Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

The Christmas Dream

Pan d'oro

Pan d’oro

I don’t know if it is because of my propensity towards eating sardines before bedtime (a long story / another time), but I have noticed of late that I have been having some rather odd and perplexing dreams.

I am still pondering one that repeated a few nights ago wherein my subconscious spun a tale of spending Christmas with Mary, Mary Quite Contrary of nursery rhyme fame.

As fashioned by the festering chemical swirl of my cerebral cortex, Ms. Contrary was an exceedingly tedious young woman who made me long for a good, old-fashioned “Chinese food and movies” Christmas.

I bade her a Merry Christmas, only to be greeted by a bloated face held in a sour grimace as she informed me with a tap-tap-tap of her Rolex that we were still experiencing Christmas Eve; to whit, Christmas was nigh.

“Tut, tut” said I before remonstrating, “Be of good cheer else Father Christmas will not wriggle down your chimney to leave you gifts good and plain this holiday.”

Ms. Contrary would have none of it. “I’m a little old for Father Christmas don’t you think?” I could scarcely answer this apparently rhetorical question without suppressing a titter at the thought of the poor red and white velour-costumed, part-time Macy’s employee whose knees might be subjected to bearing the considerable heft of Ms. Contrary’s person should she choose that source to declare her holiday wishes.

In the hopes that a sympathetic soul might rescue me from this angry, vanilla-scented hillock in yoga pants, I stood on my tippy toes to try and catch a glimpse of other guests over her balustrade-like shoulder; alas, even fashionably late, I came to the suffocating realization that I was the first to arrive.

“Something smells delicious” I beamed, summoning every bit of sunshine I could muster.

“I made dinner” she glared. “When one invites people for dinner that usually means one serves dinner” she sassed with a twist of her head, spitting the last words at me.

“Ah!” I exclaimed, “I’ve brought dessert” and handed her my paper-wrapped, beribboned creation like a sacrifice being thrown into a roiling, steaming volcano.

With a drop of her shoulder she gave my creation a look similar to that which one would give a newly discovered rash.

“Ugh” she grunted. “You’re such a tool. I told you not to bring anything except wine.”

“Well you know I’m kind of a light weight when it comes to alcohol, and I do like to bake…” I started, before realizing that I had released the kraken.

“Are you saying I have a drinking problem? That I’m an alcoholic?”

“Oh not at all!” I squealed, attempting to back away from a cliff over which I had unwittingly placed one foot.

“Tell me you didn’t make those frosted cookies with the red and green sprinkles! Those are so grandma!”

“No, this isn’t cookies…”

“I knew it!” she boomed, stamping her large, but delicately shod foot. “A cake.”

“Actually it’s a Christmas bread.”

“You mean a Panetone?” she snorted with disgust. “I hate anything with that candied citron stuff. Oh no! Tell me it’s not a Stöllen!” she ranted, “I hate Stöllen.”

“None of those” I cowered, “It is a Pan d’oro.”

Wrenching it away from me with a dimpled paw, she quickly tore off the festive paper wrapping that had protected my masterpiece.

“For your information Mister Food Blogger, that’s a cake, not a bread. I hope you brought the powdered sugar to sprinkle over it.”

“But it’s called Pan d’oro which means bread of gold, and it’s made with yeast” I simpered before being reprimanded in the most severe way.

“It’s a cake, and I asked you to bring wine.  Anyway, you’re not getting dessert until you’ve had all seven fish courses. Get in there and start eating. March!

Wake me up in time for Christmas. Please.

La Silvana



In the world of grand opera there was no bigger star than Giulietta Silvana. At the Met—the old “Diamond Horseshoe” on 39th Street—even the sleepiest of men who’d been dragged to the opera by their culture-climbing wives woke up when “La Silvana” arrived center stage.

There was, of course, no shortage of men who swept through the stage door in their top hats and capes hoping to court “La Silvana.” The usual nightly contretemps between a Diva and her tenor? For “La Silvana”, this was just the opening salvo to a night of romance. Like a bee collecting pollen, she never settled on one flower. Reporter after reporter asked why, and to all she simply replied, “Show me a man of substance, and I will have sung my last Lucia.”

European suitors, many of them of royal lineage, also fell under her spell during visits to La Scala, the Palais Garnier, the Royal Opera House, and countless concert stages. Her great rival, Lily Pons, was green with envy at La Silvana’s independence from the grasp of one man.

At home, which was usually the best suite in the best hotel in whatever city she sang, she was tended to by a staff who doted on, and anticipated her every whim. Her private chef ensured that there would never be too much of her to squeeze into the corsets that costume designers inevitably built into her costumes; a private masseuse pounded every excess ounce of avoirdupois from her that the chef may have missed. What the chef and masseuse may have missed, her own notoriously steely discipline and focus nipped in the bud. She sailed around the world like a maharani: staff, clothes, jewels, and determination never far from her reach. If you find the theory that Great Divas are born Great Divas dubious, let La Silvana wipe away all doubts.

Still, if you were to observe closely, you’d notice some clues to the “real” La Silvana. At every meal, in any restaurant, even on the most luxurious ocean liner, she would rub the silverware with her napkin as if the cleanest was never clean enough. Then there was the locket: a large silver locket that never left her neck no matter the role or costume. She always held it when, as Tosca, she made her final plunge. No man, no maid, no costume designer could make her remove the locket. It was reported (but never confirmed) that she slept with it in her grasp.

Sadly, time—age—was unkind to La Silvana. Inevitably, her voice became heavy, her face matured, and she began to find herself shunted aside in favor of younger singers—both on stage and off.

Rather than linger on in the shadows, La Silvana did what she thought was expected of a Great Diva: she simply disappeared. Her whereabouts—even whether she was dead or alive—became one of the great mysteries of the Opera world.

However, after the recent death of Professor Carlos Bernberg—one of the world’s great scholars on twentieth century opera (and a notorious pack rat)—we are finally able to reveal what happened to La Silvana after she took her final bow. For, hidden amongst the boxes that defined the Professor’s living and working space lies the story of La Silvana’s Act II.

The story of her second act begins—by sheer coincidence—on a snowy Christmas Eve. Still awash in the rosy glow of music as he made his way from Carnegie Hall through the falling snow, Professor Bernberg, heeding the rumbles of his empty stomach, decided that a light, late supper was in order. Worried that Schrafft’s (his usual haunt) would be closed, he decided to try a small bistro he’d spied on his many trips through the neighborhood. Its warm glow always reminded him of Vienna, but its name always captured his fancy: “Lucia”. Not, “Lucia’s Place” or “Café Lucia”. Just “Lucia”.

He paused as he entered, for the restaurant was full and the boisterousness of the crowd left him with the impression that he was intruding on a private party. Through the smoky haze he could see a small staff of red-jacketed waiters clucking and bowing, and in the back, through a window cut in the wall, a cherub-cheeked man, white hair under a toque, fussing in the kitchen.

A short, slightly plump woman with silver hair grabbed both of his hands and greeted him like an old friend. She explained that while there were no individual tables available, if he didn’t mind, she could happily seat him with others. His initial reluctance was overruled by another rumble of his empty stomach, and he soon found himself seated at a large round table with seven other diners. Not so much seated as “tucked in”, as the plump, silver-haired matron who greeted him made sure his chair was pushed in and his “serviette” spread in his lap just so. While telling him about things to look for on the menu, she stood with a cloth and wiped his silverware.

Indicating the other people at the table, she allowed, “My friends will tell you that I am biased, but I think we have the best Veal Marengo in the world.” Nodding towards the kitchen she continued, “Franco is Piedmontese, so he knows just the right amount of white truffle to add.”

Well, given such salesmanship, and the agreement of his tablemates, how could the Professor not try the Veal Marengo?

After his meal—and a rather bracing glass of Cotes de Nuits – Villages—he patted his stomach in appreciation of the fine meal, and the happy conversation with the strangers at the table.

Insisting that he have something sweet with his coffee, the silver-haired matron delivered a small plate baring just a few simple, round pastries that were studded with nibs of sugar. They were hollow, and the nibs of sugar sweetened the toasted, egg-infused, pastry with little “pops” each time he took a bite.

The Professor pleaded with the silver-haired matron to know what they were.

“Ah, those? They are Chouquettes. I first had them on a Christmas Eve many moons ago in Vienna. A place much like this one. I was with my first love, my only true love. I had to plead with the baker for the recipe for I knew that I would want my love to have Chouquettes every Christmas Eve. I carried the recipe in my locket for many years. I always felt that I could conquer the world if I kept the recipe close to my heart.”

As she pointed to her large silver locket, the Professor looked her up and down while a wash of memories flooded him. “You are La Silvana!” he gasped.

“Ha!” she giggled. “La Silvana! I made her up like a child pretends to be a cowboy or an Indian. Would people have come to see Gertrude Silverman sing? I think not. So I became Giulietta Silvana. But all the fame and riches could never bring back my true love. He was lost in the Great War. After I stopped singing I opened this place so that every night I could re-live those dinners in Vienna. Some days, at my darkest, I imagine that the door will open, he’ll walk in, and we’ll be reunited forever.” Then, with a sigh, “But it is not to be.”

She smiled at the professor and said, “You’ll keep my secret, yes? Better for the world to think La Silvana just evaporated into thin air then for them to know she is now a dumpy, grey haired frau. So here I am, hiding in plain sight. Shhhh…” she teased, holding her finger over her lips if playing a game of Hide and Seek. As she made her request she offered the Professor one more Chouquette. He bit into it and as the sugar made little “pops” in his mouth, he knew almost as if he’d been placed under a spell, that he would never reveal the secret of La Silvana.


Want to make your own Chouquettes? Follow my recipe for Gougeres, but omit the cheese. Before baking, sprinkle with nib (pearl) sugar, or any large grain sugar.

Look at this! The “I Heart Christmas” cookies seen below (inspired by noted artist Laura Loving) are in The New York Times!

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This holiday season consider a gift to the Robin Hood Foundation.

Absolutely, positively

I Heart Christmas cookies

Nothing says loving…

I am pleased to announce that I just returned from the Post Office. Remember the Post Office?

I marvel at the Post Office. Now I know where my Windows 95 computer went to die. Hey, stuff still gets from point A to point B. How? I don’t know. A visit to a New York City Post Office is to reaffirm one’s belief in Santa Claus and his elves.

My snarky humor is in no way meant to besmirch the work being done by the thousands of Postal Workers around the country who really do get the job done.

I just hate waiting in line.

Lest you think I am a holiday luddite, rest assured that the majority of my shopping is done via the internet. Occasionally this translates into higher shipping costs, yet this is more than compensated for by the reduced schlepping costs. However, every now and then, for intimates I hold in high regard, I like to send a little something homemade from my humble kitchen. A modest effort that folks always seem to appreciate. But, cookies don’t mail themselves.

All has not been well in my kitchen; my stove has decided that it is time to retire and begrudgingly bakes at one temperature—when it lights at all. (New stove on the way…) All of this adds up to, as they say on Wall Street, a challenging season.

But serenity is mine. I have a few survival tips that get me through seasons like this.

1.) Pay a visit to the Island of Reduced Expectations. This is a lovely place where the weather is always temperate and pie crust is always perfect—even if you don’t follow Martha Stewart’s recipe. This year’s visit meant making peace with the aforementioned oven and baking by smell and color rather than using a timer. Besides, my Mom likes things cooked “well done.” Translated into the real world this means that I made three kinds of cookies instead of the six whose recipes had caught my eye. And burned a few.

2.) How big is your kitchen? If it is like mine the answer is, “Too small.” (Ditto the refrigerator.) This means I need to plan where I can place racks of cookies as they cool. My living room has often been enlisted, even though this means it smells like cookies for days after. (Could be worse. That’s why I never cook salmon at home. Even good smells get into the upholstery. I have a feeling that someday when I buy a new sofa and place the current one on the street for pick up, folks will think a bakery opened on the block.) I have a constant rhythm going of dough going in the oven, just out of the oven cookies moving to the cooling rack, cooled cookies moving to storage containers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

3.) Special treatment cookies? Don’t do it all in one day or you will end up in the psych ward with my family. I spread preparations for the beautiful I Heart Christmas cookies shown above over three days. Day one I made the dough, then wrapped it and stuck it in the fridge. Day two I rolled and cut the dough, sprinkled it with vanilla sugar and baked the hearts. Day three I dipped them in chocolate, sprinkled them with crushed candy canes, and refrigerated them to set the chocolate. It was still a challenge, but worth it, and much easier because each step was begun with a clean kitchen. (Full disclosure: I did have one accident and lost about ten completed cookies when a cooling rack slipped out of the fridge because I opened the door with too much gusto. I’d like to blame the kitchen or the fridge, but I’ll be adult and blame my noisy neighbors.)

4.) The internet is your friend and you don’t even have to bake it cookies or buy it drinks. Did you know that with a little bit of planning you can use the post office and never be scowled at by an employee or wait in line? Avail yourself—when possible—of Priority Mail flat rate shipping boxes. I goofed this year, hence my wait in line. I shipped some cookies to family and friends in gift boxes I had purchased at the baking supply store. They didn’t fit in the flat rate boxes. If they had, I could have paid for and printed the postage at home, packed the box, and then waved to the folks standing in line as I dropped my package in the chute. The interesting irony is that metal cookie tins would have weighed more, but they would have fit in the flat rate boxes and therefore cost less to ship and saved me time. Ah well, next time. (But the cookies looked nice in those boxes…)

5.) If you live in or near New York City, visit “the tree” at Rockefeller Center.

You can’t help but smile.


The “I Heart Christmas” cookies pictured above are a variation on my “I Heart Shortbread” recipe. They are decorated with Candy Canes that were pulverized in a food processor.

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Phoning it in

Martha Stewart Thin Mints


“If you had an iPhone…”

For several weeks this past year those words—spoken by an unseen Voice Over Artist in a television commercial for Apple’s iPhone—made me cringe. There was a certain smugness there that reminded me of the fat rich kid who used to make fun of my cheap skis when I was 12 and pretending to be Jean-Claude Killy.

I was a perfectly content Android user. Well, not perfectly content. I liked my phone, and was fond of and reliant on many of the apps I had installed. (It had this cool alarm clock that required you to solve a simple math problem before you could disable it or snooze.)

And yet…

After about a year and a half, one of the high priests (priestesses?) of Android decided that it would be a good idea to send a big update of the phone’s operating system (all of which have alluring foodie names like Jelly Bean and Ice Cream Sandwich) to all phones on the network.

(Insert lone bugler playing “Taps” here.)

The phone never recovered. Soon I was getting little warning icons that the phone’s storage was full. I set about urgently deleting old email, unused apps, and photos, but to no avail. The “storage full” icons remained as constant as the “check tire pressure” warning light in my Mom’s car. (We can talk about that another time.)

The thing is: the phone wasn’t even close to being full. It had one of the largest expansion cards available. It was a bug. Verizon happily sent me a replacement phone—factory reconditioned—which required me to “rebuild” or restore all the apps I had installed and re-connect my email. Peace reigned over the land.

Or did it?

Now, I am the first to admit that I have lousy vision. One day I was checking out my newly replaced phone and thought, “Gee, my eyes must be tired, it looks like the screen is pulsating between brighter and darker.” Worries of going blind soon dissipated as I realized that it was indeed the phone and not my eyes. I then began to notice that if I didn’t keep the screen sparkling clean it would either ignore my touch or simply start doing its own frantic thing as if some phantom finger were trying to dial, text, tweet, and email its phantom Mom. (I might add that said Phantom had deplorable taste in music too.)

“If you had an iPhone…” began ringing in my ears. Tinnitus?  No. A barrage of P.R. whetting the world’s appetite for the iPhone 5. I decided to get one and see what the hub-bub was about. All I had to do was wait a couple of months until the happy coincidence of the iPhone release frenzy and my two-year contract renewal date. Would my old phone survive until then?

It survived just fine, whiling away the hours texting, emailing, and tweeting itself. (Perhaps it started a blog?)

No, I was not one of those folks who waited in line outside the Apple store, but I’ve used the phone for two months and I like it. I like the way it’s made, but the flip side to that is that I’m terrified of dropping and damaging it, so it lives in a protective case.

click the time on the recipe and it sets a timer for you

Recently I was scanning the app store and saw that the “Martha Stewart Bakes Cookies” app was on sale for zero dollars and no cents. That’s my kind of gambling, so I downloaded it. I think it is very slick. Here are details of my test drive.

I chose the Thin Mint Cookie—a celebration of cool chocolate—thinking that it would make an excellent holiday cookie. I expected the instructions would ask me to roll out dough and have at it with a circular cookie cutter. Martha’s folks have a fun and easy alternative: you place teaspoon-sized blobs of cookie dough on a cookie sheet. Then you flatten them with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in water. It works, it’s fast, and even a kid can do it. During the holidays, involving the kids in the family baking is such great idea. Messy? Potentially. Fun? Yeah!

You’re left with very “rustic”, very thin chocolate wafer cookies—but proceed with caution. These can be addictive even without being dipped in mint-spiked melted chocolate. By the way, the iPhone app is so slick that you touch the highlighted direction “bake 8 to 10 minutes” in the recipe text and it automatically sets a countdown timer. Yes, Tim Cook, this is like baking in the Jetson’s kitchen.

Ah: one problem back on earth. Martha’s folks have us spiking the melted chocolate with mint extract. They got this wrong. You really should spike the cookies with the mint, and leave the chocolate as is.

But it’s chocolate: can you ever really go wrong?


Martha Stewart Makes Cookies is available in the Apple App Store for the iPhone and iPad. It’s free for a limited time only.

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Gingerbread Biscotti

Gingerbread Biscotti

How the heck did ginger become the featured holiday season flavor, huh? Why, all of the sudden, I am reaching for powdered ginger, crystallized ginger, and molasses?

I’ll bet it’s because of our British friends and their propensity towards brandied, flaming, steamed puddings. Ginger comes from tropical locales all around the globe, many of these locales were British colonies at one time or another, and ginger has food preservation properties. There is some logic that can somehow be extrapolated from this regarding ginger’s Christmastime prevalence…but I haven’t figured it out. Yet.

I read that one year Martha Stewart made steamed Christmas puddings and gave them as gifts. I think if you are gift exchanging buddies with Martha Stewart and she gives you a steamed pudding for Christmas you should also get a lovely pima cotton t-shirt hand screened with the words, “I am Martha Stewart’s buddy and all I got for Christmas was a steamed pudding. And this lovely t-shirt.” I suppose you could add the words, “You should see what I gave her” but that sounds dirty. (While we’re on the subject of holiday-themed double entendres, last week someone complimented me on my Christmas globes. I replied, “No, those are all year ‘round.” Okay I’m done.)

While I prefer the charms of chocolate on any holiday, I would not like to leave you with the impression that I am immune to ginger’s charms. I am a fan: in fact I even created the Gingerdoodle cookie as a way of waking up those rather flabby, sleepy Snickerdoodles that inevitably appear at holiday cookie swaps.

The Gingerdoodle is a soft cookie, and it is that soft, slightly spicy quality that makes it an easy cookie in which you can overindulge. I am by nature a fan of crunchy cookies, including Chocolate Chip cookies, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Field’s fans when I bake my top secret, unpublished Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

This holiday season I thought it might be fun to bake a crunchy biscotti that would bring together the best of gingerbread, gingerdoodles, and Ginger from Gilligan’s Island into one crunchy treat. Two outta three aint bad. (Ginger—actress Tina Louise—did not return our phone calls, although we did receive a lovely holiday message from her attorneys with the words “cease” and “desist”.)

To keep things interesting I thought it might be fun to use the ginger flavor in a way that is slightly different than the Gingerdoodle—perhaps make it less “rich” and emphasize the gingerbread instead of the ginger. I am not too proud to admit that a stroll through the cookie aisle of my local supermarket reminded me of Carr’s Ginger Lemon creams. I love these although they veer a bit too much into the sweet lane of traffic. Indeed, they are very sweet. But the pairing of lemon and ginger? Perfect and easily emulated.

I had more or less perfected the level of crunch in my biscotti some years ago at the prompting of my late Auntie Esther. At the time she was living way out west in a dude ranch / retirement community. (Okay, not so much. I made up the dude ranch part because she was in a rather sandy suburb of Las Vegas.) I used to send her biscotti—mandel bread, actually—and she would call me and ask me to toast them a bit less next time. This went on for several batches until she finally exclaimed, “We’re old! They’re too hard! You’re gonna break our teeth!”

Good grief. Nonagenarians can be so testy!

So the hunt was on for a mild crunch that wouldn’t challenge fragile dental work—and Auntie Esther, hello, I’m now at an age where I understand completely. Just like the search for any magic cure, the answer was found as serendipitously as the discovery of penicillin. (And yes, I have a suit picked out to wear when I accept the Nobel Prize for this discovery.) You see—and stop me if this is too much information—I went through a cornmeal phase. Yes, I know: who hasn’t? Everything had to be dusted, dredged, coated, and submerged in cornmeal. But I survived because that’s what I do.

The one great thing that came out of this period was learning to substitute a bit of cornmeal for the flour in my biscotti recipes. Cornmeal gives the biscotti a slightly sandy quality that emulates crunch even if you don’t toast the slices. Once toasted—even briefly—you get the perfect level of crunch and your dentist not be making emergency repairs to your choppers.

I did add some minutely diced crystallized ginger. You can vary the amount up or down depending upon your desire for heat in the spice. I glazed a few of the biscotti with a lemon glaze, but this proved to be unnecessary: too much gilt on the lily. Feel free if you want that citrusy sweetness, but the grated lemon zest in the cookies is really all you need.


Click here for the recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti

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Yes, Virginia…

Latke Cookies

Santa isn't expecting these...

I recently received an email from a precocious youngster named Virginia questioning the existence of Santa Claus. Kids these days! Skeptics in a skeptical age. I replied by telling her to watch the coverage of the Kardashian wedding again. Watch that and, trust me, you’ll believe in Santa Claus. And flying reindeer. And elves.

Funny. I’ve never questioned the existence of Santa Claus. Sometimes you just have to roll with it. No, I’ve never actually met the guy. But I’ve never met George Clooney either, and no one questions his existence. Anyway I think the world is a better place with Santa Claus in it.

Therefore, every year Christmas week presents me with one crucial decision: what kind of cookie to leave for Santa Claus. Yes, I always leave him cookies and milk. I also leave carrots for the reindeer, although I doubt they’d turn their noses (so bright) up at the cookies. No, JOSN (Jolly Old Saint Nick) doesn’t indulge, but I suspect that has more to do with the fact that he’s in a hurry than with my cookies. It is strictly unofficial, but leaving goodies for Santa wins you points when it comes time to decide whether you belong on the naughty or nice list—whether or not he eats them.

This is an extension of something I learned from the folks on Wall Street: hedge your bets. (Santa has always been very generous with them. He must have quite a bit of cash tied up in derivatives.)

Over the years I have left different kinds of cookies for the old guy, usually reflecting whatever I had baked for the season’s parties, although there have been times when I baked a batch of Chocolate Chip cookies especially for Santa so that he would smell that they’d just come out of the oven.

This year with Hanukkah and Christmas overlapping I thought it might be fun to help Santa celebrate the festival of lights. I suppose I could leave him a plate of latkes; surely he doesn’t find those waiting at the base of most chimneys. But I don’t know if he’ll like cold latkes and somehow it just didn’t feel right to leave him anything other than cookies. Why not a latke that is actually a cookie?

This kind of trompe l’oeil / kitsch baking isn’t my usual calling. Yes, it is just this side of Sandra Lee, but as we are in the hap-happiest season of all, it really adds up to a bit of harmless fun.

I got the idea last week when I went to a daytime holiday potluck. People brought things ranging from Devil Dogs to Toll House Cookie bars. (Trust me, my eyes went right to those Devil Dogs.) But sitting amongst all the sweets was a platter of latkes. They were hot, and I was hungry, so I could smell every ingredient, the potato, the onion, the egg, the matzo meal, even the oil in which they’d been fried. (I must have been really hungry.) Still, it was a “one of these things is not like the other” moment, and the thought flashed through my mind, “The latkes should be cookies.”

Back in my kitchen I pondered how I could “make it so.” It seemed as though the best way to do this would be to decide on the flavor. Obviously onion is out of the question. But many folks enjoy their latkes with applesauce, or sour cream. Some like them sprinkled with sugar. The latter felt right. ‘Tis the season for a sugar cookie, and for that extra “zetz” cinnamon and sugar seemed even better.

The technique of making the cookies look like latkes was actually the easy part. The best latkes are made by shredding the onions and potato on the side of a box grater. Why not shred the cookie dough the same way? Then, just arrange the shreds on a cookie sheet. I couldn’t use just any dough, though, because certain cookie doughs would spread too much, losing the shredded look as they bake. My standby “I Heart Shortbread” recipe was enlisted.

The trick is to be extra gentle with the shredded dough when arranging it on the cookie sheets. Also, as great as the cinnamon and sugar is when baked on the cookies, I may experiment by dusting a mixture of cinnamon and confectioners’ sugar on the cookies just as they come out of the oven. I think the result would have a sort of a crunchy / dough-nutty flavor.

I really think this may be the year Santa actually eats the cookies I leave for him. But if not, more for me!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!


Click here for the recipe for Latke Cookies.

For your holiday baking you may also like my Christmas Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters), my Gluten-free Chocolate Crinkles, and Gingerdoodles, all perfect for your holiday table.


Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!


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I saw three tweets on Christmas Day…

I Still Prefer Chocolate

Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters)

Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters)

During the Christmas season it seems as though jokes about fruitcake are as inevitable as youngsters bursting into tears at the sight of Santa Claus. Hey, it happens. Pity the parents who waited in line for an hour at Macy’s for a photo of little Chelsea on Santa’s lap, only to have her experience the dreaded Christmas meltdown. Oh well, c’est xmas.

The thing is, fruitcake is an easy target. I don’t know anyone who likes it. The hunk of fruitcake I saw for sale at Duane Reade had a wrapper that looked like a joke (“…made from an old Southern recipe”). Perhaps this has more to do with America’s collective palate: I think we are a sugar cookie folk. The British seem to be more into the dark, spicy, and pungent. They love a good steamed pudding with hard sauce. (I read somewhere that Martha Stewart likes to give those away as holiday gifts. Martha, when you read this please note my preference for chocolate, and Happy Holidays to you too, doll.)

We all know the fruitcake jokes: that there’s only one piece of fruitcake, it gets passed around and around. Or everyone really uses fruitcake as a doorstop. (I didn’t say they were funny, I just said they were inevitable.) Mrs. Claus makes it out of reindeer droppings. (Love that one. Classy.)

So, why fruitcake on Christmas? Short answer: when people discovered that sugar made a good preservative for fruit, there was an excess of candied fruit available, so putting it in cake and giving it as a gift was a natural progression. Here’s my problem: the fruitcakes they sell now have candied fruit that I do not recognize, and the cake itself seems to be flavored with some kind of spirits that make it smell…er, funky (for lack of a better word.) Rum is one of the traditional fruitcake spirits. I’m not sure what the heck I smell in the fruitcake they sell in Duane Reade.

I don’t hate the concept of fruitcake, I hate the execution. It’s like a beautiful house with musty old furniture and peeling wallpaper. Clearly Fruitcake is a remnant of another age and is ready to be brought up to date. I think this is also an opportunity to highlight all the great seasonal flavors that we expect during the holidays.

One note: fruitcake will never be pretty. It is brown and lumpy. All I ask is that it tastes good. (And does not smell bad.) I will also admit that I know absolutely nothing about making traditional fruitcake. That may be an asset; I’m coming at this problem from a completely selfish place, answering the question, “What do I like?”

I like cinnamon. I like walnuts. Hmmm. It’s fruitcake, and I haven’t mentioned any fruit. Alright, I like figs, and candied pineapple, too. I also wanted to make something that would be relatively easy and fast because—let’s face it, during the holidays we’re all a little oversubscribed.

My cheat, er, shortcut, was that I was really looking at this as a bar cookie. Bar cookies have the advantage of a crust that gives each piece structure: it won’t fall apart in your hand and you don’t need a fork.

I vaguely remembered a blueberry bar I tasted somewhere. I don’t have the recipe, but what I have never been able to get the crust out of my mind. It was a shortbread made with dark brown sugar. It was, hard, had some crunch, and that toasty / sugary taste that dark brown sugar can lend food. If I could just figure that out then I knew the rest would take care of itself.

I kept it simple. Just a bit of flour, brown sugar, Earth Balance (which I use instead of butter), and cinnamon.  I made a mixture like wet sand and pressed it into the bottom of a brownie pan. Right on the money.

To bind my choice of fillings together I used a mixture that is not unlike what you use in Pecan Pie, but skipped the corn syrup in favor of just letting the natural molasses in the dark brown sugar do what it does best: make everything sweet and wet. This also makes the end result a bit less cloying. The walnuts melt into the other ingredients and bring to mind old-fashioned mincemeat. Not a bad traditional reference.

One of the things that used to drive me crazy about fruitcake was that I could never pick the candied fruit out (yeah I know: why bother having fruitcake if you’re just gonna…?) So, keeping that in mind, I reserved my candied pineapple to use only as garnish, and even added a few strips of sliced candied papaya for color. No mystery fruits allowed, and if people don’t want the candied fruit, it’s right there where they can pluck it out.

I nervously presented my new Fruitcake at a cookie swap. Folks were very enthusiastic.

Hello Fruitcake. Welcome to the Twenty-first century.


Here’s the recipe for Christmas Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters).

For your holiday baking you may also like my  Gluten-free Chocolate Crinkles, and Gingerdoodles, both perfect for your holiday table.


Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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I’m dreaming of a tweet Christmas…

Bing gets me going



I was thinking the other day about folks who live down south. They are accustomed to a holiday season without snow. True, there have been plenty of holiday seasons up north where we had no snow, but we still had the fun of seeing our breath on a chilly winter morning, or hugging a friend just in from the cold and feeling their icy cheek against ours.

Sounds poetic, but deep down all I’m really thinking about is my personal comfort (natch!). I perspire when the temperature goes above fifty degrees; my Mother refers to me as a Polar Bear. Yes, I’m certainly as pale as a Polar Bear, and, yes, I’m the guy who opens his windows in the middle of winter—you simply have to here in New York because our apartments are all heated by steam heat. (Bob Fosse fans should now snap their fingers a couple times, and tilt their bowlers over their eyes.)

One year while “trapped” in hot, sunny Arizona, Irving Berlin coped with a palm tree encrusted holiday season by penning “White Christmas”—the best selling single of all time. While I don’t have orange and palm trees swaying outside my window (as Berlin mentions in the usually unsung verse to the song) it is sixty-five degrees as I write this, and I am willing myself to feel the holiday spirit. (The dozens of Cyber Monday offers in my Inbox don’t seem to be doing the trick.)

My sure fire remedy? Queue up Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” album, and start baking Christmas cookies. There now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? (I also placed a snowflake wallpaper on the screen of my phone. It helps.)

Anyway, allow me to introduce my first cookie of the season, the Gingerdoodle. As you can tell from the name, it is built on the chassis of the famous Snickerdoodle. Snickerdoodles are fine, but I always think they are Sugar Cookies with yearnings for greater things. With the Gingerdoodle, their ambitions have been fulfilled. (You think I’m crazy for ascribing ambition to a cookie?) All I have done is take a basic Snickerdoodle and add a bit of spice, heat, and texture. It is still a soft, somewhat cakey cookie, but, as Ina Garten would say, “…with the volume turned up.”

I’ve never understood the Christmas-time passion for sugar cookies or the big cheap tins of “Danish Butter Cookies” –many of which have never been within miles of Copenhagen. Even when decorated, sugar cookies tend to be a bit transparent in flavor, meaning you can roll them around on your tongue as much as you’d like but you’ll never taste anything more than flour, butter, and sugar. The “Danish” cookies usually hint at a bit of cardamom, which is not a bad idea, but it’s usually executed in a sleepy way.

I demand more, darn it. Give me complexity. Give me a bit of surprise. Make me want to come back for more. Throw in some chocolate if you can, and I’ll be abuzz with the holiday spirit. The Gingerdoodle is a chocolate-free zone so we’ll have to look elsewhere for our choco-fix. That’s what the holiday color foils on Hershey’s Kisses are for…this week.

The basic Snickerdoodle is only mildly spiced with a wisp of cinnamon. The overall effect is like cinnamon toast—this, of course, is not a bad thing at all. But here’s my question: this time of year, why do you bake cookies? Usually you give them to friends or coworkers, or share them in cookie swaps. Don’t you want yours to stand out a bit? Tut, tut, baking holiday cookies is not the time to follow the pack. So let’s bake a cookie that will stand above the crowd, shall we?

First let’s take a look at the spice in the Snickerdoodle. A mere two teaspoons of cinnamon is added to spice up a very large batch of cookie dough. It’s not even added to the dough, it is sprinkled on the outside before baking. I’ve added an additional two teaspoons to the dough, plus the heat of two teaspoons (or more if you like) of ground ginger, the fragrance of ground cloves, and the kick of a generous half cup of chopped crystallized ginger. The latter also adds little dots of sugary chew to the finished cookie.

As I mentioned, these are a soft, cakey cookie, but I like a little crunch, so the cookies are made with and sprinkled with demerara sugar, the large grain, honey-brown sugar. (Layers: it’s like a nice cashmere sweater over a really good white shirt.)

As they bake they will fill your home with spiced holiday scents that would turn a Williams-Sonoma holiday candle green with envy.

Luckily, green is a holiday color…


Here’s the recipe for the Gingerdoodle.


Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Have yourself a merry little Tweet

White (Bread) Christmas

Pull Apart Bread

Pull Apart Bread: Christmas potluck chic

The little kid in me resents it when Christmas falls on a weekend. There’s no logic to my resentment, after all, like most folks I will take just as much time off as I would have if the holiday fell on a Wednesday.  Most of my big holiday obligations have already been met: the tree is up, my cards are in the mail, and the majority of my holiday party baking is done. That can only mean one thing: it’s Holiday Movie Time. Bing Crosby is rehearsing, Rosie Clooney is getting into her costume, and Jimmy Stewart is getting ready to lasso the moon.

The splashy grand finale of this year’s holiday party baking was a friend’s annual holiday party. I don’t want to say he’s been giving this party for a long time but I think the guests at his first holiday party arrived bearing frankincense and myrrh. (Rim shot, please.)

ANYWAY, the party has always served as a laboratory for me to try out the big show off-y baking that you can only get away with around the holidays.  Over the years there have been Yule logs, cookie Christmas trees, and cookie tributes.

Cookie tributes you ask? Not to worry: there were no cookies in the shape of Elvis. But a few years back all of my holiday cookies were citrus flavored in tribute to the big cartons of Florida citrus fruit we would find sitting on our snowy doorstep each Christmas courtesy of my dad’s best childhood buddy. (Frosted orange-spice cookies were my favorite that year.) Ah, restraint…

This year I somehow had it in my mind to celebrate a slightly more humble aesthetic. I didn’t have a specific game plan in mind when the season started, but following the path of holiday basics from salted caramel-dipped chocolate drop cookies to Snickerdoodles to chocolate gingerbread revealed my destination the same way as when you pick your way through the trees and suddenly find yourself on the beach.

Two things come to mind here: the first is my fear that I may have been turning my nose up at this humble aesthetic—indulging in the sort of food snobbery that I outwardly confess to abhor. The second is that while I consider my experiences cooking and eating to be as much about educating myself as they are about eating well, I sometimes need to be reminded that I can learn as much from a really great brownie as I can from a really great Éclair. It’s up to me to keep my eyes open, yes?

I wanted to bake something for the party that had a relaxed, family / sharing / party feeling; flipping through a few copies of Life Magazine from December 1960 helped me to focus on the kind of friendly, frilly, holiday food I thought would still work at Christmas Dinner fifty years hence: a sort of Potluck Chic.

Please don’t confuse this with the smirking wink at “White Trash” cooking that came and went a few years back. This isn’t Bologna Macaroni and Cheese; It is Nancy Reagan serving Monkey Bread at The White House.

With all that in mind I settled on a simple Cheddar Pull-Apart Bread that had intrigued me some time ago while flipping through a cheap cookbook. A more savory, perhaps more sober relative of Monkey Bread, it also owes some of its DNA to the flaky, buttery Parker House roll. And the way my mind works, when I bake bread I especially prize yeasty concoctions that are as good—or better—toasted the next morning. A slice of this bread with a fried egg on top is my holiday breakfast of choice this year. (Thankfully there are two holidays so I can still have my yummy Yeast Waffles.)

The concept is easy: divide unbaked bread dough into ten even pieces, spread with the savory filling of choice, stack the pieces, then squeeze into a loaf pan and bake. Served warm, friends and loved ones can then “pull apart” the loaf. The recipe attached is very basic, but I’m anxious to try it with Challah dough. Add a bit of cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got an enviable sweet breakfast loaf.

Folks who fear working with yeast dough should feel free to try this concept with store-bought pizza dough. It crusty chewiness will pair beautifully with olive oil and a bit of chopped garlic as the filling. I may have to bring this to a big “five fishes” Christmas Eve dinner.

Have a wonderful holiday—the best of the season to you. Don’t forget to leave some cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.


Click here for the recipe for Cheddar Herb Pull Apart Bread.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.


Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.


The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Merry Christmas, Margaret Mead.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (and friends)

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (and friends)

I was sitting at a Christmas party the other day speaking to a chum. Just by coincidence we happened to be seated next to the desserts. Why not? I brought them. My chum –a magazine editor by trade – effects an effortless casual style. I may effect a casual style but it isn’t effortless. I always feel like I’m huffing and puffing to get there. Mr. Magazine Editor routinely flies around the world dressing celebrities for photos that will run in his magazine which is read by millions. I stand in my kitchen baking and cooking for photos that will run in my blog which is read by…you. He takes great satisfaction in the end result of his work. Me too. But…

I mention that we were seated next to the desserts not as an example of my gluttony (which was well under control— that night) but as an example of the fact that sometimes I need to hear strangers’ reactions to my work. I bake for my friends and family often enough, and their reactions are always positive. For some reason (curiosity? neediness?) I feel like I need to listen to strangers for another version of the truth.

Another friend, renowned artist Laura Loving, held her annual Holiday Open Studio this past weekend and asked me to help out with a few desserts. My position next to the dessert table was the closest I can get to one-way mirror / hidden camera-style market research. A behaviorist’s study, if you will, of homo-sapien activity at the holiday dessert table.

Here’s what I learned.

-Kids will try cake. If they like it, they will then quickly grab two or three additional slices.

-Adults will eat a whole cookie if they like it. But the adult cookie rhythm can be somewhat elusive as the time from study to grab can be lightening fast. From what I could see, it goes something like this.

Step One: Bite cookie.

Step Two: Whilst mulling the taste, study the cookie’s appearance at close range.

Step Three: If cookie passes muster, eat remainder of cookie and take another—“for a friend. “

-Frosted items like cake are similar, and the following behavior seems to apply to both the child and adult of the species:

Step One: Bite Frosting.

Step Two: Mull taste.

Step Three: If frosting passes muster finish eating slice. If not, deposit remainder onto serviette. Then deposit filled serviette on rear corner of dessert table. (Thus somewhat fulfilling the belief that the cake part of cupcakes is merely a vessel to carry the frosting.)

(Are you keeping up? Let me know if you need this put into a Visio Workflow illustration.)

Every once in a while I was treated to a bonus when people would approach the desserts in pairs. Usually one of the pair was the designated taster. The other would watch intently for visual cues as to whether the item in question was acceptable. If it was, then the item was either shared (women) or an additional piece was procured (men and married couples.) Verbal cues were few and far between in this sampling; only the occasional, “Well?” and nodding “Mmmm, okay…” could be sampled.

I was gratified by the overall positive response. Refreshingly, Mr. Magazine Editor broke the stereotype I’ve held of people in the fashion business by eating several Fleur de Sel Chocolate Caramel Cookies.

This holiday season I decided to bake along the path of least resistance – in other words, stick to small, easily baked items that pack intense flavors, so my game plan for Laura’s Holiday Open Studio was simple. You’ve seen the aforementioned Fleur de Sel Caramel cookies here before; this time they were the most labor-intense part of the program because I wanted to bring the rolled, cookie cutter sandwich version.

Alongside those was a cookie experiment. Last week’s blog featured the classic Snickerdoodle. I prefer a bit more kick at Christmas, so using the same recipe, I added a large amount of ground cinnamon and ginger, along with chopped, crystallized ginger, and a touch of red sanding sugar on the outside. The resulting cookie, newly dubbed the “Ginger Doodle” promises to become a holiday favorite.

But the third item was my favorite. All season long I have been reading recipes or watching TV cooks bake rather aggressively flavored Gingerbread Cake, no doubt trying to hew closer to Pain D’Epices – the classic French spiced Honey Cake. I wanted something a bit simpler and kid friendly. My version of gingerbread is pumped with chocolate and the most aggressive it gets is a touch of vanilla and a jolt of coffee which are there primarily to pump up the chocolate even more.

My puzzlement was that I wanted to serve something creamy (like whipped cream) on the gingerbread, but knew that the cake needed to sit out for a few hours, making whipped cream impractical. Before too long it would break down and become liquid, plus leaving whipped cream out in a warm room is risky business for people’s stomachs.

A spiced Italian Meringue got the job done, and because it is cooked and therefore stable, stood high and proud on top of each piece of cake for the entire party (or at least as long as the cake lasted.)

All this baking, all this chocolate and ginger and cinnamon and sugar: My house smells good!


Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread Cake.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.


Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.


The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


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