Sweet Holiday

This is the season of sweets.  Cookies, candies, cakes and pies; trifles and truffles, confections of all descriptions are being turned out in kitchens across the country.  Visions of rolling pins, aprons and cookie sheets, bowls of frosting in many hues, sprinkles, chocolate curls, almond paste, clouds of meringue as well as sugar plums dance in our heads.

The children are hanging around the kitchen begging for cookie dough to eat and to make into their own little cookies.  The kitchen is a mess, but what a wonderful mess.  Grown up children are returning and eyeing the offerings to make sure their “favorite” cookie or confection is present.

A party of everyone’s favorite food group—desserts and sweets— is fun to plan and actually easy to make.  Many things can be done ahead and frozen.  Then there is the question of liquid refreshment.  For this party, which will begin at 3:00 PM, I have decided on champagne (or other sparkling wine) and a rich fruity late-harvest Riesling.  Italian Moscato or California-made Essencia are other dessert wines which would be fun.  Lots of rich, dark coffee with a variety of add-ins will wind up the afternoon.

Here is the party menu for 24:

Raspberry Trifle
Gingerbread Buche de Noel with Orange Butter-Cream Frosting
Black Forest Cake
Alexanders Torte
Mini Éclairs
Lemony Cheesecake Bites
Dark Chocolate-Rum Truffles


The Alexanders torte is a Latvian version of Linzer Cookies, in which a raspberry filling is sandwiched between two cookie layers.  Traditionally, it is cut into diamond shapes, but because Linzer cookies are so pretty, you can make a cutout on the top cookie layer so the raspberry filling shows through.

Gingerbread Buche de Noel with Orange Butter-Cream Frosting

½ cup flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/ tsp. ground nutmeg
4 large eggs, separated
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light (mild) molasses
Powdered sugar

Orange Butter-Cream Frosting:

¾ cup sugar
6 Tbsp. flour
¾ cup milk
¾ cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp orange-flavored liqueur
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp freshly grated orange peel
Lemon leaves (from florist) and strawberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease 15 ½” by 10 ½” jelly-roll pan; line bottom only with parchment paper.  Spray paper with vegetable spray and dust pan with flour.  On waxed paper, combine flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Beat egg whites and salt with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually sprinkle in ¼ cup sugar with mixer still at high speed until stiff peaks form.  In another bowl, using same beaters and with mixer at high sped, beat egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar until very thick and lemon-colored and ribbons form when beaters are lifted, about 8 to10 minutes.  Beat in molasses until blended.  Gently fold beaten egg whites into beaten egg-yolk mixture, one-third at a time.  Spread batter evenly in pan.  Bake 15 to 17 minutes until top of cake springs back when lightly touched with finger.  Sprinkle clean cloth towel with powdered sugar.  When cake is done, loosen cake from side of pan and immediately invert hot cake onto the prepared towel.  Gently peel off parchment paper and discard.  Starting from long side, roll cake with towel jelly-roll style.  Place cake roll, seam side down on wire race to cool completely—about 45 minutes.

For Frosting:

In large saucepan, combine sugar and flour; whisk in milk until smooth.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until mixture thickens and boils.  Reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Transfer mixture to shallow pan such as a pie plate, cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour.  Beat butter with mixer at medium speed until creamy.  Gradually beat in cooled flour mixture.  When mixture is smooth, beat in liqueur, vanilla and orange peel until well blended.  Makes 3 cups.

Assemble cake:  Gently unroll cooled cake.  With metal spatula, spread 1 cup frosting almost to edges.  Starting from same long side, roll cake without towel.  With a sharp knife, cut 1-inch-thick diagonal slice off each end of roll; set aside. Place cake, seam side down, on long platter.  Using about 2/3 cup orange frosting, spread thin layer of frosting over roll, leaving cut sides unfrosted.  Place 1 end piece on side of roll to resemble a cut branch.  Place remaining end piece on top of roll to resemble another cut branch.  Spread remaining 1/3 cup frosting over roll and branches, leaving cut side of branches unfrosted.  With metal spatula or tines of fork, mark frosting to resemble bark of tree.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Garnish platter with lemon leaves and strawberries.

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