The Sweetest Season
Baking for the holidays.

Forget about eating cookie dough out of the tube. It’s oven lovin’ time. There’s just something about the holidays that makes even the busiest among us want to fire up the oven and create the best for family and friends.
The following cookbooks can help satisfy your urge to combine sugar and spice and everything nice.

“Pure Dessert ”

By Alice Medrich, Published by Artisan



This was something of an accident. I ran out of chocolate filling for the bread pudding I was trying to make, and I needed a stand-in for the visual effect. I substituted the Nutella just because it was the right color. It was the best move of the day.

Enough 1/4-inch slices of home-style or bakery white bread or baguette, with or without the crusts, to cover the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish, not too tightly, with 2 layers of bread
1/4 to 1/3 cup Nutella
5 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the bread in the bottom of the baking dish to make sure you have sliced enough to make two layers.
Remove the bread from the dish. If the bread is fresh, lay slices on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes on each side or until very lightly toasted. Let the slices cool.
Spread one side of each slice of bread with Nutella. Cut or break large whole slices (not baguette slices) into 4 pieces each. Arrange the bread, Nutella side facing up, in the baking dish in one layer of overlapping pieces, with rounded crusts or trimmed angles showing attractively.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream. Pour the egg mixture through a strainer into the baking dish. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap and press any floating bread pieces back into the egg mixture. Let stand for at least 15 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
Uncover the pudding and place it in a baking pan large enough to hold it with a little space on all sides, and then into the oven.
Pull the oven rack out and carefully pour enough boiling water into the large pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake until a knife inserted into the pudding comes out free of custard (or with a little Nutella clinging to it), 50 to 55 minutes. Cool for at least 1 hour.
Serve the pudding warm or at room temperature. Cold leftover pudding is divine, but you could also reheat it in the microwave on medium power for a few seconds.
Serves 6 to 8.


With crunchy edges and a chewy center, beautifully crackled on top, spicy, and loaded with diced crystallized ginger, this is my favorite spice cookie. When no one is around, I dip these into a carton of milk.

2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and just warm
1/4 cup mild or full-flavored molasses
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablepoons finely minced or grated fresh ginger root
1 large egg
3/4 cup ginger chips or crystallized ginger, cut into 1/4-inch dice
About 1/4 cup granulated sugar for rolling

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt, and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine the warm butter, molasses, both sugars (except that for rolling), fresh ginger and the egg in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and ginger chips and stir until incorporated. The dough will be soft.

Form the dough into 1-inch balls (1/2 ounce of dough for each). Roll balls in the remaining sugar and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.

Bake, rotating the sheets from back to front and top to bottom about halfway through the baking, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they puff up and crack on the surface and then begin to deflate in the oven. For chewier cookies, remove them from the oven when at least half or more of the cookies have begun to deflate; for crunchier edges with chewy centers, bake a minute or so longer.

Slide the parchment sheets of cookies onto cooling racks or use an offset spatula to transfer the cookies, and cool completely. Stored in an airtight container, gingersnaps keep for several days.

Makes 56 cookies of 2-1/4 inches each.

"Southern Cakes"
By Nancie McDermott,
Published by Chronicle Books



3-1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small bowl. Set the milk and flour mixtures aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar together with a mixer at high speed until light and well combined, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well each time. Add the mashed sweet potatoes and mix at low speed for 1 minute, or until the batter is evenly mixed.

Add about half the flour mixture and beat gently, using a wooden spoon or a mixer at low speed, only until the flour disappears into the batter. Add half the milk and mix gently to combine everything well. Mix in the remaining flour, and then the remaining milk, beating gently only until you have a thick, smooth batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tube pan, and bake at 350 degrees for between 60 and 75 minutes, or until the cake is evenly browned and springs back when touched gently in the center.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack or a folded kitchen towel for 20 minutes. Then use a table knife to loosen the cake from the pan. Turn out the cake onto a wire rack, place it top side up, and cool to room temperature.

Serves 8 to 10.


Two 8-ounce packages (about 2 cups) whole dates
1-/4 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs, separated

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan generously, and line the bottom with waxed paper or kitchen parchment.

Chop the dates coarsely, and then combine them with the nuts in a large bowl. Sprinkle the flour over them and stir well, mixing the dates and nuts together and coating everything with flour. Mix in the sugar, and then add the melted butter to the bowl. Use a large spoon or a spatula to combine everything well. Add the vanilla to the egg yolks and use a fork to beat them well. Stir the egg yolks into the date mixture. The batter will be very thick and chunky.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer at high speed, until they swell into a soft, puffy white cloud, shiny but not dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beaten egg whites to the thick batter, and fold everything together very gently, leaving a few streaks of egg white in the batter.

Scrape the batter into the loaf pan. Bake at 250 degrees for P/2 hours, until golden brown and firm (and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

Cool in the pan on a wire rack or folded kitchen towel for 30 minutes. Then turn out onto a wire rack, turn top side up, and cool completely before slicing. Keep tightly wrapped in foil or in a cake tin. To season the cake, cover the top of the cake with thin slices of apple, wrap it tightly in foil, and store at room temperature for I week.

Serves 6 to 8.


"Baking Boot Camp"
By the Culinary Institute of America and Darra Goldstein,
Published by John Wiley & Sons



This recipe captures the essence of autumn. I like to bake pumpkin bread throughout the win ter -- it delivers the same heady aroma and flavor as pumpkin pie without the overload of butter and cream. This is a good bread to serve with a main-course salad or on its own at breakfast with a cream-cheese spread.

1/2 cup raisins
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup pureed cooked pumpkin (fresh, canned or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Plump the raisins by pouring boiling water over them, letting them rest for about 10 minutes, then draining. Grease and flour two 9-inch loaf pans.

Sift together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In another bowl, combine the raisins, pumpkin, sugar, eggs and oil, and mix well. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture all at once, and mix just until the dry ingredients are blended into the batter.

Transfer the batter into the prepared loaf pans and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Let the breads cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes. Ease them out of the pans and continue cooling on a rack.

Ma kes 2 loaves.


Cranberries appear in the markets in the fall, just in time for Thanksgiving baking. I always buy extra and freeze them for use throughout the year.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 tablespoons orange zest
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
3-1/2 cups cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch loaf pans. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and orange zest, scraping down the bowl between additions.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside X cup of the flour mixture. Add the remaining dry ingredients to the creamed mixture in thirds, alternating with milk, and blend until thoroughly incorporated. Dust the cranberries with the reserved flour mixture and fold into the batter.

Divide the batter between the loaf pans. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.

Makes 2 loaves.