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It’s that time of year. Butter and sugar and chocolate and flour come out of the pantry and the holiday baking begins. Cookies and cakes, buche de noel, Chanukah doughnuts, Kwanzaa pies and casseroles.
Holiday traditions are deeply steeped in many families, but there’s always room for new favorites. With that thought in mind, here are four recipes from my kitchen to yours with the hope that they will expand your repertoire and build new traditions.
Chanukah, which began on Dec. 18 and ends on Dec. 26, traditions include serving food fried in oil — specifically potato pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts. These Moroccan doughnuts, dusted in spices or dipped in a saffron-cardamom syrup will add great new flavor to your holiday table. For Christmas, a crunchy biscotti (twice-baked Italian cookie) flavored with tangerine and toasted pecans. The cookie is then dipped into semi-sweet chocolate or served plain. And individual chocolate souffle cakes with a layer of fruit hidden in the middle are surprisingly simple and have a big wow effect. Best of all the mini souffle cakes can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to a week. (I’ve given baking times for all those possibilities.)
And finally a sweet potato pie with maple-glazed pecans to celebrate Kwanzaa, which begins Dec. 26 and ends on New Year’s Day.
And it wouldn’t be the holidays in my house with homemade buttercrunch. Every year I make many batches of this sweet, crunchy candy; it's way easier to make than you might think and makes a great holiday gift.
The recipe for these airy doughnuts comes from an old family recipe of Ron and Leetal Arazi, owners of New York Shuk, a terrific spice company. Sfenj are a Hanukkah tradition in the Arazi household. With the help of their two young children, Lily and Sol, they fry up a batch of these yeasted doughnuts every December.
There are several elements that make this recipe unique. The dough sits until it doubles in volume and is bubbling with life. The doughnuts are free form (no special equipment needed), and fried until golden brown and crisp on the outside, yet still airy and light inside. They are then drizzled with a saffron-cardamom syrup or can be dusted with a sugar and cinnamon mixture. You can also add New York Shuk’s Ras El Hanout or Kafe Hawaij, which bring great flavor to the sugar dusting.
The Arazis will be doing a free Sfenj master class on Zoom on Dec. 22 at 5:30 EST. You can get more information or sign up here.
Make the doughnut mixture at least 2 hours ahead of time and then fry them to order. Like most fried foods they don’t taste great after sitting around for hours. You can make both the cinnamon sugar and the saffron-cardamom syrup, or simply serve one.
This recipe makes about 12 medium-small doughnuts, but can easily be doubled for a crowd.
I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin pie, but this sweet potato pie, surrounded by maple-glazed pecans, won me over. It’s ideal to serve for Kwanzaa or any winter holiday. There are a few elements that make this pie special: The potatoes are roasted and not boiled making their texture more appealing. And there’s not a ton of sugar in the pie. It’s subtly sweet, but not cloying.
The pie can be made several hours ahead of time and left at room temperature until ready to serve. Serve with whipped cream.
These twice-baked Italian cookies are flavored with tangerine zest and juice and toasted pecans. They are then dipped into semi-sweet chocolate to create a crunchy, not-too-sweet biscotti. These cookies are delicious dipped into hot cocoa or coffee, or served with a pot of tea. They will keep at least 10 days in a tightly sealed tin or container.
Makes about 2 ½ to 3 dozen biscotti.
Variation for candy cane crushed biscotti: For a festive touch you can sprinkle crushed candy canes (place candy canes in a plastic sealed bag and use a rolling pin to crush them and crack them into small bits) on the biscotti while the chocolate is still wet and hasn’t completely dried.
This is not a souffle in the technical sense of the word. It’s more like a cross between a chocolate molten cake and a mini souffle. The “cake” is done when it’s still gooey in the middle and the top is puffed and domed. It’s not meant to be baked all the way through, but still be ooey-gooey in the middle.
The cakes can be made hours or days ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen before baking. Varying baking times are given below.
And it wouldn’t be the holidays in my house without homemade buttercrunch. Click here for a recipe or watch:
This segment aired on December 20, 2022.
Kathy Gunst Twitter Resident Chef, Here & Now Kathy Gunst is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks.
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