Almond Buttercream Pine Cones

My lemon almond Yule log was a big hit at our holiday get-together, and these adorable little almond pine cones were probably my favorite part of the cake. You could use them to decorate nearly any type of cake, or even round sugar cookies. I actually think chocolate frosting would make a more authentic-looking cone, but you can use any flavor you like. My almond buttercream worked very well.

I had five pine cones on my Yule log, and they each take about one tablespoon of buttercream and 12-15 almond flakes, so quantities will vary depending on how many you”d like to make, and how large they will be. My pine cones were small, about two inches high, but you could certainly make larger versions.

Ingredients

Preparation

Place buttercream in a piping bag with a large plain tip and pipe about 1 tablespoon of frosting per pine cone.

Starting at the top, place flaked almonds in descending rows for the scales; start with one almond at the top, then add two or three on the next row, and so fort. Gently press almonds into the frosting so they set.

 

 

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Lemon Almond Yule Log

A traditional Yule log, or buche de noel, is a chocolate sponge cake with chocolate or vanilla filling. As migraine life doesn’t give me the option of chocolate, I decided to make one with my favorite flavors – almond and lemon – and jazz it up with some pine bough piping and almond pine cones.

While the flavors in this cake were delicious, my sponge wasn’t quite as light and airy as I’d like. The best sponge I’ve ever made was the spice roll with caramel sauce from Thanksgiving, so I’ll keep practicing this cake until I get the texture I want. That’s one of the many benefits of baking; you can keep working on something in order to perfect it, and still have tasty treats along the way.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling and frosting

  • About 2/3 to 3/4 cup lemon curd
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon milk
  • Brown food coloring
  • Moss green food coloring
  • Flaked almonds, for pine cones

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment. Place a lint-free tea towel on a heatproof surface (I use a cutting board) near your oven and dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar, beating on medium speed until the mixture is thick and a light lemon color, about 5-7 minutes; add vanilla and almond extracts just before you stop beating. When the batter is done, it will fall from the whisk in a ribbon, then mound on top of the batter before blending back in. Gently fold the flour mixture in (I used my whisk attachment for easy clean-up).

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the top is golden brown and you hear a crackling from the surface of the cake. Remove from oven, then quickly and carefully flip your cake onto the powdered sugar-sprinkled tea towel. Gently peel the parchment away, then starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a tight spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

To make the buttercream, in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter, about 3-5 minutes. Add vanilla and almond extracts and milk; continue to beat on medium-high speed for another 1-2 minutes. You can add a bit more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, if necessary to thin your frosting.

To fill, frost, and decorate: unroll the cake and spread with lemon curd; re-roll and place in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes for it to set.

Frost the cake to cover it completely, then use your spatula to make long bark-like markings along the top and sides and swirls on the ends. Tint a small portion of frosting brown and place in a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip, then pipe pine branches. Tint another portion of frosting moss green and place in a piping bag fitted with a medium plain tip, then pipe needles.

To make almond pine cones, pipe blobs of frosting, then place flaked almonds in rows to create the cone shape.

Carefully cover your log with foil and place it back in the refrigerator until about 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve it. Store leftover cake in the fridge.

Makes about 10 servings.

 

Gingerbread Dog House

Watching the Great British Baking Show will make you want to build something spectacular out of gingerbread. As I’m a gingerbread structure amateur, I decided to forego the Taj Mahal and Hogwarts Castle for a cute little dog house.

I recently bought the Wilton three-piece gingerbread house cutter set at the craft store and yesterday I tried it out. While it’s a very convenient tool, I wish I’d had a larger quantity of gingerbread from the recipe I used. Next time, I’ll either make smaller templates out of cardboard, or choose a larger-quantity recipe. Either way, this was a fun project. While I’d made a gingerbread house before, I wanted a better-tasting recipe this time, and I found this one at Food Network.I deviated from their instructions for baking a bit, but it turned out very well.

Ingredients

For the house

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light molasses
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the royal icing

  • 3 3/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and baking soda together until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the flour and water to make a stiff dough. Chill at least 30 minutes or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a very lightly floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Using the cutter set (or your own templates), cut sides, roof panels, and front/back panels.

Place panels on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper a few inches apart; cookies will spread when baking. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the dough feels firm – the cookies can burn, so keep a close eye on them.

Remove from oven and immediately trim off any uneven sides; you’ll want your sides as straight as possible for construction. Place cookies on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make royal icing, place sifted powdered sugar and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. Add egg whiles and beat on low for a few seconds to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl to get all the powdered sugar evenly incorporated. Whip on high speed for 7-10 minutes; you want the icing to hold peaks.

Working quickly, place icing in a piping bag; cover any unused icing with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Beginning with one of the side panels, pipe a line of icing on the bottom and side, then press it gently onto your platter or cake plate. It helps to have someone hold the panels for you so they stay upright during construction. Repeat with the front panel, then add another side, the back panel, and your roof. Decorate as you like; I added very simple doors and windows, along with some snow on the roof. And of course, the resident dog.

Store at room temperature; royal icing will harden as it dries, keeping your house upright (at least we hope so).

Toasted Almond Shortbread

Shortbread is a great holiday treat. It’s easy to bake and easy to embellish, making it a great canvas for fun flavors and decorations. These toasted almond shortbread cookies went to the graphic design team in my office – along with some plain and chocolate versions – as a special thank-you for all they do for me and my team throughout the year.

You’ll want to keep a close eye on your almonds as they toast; nuts can go from toasted to burnt in a matter of seconds. I toast mine in the oven, but I’ve also had success toasting them in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Whatever you decide, the almonds are done when they’re golden brown and very fragrant. As they cool, they’ll make a faint crackling sound – I usually put mine in the freezer for a few minutes to help the cooling process.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • About 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 2-4 teaspoons water
  • About 1/3 cup flaked almonds, toasted and cooled

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Add flour and beat to combine completely. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cookies are cool, make your drizzle: combine powdered sugar, almond extract, and 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl, stirring until smooth and adding additional water if necessary; you want a thicker drizzle, so don’t go too far with your liquids. Drizzle over cookies, then top with flaked toasted almonds, gently pressing the nuts into the drizzle so they won’t fall off.

Makes 32.

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread

Chocolate and peppermint make a great flavor pair. These chocolate peppermint shortbread cookies are an elegant-looking treat that’s very easy to make and great for holiday baking.

You can buy peppermint candy bits at most craft stores and dollar stores around the holidays, but if you can’t find them, simply get some of the traditional red and white “star mint” style peppermints and crush them yourself. Give the chocolate just a moment to start to set once you’ve dipped the cookies; this helps the crushed candies adhere better without sliding off once you’ve placed the cookies on your cooling sheet.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce (about 1/3 cup) Dutch-process cocoa
  • 7 1/4 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) flour
  • 8 ounces chocolate candy coating
  • About 3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla, then beat in cocoa powder and flour.

Divide dough into two 12-ounce portions and press each portion into the bottom of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to flatten the dough as evenly as possible.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until it appears done around the edges. Remove from oven and loosen the sides with a knife, then cool in pans for 5 minutes.

Carefully turn one shortbread round out onto a cutting board and cut into 16 wedges; place wedges on a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the second round.

Once cookies are cool, place crushed peppermints on a plate or in a shallow dish. Melt your chocolate coating in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth.

Working quickly, dip the wide edge of each wedge into the chocolate and gently shake off the excess; hold over the pan for about 20 seconds just to let the chocolate begin to set, then dip in crushed peppermints.

Place on waxed paper or parchment and allow to set completely before storing.

Makes 32.

Note: shortbread will break if you try to cut it once it’s cool, so you must cut the rounds into wedges while they’re still warm.

Spice Roll with Caramel Sauce

The Great British Baking Show has made me a more creative – and adventurous – baker. I’m on vacation this week, and between errands, cleaning, and yoga, I’ve spent some time checking out the latest season. Inspired by various treats, I made this spice roll and caramel sauce.

While the contestants on the GBBS don’t roll their cakes in towels, choosing instead to cool them, then roll them, this method works best for me. I’ve come a long way from my very first pumpkin roll, achieving a nice spiral (see below). In hindsight, the maple cream cheese filling could have used a bit more maple syrup – it’s not as strong a maple flavor next to the rather strong spices in my cake. The entire treat is still delicious, though.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

For serving

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment. Place a lint-free tea towel on a heatproof surface (I use a cutting board) near your oven and dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and apple pie spice; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar, beating on medium speed until the mixture is thick and a light lemon color, about 5-7 minutes; add vanilla just before you stop beating. When the batter is done, it will fall from the whisk in a ribbon, then mound on top of the batter before blending back in. Gently fold the flour mixture in (I used my whisk attachment for easy clean-up).

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top springs back when you touch it. Remove from oven, then quickly and carefully flip your cake onto the powdered sugar-sprinkled tea towel. Gently peel the parchment away – I needed to use an offset spatula to prevent some of the cake from sticking to the parchment. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a tight spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

To make the filling, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until completely combined. Add maple syrup and beat to combine.

Carefully unroll the cake and add filling, then re-roll and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving; serve with caramel sauce. Store in the refrigerator.

Behold, a lovely spiral!

 

Caramel Sauce

Caramel is one of my favorite flavors, and making your own caramel sauce is probably easier than you think. The keys to caramel are attention, timing, and fearlessness. Read through the recipe a few times, then have all your ingredients ready to add. Keep an eye on your mixture, and don’t worry if the mixture seizes a bit when you add the heavy cream – just keep stirring, and it will become smooth. Most of all, don’t be afraid – the worst thing that happens is you have to start over.

I don’t usually include the step-by-step photos in my blog posts, but since caramel-making instructions can be vague, I wanted to give you a visual – pictures are below. Good luck!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pats

Preparation

Place sugar in a medium saucepan; shake gently to form an even layer. Add water, but don’t stir; allow the water to completely moisten the sugar, then place over medium heat.

Allow mixture to cook to dissolve the sugar; it will look cloudy (step 1). Once the sugar dissolves completely, allow the mixture to cook on medium-high until it turns an amber color, which can take 5-10 minutes; mine began to turn amber around 6 minutes into cooking and I gently shifted my pan a bit to keep the heat even as the mixture began to darken (step 2). When the mixture is almost evenly browned (step 3 – I pulled mine when all but the very center of my mixture had turned amber), remove from heat. Very carefully add heavy cream, stirring well, then add butter and continue to stir until completely smooth (step 4). The mixture will bubble up when the cold cream hits the hot sugar mixture, so watch out for splashes and be careful not to get burned.

Allow mixture to cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Caramel will last in the fridge for about 1 month.

Step 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4