Friends, I’m sorry to have been away for so long. The holidays hit like a freight train this year, albeit a very festive train loaded with delicious freight. So here is a quick list of some recipes I had success with this season.
I made this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, with one small change: I added a drop or two of peppermint extract to the whipped cream. The beauty of the icebox cake is its ease and flexibility. You don’t even have to turn on the oven. And you can combine any flavor of wafer with any flavor of whipped cream. It just begs for experimentation. Plus I like the quaint-sounding name.
Ginger lemon icebox cake
This is my own improvisation that turned out pretty delicious. It was a hit with some less-than-adventurous eaters at my family Christmas Eve dinner. Recipe below.*
Dutch apple pancake
I’ve had my eye on this recipe for quite awhile, and thought Christmas morning would be the perfect time to try it. It bakes up beautifully puffy, has layers of perfectly caramelized sliced apples in a sweet custardy center, fills your kitchen with the fragrance of cinnamon, and makes a casually chic, rustic presentation in the cast iron skillet. This is definitely something I would make again.
Smoky sweet potato soup with pistachios and bread crumbs
This is something I improvised to break in the immersion blender I was given as a Christmas gift. (!!) The soup was pretty tasty, so I’ve resolved to keep trying it until I have a proper recipe to post here.
Golden Vanilla Cake by King Arthur
My sister’s birthday is three days after Christmas, so I was looking for something classic but quick to bring to her birthday dinner. This recipe uses a technique called the “paste method.” You bring all the ingredients to room temperature, then beat the soft butter and room temperature milk into the dry ingredients. The cake turned out great, though I think mine over-baked just a tad. (Know your oven!) I baked it in a sheet pan, which made me nervous. But the consistency was smooth and light throughout. This is a good recipe to have in your arsenal for basic cake-baking. (I also added a quarter teaspoon of almond extract to the batter, along with the vanilla. I think it boosts the flavors.)
Butternut squash lasagna
My husband’s birthday is the day after New Year’s Day, and he is newly vegetarian. I made this as a main course for his birthday dinner. It truly is a genius combination of flavors. One thing I changed: to cut down on the dairy, I made the béchamel with rice milk instead of dairy milk. No one noticed. I also pureed the butternut squash filling before adding it to the lasagna, a step the recipe skips. I used the aforementioned immersion blender, but you could use a food processor, a hand mixer, or a potato masher as well. Or if you like it chunky, just leave it be.
Walnut champagne vinaigrette
I made this vinaigrette for the salad that accompanied the lasagna. Use your blender for a dreamy emulsified texture. The walnut oil has a deep toasty note and the champagne vinegar and lemon juice provide a bright contrast. It even won the affection of a certain thousand island devotee in my family, which was a pleasant surprise. (Here’s the walnut oil I used.)
Lemon honey tart
I saw this tart in the January issue of Bon Appetit and was instantly smitten. It was a great follow-up to the lasagna. Don’t you love citrus in winter? After months of heavy fare, it’s nice to lighten up after the New Year, and the tart citrus seems to fortify you for the cold months ahead. Overall, the tart turned out terrific. If I made it again though, I probably wouldn’t go to the trouble of buying Meyer lemons. I also wouldn’t include the sliced lemons in the tart filling. I didn’t care for their texture, though no one else seemed bothered by them.
*As promised, the recipe for ginger lemon icebox cake:
- One box of ginger wafers (I got mine from Trader Joe’s, but if you can’t find any in your area, you can spend $12 for a box on Amazon. Yikes.)
- One jar of lemon curd (You can make your own if you want to get fancy.)
- Two half pint cartons of whipping cream (or one pint carton if you can find it.)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- Two teaspoons vanilla extract
- A small pinch of salt
- ziplock sandwich bag or pastry bag
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, (or a regular mixing bowl if you’re using a hand mixer) combine the whipping cream, the powdered sugar, the pinch of salt, and the vanilla extract. Using the whisk attachment, gradually increase the speed, so as not to slosh the liquid over the sides of the bowl. Run the mixer on high until your cream can stand on its own and doesn’t run down the whisk when held upright.
- Take a small ziplock bag and spoon into it half the contents of the jar of lemon curd. Snip off the corner of the bag so you have a very small opening. You could also use a pastry bag for this, but we’re not going for beauty here, just utility.
- Now, you can put this in whatever kind of container you like. You can make your icebox cake in a shallow baking dish so it resembles a pudding. Or you can build it on top of a cake stand so you can see all the gorgeous layers. Since I was traveling with mine, I opted for a baking dish with a lid, which wasn’t as pretty, but it tastes the same either way, I promise.
- Smear a little whipped cream on the bottom of the dish and press the first layer of wafters into it. Spread a layer of whipped cream over the wafers. Then squeeze the lemon curd over the whipped cream. (I created a zig zag for even coverage but feel free to write something silly or draw goofy pictures. No one’s going to see them anyway.) Then add the next layer of wafers and repeat until you’re out. Top with your remaining whipped cream and some decorative drizzles of lemon curd.
- Now, cover it and let it refrigerate over night, and the next day the layers will be soft and irresistible.
- This recipe is as customizable as it is delicious. You could easily double it, or add your own spices and flavor combinations. You could make one giant pan of it for a crowd, or layer it in parfait glasses for a dinner party. You could toy with the wafer to whipped cream ratio… The possibilities are endless. Go wild!