I promised to share photos from Strasbourg, and I will (just in time for Christmas!). I have the post half-written, actually. But first, I want to brag a little bit about my mom and give some last-minute gift ideas from your kitchen. You see that adorable, clearly handmade jar of caramel sauce in the photo? That’s courtesy of my mom, and she is darn good at making caramel sauce – and chocolate sauce, and cookies, and pies, and roast chicken, and anything with a vegetable, and…. I could go on and on. She’s probably reading this post, though, so I’ll stop. (But seriously, if anyone could teach a class on cooking or write a cookbook, it’s her – and my dad, to be fair … sounds like a good task for retirement if you ask me.)
That jar was inspiring – and delicious. Caramel makes me all melty inside, and it’s pretty irresistible. It’s good on, on, well … or even plain! (Holiday Inn reference there, for those who missed it. God, I adore Fred Astaire!) My mom brought it up as a gift when she and my dad arrived for Thanksgiving at our house this year. And what a gift to give! She knows me well. Most people who love to cook also love to receive gifts of food: special spices, exotic oils, hard-to-find baking ingredients, and cookbooks, of course. I am no exception; recall my ecstasy over a Christmas gift of Penzy’s spices, for goodness sake. Of course I loved this jar of caramel! It made me want to grab a spoon and forget the world for a few slurps, but it also got my brain rolling in its cage. What homemade culinary gifts could I whip up for my family and friends?
Those thoughts turned into this article for Yahoo Voices. I recalled a visit to The Spice and Tea Exchange in Mystic, CT, this year and their rainbow of flavored salts and sugars. I remembered making fudge for my family a few Christmases ago. I remembered the wonderfully tart cranberry-orange sauce from Nigella Lawson that I made a few years ago – and promptly made again three days ago (delicious on oatmeal, spread on scones, atop cheese and crackers, or even plain!). I thought about a gift basket my mom and I made to welcome my dad’s new boss’s family from France; the basket was filled with flavored oils, homemade whole-grain mustard, and goodness knows what other heavenly delights. These happy reminisces formed the article and further inspired me to make other yummy goodies, such as the candied citrus peel I’ll be tackling tonight. In the end, no matter what I make for my loved ones, I’ll be joyfully immersed in my kitchen, and I know that love will translate to their gift. And that, after all, is what gift giving is all about.
And on another note, I just have to share my contribution to this year’s (5th annual already!) cookie exchange, which is the traditional December version of our (now-sporadic, sadly) girls cooking nights. I’d gone back and forth between several recipes – namely cinnamon stars from Strasbourg and 7-layer cookies – but decided to tackle cake balls. I’d never made these and admit they were daunting, but hey, why not try them for the first time when you have six dozen to churn out?! I’m masochistic, I know it….
Anyway, I flavored them with eggnog – because I adore eggnog this time of year, especially in my morning coffee in place of cream – and nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. They are a BEAR to make, I won’t lie, but the tips from Holly at Pemberley Bake Shoppe really helped me out. I struggled with the consistency a bit – I was surprised how much of a difference a little too much or too little frosting made to the “dough’s” rollability. Don’t add too much or you’ll end up with a wet, soggy blob. But, don’t add too little or the ball with fall apart, much like rolling dry meatballs. And my second best tip is to make sure the balls are very cold (from the freezer, even 15-30 minutes in there) for dipping; warm balls in the melted chocolate = goopy balls in the melted chocolate … which equals a mess! But it was all worth it because my girlfriends raved about these cute buggers. They are perfectly spiced – subtle and soothing – and not too sweet. In other words, savor them if for no other reason to make you feel better about all the cursing while you made them…. Merry Christmas!
Eggnog Cake Balls
I use margarine instead of butter so the balls can keep at room temp for long periods of time. But if you prefer butter, go ahead and use it.
- 1 box Butter vanilla cake mix
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ stick margarine
- 1-1½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 3-4 Tbsp eggnog
- 20-24 oz white chocolate chips
- 1½ tsp shortening
- Ground nutmeg for garnish
- Cake. Bake cake according to instructions on box, but add 1 teaspoon vanilla to mix. Let cake cool completely, then crumble in a large bowl using a fork or large spoon. You should have coarse crumbs.
- Frosting. Bring margarine up to room temperature. Beat until fluffy with a mixer. Add half of eggnog, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg and beat slowly to combine. Add half of powdered sugar carefully and beat slowly. Add the remaining eggnog, then the remaining powdered sugar. You may need to add more sugar or eggnog, depending on how the consistency turns out and your preference. Beat frosting until fluffy.
- Make cake balls. Add most of the frosting to the cake crumbs and stir until well combined. Add more frosting as necessary to get a moist mixture that can hold its shape. Using a tablespoon or scoop, form into uniform balls and roll with your hands. You should get 3 ½ dozen balls. Place on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight (cover sheet with saran wrap if leaving in the fridge overnight).
- Coat balls. Place the sheet of balls in the freezer for at least half an hour to ensure they’re cold prior to dipping. Melt the white chocolate chips and shortening atop a double boiler set above simmering water; the shortening helps the white chocolate become smooth and shiny. Stir during melting. As soon as the chocolate is melted, take the bowl off the heat and place on a towel; residual heat will keep the chocolate melted for at least half of the dipping,. You may need to reheat the chocolate, but don’t let it burn or stay on the heat too long, else it will seize up. Take 5-6 balls out of the freezer at one time and dip them, one at a time, into the chocolate. Use a long fork to support the ball as you take it out of the chocolate, and let the excess chocolate drain off, quickly. Carefully place onto a waxed or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Garnish with nutmeg – one at a time so the chocolate doesn’t harden before garnishing – and place the balls in the fridge to harden, at least an hour.