Winter Wonderland Cake

When most people think about Christmas desserts, they probably think of cookies. And while there are some amazing cookie recipes out there, I like to get creative for our Christmas desserts. This year, I wanted to do something peppermint-based, and this little vanilla peppermint cake turned out very well.

I found several recipes for pine tree/winter wonderland cakes online, but decided to make my own from recipes I’ve previously baked. To make the pine trees, I melted some vanilla candy coating (rather than using candy melts, as I don’t really like the way they taste) and tinted them green with candy coloring.  It’s important to use candy coloring, which is oil-based and available at cake shops, rather than liquid or gel-based food coloring. Oil-based coloring will blend into your melted coating very well, while liquid or gel-based coloring will make the coating clumpy.

Ingredients

Candy Pine Trees

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces vanilla candy coating*
  • Green candy coloring
  • 10 lollipop sticks
  • Nonpareils

*I use CandiQuik vanilla candy coating, available at Target.

Preparation

Line two baking sheets with waxed paper; set aside.

Chop candy coating into pieces, then place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds to distribute the heat.

Add green candy coloring and stir well.

Dip the top of each lollipop stick into the melted coating, then place several inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Spoon candy coating into a zip-top bag; carefully snip off one corner and pipe coating onto lollipop sticks in tree shapes.

Sprinkle nonpareils on trees while they are still wet; allow to set completely, then carefully peel off waxed paper. Trim stick bottoms, leaving about 1 inch to insert into the cake.

Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 6-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment circle, and lightly grease the parchment.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat well to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Peppermint Vanilla Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • About 2 tablespoons milk
  • White cupcake pearls, optional

Preparation

Place butter in a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute using a paddle attachment. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated; this will take several minutes. I cover my mixer with a kitchen towel to prevent a powdered sugar storm.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add peppermint extract, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon milk. Beat until well combined, scraping sides of the bowl frequently; beat in additional milk and continue beating for 1-2 minutes for a smooth, even consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Place the bottom layer on your cake stand and frost the top, then top with remaining layer and frost the top and sides. Place remaining frosting in a zip-top bag; snip off one corner and set aside.

Press trees into cake top, starting at the back, and piping additional buttercream around the bottoms as you work toward the front of the cake. Sprinkle with cupcake pearls.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

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Gingerbread House Cookies

gingerbread-house-cookiesI may have gone slightly overboard with my holiday baking this year. I just couldn’t help myself – there were so many adorable, delicious treats to make, and while I feel completely worn out, I’m glad I made all of it.

These gingerbread house cookies were inspired by a cute cookie cutter I found at the craft store last week – a little house, along with a little gingerbread man. I simply had to make these houses, and decorate them as one would a regular gingerbread house (the three-dimensional kind).

The recipe below made 9 cookies, so you’ll want to double the quantities for a larger batch. I had enough dough left over for about 6 miniature gingerbread men as well.

Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  •  8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda, salt, and pepper; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, and molasses until fluffy, about three minutes.

Add flour in two batches, beating until well-combined.

Flatten dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate about one hour, until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into house shapes.

Bake for about 12 minutes; you do not want the gingerbread to burn, so keep an eye on it.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.

Zella’s Icing

Ingredients

  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons water, if necessary
  • Red and green food coloring
  • Flower-shaped sprinkles, if desired

Preparation

Combine egg white, shortening, salt, and one cup powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

To decorate your cookies, fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on doorways and windows. Replace the tip with a star tip to pipe on snow.

Tint frosting green and add wreaths, trees, and shrubs.

Tint frosting red and add berries to your wreaths and shrubs, as well as other decorative dots or shapes.

Use white frosting as glue to adhere flower shapes, if desired.

Allow frosting to set for about 30 minutes before storing. Store at room temperature in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper for about 3 days.

 

Reindeer Cookies

reindeer-cookiesMy goddaughter Maureen and her little sister Margo went absolutely insane for the chocolate bat cookies I sent them for Halloween. According to their mom, they practically licked the crumbs off the table. So what did I bake them for Christmas? Another batch of chocolate sugar cookies, this time in the shape of trees, stockings…and reindeer.

To make these adorable treats, I used a gingerbread man cookie cutter, then flipped the cookies upside down to make reindeer heads. This is another popular item on Pinterest this year, and I admit that I looked at several cookie designs before settling on this one. You could certainly give them Rudolph-esque red noses if you like, but I went with a standard brown, as well as chocolate chip eyes.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating until well-combined.

Slowly add flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl often and beating until a very well-combined, soft dough forms.

Gently knead the dough a few times to make sure it comes together; roll dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with a bat-shaped cookie cutter; if using different shapes, be sure to bake the same shape on one cookie sheet. Baking different-sized or differently-shaped cookies on the same sheet can lead to uneven results; some of your cookies might be underdone while others will be overdone.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Zella’s Icing

Ingredients

  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons water, if necessary
  • Brown food coloring
  • Miniature chocolate chips, for eyes

Preparation

Combine egg white, shortening, salt, and one cup powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

To frost your cookies:

Turn gingerbread men upside down so the feet act as the antlers.

Reserve a small portion of white frosting for the eyes, then tint the remaining frosting light brown for the faces.

Frost the faces using a small offset spatula, then tint the remaining frosting darker brown. Fit a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on antlers, the insides of the ears, and the noses.

Use white frosting to pipe two eyes, then place a miniature chocolate chip in the center of each.

Let frosting set for about 30 minutes; store in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper for us to 3 days.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Gingerbread Cake with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting

gingerbread-cakeThis Christmas, I wanted to make something different for dessert, and I found this amazing recipe on Pinterest. Sometimes you never know with Pinterest recipes – but this one is top-notch.

Adapted from a recipe at Great Grub, Delicious Treats (which was adapted from a recipe from Better Homes & Gardens), this cake and frosting are absolutely delicious. I added allspice and cloves to my batter in addition to the ginger and cinnamon, and I’m very glad I did. My mom and I couldn’t decide whether we liked the cake or the frosting best, and Mike is yet to weigh in. Either way, this cake was a huge hit after our Christmas dinner yesterday.

I cut the original recipe in half for a single layer for just the three of us, and I cut the frosting recipe in half as well, but it was still far too much. The measurements below are adapted further for what I believe would be an appropriate amount of frosting for a single layer 9-inch cake; I have a ton left over in my fridge, which will probably go in cupcakes this week.

Gingerbread Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line with a circle of parchment; lightly grease the parchment.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl well. Add molasses and egg and beat well to combine.

Add flour mixture and water alternatively in three batches, starting and ending with the flour and mixing to combine between each.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 28-32 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake this cake, as the sides can easily burn.

Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese until combined, about 2-3 minutes.

Add molasses and vanilla, beating well to combine. Scrape down your bowl well.

Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating to completely combine; continue to beat for 1-2 minutes, scraping the bowl well, to reach an easily spreadable consistency.

Frost top and sides of cake.

Store in the refrigerator, but let the cake sit at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes before serving.

 

Spritz

spritz-iWhen I was a kid, my mom and my grandma Zella both made almond cookies using a cookie press. How easily the dough popped out, shaped like trees and wreaths and pinwheels. Tinted green at Christmas, topped with sprinkles or colored sugar, these cookies were a staple in our holidays.

I have never had such luck with the cookie press.

I tried valiantly this time with a spritz recipe I found at Land O’Lakes, and while I did manage one good batch of trees (pictured here), I admit that my dough softened too much and refused to cooperate for the wreaths and pinwheels. Instead of fighting my dough (or chilling it a second time, which I should have done), I rolled it into balls, flattened them with my hand, and baked them as buttons. Since spritz are so named for the German word “spritzen,” which means “to squirt,” I can’t say the buttons were true spritz cookies…more like absolutely delicious butter cookies. Either way, the results of this recipe are supremely tasty.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • Colored sugar, if desired

Preparation

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, egg, and salt. Cream together until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add flour and beat at low speed until well-combined. Cover dough and chill for about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line three baking sheets with foil.

Fit a cookie press with your desired shape and fill with dough; press onto cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with colored sugar, if desired. Alternatively, roll dough into 1-inch balls and flatten with your hand, then sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 6-9 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for 4-5 days.

Note: the recipe will yield different amounts depending on the shapes you choose; my recipe made about 3 dozen.

Gingerbread

gingerbreadYesterday we put up our Christmas tree, and it seemed appropriate to make gingerbread. Not gingerbread cookies, despite how delicious (and adorable) they are – but actual gingerbread loaves, which I’d never made before.

I found a great gingerbread loaf recipe from Pillsbury and adapted it slightly to include a thicker glaze than the original.  You could leave the loaves plain if you like, but I highly recommend glazing them – although you might not expect it, lemon glaze adds a wonderful dimension of flavor to this rich, spicy bread. It would also be easy to cut this recipe in half to make just one loaf, or to bake the whole recipe in smaller loaf pans to give as gifts (which I’m totally going to do).

Ingredients

For the gingerbread

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Generous 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8 x 4 loaf pans (or spray with baking spray).

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and set; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each until the mixture is smooth.

In a 4-cup glass measuring cup, combine molasses and boiling water, stirring to combine. Add baking soda and stir; mixture will become foamy.

With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the molasses mixture into the butter mixture, beating until combined. Add flour in three batches, beating until just incorporated after each; stir by hand until well-blended.

Divide batter evenly between the pans and bake for 45-60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean; my loaves only needed about 45 minutes.

Cool in pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

To make the glaze, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add lemon juice 1 tablespoon at a time; you want a thicker glaze texture. Pour over loaves, spreading to the edges. Allow glaze to set before serving.

Red Velvet Cookies

red velvet cookiesDo you think of red velvet as a Christmas treat? I didn’t, until my friend Erika mentioned that she likes red velvet at this time of year. After all, Santa’s suit is kind of red velvety, and there are plenty of red velvet bows to go around.

These cookies are a delicious twist on the classic red velvet cupcake, and they were extremely popular in my office this week. You could add frosting to them, but I’d recommend just dusting them with powdered sugar once they’ve cooled; although this photo doesn’t do them justice, they have a beautiful red velvet color beneath the powdered sugar.

I also advise using a spoon to scoop your dough, instead of a cookie scoop, as my one-inch scoop met its maker with this dough.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar for rolling, plus more for dusting

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and white sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Add beaten egg and beat until combined.

Add melted chocolate, vanilla, and red food coloring and beat until combined.

Add flour mixture in three batches, beating well between and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour, until easier to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place powdered sugar in a small bowl.

Using a spoon, scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball, then dip in powdered sugar, tossing to coat. Place about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until tops are cracked and edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cookies are cool, dust with more powdered sugar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.