Posted on December 16, 2014 at 6:00 am
I am totally in the holiday mood. I’ve decked my tree (complete with my favorite C-3PO ornament), found all the best wrapping paper, and am even making a stocking or two. Seriously, the holiday season is here and I couldn’t be happier—mostly.
With all that joy, Grinch is not my normal holiday style, but if I see another peppermint this or pumpkin spice that, I may be searching for my holiday cheer on Mount Crumpit. While Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, as a baker and lover of this season of treats, I just can’t get past how overused some holiday flavors are.
It seems like every other product available between September and December is a “limited time holiday flavor.” In fact, you’d probably be hard pressed to find a grocery store right now without peppermint ice cream, pumpkin spice coffee, gingerbread Pop-Tarts, or even eggnog flavored beer. And yes, that last one is a real thing, I promise!
At one time, something like Grandma’s once a year pumpkin pie or waiting for your turn to decorate (and eat!) a gingerbread house only came around once or twice a year. Now though, by the time the holidays are over, I’m usually more than happy to see those flavors disappear for a while.
Although those few flavors are overused this time of year, I have found that it just gives me a bigger reason to think outside the (nicely wrapped) box. In the last few years, I’ve actually spent most of September and October poring over old recipes, digging up some new ones, and testing them all a half dozen times to see which work best.
In fact, my long-overdue promotion to the grown-ups table, and my new found ability to contribute to the family meals, means I’ve probably gone a little overboard this year. What I’ve learned (aside from the fact that calories most certainly do count during the holidays), is that there are a lot of different ways to enjoy holiday treats without resorting to some of those overused flavors.
It’s time to put on your scarf and gloves and dig into the depths of your freezer. Do you remember all that fruit that was so gorgeous this past summer? Well sadly it’s near impossible to find fresh since our lovely winter weather set in, but those berries, peaches, and nectarines may be lingering in your freezer and they’re still amazing! Some bakers even prefer frozen to fresh fruit because it tends to be more consistent and less fragile.
For cakes and muffins, you can usually add them frozen as you would fresh fruit in a recipe. What’s nice about frozen berries is that you get all of that amazing flavor without bruising or mashing your fruit (which always turns my batters an interesting, if not slightly off putting, shade of pink). The Berry Cobbler Bread from Sweet and Vicious by Libbie Summers is actually my new favorite way to work with frozen berries. There’s something about a loaf cake that just screams holiday to me, probably because my dad and I always made dozens of banana bread loaves for neighborhood gifts each year. This is way better than your average banana bread though—it takes a traditional loaf and turns it into a tangy cake with a brown sugary crumble I could eat for days.
I’ll warn you right now that I don’t often bake pies, but I almost always use frozen fruit when I do. As with cakes, you don’t want to defrost the fruit unless the recipe specifically calls for you to cook the filling ahead of baking. This usually means you’ll need a little extra bake time for your pie and about twice as much all-purpose flour (or your thickener of choice) in the filling. It won’t look like a lot before you bake it, but you’ll be pleased when you pull out a pie instead of soupy mess. This Peach Pie from Joy of Cooking is a total classic. I found that by incorporating 1 tsp each of ground ginger and cinnamon and using ½ cup of brown sugar instead of white sugar, it easily becomes one of my new holiday classics.
Good produce can be hard to find this time of year, but doesn’t mean that you have to bake another pumpkin pie or zucchini bread. Instead take a look around the produce section for some of the less used fruits and veggies. Cranberries, for example have always felt a bit neglected to me. They’re broken out for cranberry sauce, usually in some horrible jellied form, and then brushed aside as soon as the turkey’s gone. My go-to holiday treat this year though may be this Cranberry Pear Crisp from the Food Network Kitchens that a coworker recommended. She also graciously provided the fresh cranberries which made this a deliciously sweet and tart treat when I tested it earlier this month.
If you don’t want to have to buy a bunch of new ingredients, try incorporating one or two of your favorite spices into something unexpected, or reimagining a holiday classic in another form. For example, my family members are huge snickerdoodle fans. We’ve made them for just about every holiday, and it’s my personal go-to for a cookie exchange. Starting with that flavor in mind, I found these Snickerdoodle Bars from Back for Seconds and topped them with the Cupcake Project’s Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. I have no words for how good they were—I may actually be eating one as I write this. They turned out like a cross between the world’s best snickerdoodle and a cinnamon roll in bar form. Amazing!
What’s the old saying—those who forget history are doomed to repeat it? With family traditions though, I say those who forget history never get to enjoy them again. Just because some flavors are traditional, doesn’t mean they’re your family’s traditions. For me, I think of Christmas and can’t help but think of Banana Cream Pie. It’s not what most would think of for the holidays, but without it, it just wouldn’t be a Hudson holiday party. Grandma always used instant pudding and a vanilla wafer crust (which was fantastic, don’t get me wrong), but this banana cream pie recipe has become my new favorite. Don’t be put off by the 2 hour prep time; it really takes less than 30 minutes to prep and bake, and then can just chill in the refrigerator while you eat dinner. I like to make this with a graham cracker crust – it brings a nice crunch to the smooth pie filling.
If I try to go a little more traditional though—there’s only one thing that comes to mind. Since I was a kid, Christmas meant getting to stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the week, and then getting up early on the big day, bundling our coats and shoes on over our pajamas, and setting out to my aunt’s house for breakfast before opening presents. And breakfast was only ever one thing…sticky buns.
We’d enter my Aunt Tracy’s house bleary-eyed and cold, to a blast of warm air and the sticky sweet smell of those sticky buns. They were always warm and gooey—the perfect thing to enjoy with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Over the years these buns never changed, and after all this time, I finally managed to pry the recipe out of my Grandma’s hands.
15 frozen dinner rolls
2 oz butterscotch pudding mix, non-instant (about half a box)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
Mix the pudding mix and cinnamon together. Roll the dinner rolls in the pudding and cinnamon mixture. Place in a buttered 9×13 casserole dish. Top the rolls with any remaining mixture.
Heat the brown sugar and butter on the stove over medium heat until a syrup is formed. Stir in the vanilla and pour the syrup over the rolls. Cover with buttered plastic wrap and let rolls rise until double in size. Grandma usually put hers together the night before and let them rise overnight.
Remove the plastic wrap and bake at 375° for 30 minutes until golden brown. If they start to brown too quickly, cover the pan with aluminum foil. Let rest for 5 minutes after removing from the oven, then invert onto a platter to serve (or eat straight out of the pan like we always did!).
What are some of your favorite holiday recipes?