A Christmas Baking Hall of Fame

Dresden Stollen for Christmas Morning

Here's my short list of must-make great Christmas sweets from many lands. Each entry links to a recipe.

A German Winter Dinner

German Christmas Dinner

I made this hearty traditional German winter dinner in December 2014. Sauerbraten, the centerpiece of the dinner, is a Christmas favorite so it was a timely choice for December, but it's really good for any of the colder months.

I had recently been to Morse's Sauerkraut, where I got some good supplies and inspiration, but I had planned to make a sauerbraten for a long time so the whole plan just came together.

We had:

Annette's Savoyard Birthday

Annette's Superb Cheese Plate

Annette provided little in the way of guidance for her birthday feast. Getting back to her favorite basics, she wanted only "some good cheeses, and a Mont Blanc".

I fretted about that for a while, until I learned that Savoy, in the French Alps, is known for excellent cheeses and is also home to Mont Blanc (the geological marvel, not the delicate chestnut culinary masterpiece).

Like Vermont, Savoy is ski country and it produces great cheeses. Savoy is the home of fondue, that quintessential apres ski communal party food. It is also the home of Tomme, not to mention Comte, Raclette, Reblochon, and more. Neighboring Jura has more wonderful cheeses.  And Mont Blanc is the border between the Savoy department of France and the Val d'Aosta province in northwestern Italy, home of Fontina and Robiola.

the fondue

A birthday dinner in Chamonix could easily enjoy some wonderful cheeses while gazing upon the snow-capped splendor of Mont Blanc. Obviously a mountain cheese theme was emerging, some sort of December apres-ski casual dinner that included the favorite local fondue, with the eponymous Mont Blanc (the culinary marvel) as the crowning glory.

Here's what we had:

Actifio Potluck - Spanish Theme

Chris Murphy prepping for lunch, photo by XD Zhang

We had another awesome potluck, this one with a Spanish theme. It was late summer, so we had all sorts of ingredients available, and we could use the grill outside.

We had a special guest for this lunch - a writer and a photographer from Inc. Magazine! They wrote about it in this article in the December-January issue.

We had:

Flipping Out

Type of Post: 
What's in my Glass?

Making Flip with a Red-Hot Poker - photo by Richmond TalbotOn a gorgeous Friday evening in September, we went the few blocks down the street to the Harlow Old Fort House to participate in their first annual FlipFest.  

Flip is a colonial cool-weather drink. In this version, ale is fortified with molasses and rum, and then a red-hot poker is thrust into the mixture, causing it to foam up and get all sorts of really interesting caramelized molasses and malt flavors.

This can be a time-consuming process because you have to heat the poker. You can flip a mug or a pitcher of ale. Obviously the pitcher goes further, but each serving doesn't get as hot.

Pumping the Forge Bellows - photo by Richmond Talbot

And heat is the charm and the problem here. Home gas grills do not get as hot as charcoal, and certainly not as hot as this blacksmith's forge with an apprentice tending the bellows. If you plan to make more than one pitcher or mug of flip, consider setting a few irons in the fire so you don't have to wait for them to heat up again. 

Lorna's Birthday Dinner 2014

Such a wonderful and peculiar feast was this one!

Orange Hazelnut Buttercream Torte

Lorna had only two requests, but they are two of the trickiest and most time-consuming recipes that I make. The Lobster Cardinal is a decadent luxury from the Escoffier Cookbook that requires a flurry of last-minute preparation. The Orange Hazelnut Buttercream Torte is a brilliant cake from Please to the Table that requires numerous steps performed over several hours, with waiting time in between.

No obvious theme for the menu was suggested by the two requests. The lobster dish is a pre-WWI era fancy dish with black truffles, a creamy sauce, and many steps. The cake is a Russian fancy cake. For a wine, I considered a Viognier but opted instead for the classic Veuve Clicquot as the better accompaniment to the classic recipe.

Lobster Cardinal

Actually, one theme emerged loud and clear. This would be an expensive dinner. The truffle alone cost $40. I used 6 lobsters in all: four selects for serving, plus two more quarters for the meat. In addition to the Champagne, I brought up a 2001 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro. This was a big birthday, so I didn't mind the expense, but it didn't help to develop a theme.

Ward 8 Cocktail

Ward 8 Cocktail, mixed at the Publyk House in Bennington, VT

This was invented for an election celebration in Boston's Eighth Ward (Southie & Roxbury) over a hundred years ago. It's a little sweet and you can overdo it with the fruit salad (like this one), so use some restrain here.

The charm of the Ward 8 seems to be in the way the orange and the lemon compete for the favor of the sweet grenadine, with a dry rye whiskey pulling the strings like a wily old South Boston politician. You could put down a few of these before you realize there's really liquor in there! 

Stuffed Pumpkin

Stuffed PumpkinThis recipe originated as a traditional Armenian dish in Please to the Table, but I have made some changes to make it more American. This is an excellent option for a Thanksgiving dinner for vegetarians, because it looks festive and is also nourishing and savory.  

Island Foodie

Type of Post: 
Beyond New England
Kingston, Jamaica
Best of Show: 
everything with old friends
Palm in the Rain

It was a dark and stormy night...

I went to Jamaica for a weekend to attend the wedding of an old friend's daughter. I had never been to Jamaica (or anywhere in the Caribbean) and I had not seen Fitzroy in 21 years so I was ready for an adventure of the unknown!

That's a good thing because there was a tropical depression in the neighborhood that built into a hurricane while I was there; fortunately for the bride and the rest of us it passed to the north leaving Jamaica with only much-needed rain. 

Kingston Harbour

When I arrived at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Fitz picked me up and within minutes we were talking like we'd seen each other yesterday. As we made our way around the big harbor from the airport to the city, we got right back to the old business of solving the problems of the world.  

Boston Blonde Bread

Boston Blonde Bread
This is a lighter-flavored version of the famous old Boston Brown Bread, sweetened with honey and maple syrup instead of the traditional molasses.
This makes a great breakfast, especially toasted or warmed in a skillet with hot butter. The flavors suit modern tastes as well as those of our colonial forebears, and the three whole grains make is almost healthful (except for that bit about the hot butter in the skillet...)
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