The holidays bring out the best in dessert. Whether it’s a decadent three-layer cake to share with family and friends, toffee crusted with almonds passed out as gifts, or biscotti baked fresh and kept in a tin for those particularly cold days inside, dessert is king when the whether gets cold. I hope you enjoy these three holiday-ready recipes!
SPICED PUMPKIN CAKE
My favorite carrot cake had a perfect 1:1 ratio of cake to frosting. That explains why it was my favorite. Rich, dense, moist and flavorful, it was perfection. However, I quickly realized that that much frosting had to be overcompensating for something. That’s what fat, sugar, and salt does anyway, right? It adds flavor to the flavorless. So when it came time for me to make my own rendition of this classic cake, I aimed for flavor and moistness in the cake itself, with the frosting as an added bonus. The addition of pumpkin and butternut squash create an earthier flavor and richer texture, plus the addition of classic pumpkin pie spices (ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc) turned up the volume on this autumnal dessert. It ends up becoming the Great Pumpkin Cake, so be sure to have at least a dozen friends around to try it. Enjoy!
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shelled pecans, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup of finely grated carrots
1 cup grated butternut squash
1 cup of canned, pureed pumpkin
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. With a mixer, beat the eggs until frothy and pale. Gradually add the sugars and beat for a few minutes, until the batter is thick. Add the oil in a steady stream and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and pumpkin alternatively and beat on low just until incorporated. Add the veg, pecans, and coconut and mix just to combine. Evenly divide the batter between three greased cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5 -10 minutes invert the cakes onto the wire rack and let them cool completely before frosting.
12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed (or 1/4 cup agave nectar)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
pinch of salt
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup canned pureed pumpkin
2-3 cups sweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
7-8 halved pecans
Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer until light and a little fluffy, add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, or until combined. Add the brown sugar (or agave nectar), pinch of salt, zest and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar and pumpkin puree alternatively. Turn the mixer on a low speed so it doesn’t blow out everywhere.
On a cake platter, place one layer of the cake. Working from the center outward, smooth about a half inch of frosting. Add the second layer, repeat. On the third layer, add a large deal of frosting and working outward push the frosting over the edge, covering the sides. Continue smoothing the frosting until the entire cake is covered. Grab a handful of coconut and gently press into the sides. Continue until the entire cake is covered. Decorate the top with pecans and enjoy!
CLASSIC ALMOND BISCOTTI
4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups of flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
Preheat the oven at 375 F. Mix together the butter and sugar until they form moist crumbs, clumping together. Add the 3 eggs and mix together until light in color and the mixture forms ribbons when you lift the whisk out of the batter. Add the vanilla and mix well. Then, add the dry ingredients in batches of about a 1/2 cup at a time. Mix on low until just blended. Add the chopped almonds and mix until just blended.
On a cookie sheet with a silicon pad or parchment paper, place the mixture (which is now a very thick dough). Heavily flour your hands and form the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches high, and 3 inches wide. It may take up the entire length of the cookie sheet. Brush the beaten egg over the log, then cover with the sliced almonds. Sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cut the loaf into 1/2 inch slices. Place the slices on the cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, flipping once. If the biscotti appear too moist in the center, put them back in the oven for an extra 5 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!
TINA’S ENGLISH TOFFEE
For me, this toffee is the epitome of the Christmas Season (we start badgering Tina to cook it the day after Thanksgiving), and something I look forward to nibbling on every year. Nothing is more depressing than reaching for my family’s toffee tin and finding it empty, like a dead Christmas tree in the gutter. So please cook up this toffee until your kitchen is heavy with the scent of butter, sugar, and the holiday spirit.
1 pound unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing the pans)
2 cups white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups milk chocolate, chopped
2 cups finely chopped toasted almonds
Melt the butter, sugar, water and salt over a low flame, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to boil, turn the heat up to medium. Meanwhile, grease two cooking pans with butter. After 15-20 minutes, the mixture has reached 305 F. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla, stirring to incorporate. Be careful not to burn yourself or the mixture, but if you do, and I have, run your hand under room temperature water (never cold or hot water) to subside the pain. Immediately take the hot toffee and pour into two greased cooking pans and smooth until evenly coated and about 1/8 or 1/4 inch thick. Put the pans into the fridge to let the toffee cool (this will take several hours, or leave the toffee in over night, uncovered).
Once the toffee has cooled, remove it from the refrigerator and carefully loosen the pieces (you can do this by hand or with a knife). If it cracks, it’s not a big deal.
Melt the two types of chocolate over a double boiler, stirring to combine. Once the chocolate has melted, use a spatula to coat one side of the toffee, and then immediately sprinkle heavily with the chopped toasted almonds. This must be done immediately because the cold toffee can cause the chocolate to harden before the almonds can stick. Put the toffee back in the fridge to cool the chocolate. Once it has hardened (it takes about an hour), flip and coat the other side with the chocolate and almonds. You will probably have chocolate and almonds left over, which you can use for more toffee. Let the toffee cool in the fridge until hardened again. When it’s ready, take the toffee out, and using your hands crack it into irregular pieces. Bag them or stick them in a tin for your own enjoyment.