a joy-fully delicious christmas eve

I have a couple of holiday cooking confessions to make. The first is amusing to me - that, through no intentional action, I ended up picking two recipes from the same person for my culinary contributions to Mom and Dad's Christmas Eve spread. In fact, I didn't realize it until I was standing in the kitchen, getting ready to begin the second recipe. I guess she does a good job at appealing to my taste buds!

The second confession is one that I've mentioned before, but that I find myself acknowledging again - I have a weakness for the earthy, satisfying combination of spices that happens when you mix ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Seriously - after losing count of how many recipes start with these spices on the counter, I'm beginning to feel like this is my own personal version of the Cajun or Creole holy trinity.

Add in some thick, dripping molasses...

...and maybe a quarter cup of honey (when you realize you don't have quite enough molasses and you don't feel like sending your husband to the store on the 23rd of December when there's an acceptable substitute). Mmm. This is going to be good!

Look at the dark richness of those wet ingredients! By the time the batter went into the oven, my mouth was watering; and after licking the bowl, I was very much looking forward to tasting this.

One of the main reasons I wanted to try this particular recipe is that it seemed reminiscent of the gingerbread and speculoos we used to eat as a family living in Europe. The appeal of those tastes have stayed with me into adulthood, such that I am quite fond of treats like Pfeffernusse cookies even today.

But note to self - in the future, please remember that Biscoff is actually a brand of speculoos cookies, not an entirely different cookie. It will save you much grief in your efforts to find "speculoos cookie butter."

The recipe indicates that you should "gently spread" the speculoos butter onto the top of the cake - but the additional comment about being careful not to tear the cake made me nervous. So I dolloped it on instead, trusting that, as promised, the speculoos butter "will begin to melt against the warm cake as it is spread."

Spread, it did. In fact, I may have overdone the dollop-ing. That, or my cake was just too domed in the middle to hold the topping as it melted. I wasn't going to complain, because this was looking more and more fantastic by the moment.

I almost skipped the "use a plastic baggie as a drawing tool" part - until I realized that such a lovely cake deserved something better than the rough drizzles a spoon would allow. So I gave it a try, and was pleased with the results!

Sadly, I realized this morning that I completely forgot to take a picture of the whole cake before it was sliced. Oops. So imagine for yourselves that the light stripes of chocolate you see on this slice were part of a pretty spiral of chocolate that started in the middle and rolled outward. It was quite lovely!

The cake was also a big hit. Which made me happy. This was a great holiday recipe to have, and I know I'll use it again in the future. Just one piece of advice, though? Enjoy it with a tall glass of milk - the perfect complement to the denseness of the cake.

Once the cake had been baked and frosted, I turned my attention to something a little more savory. You know a recipe has potential when it starts with not just butter, but also olive oil.

As I was cooking, the sun started shining in the window just so. It made the onions look quite pretty...

...but that didn't stop me from throwing in the skillet and letting them cook down into something jammy and fragrant and delicious. Ah, the flavor of French onion soup.

Okay, so I grated way more Gruyere cheese than I needed - but with grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu for this weekend, I'm sure it will go to good use.

Once the onions had been cooked and the cheese had been grated, it was time to put all this goodness, along with some dabs of whole grain mustard, to use in a puff pastry assembly line that looked like this:

Obviously, I decided to cut the pastry into square-ish pieces instead of the rounds that the recipe suggests. One thing I liked about the squares, though, was that I ended up having 16 finished pastries (instead of the 12 the recipe indicates).

They came out of the oven looking delightful! I have an unnecessary nervousness about puff pastry, so I was pleased with the pillowy little fingerfuls that came out of the oven.

Of course, I had no qualms about biting through that flaky pastry to get to the tasty filling inside! I might leave out the mustard next time, because it's a flavor that I taste very easily and that seemed to compete a bit with the onions, but these were also a hit at our Christmas Eve dinner. I couldn't ask for more than that.

And lest anyone be concerned that the leftover chocolate in the makeshift pastry bag was wasted, rest easy. I used it to make fun little snack crackers - a perfect blend of sweet and salty for me and Wildcat Guy to snack on for the rest of the evening.

Ah, holidays. So delicious.

Where I am: home
What I'm reading: just finished the January issue of InStyle magazine


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