Layers of Holiday Spirit: Cranberry Trifle

Trifles are so fun to make. I bought a trifle dish a couple of years ago and I’ll literally take any excuse to make one. I’ve made chocolate and Oreo trifle, fresh berry trifle, Fourth of July trifle, black forest trifle, tropical fruit trifle, and of course cranberry trifle  — we are in Cape Cod after all.

Cranberry Trifle Cake
First layer: pound cake

They’re so versatile and festive and they can be tailored to any holiday or event that you’re looking for a stunning dessert for. All that’s really needed is a whipped cream of some sort, and a cake or brownie. Fruit, cookies, decorations are all fun extras to add to make it your own.

Cranberry Trifle Cranberries
Second layer: cranberry compote

I’ve made this cranberry trifle a few times for different Christmas time events, and actually my first one was for a party my then-boyfriend/now-fiancé and I were having at our home for friends.

Cranberry Trifle Crea,
Third layer: creamy whipped cream

I love the tartness of the cranberries, which pairs so well with the recipe for cream below (which you could literally put on anything and I think my fiancé would eat it) it is silky, and fluffy, and really just decadent. My favorite part is when the cream and the cranberry compote comes together and it all gets soaked up into perfectly buttery pound cake that serves as an anchor in between the layers it’s the perfect holiday treat.

Cranberry Trifle Close up

2 bags (12 ounces each) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon ginger
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 cups heavy cream
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 package of cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 homemade or store-bought all-butter pound cakes (12 ounces each), cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 2 cups granulated sugar, ginger, and 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium; cook until cranberries begin to burst, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the compote cool completely.

To make the cream filling, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and vanilla on high until well combined. With mixer on medium, gradually add heavy cream; continue beating until soft peaks form.

Arrange 1/3 of cake in a 3-quart serving dish. Spoon 1/3 of compote over cake; spread to sides of dish. Dollop 1/3 of cream filling over compote; spread to sides of dish. Repeat twice, ending with cream filling. Cover; refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 1 day).

Note: To make the candied clementine garnish I have here, simply make a simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water mixture heated on the stove until the sugar dissolves), put a few strips of clementine peel in the syrup and let sit until the peels become translucent. Take the peels out and sprinkle them with sugar.

Yield: 10 servings

Pucker Up with Cranberry Curd Under the Mistletoe

I love a curd. Specifically the tart, sour, pucker that it gives you. In fact, I love it so much that last Christmas, I made an entire gallon of lemon curd and six pound cakes (just a vehicle for the curd, really) for my fiancé and I to take to Christmas parties.

Cranberry Curd Tart Shell
Tart shell after baking

So when I found this recipe for a cranberry curd, I was 100% on board. I had never thought to “curd” other fruits besides lemon or lime and had always assumed that it needed to be a tart fruit. However, with a little bit of acid, I made a cranberry curd!

Cranberry Curd Tart Close up

To be honest, the other thing that drew me to the recipe, is the gorgeous color of the curd. It’s stunning. It’s a dark pink that you normally don’t find in desserts that’s so lovely to look at and makes you want to give it a good holiday try.

Tart Shell
1 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup cold water

Cranberry Curd
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup butter, cut into bits
2 large eggs + 2 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Grate in the butter or lard using the coarse side of a box grater, or cut it into bits. Blend it into the flour with a fork, pastry cutter or your fingers, until it’s crumbly, with bits of butter the size of a pea remaining. Add the water and stir just until the dough comes together.

Shape it into a disk, and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into about a 12-inch circle. Drape over a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, and gently press it in to fit into the bottom and sides. Use the rolling pin to roll across the edge of the pan to cut the pastry cleanly away; discard any scraps.

Place a piece of foil or parchment in the pastry and fill with pie weights; bake for 15 minutes, then remove the weights and foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the cranberries, sugar, and lemon zest and juice to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the berries pop and soften. Set a colander over a bowl and pour in the sauce; stir and press down on the solids to extract as much as possible. Add the butter and set aside to cool.

Once the butter has melted (there can still be a few solid bits in there), whisk in the eggs and return the mixture to the pan. Bring it to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until it bubbles and thickens. If there are little bits of egg, lemon or cranberry you want to get rid of, pour it through a sieve into another bowl. Pour into the shell while it’s still warm, and let stand at room temperature until cooled and set.

Yield: 14 slices

Holiday Tradition with Portuguese Muffins: Bolo Levedo

My fiancé is a quarter Portuguese on his mother’s side, who was half. When my fiancé was 13, she passed away somewhat quickly from cancer, so I’ve never had the pleasure to meet her. One of the things that he’s so proud of the heritage she gave him, which is half Portuguese and half Italian (for those keeping track, the other half is Irish).

Bolo Levedo recipe
This was Chris’ mom’s recipe of a version of the bread I made.

A few months ago, we went to breakfast at Cookware Cafe in Chatham and had breakfast sandwiches on bolo leveo, which come to find out is like a sweeter english muffin or a fluffier pancake, and he calls it Portuguese Muffin. My fiancé was shocked that I hadn’t heard of them before, given that he grew up with them in Massachusetts. While we were there, I decided that I would make them for Christmas for his family in memory of his mom (plus they’re absolutely delicious).

Bolo Levedo Dough
Ball of dough after it’s risen the first time
Bolo Levedo Rounds
Portioned out dough ready to rise a second time before frying.

When we got a little closer, I went through a recipe box that my fiancé has that had belonged to his mom. In it, I found a few different sweet bread recipes that she used and what I’ve made below is a very similar version.

Bolo Leved Stacked
Finished stacks of bolo levedo

These ended up turning out perfectly – just like the ones we had in Chatham. They were sweet, soft and flaky with the perfect chewy crust, which I know is what my fiancé likes about them and I have no doubt his mom did too.

1 (.25) envelope dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with a pinch of the sugar. Set aside to ferment, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the yeast mixture to a large bowl, and stir in the sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and milk until the dough comes together. Stir in the melted butter, then turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Cover dough with a cloth and set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Divide dough into about 15 to 20 pieces, and shape them into flat round muffins about 1/2 inch thick. Place a cloth on the table and dust it with flour. Arrange the muffins on the cloth, allowing space for rising. Allow them to set for 1 1/2 hours.

Place the muffins in a heavy ungreased skillet ideally cast-iron) or a griddle, and cook over low heat. Fry them until golden, which will be 3-5 minutes on each side.

Yield: 20 Portuguese muffins

Smile this Christmas with a Ricotta Citrus Upside Down Cake

As I had mentioned in my meringues post, this holiday season, I’ve been looking for festive but not necessarily screaming CHRISTMAS, so when I stumbled on a citrus ricotta upside down cake recipe, I knew I had to make it.

Ricotta Citrus Cake Citrus
Slices of citrus for the top of the cake.
Ricotta Citrus Cake Crumble
Crumble for the bottom of the cake.

Now, I’m not going to lie, the citrus that goes on top of the cake can be time consuming, but the end result is so pretty, it’s worth it.

Ricotta Citrus Cake Big

The inside of the cake is moist, light and delicious. The ricotta gives it a pleasant tangyness that holds up really well against the sweet and acidic burst from the clementines and lemons.

Candied Citrus
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 1/2 cups of water
1 clementine
1 lemon
1 navel orange

Crumb Topping
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cups flour
1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoons salt

Ricotta Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1 tablespoons of orange juice
2 eggs
1 cups of ricotta

To candy the citrus, combine the 1½ c sugar and 1½ c water in a large saute pan. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

In the meantime, slice the citrus into very thin slices. When the sugar syrup has come to a simmer, drop in the slices. Set heat to medium low and just barely simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the slices are translucent. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

To make the crumb topping, stir together the melted butter, flour, sugar and salt until crumbly. Set aside.

To make the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces. Arrange the candied citrus in concentric circles over the bottom of the pan starting with smaller slices and working up to larger ones. Reserve the simple syrup for another use (cocktail anyone?).

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup of butter and cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with ricotta, until smooth. Drop with dollops over the citrus slices and spread evenly. Crumble the crumb topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before serving.

Yield: 12 cake slices

Spread the Red and Green Holiday Cheer with Raspberry Pistachio Meringues

This week, I was looking for different things to make that are still festive and delicious (obviously) but maybe don’t scream holiday and these meringues are just that.

They’re soft and pleasantly chewy on the inside with crispy and crunchy exterior – exactly as they’re supposed to be. As soon as you bite into it, the meringue melts, leaving a bright raspberry flavor and a crunch of the pistachios.

Rasberry Pistachio Meringues White
Scooped out meringue

All around, they’re delicious, easy to make, and in the right setting, very festive.

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
In a small saucepan, heat raspberries and 3 tablespoons sugar over medium-high heat. Cook until raspberries have softened and released their juices, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and strain through a sieve, discarding solids. Let cool completely.
Preheat oven to 225°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Beat in lemon juice and cream of tartar. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Increase mixer speed to high, and beat until stiff glossy peaks form.
Using a medium spring-loaded scoop, scoop meringue, and place on prepared pans. Smooth tops using the back of a spoon. Drizzle about ½ teaspoon raspberry sauce over each meringue. Using a wooden toothpick, swirl sauce into meringue. Sprinkle with pistachios.
Bake until exteriors of the cookies become crispy, about 1½ hours. Turn oven off, and let meringues stand in oven with door closed for 2 hours.
Yield: 12 meringues

The Garland, The Grinch, and The Ganache Peppermint Bundt Cake

This cake was one of my favorite things I’ve ever baked for three reasons: 1. chocolate, 2. peppermint, 3. it’s so pretty (if I were to add a number 4, I’d also say it was pretty easy too).

Chocolate Peppermint Bundt Cake Pan
The bundt cake right out of the oven. As you can tell, I dusted the pan with cocoa instead of flour to avoid the dusty white layer on top.

The peppermint isn’t as strong as in the peppermint patties I’ve made recently or the chocolate peppermint brownies, but it is there and it goes so well with the depths of dark chocolate that the cocoa powder and the silky dark chocolate ganache help it achieve.

So what did we do with this special cake? I’m sad to say that we didn’t make it and keep it all to ourselves, eating it in bed while watching the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network (that would be exactly my kinda night). Instead we took it to another Christmas party (my fiancé is still trying to convince me that we did the right thing) that some new friend’s of ours were having so that everyone could share and enjoy.

Chocolate Peppermint Bundt Cake Above

1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup cocoa powder (we use Dutch processed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate glaze:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies, for decorating


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and cocoa a bundt pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended. The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream, peppermint extract, and the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a wire cooling rack. Let cool completely before glazing.

While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate glaze. Place the chopped chocolate and corn syrup in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine the heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan and put over medium heat. Stir until the cream is hot and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Drizzle the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes or peppermint candies.

Yield: 10 slices

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas Cake

My fiancé loves cake. In fact, after we got engaged and we were talking about how we were going to handle the wedding planning, he told me that he wanted to be responsible for the cake and the DJ. That’s it, just the cake and the DJ. Everything else, I could decide. And my fiancé’s favorite cake is white cake, white frosting (which really helps in keeping the wedding cake within budget).

White Christmas Cake Frosted
White cake frosted rustically frosted with white buttercream frosting

So when my Food and Wine Baking Bucket List challenge came around in December and the cake this month is a white layered cake, I knew I couldn’t help but indulge him. Unfortunately for him, the cake was coming to a Christmas party so had to share it with everyone else. I holiday’d up the cake with a homemade cranberry sauce and candied clementine peel.

This cake turned out moist and airy with that fantastic hint of vanilla. With the frosting, my fiance’s favorite, it was sweet, but not too sweet, and baking a white cake with white frosting gives you a canvass to be as creative as you want with decorating. Overall, the entire bite will be like Christmas in your mouth.

1 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk, room temperature
I used this recipe for the frosting.
Grease three 9-inch pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in vanilla extract.
Use a fork to combine the eggs and milk together in a bowl or 2 cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
In another mixing bowl stir together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix in until just combined. Add in half of the milk mixture and combine. Add in another 1/3 of the dry ingredients until combined followed by the remainder of the milk mixture. Add in the remainder of the dry ingredients and mix with the hand mixer until just combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom to make sure everything is mixed in.
Divide the batter among the three prepared pans. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit in pans for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before layering and frosting.
Yield: 8 slices of cake

Merry Merry Cherry Jam Baked Brie

In my humble opinion, baked brie is one of the most decadent things you can serve your friends and family. I mean, it’s brie, which is already rich, creamy and oh so delicious, and then you bake it so it’s also warm and melty in your mouth? Not to mention the buttery, flaky pastry along with the tartness of the cherry jam. I’m not sure it gets more sinful than that (well, food-wise anyway).

Baked Brie with Cherry Jam Jam

However, in my opinion, the cherry jam baked within the puff pastry really just makes this dish (the fruit jam/compote/whole is my favorite part of a cheese plate) but then again, I love sweet things – which is pretty much what we’re doing here.

Baked Brie with Cherry Jam Puff Pastry
Raw puff pastry folded up with the cheese and jam inside

So one things to also mention: I know this looks tough, but it’s really not, I promise. I think that the puff pastry intimidates people, but it’s actually super simple: just keep frozen until about 40 minutes before you want to use it, take it out, put it on the counter, let thaw, then unfold and use. That, plus a wheel of brie, 1/2 cup of cherry, and egg wash (ie a beaten egg) and that’s it! Super simple, decadent, and delicious for a holiday party or anytime party!

1 8 oz wheel of brie
1/2 cup cherry preserves
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed (found in the frozen aisle)
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (in addition to keeping the tray clean, it will also make it easier to move the brie onto a nicer platter to serve). On a floured work space, roll the thawed puff pastry so that it resembles more of a square than a rectangle.

Place the puff pastry on center the parchment paper on the tray and then place the brie in the middle. Top the brie with the cherry jam. Using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg onto the puff pastry making an outline of the square. Slowly bring each the side up and to create almost a package look, brushing on the egg as needed to act as glue. Once the pastry is held together, brush the entire bundle with egg which will help crisp up the outside.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and serve with crackers.

Yield: Depending on how much your guests like cheese, approx 8-10.

Ho-ho-homemade Peppermint Patties

As I’ve mentioned before, I love peppermint. In fact, after giving it some thought while I was making these, York Peppermint Patties are probably in my top five favorite candies of all time (for those keeping track, others include twix, snickers, kit kat, and peanut butter m&ms). So when I found this super simple recipe to make these, I was all in.

Peppermint Patties Mixture
Batter for inside the peppermint patties

As much as I wanted to keep them all for myself, I showed a little restraint, only made half of a batch and used these as one of the Christmas treats for our friends and neighbors along with green and white marshmallows and Winter holiday chocolate bark.

Peppermint Patties Discs
Inside of the peppermint patties before freezing

Now I know I’m biased because of my love of peppermint but these peppermint patties are a dream. They’re thick and creamy on the inside with the perfect cooling peppermint sensation that pairs perfectly with the richness of the dark chocolate on the outside.

1/4 cup softened butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups dark chocolate chips
chocolate sprinkles for toping

Combine butter, corn syrup, extract and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes, until ingredients are well combined and are holding together.

Remove dough from bowl and break off about 2 teaspoon-sized sections. Roll into a ball and gently flatten with your hands. Put patties down on a pan lined with parchment paper. After all of the patties are made, place pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Melt chocolate in microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between each until melted. Remove peppermint patties from freezer just before you’re ready to dip. Use a fork to dip each patty in the chocolate, flip to coat the other side, then tap to remove any excess. Transfer chocolate coated patties to wax paper to cool. Top with chocolate sprinkles.

Yield: 40 peppermint patties

Fluffin’ Great Marshmallows

The first time I thought about making marshmallows, I was super intimidated. I thought in order to make that gooey, soft, fluffy, almost foamy texture there had to be more than just meets the eye.

Green and White Marshmallows Sugar
Bringing the sugar mixture to a boil up to 240 degrees

Thankfully, that’s not the case  — I was surprised by how easy they were to make. Last year, when I was looking for fun Halloween treats to make, I found this great recipe that does a great job walking through the specific colors and textures that the mixture is supposed to be throughout the process, which made the whole thing much less intimidating. I also enjoyed it because it had never occurred to me to dye marshmallow to make them even more festive for different holidays!

Of course these marshmallows can be made to make s’mores, they can be cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters for a birthday party, and they can be given away as Christmas gifts! For this year, these are one of three candies I’ve made for giving to the folks at the Post Office who graciously fielded all of our packages, the lovely group at the Dennis Chamber of Commerce who welcomed my fiancé and I into the group, some of our friends on town committees, and neighbors or are also braving the Cape winter. Stay tuned for the the other two: homemade peppermint patties and blue and white chocolate bark.

These marshmallows are fun to make and even more fun to eat. They have that same great texture as store-bought marshmallows but I enjoy the much more pronounced vanilla flavor (read: not fake tasting) more. If you wanted to go crazy, you could also sub in the vanilla extract for other types of extract to make peppermint, spearmint, or even orange flavored marshmallows! The possibilities are endless!

3 packages unflavored gelatin (1/4 ounce packets)
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1/2 cup cornstarch for dusting the pan and the top
Food coloring in colors of  your choice

Prepare your pan and mixing bowls with spoons for mixing the colored marshmallows (I left some of my marshmallow white and just kept that in the big mixing bowl). To prepare the pan, spray with cooking spray and then dust with the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture to coat the entire pan.

Mix the gelatin and 1/2 cup of water in your mixing bowl and let sit so the gelatin can bloom

Mix the rest of the water, sugar, salt, and corn syrup in a pan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar dissolves, raise the temperature to high and use a candy thermometer to get the sugar mixture to 240 degrees (about 7-8 minutes).

When the mixture reaches the temperature, turn on the mixer and mix the gelatin mixture. Slowly stream the sugar mixture into the mixer on medium speed. Once all the sugar has been added, increase the mixture speed and mix for apps. 6 minutes. Then you will added the vanilla extract and mix for another few seconds until well combined.

Divide the marshmallow mixture into the bowls and add your food coloring and mix until combined. Make sure to keep some of the marshmallow mixture white! You will want to work quickly before the marshmallows start to set up.

Once the marshmallows are mixed, start by dropping dollops of each color into the pan. Once they are all added to the pan, use a butter knife to gently swirl the mixture to create a marbled effect.

Dust the top with more of the powdered sugar mixture and let set for several hours to overnight to set up.

Yield: 16 marshmallows