Christmas Special: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Orange Frosting

Ok, this is the third and final Christmas installment. This is also the second variation on the gingerbread theme: gingerbread cupcakes with orange cream cheese icing.

If you have read this blog before then you know that cupcakes have a special place in my heart. These are a tasty twist on the classic spicy carrot cake and cream cheese icing combo. The cocoa powder deepens the flavor and color of the cupcakes without actually making them taste chocolate-y. The orange also lends a wonderfully fragrant zest to the frosting. This is my go-to cream cheese frosting recipe; it's decadently creamy but not so cheesy that it tastes like piped cheesecake.

These mini cakelets are a great addition to any holiday dessert table. I dressed mine up for the occasion with a bit of sparkle in the form of pastel dragees. I love how these little pearls shine like tiny Christmas ornaments.

Gingerbread Cupcakes
Yield: about 36 mini cupcakes


  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup hot milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter or line with paper liners a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. Cream 5 tablespoons of the butter with the white sugar. Add the molasses and the egg and egg yolk.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot milk. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in the hot milk mixture. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared tin.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 20 minutes or until slightly springy to the touch. Allow to cool a few minutes in the pan and remove to a rack to cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 3 cups (enough to generously ice 36 mini cupcakes)


  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest


  1. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla and zest, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.
Recipe source: allrecipes.com
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Christmas Special: The Roast Beast at the Christmas Feast

I ended up spending the entire day in the kitchen. I did this quite happily, and entirely voluntarily. Since Christmas this year was unfortunately green and there were no snowmen waiting to be made, I busied myself in the coziness of the kitchen (and I think cooking is a great alternative to lazing on the couch watching Christmas specials on TV).

While cooking a traditional holiday feast appears to be a massive undertaking that strikes terror in the hearts of home cooks everywhere, a little planning means it usually goes quite smoothly.

Because we had a modest number of diners, the turkey was not a massive beast of a bird in the oven. Our roast consisted of a turkey breast, which can still be tough to cook despite its diminutive size. Because it is so lean, it often becomes unpleasantly tough, dry, and stringy.

Leave it to Alton Brown to explain and emphasize the power of the brine. It is THE secret for a juicy bird. It is extremely simple, and after preparing turkey this way, you will never go back. The salt in the brine both seasons the meat and does something to the proteins that allows it to retain moisture better. Goodbye turkey jerky.

A few other little things about the turkey: use the canola oil specified in the recipe to coat the skin rather than butter. Starting the turkey in a 500 F oven means that you need to use oil with a high smoke point. I also like to baste it with a mixture of melted butter and maple syrup to encourage a nicely browned and sticky skin. Yum.

Besides the regular sides of roasted vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes, I made a classic bread stuffing. In order to deal with the problems of roasting the turkey with the stuffing stuffed in it (namely, that the meat is done before the stuffing is safely heated through), I baked the stuffing in a dish alongside the turkey. This recipe makes an extremely flavorful stuffing that's perfumed with onion, rosemary, thyme and sage, and punctuated with spicy sausage and sweet apple and cranberries. I probably could have had the stuffing alone for dinner and dispensed with everything else.

Overall, it was a dinner that successfully put everybody into a food coma...in a good way. I wouldn't have spent my Christmas Day any other way.

Good Eats Roast Turkey:

  • 1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • Canola oil


2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

Sausage, Cranberry and Apple Stuffing:


  • 1 1/2 cups cubed whole wheat bread
  • 3 3/4 cups cubed white bread
  • 1 pound ground turkey sausage
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and chopped
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 cooked turkey liver, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup turkey stock
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F (175 degree C). Spread the white and whole wheat bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes in the preheated oven, or until evenly toasted. Transfer toasted bread cubes to a large bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps until evenly browned. Add the celery, sage, rosemary, and thyme; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes to blend flavors.
  3. Pour sausage mixture over bread in bowl. Mix in chopped apples, dried cranberries, parsley, and liver. Drizzle with turkey stock and melted butter, and mix lightly. Spoon into turkey to loosely fill.
Image property of beetsandbites
Turkey recipe credit to Alton Brown and foodtv.com
Stuffing recipe credit to Stacy Polcyn


Christmas Special: Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread and Gingerbread Men

So, I think it's about time for an update, don't you?

There was no way I could let the holiday season go by without a few festive food posts. Christmas is, after all, the most gluttonous of holidays. What other occasion encourages consecutive weeks of marathon eating? Besides that warm fuzzy feeling you get at this time of year, the abundance of great food and company make this my absolute favorite holiday.

I decided to fully embrace the holiday spirit today. So, after lighting the fireplace and blasting the carols, I did a little Christmas baking. The results: Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread, gingerbread cookies, and a house headily perfumed with spice.

These shortbread are cheerfully festive cookies. Shortbread is originally a Scottish Christmas cookie, but today its rich, crumbly, butteriness makes it a popular year-round treat. These boast that iconic red and green, which is happily achieved free of food coloring or cloyingly sweet candied cherries. These mildly sweet cookies are studded with bright ruby red cranberries and pale green pistachios for a treat that is at once tender and crunchy and chewy.

However, these shortbread only make up half of the quintessential Christmas dessert duo of fruity and spicy. The latter half is taken care of by the classic gingerbread cookie. This is my favorite recipe and I have used it for many years. As strange as it may sound, the dough has a beautiful texture to work with, even cold out of the refrigerator. The molasses keeps it soft and pliable and very easy to work with. After it bakes, it retains its chewiness while the edges crisp up. I suppose somewhat non-traditionally, I like to add a little finely ground black pepper to the dough. It imparts an extra kick of heat to bring out the spice, rather than a savory quality. The flavor improves the longer your store them (if they last that long).

(A tip for making gingerbread men: In order to make sure your shapes stay recognizable, it is advisable to chill them on the sheet pan before you bake them. It prevents them from melting into amoeboid blobs.)

This is the just the beginning of my Christmas cooking marathon. I actually need to return to the kitchen now to prepare tonight's big feast, so stay tuned for more on that.

And finally, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May it be filled with fun, loved ones, and of course, fantastic food!

Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread

Yield: about 48 cookies

2 1/3 cups(300 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (130 grams) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

1 cup (150 grams) dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl whisk the flour with the salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about 1 - 2 minutes). Add the sugar and beat until smooth and creamy (about 3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Fold in the chopped pistachios and dried cranberries. (Make sure that the nuts and cranberries are evenly distributed throughout the dough.)

Divide the dough in half. Place each half of dough on the center of a 14 inch (35 cm) length of parchment or wax paper. Smooth and shape the dough into an evenly shaped rectangle that is about 10 inches (25 cm) long and 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Then thoroughly wrap the shaped logs in the parchment or wax paper, twists the ends of the paper to seal the logs, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours, or up to three days. (The logs can also be frozen for about two months. If freezing, it is best to defrost the logs in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) with the rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a thin bladed knife, slice the logs into 1/4 to 1/2 inch (.5 to 1 cm) thick cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 48 shortbread cookies.

Perfect Gingerbread Cookies

Yield: about 2 dozen

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper. Stir into the butter mixture until smooth. Gather into a ball, flatten, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes on the pan. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.

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Shortbread recipe from joyofbaking.com