out in a heaping mess. We pray for peace and comfort and then we often turn to acts of service to better say the things we feel. A lot of people, including me, cook.
When it’s a gray day, I often reach for my favorite mug. It’s easy to spot, it’s the cracked one with the Colts logo on the side and the crooked handle held in place with super glue. A steamy mug of hot tea has a way of temporarily replacing that cold, empty feeling to warm you from the inside out. Or when it’s cold out, a mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream or marshmallows.
Many of us wanted to do something to show our support for our friend, to let her know that we were still thinking of her. And because we all cook, you’ll see comfort foods popping up all around our friends’ blogs. I’d love to give Annie a hug and then pass her a mug (the un-cracked one!) of hot chocolate with a melty layer of homemade Baileys marshmallow on top.
Fluffy homemade marshmallows spiked with Baileys Irish Cream. Add them to a mug of hot chocolate or use them in grown-up S'mores.
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup Baileys
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
Powdered sugar, for coating and dusting
Place Baileys in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and sprinkle gelatin over top. All of the powder should absorb within a few minutes - you might need to swirl the liquid in the bowl if powder remains on top.
In a medium sauce pan, heat sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water over medium heat and stir constantly until the temperature reaches soft ball stage (240F).
Add the heated sugar mixture in a slow, thin stream to the stand mixer while on low. Add vanilla and increase speed to high and whip for ~15 minutes, until thickened and mostly cooled.
Spray an 8x8 pan with baking spray and coat with powdered sugar.
Pour marshmallow into the prepared pan and let sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours (I always do overnight).
Dust your work surface with powdered sugar and turn the marshmallow out of the pan (pull up one of the corners of the marshmallow, flip, and let gravity do the rest).
Using a greased pizza cutter or knife, cut the marshmallows into 1-inch squares, dusting the cut edges with powdered sugar to prevent sticking.
Store the marshmallows in a gallon zip-top bag with a few additional spoonfuls of powdered sugar (shake the closed bag to evenly distribute the powdered sugar).