Almond Pound Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Almond Pound Cake2

I’ve struggled for years to find a pound cake recipe that results in a cake that has the right texture and level of moistness. Then I stumbled across this recipe in one my old cookbooks from Williams-Sonoma and I instantly fell in love. (“Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining” – page 206 – “Almond Pound Cake with Cherry Glaze”) Because the cookbook is quite old you can’t find it new anymore however, if you’d like a copy for yourself you can click the image below to find some used copies available through various sellers on Amazon.

The original recipe calls for the pound cake to be served with a cherry glaze (see recipe below) which is absolutely delicious but this time around I decided to take the cake into a different direction. Instead of the cherry glaze I covered the pound cake in a chocolate ganache so that it took on a similar flavor to one of my favorites, rainbow cookies! Because I was bringing this cake to a late holiday get-together I used Christmas colored sprinkles to decorate but of course, feel free to use any color sprinkles that you have on hand.

What I like most about this cake is that there are various ways to make and serve it, all of which are equally yummy. If you want a lighter cake, try dusting it with some powdered sugar instead of the ganache or cherry glaze. If you prefer a more traditional pound cake flavor, you can easily replace the almond extract with pure vanilla extract. Also, don’t be afraid to try other flavored extracts as well, there are so many awesome ones to choose from such as brandy, hazelnut, and coconut! This is truly a great “base cake” that lends itself to so many other flavor options and presentations! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups (235 grams) sifted cake flour (sift the flour FIRST, then measure)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (315 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (500 grams) granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz.) buttermilk*
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond extract

*If you do not have buttermilk, make your own.  Measure out 1 cup of milk and add to it 2 tbs of vinegar or lemon juice.  Let stand 5-10 minutes and then it will be ready to use.  It will not be as thick as store bought buttermilk but it will work just the same in recipes.

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a bundt pan and dust lightly with flour, shake out the excess.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat until creamy and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat thoroughly after each addition.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, one-third at a time, alternating with one-third of the buttermilk. Combine thoroughly after each addition. Lastly, beat in the almond extract.

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan then gently tap the pan to release any air bubbles. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes depending on the size/shape of bundt pan.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes. Then, slip a knife between the cake and the pan to loosen any stuck edges and turn the cake out onto a wire rack. Cool completely. Drizzle with the chocolate ganache and cover in sprinkles.

To store, cover loosely and place in a cool, dry place. This cake can be made a day ahead of serving as well.

Cherry Glaze

  • 1 cup (125 grams) dried cherries
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz.) port wine
  • 2 tbs granulate sugar
  • 1 jar (8 oz.) cherry preserves

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the dried cherries, port wine and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the preserves, reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 6-7 minutes. Let cool slightly. Drizzle the cooled cake with the cherry glaze or serve on each individual slice. If making the glaze ahead of time, allow to cool completely, cover, and keep in the fridge. Reheat with 1-2 tbs of water.

Sweet and Savory Cheese Board

cheese board_n

Cheese boards are one of those apps that when you put it out on the table everyone will “oooh” and “ahhh” and think that you went to a ridiculous amount of trouble to put it together when in reality, they really are super easy to pull together. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cheese boards and it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive other. Simply, choose a variety of foods that you love, pile them up on a pretty platter or board, and serve. It’s really that simple! You can make them as creative or as simple as you like, just use some (or all) of these simple guidelines to create a delicious and appetizing cheese board for your next party.

First things first, you’re going to want to grab some kind of board, platter or tray. The one pictured above I happened to find at Home Goods® a while back for just a few bucks. It’s a great size and perfect for this type of thing however, if you don’t have something similar don’t sweat it. Take a look through your kitchen and use whatever you have on hand. Things such as a wood cutting board, a glass platter, a piece of slate, or even a cookie sheet will work great for your cheese board! As long as it can hold food, it’ll function!

Next up, and probably the most important part, is to add some cheeses to the board. Try and mix it up with different varieties, textures and strengths. I’m not a huge fan of the “moldy and stinky” cheese variety but if that’s your thing, go for it! On the board above I added sharp provolone, a mellow Swiss, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. You can slice up the cheese and assemble it on the board, leave the cheese in large chunks served alongside cheese knives, or a combination of the two. It’s nothing more than personal preference so you really can’t go wrong here. If you’re going to leave it to your guests to cut their own cheese, be sure to leave a separate knife with each cheese variety. Sharing cheese knives will contaminate the flavor of the cheese and make them taste less than stellar.

Once your cheeses are in place you’re going to want to add in some salty goodies. Things like roasted nuts, a variety of olives, dried sausages, and other charcuterie meats like salami, pepperoni or prosciutto. Because olives are wet and oily I recommended adding them to a small bowl before placing them on your cheese board. It’ll keep the other foods on the board neat and dry. I chose to assemble some of my meats on a small festive dish but don’t feel like you have to, they can be added directly on top of the cheese board as well.

At this point you’re going to want to add in some sweet things to balance out all of that salty and cheesy goodness. I love to add things like dried apricots (not pictured on the above board), fresh grapes, dried cherries and a sugary sweet bowl of nuts. For this board I used cinnamon sugar almonds but any kind of sweet, candied nut will do. You can even add some nice, dark chocolate if you so desire. Again, there are no hard and fast rules here so add in whatever sweet treat appeals to you!

Now it’s time to layer in some crackers, breadsticks and/or torn bread chunks. I really love adding breadsticks because it gives the board a little height plus, my kids love munching on them at parties! Depending on what you’re serving on the board, you can also add in some condiments as well. Things like spicy mustards, chutneys, honey and jams are perfect to include. You can serve them right out of the jar with a little spoon tucked inside or transfer them to a pretty little bowl that you add to the board.

If after everything is placed on the cheese board you feel that it looks a little too empty, add in some extra fruit, crackers, or fill in the empty spaces with lettuce, herbs, and other brightly colored veggies. Be creative, have fun with it, and your guests will absolutely love it! Lastly, keep in mind that cheese boards aren’t just for parties. They also make great, easy lunches/dinners as well. We have an awesome Italian deli by our house so on the weekends I love to go pick up a few things, assemble them on my board, and serve it for lunch. My husband and kids love it and the kids really enjoy getting to choose exactly what they want to eat. When I make it for us I usually buy a nice, crusty loaf of bread to serve alongside the board. We love to tear off chunks to dip in good extra-virgin olive oil seasoned with herbs, Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. So delish! Enjoy!!

QUICK TIPS FOR DESIGNING A CHEESE BOARD

1) Choose a board

2) Choose your cheeses making sure to include different varieties, strengths, and textures.

3) Add in some salty goodies such as nuts, olives, and meats.

4) Add in some sweet goodies such as dried and fresh fruits, chocolate, and/or candied nuts.

5) Add in crackers, breadsticks, and/or bread chunks.

6) Add in sweet and spicy condiments.

7) Garnish and fill in the empty space as needed.

Pull Apart (Stuffed Garlic Knots) Christmas Tree

garlic knots

So these delicious garlic knots were originally in the shape of a Christmas tree however, in my haste to serve and eat I forgot to take a picture.The original recipe from Southern Living Magazine® Magazine can be found right here and you can see what the finished product will look like. It makes for a great holiday presentation on your appetizer table and it was absolutely delicious too!

In my version, I substituted the cream cheese with ricotta cheese. I felt that was more in line with the flavors of this dish and I do not care for hot cream cheese. However, feel free to use whatever is more to your liking as both cheeses work equally well in this dish. I also made a quick marinara sauce to serve alongside the garlic knots but you can also use a store made or jarred version as well. I skipped the pepperoni and bell pepper garnish this time around but it definitely makes for a festive presentation if you choose to include it!

Ingredients

  • 1 can of refrigerated pizza dough
  • 4 oz. cream cheese OR ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 7 oz. basil pesto
  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Rosemary sprigs, for garnish
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper, optional
  • Bite-size pepperoni pieces, optional
  • Marinara sauce, for serving

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a cookie sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll out the pizza dough on a flat surface. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 36 squares.

In a bowl combine the cream cheese OR ricotta, mozzarella cheese, and basil pesto.

Add a spoonful of the cheese and pesto mixture to each pizza dough square. Pinch the corners together then close up the seam of the dough square to form a ball around the mixture. Place the ball seam-side down on the pan. As you place the mixture filled dough on the sheet pan, arrange the dough balls in the formation of a Christmas tree.

Bake the completed Christmas tree for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

While the Christmas tree is in the oven combine the butter and minced garlic in a small bowl. Melt the mixture in the microwave for about 20 seconds.

After taking the Christmas Tree out of the oven, brush it with the fresh garlic butter. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, chopped red bell pepper, and mini pepperoni for a festive holiday look. Tuck the sprigs of fresh rosemary under the edges of the Christmas tree for a final festive touch. Pair with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping.

 

 

 

Cranberry Brie Bites

Cranberry Brie Bites

Looking for a quick and easy appetizer to serve at your next holiday get together? You might want to check out these delicious Cranberry Brie Bites. They are perfect for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and are sure to be a hit with all! The original recipe is from the Delish.com website and can be found right here . With just a few simple ingredients you can pull these together in just minutes! If you don’t care for Brie, you can always substitute in a different cheese such as a nice Gruyère which would work wonderful in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 tube Pillsbury® Crescent Dough (I use the sheet instead of the rolls)
  • Nonstick cooking spray, for pan
  • Flour, for rolling out the dough
  • 8 oz. wheel of Brie cheese
  • 1 cup of whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 6 sprigs of rosemary, cut into 1″ pieces.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375° and lightly grease a mini muffin tin with cooking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll out crescent dough, and pinch any seams together. Cut into 24 squares. Place squares into muffin tin slots.

Cut the brie into 24 pieces and place one piece inside each of the crescent dough cups. Top with a spoonful of cranberry sauce, some chopped pecans, and one little sprig of rosemary.

Bake until the crescent is golden, about 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

Homemade Holiday Fudge

fudge

Since I was itty-bitty my mom has always made homemade fudge for Christmas. It was such a treat as a kid because she would only make it one time a year and when it was gone, it was gone. As I got older and started hosting the holidays myself I continued the tradition of making homemade fudge at the holidays. It’s a treat that everyone always loves and even though it’s super easy to make everyone will be so impressed that you actually made homemade fudge!

The nice thing about this fudge is that you can change it up with whatever add-ins that you prefer. My mom would always make a plain batch and another batch with walnuts which is super simple and pleases most everyone.  For fun, I started making my fudge in different ways just to change up the flavor profile. I’ve made it with graham crackers and marshmallows for a yummy S’mores version, I’ve made it with Craisins® and shredded coconut (pictured above) and a few times I did batches of Rocky Road fudge which had both nuts and marshmallows. The possibilities are pretty limitless with this recipe so go ahead and add your own signature touch to the next batch you make!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups (18 oz) of semi-sweet OR dark chocolate chips
  • 1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
  • dash of Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Red and green decorative sugar sprinkles
  • 1/2 -1 cup chopped walnuts or other add-ins (optional)

Instructions

In a pan set over low heat combine the sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips and salt and stir until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and any add-ins such as nuts, marshmallows, etc.

Spread the fudge mixture into a 8X8 pan lined with wax paper and sprayed very lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with colored sugar sprinkles. Chill until firm and then cut into bite-sized cubes.

**Tip – Keep the cut-up fudge covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to serve. It becomes very soft at room temperature.**

S’mores Fudge

smores fudge1

“How-To” Baking – Making Sugar Cookies

christmas-2953719_1920

Making sugar cookies can either be fun or make you want to pull your hair out! Follow these simple steps to create beautifully decorated sugar cookies every time.

  1. Make the dough ahead of time – Sugar cookie dough works best when it is fully chilled. Make the dough at least a day before you’re ready to roll and cut. The dough will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to a month. Here you will find a basic sugar cookie dough recipe from Williams-Sonoma®.
  2. Do not over-cream the butter – Over-creaming the butter will cause too much air to be incorporated into the cookie dough which in turn will cause them to expand and spread when baking and then collapse during cooling. Work the butter just enough so that it is incorporated with the other ingredients.
  3. Roll to the proper thickness – The perfect thickness for a sugar cookie is 1/4″. This will allow the cookies to be sturdy enough for decorating but not too thick where they taste icky. To help roll out the dough to the proper thickness you can purchase rolling pin guide rings that slip right on to your existing rolling pin. You can find them here .
  4. Chill the cookies – After the cookies are cut out, place them back into the fridge to chill. This will help to prevent spreading during the baking process.
  5. Do not overbake – Bake the cookies until they are a light sandy blonde color. Allowing the cookies to bake until “golden brown” will result in rock hard cookies that will continue to harden as they age.
  6. Use royal icing to decorate – Basic royal icing is simply a mixture of powdered sugar and egg whites with added flavorings. If the icing is too thin, add more powdered sugar. If the icing is too thick, add in more egg whites or water. To help the icing dry more quickly add in an acid such as lemon juice or cream of tartar. Here you will find a simple royal icing recipe to get your started.
  7. Ice the cookies properly – First, using a thicker batch of royal icing, outline the edge of the cookies and then allow them to dry. Then, using a thinner batch of royal icing, “flood” the cookies inside of the outline and use a small offset spatula to spread the icing around. Decorate and then allow the cookies to fully and completely dry before packaging them.

Sugar Cookie Tip – Do NOT use overly intricate cookie cutters when making sugar cookies. The cookies won’t bake evenly and the tiny pieces will burn before the rest of the cookie is fully baked. Instead, use simpler cookie cutters such as Christmas trees, snowmen, bells, etc. and then embellish and make them fancy during the decorating process. Try using sanding sugar, dragées, or even small candies to make them pretty. If you’re feeling ambitious, try some of these cool decorating techniques from the Food Network® kitchen: Sugar Cookie Decorating Techniques

Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

cinnbuns

There is almost nothing better than a warm, fresh, ooey gooey, cinnamon roll dripping with vanilla glaze. Literally nothing better!! Cinnamon rolls are a classic sweet and are just as awesome on a cozy Sunday morning as they are for Christmas breakfast. I’ve tried many different recipes for these rolls and some were decent but I found that many of them yielded a rather dense, almost dry roll. I was looking for light, fluffy, soft roll and I found that in the cinnamon roll recipe from The Pioneer Woman . These were AMAZING!

The only adjustment that I made to this recipe was to substitute a vanilla glaze for the maple glaze that she suggests. I do not care for maple flavor in any of my baked goods, I reserve that for pancakes and waffles only. As per The Pioneer Woman, you can also make other substitutions to this recipe such as adding chopped pecans to the rolls or by making an orange glaze in place of the maple one. I am a cinnamon roll purist so for me I like to keep it pretty straightforward with a basic roll loaded with nothing but butter and cinnamon sugar and then covered in warm vanilla glaze. That is absolute perfection in my eyes.

This recipe will yield A LOT of cinnamon rolls so if you don’t feel like halving the recipe, you can actually make the full batch and freeze individual pans of rolls.  Just place the rolls in a pan and BEFORE they rise, cover them tightly with foil, and freeze. When you’re ready to make them simply thaw the pan, allow the rolls to rise, and then bake them off as you would if they were freshly made. Alternatively, you can also freeze the baked, iced rolls as well. Just pull them out of the freezer and warm them up in a 250 degree oven for about 15 minutes and then serve. Making big batches of these heavenly treats is a great idea around the holidays so that you’ll always have a homemade dessert on hand to serve any unexpected guest that drop by!

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 9 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 scant tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbs salt

For the filling

  • 2 cups melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, plus more as needed

For the vanilla glaze

  • 1 heaping cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 tbs milk

Instructions

For the dough, heat the milk, vegetable oil, and sugar in a pan over medium heat, do not allow the mixture to boil. Set aside and cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit on the milk for 1 minute.

Add 8 cups of the flour and stir until just combined. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set is aside in a warm, draft free area (or use the proofing function in your oven if you have it) and allow them to rise for 1 hour.

Remove the towel and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and remaining flour. Stir thoroughly to combine.

To assemble the rolls, remove half of the dough. On a floured surface, roll the dough to about 30X10 inches.

To make the filling, pour 1 cup of the melted butter over the surface of the dough. Using your fingers, spread it evenly. Generously sprinkle half of the ground cinnamon and 1 cup of the sugar all over the butter. Add a little more butter or sugar as needed.

Beginning at the end of the dough farthest from you, roll the rectangle tightly towards you. Use both hands, work slowly, and keep the roll tight. It’s okay if some of the filling begins to ooze out.

When you reach the end, pinch the seams together. Transfer to a cutting board and with a very sharp knife, make 1 1/2″ slices. One log will make about 20-25 rolls.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of melted butter into a round tin pan or other desired baking dish. Swirl to coat. Place the rolls in the pan, be sure to not overcrowd them as they need room to “grow”. Repeat this process with remaining dough. Cover the pans with a kitchen towel and allow them to rise again for at least 20-25 minutes.

While they are rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 13-17 minutes or until they are golden brown. Do not over bake them and allow them to get too browned on top. While the rolls are baking, make the vanilla icing.

To make the icing, add the sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream to a bowl, Stir to combine and add the milk, 1 tbs at a time, until the icing is well combined and smooth.

Remove the rolls from the oven and while they are still warm, pour the vanilla icing over them, spread evenly across the pan using an offset spatula. As the rolls sit and cool, they will absorb all of that yummy vanilla glaze goodness. Serve warm. Enjoy!