Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last Minute Ideas for Christmas and a Simple Coffee Cake

Way back on Mother's Day I posted a recipe for Cream Scones. I mentioned at the time that several years ago I had given little bags of the dry mix as Christmas gifts to people who were certain that they could not possibly make a decent scone. Over and over I heard back enthusiastic reports of success. It made a great gift—and it was so simple to do.  It has occurred to me that there have been many recipes that I have posted over the past year that also have Christmas gift potential.  Additionally, there have been numerous posts for side dishes and desserts that would be appropriate for the holiday table.  Since tomorrow is Christmas Eve, today's post will be a brief review of some of those recipes, dedicated to those among us who might be out of ideas and who are most certainly about out of time.

One of the reasons the bag of scone mix made such a great gift was that it has a shelf life. So many of the food gifts that we give at Christmas need to be consumed fairly quickly. The bag of scone mix can be tucked away and pulled out in January...or March...when it will make a special treat in the middle of the doldrums of winter for someone in need of a pick me up.

To put the gift together, mix up all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. For the chocolate/dried fruit additions at Christmas time I like to use dried cranberries and semi-sweet chocolate—but anything you like will be fine. Transfer the mixture to small food-safe gift bags, attach a recipe card and tie with a ribbon or bow. All the recipient will need to do to produce beautiful, fresh scones, is to add some cream and then sprinkle some sugar on top of the scones before baking.

If you look at the pictures of my holiday cookie platter, you will notice small wedges of Scottish Shortbread. I posted this recipe last summer to go with fruit and ice cream. But they also make a wonderful Christmas cookie and I always include them in my holiday baking. I think they would be a particularly good gift idea for someone looking for a last minute hostess gift. Almost everyone has on hand the three ingredients needed to make these cookies (sugar, butter and flour) and if you are home doing other things, you can mix up a couple of pans, place them in the oven and go about other tasks while they have their long slow bake in a low oven. They make an elegant gift on a small decorative plate, in a festive tin, or tied with a bright bow in a small bag.

While on the subject of cookies, both the biscotti—posted a few days ago—and the molasses crinkles—posted in November—would make excellent gifts. And, if you happen to have a cookie monster in residence who has been raiding the stash of holiday goodies you have been amassing for your cookie platter, both of these cookies would be a quick and easy way to replenish your supply.

If you prefer to give miniature breads or cakes, the Brandied Fruit & Almond Pound Cake posted earlier this month bakes up beautifully in miniature (2 cup size) loaf pans. Start checking them for doneness at about 35 to 40 minutes. The Chocolate Gingerbread from an October post also makes fine miniature loaves. And if you know someone who will be having overnight guests, a breakfast basket filled with Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins would be a welcome gift.

If you are looking for last minute ideas to round out your Christmas dinner, there are many side dishes that I have posted over the course of the year from which you could choose. Several of my November posts were holiday side dishes—Green Bean Casserole, Sweet Potato Gratin with Turnips & Yukon Gold Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts & Savory Chestnut Bread Pudding.  But the one dish I particularly want to draw attention to is a recipe I posted around Easter time. It was for a potato side dish that could be assembled the day before and reheated for the holiday dinner. Loaded with buttery leeks and sour cream, it is basically a big twice-baked potato baked in a large casserole instead of potato skins. It's easy and delicious.

Finally, I wanted to draw attention to a coffee cake that I discovered early on when I was beginning to explore the food blogging world. It is a recipe for Chai Coffee Cake. I love this cake made exactly as published at Tartelette, but because the combination of spices reminds me of holiday baking, I began to think about it again a few days ago. This time when I made it I added some dried cranberries and chopped candied orange peel to the batter. If you don't have any candied orange peel, you could increase the amount of dried cranberries, or substitute golden raisins. To get a touch of orange flavor, I would then add the zest of a large orange to the creamed butter and sugar.

When I made the cake, I cut the amount of streusel in half, omitting the layer of streusel in the middle of the cake—I thought it would be too much when combined with the dried and candied fruit. But I think that when I make it again, I will make the full amount of streusel. So, even though my pictures show the cake without the middle layer of streusel, I've written the recipe to include it. If you prefer less streusel, simply cut the amount of streusel in half and only put it on top of the cake. Either way, it would make a nice coffeecake to serve as part of a Christmas breakfast or brunch.

No matter what your state of preparedness for the holidays, I hope that today's post has given you a few ideas—if not for this year, then for next. And no matter how you are spending your holiday this year, I hope that your Christmas is filled with good things to eat.  But mostly I hope that you get to celebrate in the company of those you love.  Merry Christmas.

Spiced Cranberry-Orange Coffeecake

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. cardamom
1/2 t. allspice
1/2 t. salt
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200 g)
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
10 T. plus 2 t. (150 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar (200 g.)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 t. vanilla
2/3 c. sour cream (160 g.)
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/3 c. dice candied orange peel

To make the topping, combine the flour, spices, salt & sugar in a small bowl. Stir in the melted butter until thoroughly blended. Squeeze the mixture into clumps. Set aside.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Stir in half of the flour mixture. Stir in the sour cream, followed by the remaining flour mixture, adding the cranberries and candied peel with this final addition of flour.

Spread half of the batter in a greased and floured 9x9-inch baking pan. Scatter in half of the streusel. Add the remaining batter, spreading evenly. Scatter the remaining streusel over all. Bake in a 350° oven until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—35 to 45 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 9 to 12.


Katrina said...

Great post, Paige! Merry Christmas to you!
I plan to make the brittle in the morning.

Katrina said...

The brittle is cooling. Looks great, worked just as you wrote. Yay!