‘Tis the Season to be Jolly!

Try visualizing a decorated pine-tree with presents lying underneath, a fireplace with stockings all over it and a really really old man dressed in red, clanging a big bell and crying out “Ho-ho-ho”. It isn’t too hard to guess that I’m talking about Christmas, the most anticipated and widely celebrated holiday among the Christian community. The big day is just around the corner and even though I don’t celebrate it, I appreciate the values it represents. It’s not just about giving out expensive gifts to your loved ones; it’s about sharing and caring for people who do not have the luxuries some of us have. For those who don’t understand the true spirit of Christmas, it’s just another uneventful day in the calendar.

Having lived outside of Pakistan for quite some time, I have had the chance to witness some really great Christmases. It’s always the same:

  • the adults constantly complaining about being short of cash during the last days of this season and maxing out all their credit cards
  • the children writing their innocent little letters to Santa and praying it won’t be too difficult for the man from the North Pole to give them all what they have requested (ergo, the broke Dad)
  • the malls setting up exciting discounts to clean out all their low-selling items and slightly perking up the prices on their best-sellers

Although I have never really attended a Christmas party, I know that home-cooked food plays a vital role in this celebration. A simple batch of customized sugar cookies is sure to perk up the mood in your household. The Royal icing recipe included in this post is quite simple, stays firm and will let you create elegant, colorful, matt-finish designs on the cookies. So get right into the kitchen with your kids and start baking!

Recipe: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 1¾ cup flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • ½ cup (115 gm) unsalted butter [at room temperature]
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract/essence

Method for Cookies

  1. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside
  2. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar using an electric beater until light and fluffy (for roughly 3 minutes)
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla essence to the butter mix until combined
  4. Now add the flour mix to the butter mix and beat until you have a smooth dough
  5. Put the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour or until it is hard enough to roll
  6. Pre-heat oven to 180º C and lightly grease two non-stick baking sheets
  7. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to an even thickness of about ¼ inch; keep picking up the rolled dough so that it doesn’t stick on the surface
  8. Cut out the cookies using your favorite shapes and put them on the baking sheet
  9. Put the baking sheets with the cookies in the fridge for about 15 minutes to cool the dough, preventing the cookies to spread out and lose their shape during baking
  10. Bake these for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown
  11. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool to room temperature on the baking sheet

Ingredients for Royal Icing

  • 2¾ cups icing/confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2tsp lemon juice
  • Food colors

Method for Royal Icing

  1. Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined
  2. Sift the sugar to remove lumps and add to the  egg mix
  3. Beat on low setting using an electric beater until nice and smooth
  4. Put in separate bowls and add food colors to them. NOTE: this icing starts hardening very quickly so keep it in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap when not in use
  5. Fill a piping bag with the icing and make your desired designs on the cookies

Mocha Java Cake

Hello Friends!

Chocolate and coffee are two flavors that blend together very nicely. Both are bitter, dark and have a mysterious aura surrounding them. People say not to have too much of both but hey, who are they to talk? At least we aren’t smoking.

Here’s a great Mocha Java recipe that you can make easily. The real beauty of this recipe is that if you are a fan of either Mocha or Java, you can double the quantities in the respective layer and skip the other (although it’s a bit hard picturing someone who hates chocolate).

Ingredients for Sponge Cake

  • 3 Eggs
  • ¼ tsp Vanilla Essence
  • 6 tbsp Castor Sugar
  • 6 tbsp or 3 oz Flour (slightly heaped)
  • 1 tbsp or 3 oz Cocoa Powder (heaped)
  • Coffee Sauce (mix ½ tsp coffee and 1½ tbsp castor sugar in ¼ cup warm water)

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180º C.
  2. Mix eggs and sugar in a bowl and beat until peaks form (light and fluffy).
  3. Add in vanilla essence, flour and cocoa powder, and fold using a rubber spatula.
  4. Pour the mixture in a 9″ inch greased Springform pan and bake for 18 to 22 minutes.
  5. Once baked, cut horizontally about ½ to 1 inch from the base; this will form the base of your cake.
  6. Place the base back in the Springform pan.
  7. Pour the coffee sauce evenly on the sponge base.

Ingredients for Java (coffee) Mousse

  • 1 tbsp Instant Coffee (use ½ tbsp more for a stronger taste)
  • 6-7 tbsp Icing Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Gelatin Powder
  • ¼ cup Water
  • 12 oz Whipped Cream (chilled)
  • ⅓ cup Milk

Method

  1. Heat water and dissolve the gelatin till it melts.
  2. Add milk, sugar and coffee to it; keep stirring on a very low flame to form a smooth mixture.
  3. Let this mixture cool at room temperature.
  4. Fold the mixture into the whipped cream with a rubber spatula.
  5. Pour this on top of the sponge base in the Springfoam pan and spread it evenly with a spatula.
  6. Keep in the freezer for 1 hour

Ingredients for Mocha (Chocolate) Mousse

  • 1 tbsp Instant Coffee (OPTIONAL – add only if you enjoy its flavor)
  • 4 oz Dark chocolate (use less for a milder taste)
  • 8 tbsp Icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp Gelatin Powder
  • ¼ cup Water
  • 12 oz Whipped Cream (chilled)
  • ½ cup Milk

Method

  1. Heat water and dissolve the gelatin till it melts.
  2. Add milk, sugar, coffee and chocolate to it; keep stirring on a very low flame till the chocolate melts, resulting in a smooth mixture.
  3. Let this mixture cool at room temperature.
  4. Fold the mixture into the whipped cream with a rubber spatula.
  5. Pour this over the Java mousse layer in the pan and spread it evenly with a spatula.
  6. Keep in the freezer for 1 hour

Ingredients for Hot Fudge

  • 2 oz Dark or Semi-sweet Chocolate (coarsely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • ½ can Condensed Milk
  • ½ a pinch of Salt
  • 2 to 3 drops Vanilla essence

Method

  1. Put the chocolate and the butter in a glass bowl and heat it in the microwave for 20 seconds
  2. Mix thoroughly and heat in the microwave at 10-second intervals (repeat if required) till it’s nice and smooth – NOTE: chocolate burns very easily so keep it in the microwave for very short intervals, and as soon as you remove from the microwave, mix vigorously with a spoon to stop the heating process
  3. Now add the condensed milk and salt to the mixture and put it in the microwave for 15-second intervals till it’s smooth
  4. Add the vanilla essence and let it cool
  5. Pour on top of the cake and put it in the freezer for another ½ hour before serving

NOTE: The fudge recipe presented at the end is really tempting and can be used as a topping for ice creams and other desserts.