Hot Chocolate and the holidays just go hand-in-hand. That warm cozy feeling in your tummy while gathered around the fire or Christmas tree with loved ones is what Christmas is all about.
Daughter, Sarah, requested that we try this recipe for Christmas morning 2012 and it was delicious. It took a little longer to heat in the crock pot so allow plenty of time for it to warm to serving temperature.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!
CHRISTMAS CROCK POT HOT CHOCOLATE
1.5 cups heavy cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
2 cups milk chocolate chips
6 cups milk (I used 1%)
1 tsp. vanilla
Stir together the whipping cream, milk, vanilla, and chocolate chips in a crock pot.
Cover and cook on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot and chocolate chips are melted.
Every Christmas, for many years, we have made Cinnamon Hard Candy. I’ve often wondered how Peppermint hard candy would taste and it is also very good. My girls are freaked out by the blue color but you could also make it without any food coloring if you are smurf-adverse.
PEPPERMINT HARD CANDY
1 cup white sugar
1 cup Karo syrup
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil (usually behind the prescription counter at your grocery store)
1/4 teaspoon blue food coloring powdered sugar
Combine sugar, syrup and water in a sauce pan.
Boil without stirring, over medium-high heat until it reaches hard crack stage (300-310 degrees).
Once the candy starts to thicken and turn golden brown, watch carefully or it can scorch.
When done, remove from heat and quickly add peppermint oil and food coloring.
Pour into a metal pan that has been lined with about 1/4 to 1/3″ powdered sugar.
Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of candy immediately. Let cool until the edges start to firm up and then immediately begin to score the pieces from around the edges and keep cutting inward, in squares, as the candy hardens. This makes it easier to break into more uniform pieces once the candy has hardened.
Aunts and Uncles are a bit like Grandparents. They get to spoil the nieces and nephews, shower them with affection and love, and leave when they are amped up on sugar and fun. It’s a good gig! I was an Aunt at age 7 and grew up with my niece and two nephews. It was wonderful having playmates and helping out my older sister and brother. A highlight of every year was when they came to stay with us and go to Bible School at the rural Carlton Brethren Church, a half mile from our house. There were sticker charts, ice cream, indoor picnics, dress-up (sorry Jeff and Duane), and so many stories!
After college I moved out-of-state and was always sad not to be closer to my family but treasured each of the visits back to see everyone. I was very fortunate to have wonderful Aunts and Uncles as well. Not all of them lived close but my siblings and I always knew we were loved with the hugs/kisses that went with their visits.
At this state of my life, I have 3 Aunts and 1 Uncle. Uncle Jack will be 90 this month and planning a big celebration. Aunt Joyce (Jack’s wife) turned 86 in February. Aunt Lora (also my Mother’s BFF in school) turned 94 this year. Aunt Wilma will turn 100 next June. From these wonderful people I learned the importance of family/loyalty, laughter, music, traditional dishes prepared for holidays and family gatherings.
Several years ago, when camcorders were new to the market, we traveled to Iowa with our newborn daughter to celebrate Christmas. Christmas Eve day several of my family members were visiting at my Mother’s House.
We turned on the camcorder asked our family members ‘what is your favorite Christmas memory?’ I tear up just thinking about it. The heart-warming, loving, funny, and sarcastic stories were great at the time but are true treasures now.
This holiday season let’s spend our time BEING PRESENT and sharing stories for our children and grandchildren to treasure. Break out the smart phone and make a video, perhaps the best PRESENT of the season!
Crunchy Potato Casserole is a yummy side dish and family favorite. It has become tradition served with Christmas and Easter ham. I typically make the casserole the day before. Simple to make and bake. To make it easy on myself, I typically make the casserole the day before, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake.
Many folks refer to this dish as ‘wedding potatoes’, since it is often served as part of wedding feasts.
CRUNCHY POTATO CASSEROLE
1 large bag frozen hash browns partially thawed
1/4 cup butter melted
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
8 ounces sour cream
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
1/4 cup butter, melted
crushed corn flakes (or seasoned bread crumbs)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all ingredients together, except for 1/4 cup butter and crushed corn flakes.
Place mixture in lightly buttered 9″ x 13″ pan.
Sprinkle crushed corn flakes (or bread crumbs) over the potato mixture and top with remaining 1/4 cup melted butter.
Easter and Christmas holidays call for a baked ham. Easy-peasy recipes allow the host/hostess to enjoy their family and friends and this recipe, coupled with the crunchy potato casserole (March 29, 2013 post), make preparation easy.
My family doesn’t enjoy spiral sliced hams, honey-baked hams, but they LOVE this recipe. The leftover ham makes wonderful sandwiches, too. Typically I purchase a Butt Portion Ham, often available for $.99-$1.39 a pound, a true friend of the family budget.
BAKED HAM CROCKPOT STYLE
Pour 1/2 up water in Crock Pot. Wrap precooked 3-4 pound ham in foil; place in Crock Pot. Cover and cook on High 1 hour then turn to low for 6-7 hours or until ham is hot. If cooking a larger ham, cook 1 hour on high and 8-10 hours on low.
Cathy’s method: I follow the instructions above put typically have to cut a few slices off the ham to make it fit in the Crock Pot and . I start the process about an hour before bedtime and then turn to low and cook 12-14 hours. The ham is juicy, tender and delicious.
Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars are daughter Sarah’s favorite holiday treat. When she was a teenager I bought her a pan of Cranberry Bliss Bars for her November birthday and she was ‘WOW’d’. Before Christmas this year she was very depressed that Starbucks/Denver had sold out of Cranberry Bliss Bars and, being pregnant, she had cravings that we needed to fill.
Sarah found this recipe on Pinterest and we made them for the holidays. They were delicious and very close to what we experience at Starbuck’s. Perhaps this will become a new Valentine’s tradition in our house and in yours. XOXOXOXOX
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 ounces white baking chocolate, melted
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13×9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.
Prepare the blondie layer: In a medium bowl, melt butter for one minute in the microwave; stir in brown sugar. Scrape the butter & sugar into a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Use an electric mixer to beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; gradually add the dry mixture to the butter mixture. Stir in the cranberries and chopped chocolate (the batter will be thick).
Spread the blondie batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 18-21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (do not overbake). Cool completely on a wire rack.
Prepare the frosting: In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until well-blended. Gradually add half of the melted white chocolate; beat until blended. Frost brownies. Sprinkle with cranberries. Drizzle with remaining melted white chocolate. Cut into bars- square or triangle-shaped. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
*If you’d like to add an orange flavor to these bars, add 1 tablespoon grated orange zest to the frosting.
Norwegian Christmas Bread (Julekake) brings back fond memories of our elderly Iowa friends, the Butlers. Growing up, Anna would bake Julekake, Kringla, and Lefse to share with friends. She would brew a strong cup of coffee for adults and children to enjoy with the seasonal treats. A cup of hot coffee with a toasted slice of Julekake and butter, at Anna’s oak table was the best. Today, I sit at the same oak table in my dining area thinking of the wonderful stories and memories created in that small farm-house so many years ago.
Kringla is an annual tradition with Julekake only every few years. Kneading bread dough is hard for me so I’ve included, along with the traditional recipe, my version for the bread machine. This year I borrowed daughter Sarah’s Kitchen Aid mixer to make the traditional recipe, which I split into two parts to accommodate the smaller size of the mixer.
NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS BREAD
This is the original Christmas bread recipe from Norwegian family friend, Anna Butler
2 packages dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup chopped citron or candied pineapple
3 cups scalded milk
1/2 cup butter
2 cups raisins
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped candied cherries
2 beaten eggs
1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom
10 to 11 cups flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water.
Scald milk and then add butter, salt and sugar. Cool to lukewarm. Add to yeast mixture and add 1/2 flour and eggs. Beat well.
Add fruit and cardamom and remaining flour to make light dough. Knead and place in a greased bowl. Let rise until light.
Knead and let it rise again.
Shape into 5 loaves and place in greased bread pans. Let rise 1 hour or until light. Brush tops with egg yolk mixture of beaten egg yolk and water.
Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. After removing from oven, brush top with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar
NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS BREAD (ADAPTED FOR THE BREAD MACHINE)
This is a conversion of the original Christmas bread recipe from Anna Butler
1/6 cup lukewarm water
1 cup scalded milk (cooled to lukewarm)
1/3 stick melted margarine
1 small beaten egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/6 teaspoon cardamom
3 to 3.3 cups flour
1 package yeast
2/3 cup raisins
1/6 cup citron
Place ingredients in bread machine in the order given but put raisins and citron aside.
Start bread dough in knead mode and add raisins/citron when your bread machine prompts for add-ins.
Kolaches originated in the Slovak countries and our Smaha family brought this Bohemian tradition to America when they immigrated to Iowa in the late 1800s. This tradition has been passed down in our family for many generations. Kolaches are wonderful any time of the year but especially wonderful at Christmas. My family tradition is to have them Christmas morning while we are opening gifts and sipping coffee or hot chocolate.
This picture was taken in Christmas morning 1987 with my Mother, Mother-In-Law, and oldest daughter, Megan. Let the Kolache feast begin!
My all-time favorite Kolache is cherry. This season I was fortunate to buy a large container of fresh frozen tart cherries that I’ve been saving for Kolache filling this Christmas. Other years, I have used canned cherry pie filling. I have made Kolaches from old-fashioned sweet dough recipes but a new favorite is the sweet dough recipe for the bread machine. In a pinch, I have used frozen bread dough, even though not sweet, is very good.
Traditional Kolache come in many flavors including the timeless Bohemian prune or poppy-seed fillings. My Mother’s Kolaches were fabulous and we waited with excitement while they baked, poised to snatch one as soon as they came out of the oven.
Everyone’s Kolaches are a tad different. My Mother didn’t add the crumb topping to her Kolaches but a wonderful farm neighbor, Nellie, made Prune Kolaches with crumb topping in her old wood stove. You haven’t lived until you’ve had Kolaches from a wood cooking stove. My Aunt Lora, baked Kolaches that she pinched closed at the top and sprinkled with sugar. Equally wonderful.
Wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas and many cherished family traditions.
SWEET BREAD DOUGH (FOR BREAD MACHINE)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup less 1 T. water
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Add the ingredients in the order listed above.
Run the machine through the dough cycle. Remove and work on floured board to desired loaf, rolls, etc.
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup juice from cherries
3 cups pitted tart red cherries (water pack)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
Combine 3/4 cup sugar with cornstarch. Stir in cherry juice.
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, till mixture thickens and bubbles; cook 1 minute longer. Add remaining sugar, cherries, butter and food coloring and cook until thickened. Mixture will be very thick. Let stand while preparing bread dough for Kolaches.
PREPARING THE KOLACHES:
Pinch a piece of dough about the size of a walnut (or ping pong ball) and place on a greased baking pan. Cover with wax paper then a towel and let rise until double in size. When risen, push centers of balls down and fill with cherry filling (or filling of choice). Let rise again and bake at 400 degrees.
KOLACHE CRUMB TOPPING (Optional)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using margarine)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix all ingredients together (use a pastry blender) until crumbly and use as a topping for Kolaches or coffee cakes.
When I was a little girl, my Mother and I would visit our elderly Norwegian friends, the Butlers, and feast on amazing home-baked goods. Anna would make Norwegian Kringla (pictured above), Lefse (potato flatbread), and other delights. I loved everything, but my favorite was Kringla. My Mother learned to make it and the recipe below is well over 100 years old. It quickly became a Christmas tradition and I’ve made it for my family. This year is no different. The slightly sweet dough with the slight anise taste is truly a delight. Kringla paired with a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate is heavenly.
Think I’ll head to the kitchen for a hot chocolate and a Kringla….YUM!
I usually double the recipe and freeze several to enjoy long after the holidays are gone.
1 egg 1 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon Anise Extract 2 tablespoons melted butter 1/2 cup buttermilk 1 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 4 cups flour
Beat egg and sugar together. Add anise extract, melted butter, buttermilk and 1/2 of sour cream.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with remainder of sour cream and let sit for about 5 minutes.
Mix together flour, baking powder and remaining 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.
Mix together flour mixture alternately adding egg mixture and sour cream mixture.
Dough will be very stiff and you will need to finish mixing with your hands.
Chill dough overnight. Remove 1-2 cups of dough at a time so the dough remains chilled. Take a small piece of dough (size of a small walnut) and roll into a ball and then into a pencil shape. Shape the dough into a pretzel shape and place on a greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 425 degrees for 5 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven and then on top rack of oven for 2-3 minutes. Bottom of Kringla should be golden brown–tops may not be brown. (I have found that every oven is different. Mine tends to run hot so I decrease the amount of time on the bottom shelf to 3 minutes.)
Cool and store in airtight container. Great warm with butter and a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.