holiday baking





Oh my goodness. I cannot stop thinking about fruit fillings. I need to start making my own jam, but that’s an adventure for another day. Recently, I was going on about how much I love making lemon curd, and I’ve been feeling he need to make some sort of filling since then.

A few days ago, I headed down to Wicker Park and got some yarn so I could start working on a blanket for my sister. It’s going to be pretty! It’s a tradition I have with my roommate that if we go to Nina, we also go to Alliance and grab some macarons, or some kind of treat. I got this little milk chocolate mousse/cake heart that was filled with passionfruit curd. It was too good!! I started looking up where I could find passionfruit for baking, and last night, I struck gold in Albany Park at Chicago Produce.

I got some puree that was frost-bitten and way in the back of the freezer. The juice thawed overnight in the fridge and I got to work in the morning.

I made a fairly small amount (for making cookies, not filling a cake), so the work was fast. Also, I’ve started getting into making gifts for people, and I think I need to learn how to properly jar these fillings. My roommate brought some lemon curd home from a NYE party hosted by a chef, and I used some to fill macarons…in March. It was wonderful, because it was jarred.

People’s scones don’t know they’re missing passionfruit curd, but trust me, they are.

Please bring me butter…peanut butter.

A long time ago, I was assigned this ridiculous orange rental car that i dubbed “the venga bus.” My boyfriend wanted badly to drive the monstrosity, so even though I had miraculously found a parking spot in front of his place, I let him take it for a spin around the block. Naturally, the spot was gone when we’d finished joyriding. We spent the next ten or so minutes driving around Roscoe Village, hunting for a place to park.

We ended up parking on a really busy road, having totally given up on finding a spot on a residential street. As we made the seemingly epic journey back to his building, a voice called out to us from the gated window of a garden apartment. Actually, the voice was in no way intended for us, but we heard it.

“You tell him, don’t bring me nothing with no butter in it!”

Nothing special there. Just a lady on the phone. Moving along.

“…No peanut butter!”

That was the beginning of what has been a long-cherished inside joke for us. Reading back over what I just wrote, I find myself giggling in very much the same way I did when I first heard that amazing woman. I also realize that it might be not at all funny to persons who weren’t there that night.

It was the gravity with which she explained exactly which kind of butter she did not want to be brought. That’s what made it so amazing. When I’ve had a few beers, that’s what makes me randomly remind my man not to bring me any peanut butter. Ever. For any reason.

The really funny thing is that lately, he’s been on a peanut butter kick. When I insisted he let me bake his birthday cake, guess what he asked for.

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deb’s working class french toast

My dad taught me a lot about cooking when I was very young. I learned to make pizza dough and pancake batter from scratch before I was ten. Dad usually made dinner and Mom only really cooked for my sisters and me when he was away. She’d almost always make french toast for dinner and often, my dad would complain that he felt terrible about the way we had to eat when he was on the road. Maybe my sisters missed his fancy steaks and sweet potato fries and grilled salmon, but I was always more than happy to sit in the living room, eating my absolute favorite breakfast while I watched some weeknight sitcom lineup.

Perhaps ironically, I didn’t learn to make my mom’s french toast until I was nearly out of the house. Maybe it was more magical not to know, but enlightenment has made this simple breakfast an absolute staple. For my first several attempts I would repeatedly ask my mom, how much sugar? or how much milk? It took a while to feel out the ratios and get it just right. These days, it’s second nature. I can light the burners and have my custard ready before the pan’s heated.

More than easy, this french toast in unpretentious and inexpensive. You probably have everything you need and if you don’t, just leave it out. Unless it’s eggs or bread… It’s also really generous. You’ll get a ton of food for each person. If you aren’t as hungry as I am when I make this, save the custard for the next time you are hungry (Maybe later that day? I wouldn’t keep it too long.) Make this in the mornings for the one who nudges you awake and reads your silly blog or the one who coughs up half the rent. Make it in the evenings and enjoy it while you catch up on your stories.

deb’s working class french toast
serves two

for the custard
4 eggs
1/2ish cup milk or heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff, of course)

In a shallow baking dish or pie dish, use a fork to go to town on the eggs. You can also use a whisk, but I find that a fork is really the best tool for this job, since we’re working in a shallow dish and really just combining stuff.

Add the milk, sugar, and vanilla and make sure you work it in really well with the eggs, which can be a little resistant their additions but should come around. I like to put a lot of cinnamon in my french toast, but put in as much as you think you’d like. You really won’t taste it that much, which is why I go kind of heavy. You can alternately sprinkle cinnamon on your finished french toast but that’s not what Deb did…

Dip slices of bread into your custard, being sure to saturate both sides, and cook them on a griddle or saute pan that’s been preheated over a medium flame and greased. I use cheap white loaf bread (bimbo or saralee if I just got paid or I’m celebrating something. wink.) which I keep in the freezer. You can actually get awesome french toast using the still frozen slices. I have yet to find a white bread that doesn’t work. I have also never found a wheat bread that does work. That’s a warning to you. I like wheat bread, but not in my french toast.

Occasionally, I get bread from the bakery where I work, or use bread I’ve made for the french toast. When I do this, I still tend to go with simple white breads, as I feel they yield optimum nostalgia and flavor. However, anyone who is a fan of this dish will already be aware that you can get amazing french toast from fruity breads such as panettone, or fancy high fat breads such as challah and broiche. I maintain that the custard is where it’s at, and that my mom’s working class french toast is the best that I have ever had. And I can’t remember ever seeing a name brand or artisan loaf of bread in the house.

I’m not a proponent of putting butter on your french toast. Strictly syrup for me, but do what makes you happy. Thanksgiving morning, I made myself this french toast and served it with some chantilly and bits of pecan.

Berries and Blood Orange with Créme Chantilly

Berries and Blood Orange with Créme Chantilly

Mixed Berries and Blood Orange with Créme Chantilly
serves two
1/2 cup blackberries*
1/2 cup raspberries*
2-3 blood oranges, supremed
prepared créme chantilly

* If your berries are frozen, put them into a cast iron pan for a bit. They’ll thaw in no time.

Layer everything into four wine glasses and you’re good to go. This is a really awesome dessert for when you’re entertaining, and you want something that looks good, without going all out. It’s also excellent when you need to practice chantilly for midterms (my case). ;]

Créme Chantilly
8 oz heavy whipping creme or créme fraîche
1.25 oz powdered sugar
.5 oz – .9 oz vanilla extract

Chill your bowl and whip in the freezer prior to beginning, and keep your creme very cold. When your utensils are nice and chilled, whip your creme in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks. Do this by slowly bringing the mixer up to medium speed. It’ll take a bit for soft peaks to form, but once they’re there, things move pretty quick so keep an eye on things.

Next, add your powdered sugar a little at a time, waiting for the first bit to be incorporated before adding the next. Adding everything at once will overwhelm the mixture, curdling the creme. Add your vanilla. Mix until you have semi-firm peaks and refrigerate until ready to use.

Rosca de Reyes


I never celebrated Three Kings Day (or Epiphany) until my boyfriend introduced me to the holiday in 2006. Lots of countries celebrate by taking part in different traditions. In Mexico, before bed, little ones leave shoes filled with hay for the camels of the wise men, and in the morning they have been given small presents. I don’t know if this is how F celebrated when he was a little one in Mexico, but these days, we just eat Rosca de Reyes, which is a delicious ring of rich, sweet bread, flavored with orange blossom and topped with colored sugar and candied fruit.

The secret ingredient to the Rosca de Reyes is of course a tiny baby Jesus. Whoever finds the little plastic baby has been specially blessed, but must now throw a party for everyone in February. It’s a fun game to play while you’re dipping this awesome dessert bread into hot chocolate. I don’t have a recipe for the Rosca, but I can tell you how to make excellent Mexican hot chocolate. We like to buy a loaf of warm bread and dip it into the chocolate when it’s cold.

Fill up a sauce pan with about 16oz of whole milk and start it simmering. Drop in a half block of Mexican chocolate, like Ibarra or Nestle Abuelita. Stir until the chocolate is melted into the milk and let it simmer until it gets nice and foamy over the top of the sauce pan. Put the liquid into a blender and blend to make sure everything is incorporated.

(Since you have to dirty up the blender anyway, you may as well make 4 times that amount :] )