DIY Photo Ornaments, Christmas Decorations, Hot Chocolate Bar, Plaid Blankets, Christmas Tree, Red Velvet Cupcakes

After all the excitement and anticipation for Christmas to come, the baking, the shopping, the gift wrapping, and the decorating, it feels like it's over far too quickly, and I always wish it would last just a little longer. We had a wonderful month of December, and my heart is full. We started the holiday by hosting a party for a small group of friends and their kids, and I really made far too many treats for the party, but I couldn't help myself. There were sugar cookies, which I decorated with royal icing, molded peppermint bark candy, soft and chewy salted caramels (by far the biggest crowd-pleaser, and for which you can find the recipe here), cookies and cream bark, and red velvet cupcakes topped with cream cheese buttercream and decorated with soft peppermints and buttercream wreaths. The cupcakes were just so pretty to look at, especially finished off with the little royal icing red bows I found at Michaels. We also had a crock pot of spiced mulled red wine, and a cute little hot chocolate bar with my homemade hot chocolate mix, marshmallows, and lots of candy canes. These adorable tiny paper ripple cups with lids from Shop Sweet Lulu were just perfect for child-size portions of hot chocolate, and I loved that they came with lids to keep any spills to a minimum. I used a beautiful vintage plaid thermos to hold the hot water for the hot chocolate bar, and it just needed to be refilled a few times. To keep the kids busy, I covered our dining room table with brown craft paper, and scattered it with mini candy canes, reindeer antlers, crayons and free Christmas printables for them to color on. They absolutely loved it! The following week, my parents were able to drive here from South Carolina to visit for a few days before Christmas, and again, I busied myself with more baking, as well as decorating the guest room with pretty plaid blankets and pillows, a Charlie Brown Christmas tree of branches hung with vintage ornaments, and a little polkadot box of treats for their drive home. We ate far too much, but I so love baking for other people when I know how much they enjoy the food. We had lemon pound cake, soft and spicy ginger molasses cookies with tart lemon icing, cranberry almond cream cheese crumb bars, dark chocolate cream pie (always a favorite), sausage biscuits, and eggnog streusel coffee cake. After they left, we still had two days before Christmas, so on the evening of the 23rd, my husband and I took our 14-month old son to see the light display at the Denver Botanic Gardens. It was absolutely freezing, but really beautiful to see, and started snowing on the drive home. The snow continued through the weekend for a white Christmas, and we bundled our son up to take him outside to play in the snow for his very first time. For Christmas Eve breakfast, I made homemade eclairs filled with rich custard and topped with chocolate ganache, and then for Christmas Day, we had overnight eggnog French toast, which was really fantastic, and so easy that I was free to enjoy the morning with my husband and son, rather than spend it in the kitchen laboring over homemade cinnamon rolls like I usually do. I really can't say enough good things about the overnight French toast, just that you have to try it. We had a wonderfully relaxing Christmas of enjoying breakfast, opening presents, and watching movies in our pajamas all day, before having prime rib for dinner. For our Christmas dessert - I know, more dessert! - I wanted to try some new recipes, so I made an old-fashioned buttermilk custard pie and a mincemeat pie topped with cute little pie crust cutouts. The buttermilk pie was quite plain-Jane to look at, but certainly tasty, especially topped with whipped cream and a handful of berries, and was similar to the texture of a pumpkin pie, but with a beautiful tangy vanilla flavor. I'm not sure it will go on our holiday rotation of pies in the future, though, since it just wasn't nearly as satisfying as a crumb-topped apple or blueberry pie. And as for the mince pie, we really didn't care for it at all - it was just too dark and spicy and raisiny, and far too rich to eat a whole piece. I'd much rather have a piece of gooey pecan pie. I am sharing my favorite recipes from the holiday, though, so scroll down to the bottom of this post for not just one, but five new recipes for the cranberry bars, overnight French toast, eggnog coffee cake, lemon-iced ginger molasses cookies, and the red velvet cupcakes. If you like the sound of the chocolate cream pie, you can find that here in a previous blog post. I've also included below a few of my favorite family photos that one of my good friends, Katie of Kathleen Rose Photography, took for us. She shot Phoenix's newborn photos as well, and she is such a talented photographer! I just love the photos we have of our little family. With Christmas over, I get eager to do a little spring cleaning and organizing, and am especially excited to start turning the guest room into a baby's room to prepare for our new little arrival in April... Soft Ginger Molasses Cookies with Lemon Icing printable Cookies. 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling the cookies 2 eggs 1/2 cup molasses 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 2 teaspoons vanilla 3 3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon salt Icing. 2 - 3 cups powdered sugar 1 tablespoon meringue powder juice and zest of 2 small lemons (about 4-5 tablespoons) Cookies. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down and beat in the eggs, molasses, vinegar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Cover the dough and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a small cookie scoop to portion out the dough; roll each portion into a ball between your hands, and coat in granulated sugar. Place the cookie dough balls 3 inches apart on the baking sheet and flatten slightly with your hand. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes only for soft cookies, then cool on the pan for several minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack. Icing. While the cookies cool, beat all the icing ingredients with a handheld mixer for about 5 minutes, until the icing is smooth, fluffy and creamy. Add more powdered sugar or lemon juice to reach the right consistency; it should be a very thick drizzling consistency, so that you can spoon it onto the warm cookies, immediately spread it out with a knife, and it will not run off the edges. It will dry and harden quickly, so work quickly as you ice each cookie. As the icing dries, the surface will dry to a nice sheen. Let the icing set for about an hour before storing the cookies in an airtight container. Cookies will stay soft for many days to come. Yields about 3 1/2 - 4 dozen cookies The original recipe was from a friend, which I adapted for high altitude and added the icing. Cranberry Almond Cream Cheese Shortbread Bars printable Crust and Topping. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup cold, unsalted butter Filling. 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature 8 ounces almond paste, grated 1 egg 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 1/2 cups leftover homemade cranberry sauce (or, substitute your favorite fruit preserves or even pie filling) Crust. Preheat the oven to 350 and spray an 8x8 inch square baking dish with non-stick spray. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture, until coarse and crumbly, with any remaining pieces of butter the size of peas. Reserve 1 cup of the crumb mixture for the topping, and press the rest firmly against the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Filling. Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese, almond paste, egg, cinnamon and vanilla with a hand mixer for several minutes until well combined. Remove the crust from the oven. Carefully spread the cream cheese mixture over the hot crust. Dollop the cranberry sauce evenly over the cream cheese layer. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup crumb topping over the cranberry sauce. Bake until the topping is golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Yields about 16 2-inch square bars or 32 1x2 inch bars. Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen Overnight Eggnog French Toast printable 1 large loaf day-old Challah bread 2 cups eggnog 4 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 2 tablespoons good-quality rum or bourbon, optional butter, maple syrup and fresh berries for serving Baker's Note: This recipe can easily be cut in half, and baked in a square baking dish for fewer servings. Also, if eggnog is no longer available, you can use whole milk or half 'n' half instead of the eggnog, and 8 eggs instead of 4, as well as adding a bit of cinnamon and cloves for more flavor and spice. Spray a 9x13 inch pan with non-stick spray. Slice the bread about 3/4 inch thick and lay out the slices so that they overlap across the length of the pan. In a bowl, whisk together the eggnog, eggs, vanilla and nutmeg until well combined. Pour over the bread, making sure all the bread gets thoroughly soaked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven to 350. Bake the french toast, uncovered, for about 25-30 minutes, until the top edges of the bread are golden brown and the custard is puffed and set. Serve hot. Yields about 8 servings Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen Eggnog Streusel Coffee Cake printable Streusel Topping. 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon Coffee Cake. 1 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 1 cup eggnog 8 ounces sour cream 1 teaspoon maple extract 2 eggs 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt Glaze. 1 cup powdered sugar 3-4 tablespoons eggnog Preheat the oven to 350 and spray a 9x9 inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Topping. In a bowl, use a pastry cutter to combine the topping ingredients until coarse and crumbly. Set aside. Cake. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter for several minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down and beat in the eggnog, sour cream, maple extract and eggs until well combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, mixing just until barely combined. Spread the batter into the greased pan and sprinkle with the topping. Bake for about 45-60 minutes, until a knife in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, but not raw batter; check for doneness every 5 minutes during the last 15 minutes. Glaze. While the cake cools a little, mix the glaze into a smooth, drizzly consistency, and generously drizzle over the cake. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then cut into squares and serve warm. Note: While this could also be baked in a 9x13 pan and only baked for about 30-35 minutes, I like the tall pieces you get with baking it in a smaller pan. This cake is also fantastic for days after; just warm up a piece for about 30-40 seconds in the microwave and it will be soft and tender. Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook Red Velvet Cupcakes printable Cake. 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 4 eggs 1 cup vegetable oil 1 2/3 cups buttermilk 1 tablespoon white vinegar 1 teaspoon vanilla red gel food coloring Buttercream. 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 4 1/2 - 5 cups powdered sugar 1 tablespoon meringue powder 2 teaspoons vanilla milk or cream, if needed Baker's Note: This recipe makes a generous amount of cake batter, enough for a tall 3-layer 8-inch cake, or about 30 standard cupcakes. I made 1 dozen standard cupcakes plus 1 dozen mini cupcakes, and baked the rest of the batter in several 6-inch pans to freeze and save for later. Cake. Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined. Use about 1/4 cup batter for each standard-sized cupcake, and 1 tablespoon for mini cupcakes. Bake just until the centers are done, about 15-18 minutes for standard cupcakes. Cool completely before frosting. Buttercream. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, meringue powder and vanilla, and whip on medium high for about 4-5 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Only add a little milk if the frosting is too stiff, but it should be stiff enough to hold its shape when piped onto the cupcakes. Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen