Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Baking’

Wisconsin Cranberry Bread

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

cranberry bread on plateweb

In a recent post I wrote about the annual cranberry festival in Warrens, Wisconsin. The recipe below is adapted from its Best of Cranfest cookbook. Lyda Lind of Pine River, Wisconsin, entered this festive bread in a 1990 competition.
I would never have thought of combining cranberries with coconut, but the combination would be a winner in any book. The bread makes a lovely holiday gift. Remember, we still have seven days (and nights) of Christmas left!
One friend told me she found the texture surprising. So don’t be worried if this bread is not like any quickbread you’ve had before. It feels more like a muffin or scone–crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
2 cups chopped cranberries (I just cut them in half)
1 cup white raisins
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pecans (optional—if you use them, cut the coconut back to 1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 2 regular loaf pans or 5 small ones.
Cream together the sugar and shortening. Add the eggs and mix well. Stir in the cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and blend thoroughly.
Measure out the flour, and place 2 tablespoons of it into a bowl along with the cranberries, raisins, coconut, and pecans (if using). Mix well, and add this fruit mixture to the butter batter.
Blend in the remaining flour and the vanilla. You will have a fairly stiff batter. Spoon it into the prepared pans.
Bake the loaves until a toothpick inserted into the center of the batter comes out clean—about 55 to 60 minutes for the large loaves and 35 to 40 for the small ones.
Let the loaves rest in their pans for 10 minutes; then remove them and let them cool on a wire rack. Makes 2 large or 5 small loaves.

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Introducing: The Twelve Cookies of Christmas

Friday, December 18th, 2009
I'm getting ready to fill my cookie tin!

I'm getting ready to fill my cookie tin!

Welcome to a new monthly feature of In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.
Nothing says “Christmas” like a plate of cookies, preferably accompanied by a glass of crisp cold milk or a mug of steaming hot cocoa.
After all, we wouldn’t give Santa anything less than our best.
A few days ago I came up with the idea of doing a series called “The Twelve Cookies of Christmas.”
Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy or the waistline necessary to make (and perhaps consume) twelve different kinds of cookies between now and December 25, 2009.
So I’m aiming for Christmas 2010.
Once a month from now until next December I plan to post a Christmas cookie recipe. When December rolls along the twelve cookies will all be in place. (You’ll have to supply the milk and cocoa yourselves.)
I hope readers and friends will submit their favorite cookies as the months roll by.
My “Partridge in a Pear Tree” cookie comes from Marcia Powell of Norwalk, Connecticut.
Marcia’s cranberry lemon cookies are unusual because their base is a cake mix. She writes that she and her grandchildren Allison and Cooper adapted the recipe from one in The Cake Mix Bible.
The cookies’ yellow-and-red color is striking. Their flavor is sophisticated enough for adults but sweet enough for kids. My nephew Michael and his friend Carson loved them.
I have a feeling I’m going to try them with orange cake mix and peel next………. Yum!
Marcia Powell’s Cranberry Lemon Cookies
1 package lemon cake mix (According to Marcia, The Cake Mix Bible calls for for Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Lemon Cake Mix. She has also used a Shop Rite mix)
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, melted (Marcia uses vegetable oil, but I used butter for flavor)
2 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1-1/2 cups (half of a 12-ounce bag) cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with silicone or parchment. (Marcia actually uses an ungreased cookie sheet, but my cookie sheets are old, and I tend to be paranoid about sticking.)
In a large bowl combine the cake mix and melted butter. Stir in the eggs, followed by the lemon peel and the cranberries.
Drop the cookies by rounded teaspoons onto the baking sheets. You may also make them larger—up to a tablespoon. Mine were about 2 teaspoons.
Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies turn light golden brown.
Cool the cookies for 1 minute on their baking sheets; then remove them to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes 20 to 48 cookies, depending on how large yours are.
Carson was happy to help test the cookies.

Carson was happy to help test the cookies.

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The Postman Always Rings Twice … IF YOU GIVE HIM BROWNIES!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009


I LOVE having an excuse to bake. This time of year I have many reasons to turn on the oven. Yesterday’s was creating a holiday gift for my mother’s New Jersey mail carrier, Colin.
My mother and I are nomadic. We travel from our house in Massachusetts to her house in New Jersey to my brother’s house in Virginia and then back again to New Jersey and so forth.
Fortunately for us, the Post Office almost always finds us. Our carrier in Massachusetts, Lisa, and our carrier in New Jersey, Colin, put up with our comings and goings and keep track of our mail for us. So do the clerks and postmasters in their offices.
We always like to give them a special thank you in December—not just money, but something that represents OUR time the way the help they give us represents THEIR time.
We all like Colin, but our dog Truffle carries her affection for him to extremes. If left to her own devices, Truffle would hop into Colin’s truck and never look back at us. I could tell from the look in her eyes that she felt he deserved something extra special this year.
So I tried baking a treat that had intrigued me in a variety of books and blogs—brownies with mint candy inside.
Basically, this involves making brownie batter and dividing it in half. The first half goes into the pan and is covered with a thin layer of mints. The second half of the batter goes on top.
I decided to use Andes mints, which are very thin. I didn’t want my mint layer to overwhelm the brownies!
I was torn between two different flavors—the traditional chocolate-surrounded “crème de menthe” variety and the seasonal non-chocolate “peppermint crunch.” I settled for using some of each; I put crème de menthe on one half of the brownies and peppermint crunch on the other half.
Naturally, I had to try both kinds before passing the brownies on to Colin!
I might SLIGHTLY prefer the peppermint crunch—after all, brownies already have chocolate in them—but if you are a chocolate lover you may disagree. In any case, both flavors were delicious.
I also threw a little icing on the top of the brownies (with a few sprinkles) to make them extra festive for Christmas. This layer is optional but fun.
Colin looked happy to see them.

Colin takes our comings and goings--and our occasional strange headgear--in stride.

Colin takes our comings and goings--and our occasional strange headgear--in stride.

Peppermint Surprise Brownies
for the brownies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
3 ounces (3 squares) semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
for the filling:
2 packages (4.67 ounces each) Andes mints (you won’t need quite all of them, but you will need most of them)
for the icing:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
confectioner’s sugar as needed (about 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
holiday sprinkles (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with aluminum foil, and butter the foil.
Prepare the brownie batter: In a medium pan heat the butter and chocolate squares, stirring frequently, until the chocolate melts. Remove it from the heat.
When the chocolate/butter mixture is cool enough to stick your finger into it (this won’t take long) stir in the eggs, followed by the flour and then the vanilla.
Pour half of this batter into the prepared pan. Lay the mints (unwrapped, obviously) on top of the batter as lightly as you can, covering as much of the batter as you can.
Pour the remaining batter on top (use a spatula to smooth it over the mints as needed) and bake the brownies for 25 minutes.
Allow the brownies to cool completely in their pan. Remove the foil from the pan, and gently peel the foil off of the brownies.
Next, make the frosting. Cream the butter, and add enough confectioner’s sugar to make a spreadable icing, adding the vanilla toward the end of this process.
Gently spread the icing in a thin layer over the brownies. Decorate with seasonal sprinkles if you like.
Allow the icing to harden a bit before you slice the brownies.
Makes 16 to 36 brownies, depending on how big you want to make them. (We like them little so I hope Colin does.)

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A Snappy Christmas (or New Year’s!) Menu

Thursday, December 25th, 2008


          A few years ago I taught a recipe-writing workshop during reunion weekend at my college, Mount Holyoke. The participants worked during the workshop on linking memories to recipes. After the workshop ended, they were all supposed to e-mail me their finished recipes so that I could share them with the whole group.

          The weekend (and life!) got busy, and hardly anyone sent in the recipes. One exception to this rule was Mary McDowell of the Class of 1971. (Mary, I hope you don’t mind my giving away your graduation year!) I fell in love with her brisket recipe, possibly the easiest dish I’ve ever made! Chop onions, pour some stuff into a pan, and you’re done.

          Of course, I tinkered with it a bit. I do have trouble making recipes without tinkering. Mary bakes her brisket, covered, in a 250-degree oven for 8 to 10 hours (or more!). My sister-in-law Leigh and I were anxious to try out the All-Clad slow cooker, and the brisket seemed an ideal recipe for that pot. It was! We also cut back on the recipe. Mary originally called for a 10-pound cut of meat, but we have a small family. We used the full amount of beer and barbecue sauce she called for, although we might cut back on those a bit in future; the brisket was strongly flavored!

Mary wrote that this dish is a Christmas Eve tradition for her family. She caps it off with brownies topped with peppermint-stick ice cream, hot fudge, and crushed peppermint. We stopped after the ice cream, but the brownies à la mode did make an ideal (and snappy) finish. Add some noodles and a little green salad or vegetable, and the meal is just the thing for busy cooks who are tired from shopping, baking, partying, wrapping presents, and trying to be extra good for Santa!

I know I’m posting this too late for readers to prepare my menu on Christmas. I recommend it for New Year’s Eve as well, however. The tangy brisket and extra chocolaty brownies will keep you warm and start your year off deliciously.

Merry Christmas!


Mary’s Cousin’s Overnight Brisket (Adapted by Tinky and Leigh)

1 3-pound slab beef brisket

2 onions, sliced into rings

12 ounces beer

12 ounces high-quality barbecue sauce

1 pound carrots, cleaned and sliced in half


          The evening before you wish to eat the brisket, place it in the bottom of a slow cooker. Throw the onions on top, and top with the beer and barbecue sauce. Cook on the low setting overnight.

          The next morning, stir the carrots into the stew. Continue to cook all day, still on low. Two hours before you want to eat, turn the heat up to high. Serve with noodles.

          Serves 6 to 8. 


Fabulous Fudgy Brownies (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

4 eggs

1 -1/2 cups flour

12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil, and grease the foil.

In a good-sized saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. (The saucepan should be big enough so that it can double as your mixing bowl.) Add the sugar, and stir to combine.  Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling.  (It will become shiny looking as you stir it.)  Remove it from the heat, and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour and chocolate, beating well until combined.  Spoon the batter into your pan.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry (it may have a few crumbs). Remove them from the oven.  After 5 to 10 minutes, loosen the edges of the foil.  Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Makes about 2 dozen brownies, depending on how large you cut them.

Michael REALLY likes these brownies!
Michael REALLY likes these brownies!




Friday, December 19th, 2008
Serra Root illuminates the Hawley Meetinghouse (Photos on this post Courtesy of Lark Thwing)

Serra Root illuminates the Hawley Meetinghouse         (Photos on this post and the next Courtesy of Lark Thwing)

Colonial Williamsburg stages a Grand Illumination early each December. This weekend-long celebration includes bonfires, fireworks, and candlelit dinners. Visitors amble along the streets of the town, sipping mulled cider and enjoying the gift of light in this season of growing darkness.

Four years ago, the historical society in my small western-Massachusetts hamlet inaugurated its own Illumination tradition. On a Sunday evening in December, members and friends of the Sons and Daughters of Hawley gather in the Hawley Meetinghouse, the former East Hawley Church.
This Little Illumination doesn’t pack the punch of the one at Colonial Williamsburg, where the weekend draws the season’s largest crowds. This year on December 7 a whopping 12 people showed up at the old church in Hawley. The Meetinghouse has no heat so activities were necessarily brief.
Those gathered decorated an outdoor tree with bird treats. They lit the church’s elderly chandelier with lamp oil. They placed battery-operated candles in each window. They sipped a bit of warm cider, hot chocolate, or wine. They sang a few carols (a cappella since no one wanted to lay fingers on the frigid piano keys). They then swiftly departed for home.
Nevertheless, the two Illuminations—northern and southern, Little and Grand—have a lot in common. They both warm the heart if not the body. They both give their participants the feeling of living in the past, if only fleetingly. Standing in the Meetinghouse as it grew dark outside, enjoying the glimmering lights, we Illuminators felt as though we had been transported by magic into another era.
Above all, both Illuminations celebrate light.
Light is meaningful on a number of levels at this time of year. As we learned last week when many of us in New England lost our electricity, light is perhaps most highly valued when we don’t have it. In our complicated homes, light is synonymous with power—the literal power to talk on our electric telephones, type on our electric keyboards, cook on our increasingly (alas!) electric stoves.
Illumination and light are also symbols. Illumination was the term used in the Middle Ages for the creation of books that were transcribed and decorated, then passed on to posterity, spreading knowledge. Illumination also means understanding, figurative light that shines on some idea.
Light can stand for thought (the hackneyed light bulb that shouts “idea” in cartoons). It can stand for deity (the burning bush of God in the Old Testament). Above all, light stands for hope.
Christmas falls at this time of year not because Jesus was necessarily born in late December but because he is viewed as a symbol of hope, of light in the darkness. The December festivals of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa also focus on light, burning candles that celebrate a variety of positive attributes but hope above all.
Light is a central theme of the musical Big River, which won several Tony Awards when it debuted on Broadway in 1985. Big River is an adaptation of what may be the most American of novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Young Huck’s signature song in the show, “Waiting for the Light to Shine,” sums up much of his character just as Mark Twain’s novel summed up much of the American character. It is at once cynical and hopeful, kinetic and focused, pragmatic and idealistic.
“I have lived in the darkness for so long,” sings Huck to a country tune written by Roger Miller. “I’m waiting for the light to shine.”
At this time of year, we are all waiting for the light to shine. We find that light whenever we celebrate a holiday, whenever we gather with neighbors to sing or talk or feed the birds, whenever we start a fire and blow on it ever so gently to encourage the flames to rise.
I share my light by cooking; my most frequent holiday gifts are edible. In the posts immediately below this one I’m highlighting a few of the nibbles I’ll be giving out this year. I hope they bring a little light and a little fun to readers. Happy solstice!
To hear my fellow New Englander Jason Brook sing “Waiting for the Light to Shine,” visit this link.


Hawley Illuminators work to stay warm in the old church.

Hawley Illuminators work to stay warm in the old church.


Visit THESE LINKS are a couple of cookie recipes to help you celebrate your own illumination, one from me and one from Illumination regular Melanie Poudrieru.