Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Toast to the Holidays!

Velvet Rope
The Velvet Rope from Waterbar

From Halloween through New Year's, you'll find us overseeing a joyous parade of parties. We're baking, of course, but we're also making sure everyone's glass is filled with something festive. And this year we plan to raise the bar—literally!—and concoct some delicious original beverages.

For guidance, we asked Jennifer Philpot, the bartender at San Francisco's Waterbar restaurant, to suggest some holiday-themed beverages. She generously obliged with adult and child-friendly versions, which you'll find below and in our recipe database.

Jennifer's top tip: Start with simple syrup—one to two parts sugar simmered in one part water until the sugar dissolves—infused with your choice of flavoring agent. For example, in Jennifer's fizzy, cranberry-red Velvet Rope cocktail, a split vanilla bean lends subtle mellowness to the syrup. "For fall and winter, try making simple syrup with a couple sticks of cinnamon," Jennifer suggests. "Or add peeled, sliced ginger root, sliced into rounds or chunks."

Of course, the best simple syrup starts with the best sugar; for quick and complete dissolving, we recommend C&H Pure Cane Baker's Sugar or Superfine Sugar.

Other cocktail tips from Jennifer:

  • Incorporate seasonal ingredients and flavors in your drinks. In fall and winter, try apples, cranberries, cinnamon, or mandarin oranges.
  • A balance of sweet and acid flavors is the key to a successful cocktail or mocktail. When in doubt, taste!
  • When pairing drinks with desserts, look for ways to complement and enhance their flavors. "The deep, dark flavors of Santa's Little Helper [see the Christmas section, below] would be too much with pumpkin pie but just right with fruitcake or a rich chocolate bread pudding," says Jennifer.

Halloween with the Kids

Monster Hands

Our Halloween treats have a few tricks up their sleeves! These Monster Hands? They're clear medical gloves filled with caramel corn—more delightful than frightful! And our chilled and chilling Zombie Eyeballs are made with yummy peanut butter and chocolate chips; no baking required. Just add blue candies for "pupils" and draw "veins" with red decorator gel.

Halloween Bat Sugar Cookies

You'll need bat-shaped cookie cutters to make our Halloween Bat Sugar Cookies, but the small investment is worth it in the shrieks and giggles they'll elicit. Bake our Spider Web Brownies in a pizza pan—that's right!—and drizzle white frosting over the "pie" to create the spider web. That convincing-looking spider is a fat cookie with licorice-whip legs. To bake our Boo the Friendly Ghost Cake all you need is a standard 9" x 13" pan; follow the photo to make a paper pattern, cut out the ghostly shape, and decorate with jelly beans. Our Peanut Butter and Jelly Witch Cake doesn't require any special equipment, either: just a 9"-square pan, a sharp knife, green and black food coloring, and red licorice whips for the witchy hair.

Spider Web Brownies

If the weather's cold, serve the kids and their parents small cups of Hot Mulled Cider with citrus slices. For a spectacular centerpiece, mix up a batch of Witches' Brew with a spooky surprise inside: an ice ring filled with with gummy worms!

Thanksgiving with the Family

Boo the Friendly Ghost Cake

Cranberries are the theme of the dessert course this year—beginning with Jennifer Philpot's spirited Velvet Rope cocktail. (We include a "mocktail" version in our recipe.) Serve it with our Cranberry Walnut Cake, a rich layer cake with a cream-cheese batter and whipped-cream topping. Equally delicious (and decadent): Cranberry Bread Pudding or Baked Cranberry Pudding, two welcome alternatives to traditional pies. For lighter alternatives that make good use of seasonal fruits, try our elegant, ginger-flavored Cranberry Pear Tart or quick and easy Pear and Cranberry Crisp.

Feeding a crowd? Our Cranberry Nut Cookies recipe starts with our versatile C&H All-Cookie Mix and yields four dozen yummy, chunky cookies. And bring out your prettiest punchbowl for our nonalcoholic Spiced Cranberry Punch; the recipe makes 10 to 12 punch-cup servings and can easily be doubled.

Christmas with Friends

Peanut Butter and Jelly Witch Cake

Whether you're hosting a holiday open house or an intimate evening with close friends, a festive drinks-and-dessert buffet is a sure way to get everyone circulating and chatting. Catch your guests' attention with decorative green Popcorn Trees and provide a dramatic centerpiece such as our Chocolate Truffle Cake, all "wrapped up" with red ribbon frosting. Or wow your friends with a rich and spicy dessert such as Coconut Pecan Chocolate Bread Pudding, an exclusive recipe from our good friend Emily Luchetti, the renowned San Francisco pastry chef.

Kids and adults alike will reach for Peanut Butter Reindeer Cupcakes—the "antlers" are made of pretzels! And we can guarantee oohs and aahs over our charmingly decorated Christmas Stocking Cake and ribbon-wrapped squares of White Christmas Fudge.

Chocolate Truffle Christmas Cake

What to drink? With rich desserts such as bread pudding, Jennifer Philpot suggests her original—and aptly named—Santa's Little Helper, a slightly sweet, slightly spicy twist on the classic rye-whisky cocktail, garnished with an apple chip (see this recipe for apple-chip directions). It's equally tasty without the alcohol. For a crowd, nothing takes the chill off a winter's evening like Hot Buttered Rum. The spiced butter mixture keeps well for up to a month, refrigerated, and can also be added to hot tea or cider. Our non-buttered version of Hot Mulled Cider is also delicious! And warm up on Christmas morning—or any morning during the holiday season—with cinnamony Christmas Coffee topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

New Year's Eve with Neighbors

Christmas Stocking Cake

Ring out the old year with an international spread of desserts and appetizers. In the center of the table: our Black Forest Cake—beautiful, dramatic, and brimming with ruby-red cherries. For snacking, offer baked Brie with Brown Sugar and Nuts with crackers and bowls of sweet and spicy Brown Sugar Peppered Almonds. For a snowy look, present a mixed platter of crisp Meringue Kisses (their secret is soda-cracker crumbs) and soft Turkish Delight dusted with C&H Pure Cane Powdered Sugar.

White Christmas Fudge

Sparkling punch is a traditional favorite for New Year's Eve; simply add soda water or Champagne to our Cranberry-Raspberry Punch to make it gala-worthy. Or opt for something truly spectacular: Jennifer Philpot's New Year's Countdown cocktail, a brilliant blending of vodka, citrus flavors, simple syrup, and a fizzy splash of Prosecco. Naturally, we provide a "mocktail" alternative!

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