It’s Not Christmas Without…

The snuggly comforts of the holidays come from familiar smells that waft through the kitchen and the anticipation of special dishes that only come around once a year. In this house, it’s not Christmas without these:

No. 1
Buche de Noel

This sponge cake is from Betty Crocker circa 1986. It’s the only recipe I’ve used and it’s never, ever failed me. This cake is really basic, so it’s easy to tweak it any way you like to suit your own tastes. For instance, instead of Chantilly cream, you could make a peppermint whipped cream, or add Chambord instead of vanilla to the cake. The variations are endless, just not in this house.


4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-by-10 jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high until thick and lemony in color (this could take up to 5 minutes). Gradually beat in sugar on low speed, then beat in water and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture and beat until smooth. Do not over beat. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading to corners using a spatula.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed with a finger. Sprinkle a clean tea towel with powdered sugar. Loosen edges of cake from the parchment paper and turn upside down onto a tea towel. Peel away paper and trim any stiff edges from the cake. While it’s hot, roll the cake and towel up from the narrow end. Let cool on a rack for 30 minutes.

½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Beat cream, vanilla and sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until stiff peaks form, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4-4 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
¼ cup milk

Whisk powdered sugar and cocoa together in a medium bowl. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Gradually beat in sugar mixture on low speed until blended. Gradually beat in vanilla and enough milk until the frosting is smooth. If the frosting becomes too thin, add more powdered sugar; if it’s too thick, add milk a teaspoon at a time until it reaches a consistency you like.

No. 2


This Cuisinart recipe for Panettone is another one that doesn’t fail. I let the bread machine do all the hard work, and when it’s done kneading and rising, I’ll remove the dough from the machine, reshape it in a loaf pan and bake in the oven at 375 degrees until golden and hollow sounding when tapped. This fruity bread is lovely toasted with butter and makes a fabulous French toast.

INGREDIENTS (Makes one 2-pound loaf)

2/3 cup milk, room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 1/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons anise seed
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (use active dry, instant or bread machine yeast)
½ cup candied orange peel
½ cup raisins, soaked in Masala wine then drained

Place the first 10 ingredients, in order, in the bread pan fitted with the kneading paddle. Make sure the yeast doesn’t touch any wet ingredients. Place pan in the bread machine and secure. Select “Sweet” program, loaf size and desired crust color. Start the program and when the mix-in tone beeps, add the orange peel and drained raisins. When the cycle finishes, either remove dough and kneading paddle, reshape and return to machine bread pan to finish baking, or bake in preheated 375-degree oven.

You can find another good recipe for panettone here:

No. 3

panforteI think this is one of the most Christmas-y desserts ever. Just look at the colors, for one thing. It’s a cross between nougat and fruitcake. I wouldn’t say it’s tricky to make; it’s just a bit sticky to make. The honey syrup hardens really quickly, so you have to move fast from mixing to getting it in the pan. What’s nice is that this Italian spiced “bread” keeps for ages, easily a month in an airtight container at room temperature.


2 cups toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 cups candied citron mixture
Grated zest from one lemon
¾ cup flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
¾ cup honey

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Spay paper and sides of pan with cooking spray.

Mix the almonds, candied citron, zest, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg together in a large bowl.

Heat the sugar and honey in a small pan on low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, bubbles slightly and reads 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Pour honey syrup into nut mixture and stir well. The batter stiffens quickly, so work fast. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula or your fingers when it’s cool enough to handle. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center feels like soft custard and your finger comes away clean. Do not over bake. The panforte will firm up as it cools. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan, remove it and cool completely. Remove the bottom and parchment paper and sprinkle the panforte heavily with powdered sugar.

Note: This recipe is based on ones by David Lebovitz and “The Essential New York Times Cookbook.”

honeyjackvanillaNo. 4
Honey Jack and Vanilla Eggnog

Make it by the glass or the pitcher. Either way, just make it. Not a whole lot more needs to be said. The title says it all. Maybe just have a Merry Christmas!

INGREDIENTS (makes one serving)

1 ½ shots Honey Jack Daniels bourbon
½ shot vanilla simple syrup
10 oz. eggnog

Combine ingredients, chill and serve garnished with grated nutmeg.