Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 Holiday Cooking and Baking

December is always a fun and chaotic month and this year was no different- I think of it as the month when my 9 x 13 baking dishes get a workout. What does feel different is the weather- strangely warm and summery for this time of year. Lemonade weather rather than the hot chocolate kind.

Our work Christmas potluck this year was a brunch. The person organizing it did a nice job of signing up people for different categories of brunch- beverages, sweets (donuts, pastries), breakfast casseroles and quiches, breads/biscuits, cheeses and fruits- so we had a very well-rounded brunch spread. I was in the casseroles group and brought my egg enchiladas, which disappeared quickly. Someone brought in the tasty, crusty homemade bread with garlic bread. Another favorite was a cinnamon roll star (something like this)- I'd love to make that sometime.

The quilt guild potluck is always a good Southern style feast complete with jello salads. I took my other tried and true favorite- spinach lasagna (recipe from Cook's Country) and it went over well. My favorite dishes there were a cabbage casserole and a wonderful silky flan.

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For V's birthday this year, I invited his work team for dinner- we were about 15 people in all. They all love Indian food so the menu was completely predictable but well-loved: Paneer curry, Palak chana, Jeera rice, Raita, Vegetable patties. The birthday cake was a Black Forest cake. To keep things simple, I made it in a sheet cake format like so. To me, sheet cakes are much easier to put together than round layer cakes.

Black forest cake, of course, is a nostalgic favorite for both of us, and quite easy to assemble with chocolate cake, cherry syrup, cherries, whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.

1. Make this recipe for chocolate cake in a 9 x 13 baking pan.

2. After the cake cools, flip it out of the pan and cut it in half horizontally with a long serrated knife.

3. Syrup: For the cherry portion, I used Trader Joe's dark morello cherries in light syrup which come in a glass jar. I drained the cherries, reserved half the syrup and stirred in some brandy and powdered sugar into the reserved syrup. Set aside.

4. Whip 2 cups heavy cream into soft peaks, stir in vanilla extract and powdered to lightly flavor the cream. Refrigerate.

5. Put half the cake back into the pan. Brush it liberally with the cherry syrup. Spread half the whipped cream on the cake, and spread half the drained cherries.

6. Place the other half of the cake back in the pan. Brush it liberally with syrup. Cover with the rest of the whipped cream and cherries. Decorate with chocolate shavings made by using a peeler on a dark chocolate bar.

7. Chill and serve. This is a crowd-pleasing cake as one might imagine; there was only a tiny piece left over at the end of the night.

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Almond buttercrunch candy- made this
Cornflakes chivda- also made for Diwali

Exchanging small gifts is the other highlight of the month. The reliable food gift from my kitchen is this recipe for mandelbrot, a version of almond biscotti. For people who are OK eating gluten, nuts and eggs, this is my go-to gift. As plain and simple as they look, these cookies always get rave reviews. I made a batch for my gym instructors and ballet teacher.

Lila's teachers got a small box of biscotti, a gift card and a card with a very heartfelt thank you note for their wonderful care through the year. To give you an example of why I like Lila's class teacher: we took Lila to our town's Christmas parade and on the way there, she said, "One of my teachers is in the parade. She's super special and she helps me always- can you guess who it is? It's Mrs. M!" If that is how your students describe you, you're doing it right.

For some of my co-workers, I made hot chocolate mix packed in mason jars and wrapped with a festive tea towel- sort of a gift inside a gift.

I wanted to make cookies that were eggless for someone who is allergic to eggs. My favorite eggless cookies have got to be shortbread cookies, which usually have a very short ingredient list of flour, butter and sugar, and which simply melt in the mouth. They are very nankatai-like, for those of us who remember those bakery cookies from India.

I tried two new recipes for shortbread this year. One was this fig and maple shortbread, a recipe that I found in the Washington Post. It is a wonderful recipe, easy to pull together and with a rather gourmet taste.

The other was this back-of-the-box recipe for Canada cornstarch shortbread. I added a wee bit of salt, some cardamom and pistachios to the basic recipe. I tasted one and liked it- the rest were packaged up and mailed out.

And I was the lucky recipient of this generous cookie tray from one of my dear quilting buddies. She tells me that two are family favorites- the powdered sugar bow ties are Polish chruschiki and the powdered sugar folded ones with apricot preserves are Hungarian kiffels. And there were chocolate chip and chocolate-dipped peanut cookies, and some candy truffles. The kiffels were my absolute favorites.

I did get several other sweet gifts from friends and co-workers- nice soap, a mug with my initials, home-canned pickle relish, peanut butter truffles, bourbon balls...mmm.

Are you making any gifts this year? What are you cooking and baking? 

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings to All! 


  1. Merry Christmas to you all Nupur! I love your super thoughtful gifts and I am drooling over the black forest cake :)
    I made two out of the ordinary things this season: the first are homemade mince pies. The second was a stuffed roasted pumpkin. The pumpkin was stuffed with cubes of sourdough bread, Comte cheese, kale in a cream garlic sauce. It was really delicious!

    1. Mince pies- how very British :) The stuffed roasted pumpkin sounds amazing- maybe something I can make for a festive feast next holiday season.

  2. Ooo I was waiting for this post so I could post my list of what I baked ;-)
    - Lemon, Rosemary Shortbread cookies - recipe from twopeasandtheirpod.com
    - Because I had some rosemary prepped and ready -made a lemon, rosemary, olive oil cake for a dinner at a friends - recipe from a blog I cant recall
    - Chocolate, Vanilla Pinwheel Cookies from my mother's recipe - made the dough once and then made the cookies 4 times ;-)
    - Finally made red velvet cake with beets - no food color - recipe from NYTimes.

    Then inspired by you - made a yule log with red velvet cake and orange cream cheese frosting - recipe from NYTimes - but I used scant 1 C sugar for 1 lb of cream cheese in place of the 6! cups in the recipe and doubled the cake recipe but not the frosting.

    I am feeling very accomplished ;-). Now we are off to a white christmas in Yosemite.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    1. Vishakha- goodness!! You have been busy. Pinwheel cookies have been on my to-do list for a while, they are so pretty. The olive oil cake sounds amazing. So does the yule log- wow! Hope Yosemite was awesome.

  3. That Black Forest cakes looks so delectable!! I should try it sometime.
    A very happy new year to you and the family, Nupur. Look forward to many more delightful posts from you in 2016!

    1. Kamini- Happy New Year to you and yours! Please do keep writing- every post from you makes my day.

  4. Happy Holidays to you and your family, Nupur!
    I like the idea of a sheet cake Black Forest. When I saw your picture, I immediately remembered those days when we would buy the same from Monginis. It was such a favorite, we would scrape out every last crumb and wish for more.
    We have summery weather here too.
    As of now, we are scrambling to get the gifts Soham wants ( he made a list yesterday after asking a zillion questions about how Santa will get anything to him- no chimney here). Now dad *has to* scramble and make it happen ( he promised to fed ex Santa's letter by 'super' over night).

    1. Manasi- Monginis was the be all and end all of pastries in my teen years! Have gorged on way too much black forest pastries, pineapple ones, and not to forget the savory puffs.

      Hope Soham got all his wishes from Santa! Miss Lila got a stocking from Santa with small treats (chocolate coins, socks, oranges, pens) and a DVD and book from friends.

  5. Nupur, do you hand-quilt or use a machine? I'm a beginner and can't really see how a large quilt would fit under my sewing machine arm when rolled up. Mine's a Janome.

    1. Shammi- sorry it took me ages to reply to your question! I use a machine. I personally haven't made very large quilts yet (my largest was only 5 feet square) but it is actually possible to quilt even large quilts with a small domestic machine. See these links:



      There is even this online class:

    2. Thank you very much, Nupur :) By the way, you're just amazing - I'm in awe of how you take up challenges and beat them like a drum! :) Happy new year, my friend, and perhaps this is the year we'll get to meet? Fingers crossed!

  6. Hope you had a great christmas - I love hearing about your gifts - I made cheese stars, apricot jam and even gave some mince pies but they got forgotten today so I am not sure if they will find their way to the recipient. I am going to check out some of your baking recipes.

    1. Pies and jam- wow those are great gifts, Johanna! Christmas was great, now it is back to the routine here.

  7. Hi Nupur,

    That is quite a spread that you have baked. Pull apart bread is especially inviting ever since I've been hooked on to Great British Bake Off. I even switched to using metric measurements for baking. I find it easier to tinker with the recipes, since I dont bake with eggs.
    As for my baking, I made Mary Berry mincemeat (all veg) to use in her mincemeat loaf to gift to friends. As for gifting baked goods to my kids' teachers, I didnt know if they would consume items prepared in an unknown kitchen. So ultimately, tossed that idea.
    Waiting for Downtown Abbey final season on Jan 3rd.

    Happy New Year to you,

    1. Sapna- Enjoy Downton! The mincemeat loaf sounds amazing. The British Bake Off was too tempting- I wish Netflix had more of the seasons.


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