Shortbread is one of those cookies that (if you’re anything like me) you grow up thinking of as a basic, boring cookie– one that will do in a pinch, but which can be abandoned at will in favor of something more exciting. Something with chocolate, or nuts, or really anything other than plain old shortbread.
I was so wrong.
A good shortbread is a masterpiece of simplicity, showcasing butter and sugar and (if you have it) really good vanilla extract. It can be easily made in a 1-2-3 ratio of sugar-butter-flour (by weight), and it keeps nicely for what seems like forever.
But you know me, I can never help but gild the lily. I do appreciate a plain shortbread now, I promise, but can you blame me for wanting to give people a little surprise when they bite into it? Enter the pink peppercorn. You may remember my using it in a raspberry-rose-peppercorn layer cake (which was excellent), but the first time I ever used it was in pink peppercorn shortbread, and that was when I fell in love. The floral spiciness is just unbeatable, and the simplicity of shortbread is ideal for showing it off.
A few Christmases ago, my family and I spent an amazing week in Germany to take advantage of the outdoor Christmas markets– we had a fantastic time, indulging in innumerable sausages and mugs of mulled wine, and of course the traditional lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies). That being said, the traditional recipe wasn’t my favorite– the cookies were somewhat dry, and the flavor profile seemed to be missing something, at least to my American palate. I much preferred the less traditional confection that was being billed by one seller as “lebkuchen,” but which had a lot more “oomph” to it, being sandwiched with jam and marzipan, and coated in chocolate. I found out later that these were not technically lebkuchen, but were actually “Dominosteine,” which were popularized in the 1930s and which are basically gingerbread petits fours.
In any event, whatever they’re called they’re delicious– this recipe keeps the slightly dry lebkuchen layer (it moistens over time), but instead of sandwiching the jam and marzipan between two cookie layers, they’re both layered on top. I also simplified the process by dispensing with the whole “dipping in chocolate” step and simply using the chocolate as a thin top layer. The finished product is spicy, sweet, and Christmas-y– just tasting it takes me back to that lovely Christmas in Germany!
The recipe makes an entire 13×17″ half-sheet pan worth of cookies, which is a LOT when you’re cutting them into small squares, but which makes these perfect for gift-giving!
A long time ago, my aunt made me a lovely Christmas wreath to hang on my front door. Sadly, over the years I haven’t taken the best care of it, and it’s gotten more bedraggled than I’d like. Since we moved to a new house I’ve been excited to decorate for the holidays, and updating the wreath was first on my list!
I wasn’t going to waste a perfectly good artificial wreath, but I did strip off all of the decorations and replace them with new gold and red berries, a whole 10-yard spool of red/green/gold plaid ribbon, and just for fun an adorable little owl. Isn’t he cute?
It was a fun project that only took an evening– the hardest part was getting the ribbon to lie just so when all I had to work with was a stapler and some extra twists of floral wire I scavenged from the original wreath. For the record, stapling the ribbon to make little dips/ripples (which I then tucked into the greenery and wired down) was the key to keeping it looking lush and not too stiff.
This year I had two ideas for Christmas ornaments (to go on our FINALLY full-sized tree after a decade of tabletop trees)– an ornament depicting our newly-purchased house, and one depicting the insanity that has been 2020.
I’m actually very proud of the house ornament– I took a photo of our house, plotted it out on graph paper, and built it using layers of cardstock, cut to size with my rotary paper cutter (best way to get tiny strips in the right dimensions), and ordinary Elmer’s glue. There are a few issues with proportion– the door should be taller and the windows aren’t quite right– but it’s recognizable as our home and looks great on the tree!
The second ornament was a quickie– I just bought a basic wood cutout and set it on fire. Can’t get simpler or more appropriate than that…
Growing up, a staple of my family’s holiday season was a fruitcake from the Collins Street Bakery. At the time, my mother was the only one who really liked it– for some reason the combination of sticky candied fruit and masses of pecans just didn’t do it for the rest of us– but as an adult I’ve actually grown to enjoy it. We don’t buy them anymore (they’ve gotten so expensive, particularly with shipping), but this past Christmas, inspired by a fruit-and-nut-heavy mooncake recipe, I decided to make a reasonable approximation in individually-sized servings.
So, remember my chocolate-cherry mooncakes? I loved those so much, and am always looking for an excuse to use the mooncake molds. When the holidays rolled around I figured that tiny molded desserts would be a great thing to contribute to the various gatherings we had planned, so I started brainstorming flavor combinations.
For my family Christmas celebration this year I think I’d like to make chocolate-peppermint and chocolate-orange-ginger, with the latter involving a gingerbread outer crust rather than a standard chocolate one. Of course, since I don’t want to use an untried recipe I’ve decided to do a gingerbread variation beforehand, just to test things out.
I grew up reading a lot of classic kids’ stories by British authors, and one thing that it took me some time to adjust to was how the characters would eat “pudding.” Remember, to an American kid, pudding means “thickened dairy-based concoction, usually flavored with chocolate or vanilla, often served in individual cups.” But these British puddings were clearly not the puddings of my childhood. For starters, “pudding” appeared to be an all-purpose word for dessert in general, so kids in the books would ask “what’s for pudding,” much in the same way people in certain areas of the U.S. might ask “what kind of Coke do you want?” to refer to flavors of sweetened carbonated beverages. In other contexts, puddings were described as “steaming hot” and being served in “slices,” which didn’t jibe with my idea of pudding at all. The most commonly-referenced type was plum pudding, served at Christmas, and get this– it was often set on fire???
Anyway, while the idea of a flaming dessert was of course intriguing, I never gave it much thought until recently, when I was challenged by a friend to make “Christmas pudding” this year. How could I say no?
After my last attempt at a cute holiday dress for my daughter (it took a while for her to warm up to it), I went a little more traditionally girly with this one and decided on flowers made of ribbon, to go on an otherwise plain burgundy velvet dress. Here’s what it looked like to begin with:
I bought several different kinds of ribbon flowers on eBay– you can get 10 of the same kind for a dollar or two (free shipping) from countless sellers, as long as you’re not too picky about the flowers maybe not being exactly the same color as the photos on your screen– and collected them together to figure out how best to arrange them.
The first thing I did was cut off the random button panel in the back of the dress (I think it was meant to help adjust sizing?) and replace it with a sash made of two yards of 1 1/2″ wide burgundy satin ribbon. I tacked down the ribbon at one side seam of the dress, and let the rest remain unattached, figuring that stitching down the flowers through the ribbon and the dress would keep it in place.
Every year for the holidays I have fun looking through the stores for an adorable holiday dress for my daughter. In years past she’s been pretty compliant in terms of wearing what I pick out, since she loves twirly skirts, lace, sparkles, and all the components that are usually present in holiday-wear. This year I happened upon a lovely (but plain) dress, and decided to do a little quick DIY and fancy it up to meet her high standards.