Christmastime Bakes

Around the holidays, naturally, I had some assorted baked goods for assorted functions that I failed to capture, so here we go!

Christmas morning involved our traditional cinnamon buns.  Ever since all of the non-mall Cinnabon stores near us closed I’ve been making the King Arthur Cinnabon copycat recipe for all of our family brunches that call for cinnamon buns (aka Easter and Christmas).  I end up with mixed success on them just based on the difficulty of getting a good rise from enriched dough.  I recently bought the SAF gold instant yeast, which is recommended for enriched dough, but honestly haven’t noticed a huge difference in quality or rise compared to the red variety.  I made the buns on Christmas Eve and left them to rise overnight in the fridge.  Alas in the morning I was disappointed with the lack of rise, so I hurriedly made a second batch.  That one didn’t do much better at rising even though I wrapped it in a towel and put it in the oven (oven wasn’t on, I had heated the oven and then turned it off).

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When I got to brunch I was assured to not worry because the buns would puff up while they baked.  I was skeptical, but had no choice but to try it.  Thankfully that was the case!  They puffed up nicely and, once topped with the cream cheese icing, were ready to be devoured!  Unintended positive side effect– we now had twice as many cinnamon buns, so plenty of leftovers!  So just a mental note to self to not prematurely freak out at the rise (or lack thereof) the next time I make these.

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For Christmas appetizers I did three things: spinach dip (the Knor’s vegetable soup recipe), stuffed mushrooms, and gougeres (both from Smitten Kitchen).  I had never done any variation on a choux pastry and was sort of nervous about it just because of the French name.  Turns out it’s very easy!  These were seriously mixed and ready to bake in no time at all and were delicious once they came out!  Definitely will keep as a go to appetizer.

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For a New Year’s Eve party I finally made use of the KAF Peppermint Brownie Mix that I’d had on hand for ages.  My problem with mixes that sound really good to me is I tend to keep them for “special occasions” but then never deem an occasion special enough to use the mix!  So the time had come to get over it and go for it.  I added some Ghirardelli 60% chips to the batter but other than that followed the instructions on the mix down to the peppermint crunch on top.  Maybe it was because I’d had the mix so long and it had gotten slightly old, or maybe I had built it up so much in my mind it was hard to live up to its reputation, but I was underwhelmed.  Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious!  But I had really high hopes and it was just good.

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My sister’s birthday also falls on New Year’s Eve and she was going for a southern themed menu for her dinner and requested bread pudding for dessert!  The Fine Cooking recipe for Classic Bread Pudding also came with a caramel sauce recipe, so I knew this was the right one for my caramel-loving sis.  Inspired by other bread puddings I’ve had and loved I also decided this one called for some white chocolate.  I followed the recipe as written, but threw in steps 2 and 3 from this recipe to incorporate the white chocolate (1 bag of Ghirardelli white chips).

While it soaked in the fridge I moved on to the caramel sauce and struggled as always.  I burned my first try ever so slightly (when I had Colin taste it he said “It’s not up to your usual standard”) so went back and did it again and was cautious to take it off the heat on the earlier end.  I continue to struggle to find the balance between getting the sugar caramelized and not burning it.  Oh well, more excuses to keep practicing then 🙂

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After pouring the bread mixture into the dish I had a hard time not eating all of it up right then and there– it was so good and so rich and creamy!  But as this was a dessert for 11 I had to restrain myself.  It baked up perfectly and ended up with a beautiful crispy brown top and was amazing!  It got rave reviews across the board, so is for sure filed away as a keeper!

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And just for kicks, here’s an I didn’t make it but it’s too amazing not to share photo of the peppermint chocolate bday cake my uncle Paul made for me!

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