Snowflake Cookies

Born and raised in a tropical country means that snow is a magical event that happens only in films, cartoons and fairy tales. Years ago my husband and I had a pleasure to spend our Christmas in the charm city of Munich. We were walking in the middle of Marienplatz, just few hours before midnight in December 24th, when it started to snow. There was a huge Christmas tree all lined with beautiful lights, and the square was also totally decorated. And then everything became beautifully white. Could you image a better scenario to see snow for the first time? That was certainly one of the most beautiful and magical Christmas of my life.

The first snow of this winter in Beachwood was last Saturday. I could stay hours and hours watching the light snowflakes falling and slowly touching the branches of the trees and the last leaves of the autumn. That moment made me hypnotized because I always remembered my Christmas Eve in Munich and also  my visit to the Bavarian Alps and The Schloss Neuschwanstein

So I made these snowflakes cookies to celebrate this moment. Sugary cookies decorate with peppermint royal icing are perfect Christmas treats.

I wish you and yours a very wonderful Christmas!

Snowflakes Cookies Decorated with Peppermint Royal Icing

Sugar cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Assorted candies, sprinkles, or colored sugars, for decorating (optional)

In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks. 

Peppermint Royal Icing

2 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons meringue powder
Scant 1 cup water, plus more if needed
1/2 tablespoon peppermint oil

With an electric mixer on low speed, beat ingredients until fluffy, 7 to 8 minutes. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container (royal icing hardens quickly when exposed to air) and refrigerate up to 1 week. Stir well with a flexible spatula before using.
Thin icing as needed by stirring in additional water, one teaspoon at a time. For piping designs, add just enough water that icing is no longer stiff; for floodwork, add water until icing is the consistency of honey.


Almond Cake with Date Mascarpone Filling and a Gum Paste Poinsettia

It has been a while that I don’t model a gum paste flower. While I was planning my holiday cake, I started to think first which flower I should use to decorate it. Well, the answer for this question was very simple! There is a flower that represents one of the most popular symbols of the Christmas: Poinsettia.

This beautiful flower is native to Mexico. Around the 17th century, the Franciscan missionaries, settled in an area of Southern Mexico, started to use them in Christian ceremony. But just in 1825, the poinsettia was introduced into the United States by Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

There is a very interesting Mexican tale that explains how poinsettia became a Christmas symbol. A young girl named Pepita would like to offer a present to Christ Child in the Christmas Eve celebration. But she was very poor and didn’t have money to buy him a present. So an angel appeared and advised her to gather a bouquet of ragged-looking flowering weeds. As Pepita walked toward the altar, her tears fall upon the weeds and they miraculously turn into glorious red blooms of poinsettia.

Backing to the cake, I made a delicious almond cake. It has almonds, rice flour and some healthy ingredients like coconut oil. It is also a gluten free cake. For the filling I made a simple cream with medjool dates and mascarpone cheese. The combination between the sweetness of dates with the light flavor of the mascarpone creates a delicate cream.

Almond Cake with Date Mascarpone Filling 

Almond Cake
(makes 1 round 7 in cake)

2 1/2 cups whole almonds
1 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup agave nectar

Preheat oven to 350F
Place the almonds and rice flour in a food processor. Process until the almonds are finely ground. Combine the almond flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon in a bowl. In another bowl combine eggs, coconut oil and agave. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Bake the cake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.

Date Mascarpone Cream

10 medjool dates
12 oz mascarpone cream

Place the medjool dates and mascarpone in a food processor. Process until form a smooth cream.


Gingerbread House

The gingerbread (Lebkuchen in German) was created by medieval monks in the 13th century. But the tradition of baking gingerbread house (Lebkuchenhaus) started only in the 19th century. In this time, the Brothers Grimm published a collection of fairy tale, including “Hansel and Gretel”.

Do you remember this part of the story?

“In the middle of the clearing was a little house made entirely of gingerbread! The roof was tarred with icing, the window frames were licorice, and the trees and bushes in the yard were made of gumdrops and lollipops! Hansel and Gretel were so hungry they ran to the house and began to lick and nibble it!

I think many children wish to find a house like that and eat it all without guilt. At least, that’s how I felt every time my beloved grandma told me this story. By the way, this was my first gingerbread house and I had such a great time making it. I took the recipe from Martha Stewart’s website. I loved! You can find everything there, as the gingerbread and royal icing recipes, templates and how to assemble the house.


Grapefruit Macarons

With my eyes on the oven, I watched carefully tiny cookies becoming my first successful macarons shells: fine crust and their distinctive “foot” or pied on the bottom. Make macarons was a sweet dream since I start this blog. I’m fascinated for those charming almond shells and their delightful possibilities of flavors. But only last week I had a reliable result.

After several frustrating attempts, it seems to me a Christmas miracle. Or not! Maybe this time I made correctly the macaronnage and the drying time. Some bakers attribute those steps as crucial to obtain the perfect macaron. For those of you not familiar with the terms, macaronnage is the term for mixing the almond flour and meringue until the batter becomes nicely firm. This video helped me a lot to understand how exactly to do that.  After pipe the batter on the baking sheet, the dry time is very important. 

Allow the cookies to rest are what cause the fine macaron crust and the foot. I made some tests with different length of drying times and the best result was with the cookies dried for 2 hours as the book Miette advises.  I tried to bake some cookies without drying, but the shells cracked and the foot didn’t form. I also tried drying them for just one hour. Although they developed the foot, the crust cracked.

About the flavor, I love grapefruit and its sweet and tart taste. You can also substitute the grapefruit for another season citrus that like most, as Clementine and orange.

The art of baking these delectable confections is intriguing. Conquering the perfect balance of chewiness and crispness is pleasurable. I have to confess you that my felling when a saw my first macarons was wonderful: smiles on my face, happiness, and the desire to make more and more of those French morsels of beauty and savor.

Grapefruit Macarons

Ingredients for the shells
(from the book Miette)
(makes eighteen 1-inch sandwich cookies)

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) whole almonds - I used blanched almonds
2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) powdered sugar
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest


Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 1 1/2-inch bottle cap as a template, draw 1-inch circles in rows on the paper, about 1 inch apart. You should have room for eighteen circles on each sheet.

Place half of the almonds and half of the powdered sugar in a food processor. Process for 30 seconds, until the almonds are finely ground. Pour the mixture into a separate bowl, and repeat the process with the remaining almonds and powdered sugar. Sift  or strain through a sieve to remove any lumps. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar and whisk on high speed until very stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about one-third of the almond mixture into the egg whites. Fold in the remaining mixture in two more additions, just until the ingredients are completely combined.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium (1/2- or 5/8-inch) round tip and fill the bag with the meringue. Pull up the cuff and twist it to seal and tighten the meringue down into the cone. Purge the bag of air bubbles by squeezing the bag. Keep the bag tightly twisted so that meringue doesn't come back up on your hands. Using the template as a guide, pipe 1-inch circles, 1/2 to 3/4 inch high, onto the baking sheets. Set the room temperature for 2 hours. this allows the macarons to develop their distinctive crust and a "foot"or base on the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Bake the macarons until set but not browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the macarons cool completely on the pans. When they are cool, use your fingers to carefully lift half of the cookies from the parchment and turn them upside down. Using a pastry bag fitted a medium (1/2- or 5/8-inch) round tip and filled with either the grapefruit buttercream, squeeze a nickle-size dollop of filling onto each of the upside-down cookies, and then top with the remaining macarons to complete the sandwich cookies.

Store the macarons, refrigerated, in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature.

Grapefruit Buttercream

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 teaspoon grated grapefruit zest

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, sugar and milk until smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla, grapefruit juice and zest. Stir until well combined and smooth. 


Candy Cane Brigadeiro

Who would say that a simple sugar candy originated around 1600’s in Europe to decorate Christmas trees would become one of the most traditional Christmas symbol. These peppermint flavored sticks has sweetened the holidays in many ways: cake, cupcake, cookie, brownie, bark, macaron and why not say brigadeiro.

Brigadeiro is a classic Brazilian treat presented in almost our celebrations. It is basically made with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate and butter. To my version of candy cane brigadeiro, I added peppermint oil and coated with crushed candy cane. I prepared two flavors, one with bittersweet chocolate and another with white chocolate.  I really enjoyed those combinations and I hope they sweeten your Christmas too.

Candy Cane Brigadeiro

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
100g bittersweet chocolate (I used Callebaut Belgian Chocolate) - or 100g white chocolate to make the white chocolate version
teaspoon peppermint oil

Pour the condensed milk into a medium saucepan and place over low heat.
Add the chocolate, butter and peppermint oil. Stir the mixture until it starts to show the bottom of the pan while you scrape it with a spoon. The mixture should be thick enough to show the bottom of the pan for a few seconds before the mixture back again. Transfer to a greased bowl. Let it cool, make little balls and then coated with crushed candy cane.


Guava Marmalade Panettone

I think everyone has a traditional treat on their memory that idealizes the festive expressions for these holidays. Sometimes it’s hard enough to wait twelve months to savor their wonderfully delicious flavor. For me, having panettone for the holidays is a truly delight. It is one of the baking treats that give the real sense of Christmas time.

This year my version of panettone has a rich ingredient in flavor and aroma: guava marmalade. My first attempt to make something with guava turned it into a successful cheesecake. With the panettone wasn’t different. It was so moist and flavor, exactly the taste that brings all the comforting and good feelings.

Guava Marmalade Panettone
(adapted from the book The Modern Baker, Nick Malgieri)

Makes 1 tall 9-inch (23-cm) cake, about 16 servings or 8 mini and 1 medium cake.

4 teaspoons (about 1 ½ envelopes) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, about 110°F (45°C)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
(spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extraxt
3 large eggs
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large egg yolks
1lb guava marmalade, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the
 sugar for sprinkling
One 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan, buttered and lined
with a disk of parchment or buttered wax paper cut to fit/ or decorative panettone baking papers.

To make the sponge, whisk the yeast into the water in a small bowl. Thoroughly stir
 in the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside while you prepare the
other ingredients, about 20 minutes.

2. Combine the butter, sugar, salt, orange zest, almond, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place the bowl on the mixer with the paddle and beat on low to medium speed until well mixed, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition.

3. Remove the bowl from the mixer (leave the paddle in the bowl) and scrape in the sponge. Place the bowl back on the mixer and beat on low speed until the sponge is incorporated. On lowest speed, beat in 2 cups of the flour. Beat in the egg yolks, beating smooth afterward. Beat in the remaining cups flour and continue beating until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

4. Add the guava to the bowl and beat the dough again until they are evenly distributed—the dough will be very soft. Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room.

5. Use a large rubber spatula inserted between the bowl and the dough to fold the dough over on itself, from the outside in, all around it. Invert the dough to a floured surface and round it slightly. Slide your hands under the dough and drop it into the prepared pan. Gently press the top of the dough to make it flat and even. Cover the pan with buttered plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it fills the pan, about 11/2 hours. 

6. About 20 minutes before the dough is fully risen, set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F (180°C).

7. Brush the
panettones with melted butter and sprinkle sugar. Bake the panettone until it is well risen, deep golden, and a toothpick or the point of a small knife inserted into the center of the cake emerges clean, about 40 minutes. Cool
the panettone in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold it onto the rack, turn it right side up again, and brush it all over with melted butter. Cool the panettone completely.

    Storage: After the panettone has cooled, double wrap
it in plastic wrap and keep it at room temperature
for a few days. Freeze for longer storage. Defrost
and bring to room temperature before serving.


Gingerbread Tree Cookies

"It’s the most wonderful time of the year!" With this song in my head I trimmed my Christmas tree today. As the song says the holiday season is the most exciting and emotional time of the year for me and trim the Christmas tree is a warm welcome to this magical month. It's so good the recollections of my childhood when my mother, my sister and I used to made this action a great event. I have clear memories of my satisfaction to place each ornament one by one until the final decoration. The expectation for presents, shopping, candies, panettones, Christmas dinner and the family reunion were fabulous and I'm trying to keep this delightful sense of wonder alive. 

After my wedding, setting up a tree at my new home became even more special. Over the years, I’ve been collecting some ornaments from the places I've visited. One that I really like is the crystal angel from the Munich Christmas Market.

So to celebrate this special event of the day I made some delicious gingerbread tree cookies decorated with marshmallow fondant. They are so cutie that you can use them as ornaments as well as a gift. With these gingerbread tree cookies I start my Christmas series and I hope you enjoy the ideas for your holidays!

Gingerbread Tree Cookies
(fron the book Willians-Sonoma Cooking at Home)

2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
¾  cups (6 oz/185g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼  cup unsulfured molasses
2 egg yolks
Decorating sugars and pastes as desired

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the brown sugar and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses, beating until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg yolks one at a time.

Sift the flour mixture mixture directly onto the butter mixture. Beat just until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a smooth mound and divide into 3 equal portions. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat an oven to 400ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove 1 dough disk at a time from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Place the dough between 2 sheets of parchment or waxed paper and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 to 3/8 inch. This thickness is important to ensure the baked cookies will fit together.

Dip the cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes. Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather up the scraps, reroll them and cut out additional cookies. For best results, do not reroll scraps more than once. Refrigerate the cookies until firm, about 20 minutes.

Bake the cookies until golden browned on the edges, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets, then decorate as desired.


Maple Apple Pie

Some weeks ago, in a pleasant Monday morning, my husband and I went to the Patterson Fruit Farm to pick up some apples. Honey crisp, Macintosh, Golden Delicious and Gala. These are some of the varieties that we found there. There were more kinds of apple there too, but most of them were new to me and I could just remember those. Among all those options we gathered beautiful apples avid to make our first apple pie. In my imagination when I think of this iconic American dessert, I always see a warm pie even with a fragrant swirling steam cooling on the kitchen counter like in the old cartoons I watched when I was a child.

Making my own apple pie was very exciting! First I prepared the dough. To obtain a perfect pie crust I left it resting overnight on the fridge, and then I make the apple filling with maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. During the baking, when the top crust starts to became golden I brushed the entire crust with milk and sprinkled some sugar and cinnamon. The flavors of the juicy compote filling covered by the sugary crust were sensational. How wonderful was enjoy this traditional dessert on a typical autumn evening!

Maple Apple Pie
(adapted from here)

For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
10 Tbs. (1 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter,
  cut into pieces
10 Tbs. cold vegetable shortening, cut into
7 Tbs. ice water
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

For the filling:

2 1/2 lb. baking apples, peeled, cored,
  quartered and cut lengthwise into slices 1/2
  inch thick
1/2 cup sugar, plus more as needed
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup maple syrup
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 Tbs. milk
Sugar and cinnamon for dusting


To make the pastry, in a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center, add the butter and shortening and, using your fingertips, rub them into the flour mixture until small, flat pieces form. In a cup or small bowl, combine the water and vinegar. Using a fork, gently mix just enough of the liquid into the flour mixture so it comes together in a rough ball; do not overwork. Discard the remaining liquid. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

To make the filling, in a bowl, toss together the apples, the 1/2 cup sugar (adding more to taste if the apples are tart), cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup.

Preheat an oven to 400°F.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half of the dough (leave the other half refrigerated) into a 12-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Fold the dough in half and then into quarters and transfer it to a 9-inch pie dish. Unfold and gently press into the bottom and sides of the dish. Trim the edges even with the rim. Roll out the remaining dough into a 10-inch round about 1/8 inch thick.

Turn the apples into the pastry-lined pan, mounding them slightly in the center. Dot evenly with the butter. Brush the edges of the dough with water. Fold the dough round into quarters and unfold over the apples. Press together the top and bottom crusts to seal, then trim the edges flush with the rim of the dish and crimp to form an attractive edge. Make a few slits near the center to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 25 minutes. Brush with milk and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and continue to bake until the apples are tender (insert a knife blade through a slit) and the top is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the pie cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Makes one 9-inch pie; serves 8.


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