The sixth day in December is the Feast of Saint Nicholas. As a child, I always looked forward to waking up and eagerly peeking inside the shoe I had left outside the door the night before to see what jolly old Saint Nick had left for me (usually socks and some gold coins). It's a fun tradition that I am excited to share with my children. In previous years, we always left something in Matthew's shoe but he never really appreciated or comprehended why we did it. Last year, it just really confused him. For weeks afterwards, he was constantly checking various shoes throughout the house for candy and chocolate. It was a bit annoying.
However, this year we thought Matthew must be old enough to really understand this and some of the other Advent traditions. Last night, in preparation for Saint Nicholas Day 2013, Paul and I read Matthew a story about Saint Nicholas and then had him select a shoe to place by the fireplace (along with a little penguin slipper that belongs to Baby Emma - he wanted to be sure that she did not miss out!). We explained that since he has been a very good boy, Saint Nicholas was going to visit our house while he was sleeping and leave him some treats in his shoe. Matthew seemed to understand perfectly and went to bed happily and without a fuss.
This morning, Matthew woke up bright and early and came to our room asking: "Is Saint Nicholas here?"
Paul answered: "Let's go downstairs and see what he left you!"
Matthew excitedly led us down the stairs and into the family room. We switched on the lights, revealing that the shoes Matthew had left out the night before were now filled with candy, packets of hot cocoa, and a tiny little snowman mug. At this point, Paul and I were expecting to hear squeals of glee from our little Matthew, but instead he just stood there, staring blankly at his shoe as if in a deep trance.
"Uhhh...Matthew?" Paul poked him with his forefinger.
Suddenly our child seemed to break out of his stupor and looked around, acting confused: "But...where did Saint Nicholas go?"
He was completely disappointed that jolly old Saint Nicholas was not there in the flesh. Despite our best attempts to explain the tradition to Matthew, I think he was half expecting us to have breakfast with Saint Nicholas in the morning. No worries, he quickly got over his disappointment, ate one of his lollipops, and then wiped his sticky, sticky fingers on the coffee table (gah!).
Saint Nicholas also left a very nice gift for Paul (a six pack of his favorite beer) and Baby Emma (Strawberry Banana baby food).
The Christmas baking season is upon us! I have finally finalized my list of goodies to make for gifts. There are always a few batches of the same family recipes to be made every year but I like to add in a couple new recipes to try.
First up is a recipe that I have made quite a few times before: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream-Cheese Filling. Ever since I received the Baked cookbook, I have worked my way through several of the recipes and every single one has been fantastic. This one, however, takes the cake! It is one of my favorite treats - soft, cakey pumpkin cookies sandwich a perfectly creamy, sweet, maple-kissed cream cheese frosting. Delicious. And so easy and fun to make!
Paul is not as wild about all things pumpkin like his crazy wife. Which is why in years passed, I have made these and gifted them to others without saving one for him to try. This year, I had just finished up a batch when he came home from work. He immediately devoured two whoopie pies and declared that for his birthday this year, all he wants is for me to bake a batch of these and stick a candle in one of them. Big compliment. But he's still getting an actual layer cake.
Make these. You'll thank me later!
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
adapted slightly from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chilled pumpkin purée
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons maple syrup (the real stuff - and Grade B if possible!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To Make the Whoopie Pies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves together and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk the brown sugar and oil together until combined. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely combined.
Use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto prepared baking sheets, about one inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on the pan while you make the filling.
To Make the Cream Cheese Filling:
Sift the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter until it's completely smooth, with no visible lumps. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined. Add the confectioners' sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Be careful not to overbeat the filling, or it will lose structure.
To assemble the Whoopie Pies:
Turn half of the cooled cookies upside down (flat side facing up).
Use an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to drop a large dollop of filling onto the flat side of the cookie. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up before serving.
The whoopie pies will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.