It’s 7:30 on Christmas Eve. Grandma and I have already made the Christmas cookies. She watched over me earlier in the week as I lightly rolled the date balls, still warm from the oven, in a thin layer of confectioner’s sugar on the counter top.
The almond crescent cookies took me a few Christmases to master, but on this particular year I had gotten the hang of shaping them without handling them too much. If you heat the dough up with your fingers too often, the dough hardens and the cookies become both hard and brittle.
With the cookies behind us, the easiest part lay ahead. I loved the holidays because I lived at celebration central. All of my aunts, uncles and cousins came to the house I shared with Grandma and Grampa for all the big parties. We took out the pretty plates with gold leaf and the heavy lead crystal wine glasses for the adults. We put the leaf in the dining room table to make it big enough and pulled a round folding table onto the lanai for the kids’ table, where I sat with my older cousins. The real little cousins sat at another small table nearby.
But the last thing to do on Christmas Eve was prepare the bread for the homemade stuffing. Grandma pulled several cookies sheets with lightly toasted Wonder Bread out of the oven. My task was to sit on the kick stool and break the slices into small pieces and toss them into brown grocery bags, where we would let them sit overnight to further dry them out.
That was my favorite part of the holiday cooking, breaking the toasty slices and watching the crumbs fall into the bag at my feet. A night light was on near the sink and Grandma and Grampa sat in the family room nearby, rocking in their matching recliners, sipping egg nog and listening to Bing Crosby Christmas tunes. I miss them dearly during the holidays.
Last year, I made my first turkey at Thanksgiving. I made the stuffing according to the recipe Grandma and I used when I was growing up. It was Mimi’s recipe. (Mimi was my great-grandmother.) I let the bread sit in the brown paper grocery bags overnight and enjoyed a very peaceful holiday despite the drama that threatened to ruin it.
This year, I don’t know if I’ll make a turkey, but there are a few things that I know I will make because they bring me so much contentment while I’m busy preparing them. I’m making the frosty date balls and almond crescent cookies to keep my grandparents close to me while they celebrate down south.
I’m making the cherry amaretto and orange cranberry scones I have made for the past two years. For Christmas breakfast, I’m making the french toast bread pudding I made last year during the calm before my final storm. I wanted to share the recipes with you, in case you were looking for a little extra happy to add to your holiday table.
1 cup butter, creamed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.In a medium-sized bowl, mix first six ingredients until well-combined. Put powdered sugar in small separate bowl.
3.Using spoon or small scoop, divide dough into 1 teaspoon-sized balls and drop into the bowl of confectioner’s sugar.
4.Being careful not to over-handle, individually place the dough balls on a cookie sheet and lightly form into half-moons.
5.Bake 20-30 minutes at 300 degrees.
6.Allow cookies to cool completely and lightly dust with remaining confectioner’s sugar.
Frosty Date Balls
1/2 cup softened butter or margarine, creamed
1/3 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup sifted flour
dash of salt
2/3 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
additional confectioner’s sugar for dusting
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.In a medium-sized bowl, mix first six ingredients until well-combined.
3.Mix the dates and walnuts into the flour mixture just until combined.
4.Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
5.Bake at 350 degrees until set, but not brown (about 20 minutes, but watch them carefully).
6.While still warm, roll the date balls in confectioner’s sugar until completely covered
Basic Scone Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour (can be made with gluten-free flour, but I do not recommend)
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder (make sure you use baking POWDER, not the Arm & Hammer stuff)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (that’s the Arm & Hammer stuff)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (one stick) of unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
For Cherry-Almond Scones:
Dried cherries, soaked overnight in amaretto (add to dry ingred.) and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (add to wet ingred.)
For Cranberry-Orange Scones:
Dried cranberries (soaked overnight in Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur) and a teaspoon of fresh grated orange rind (add both to dry ingredients)
1.Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.In a medium mixing bowl, mix flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3.Grate (yes, grate) frozen stick of butter on the large holes of a box grater.
4.Using hands, mix grated butter into flour mixture. Combine until dough mixture resembles course meal, then stir in either the cranberries or cherries (can also be made with raisins).
5.In a small separate bowl, whisk sour cream and egg until smooth. If making cherry-almond scones, add almond extract to sour cream mixture.
6.Using a fork, stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form.
7.Using hands, press dough against bowl to form a ball. (There may not seem to be enough liquid at first, but the heat of your hands will make it all come together).
8.Place ball on a lightly-floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle (about 3/4-inch thick). Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar.
9.Use a small sharp knife to cut dough into 8 triangles.
10. Place triangles on cookie sheet lined with parchment (foil works, too) about an inch apart.
11. Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes.
12.Cool five minutes and serve with butter or jam.
French Toast Bread Pudding with Spiced Pears (Recipe Courtesy of Good Morning America
French Toast Ingredients:
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 loaf (about 1 pound) challah, brioche or cinnamon bread (any egg-enriched bread will do, but I use challah)
6 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Spiced Pear Sauce Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
2 firm, ripe Anjou or Comice pears, cored and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1.The night before, make the french toast: smear butter over the bottom and insides of a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish or other shallow 2-quart baking dish. Tear bread into small pieces and scatter in dish.
In a bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until light. Add remainder of french toast ingredients and whisk well. Pour mixture over bread evenly. Tamp down bread with spoon or spatula to submerge each piece in egg mixture. Cover dish with foil, gently pressing down so foil is right on surface of bread mixture. Refrigerate overnight.
2.In the morning, remove dish and slide into cold oven with the foil still on. Turn oven to 350 degrees. After 25 minutes, gently pull off and discard foil. Continue to bake 20 minutes, or until all puffed and brown.
3.While the french toast is baking, prepare the spiced pear sauce: melt butter in a wide skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat and add pears. Stir pears to coat with butter, then sprinkle in sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Continue to cook three minutes until pears soften. Pour in syrup, cook until bubbling and remove from heat.
4.Slice bread pudding onto plates and top generously with spiced pears and additional syrup.