A Little Yule Cheer: Hot Spiced Apple Cider

I love sipping a steaming drink when it’s chilly outside, especially if I can do it while siting beside a twinkling Christmas tree. As a matter of fact, I’m sipping a delicious beverage as I write this post. It’s so mellow and satisfying and so easy to make, it would be selfish of me not to share the recipe with you. The base of the beverage is apple cider, which is simmered briefly with fresh orange slices, cinnamon sticks, star anise and whole cloves. The whole process takes approximately 15 minutes, resulting in a spiffed-up cider that will tickle your tongue and warm your soul.

Hot Spiced Apple Cider

  • 1 quart fresh apple cider (4 cups)
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 5 cinnamon sticks
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the apple cider, orange slices, star anise, whole cloves and one cinnamon stick, broken into 2 in. pieces.
  2. Heat the mixture over medium high heat until just beginning to boil.
  3. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove and discard the spices and orange slices.
  5. Pour the cider into four mugs. Add a long cinnamon stick to each mug.
  6. Serve piping hot.

Some notes:

1. This recipe is easily adaptable to big batches. If you want a gallon of spiced cider, quadruple all ingredients.

2. I have a small sieve that I place over my mug. Then, I ladle from the pot to my mug without removing any of the goodies. This allows all the spices to continue to steep if I’m not serving the whole batch at once.

3. Leftover spiced cider can be stored in the fridge for later. Rewarm on the stove or in the microwave when you are in the mood for more warm appley sweetness.

4. The star anise is pretty but not necessary. If you don’t have any on hand, don’t sweat it. I’ve made this cider many times without star anise and it’s still delish.

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 18, 2021: Pecan Tassies

Did you know tassie is a Scottish word meaning small cup? Pecan tassie is a fitting name, then, for a tiny crust made from cream cheese, butter and flour and filled with a teaspoon-sized dollop of pecan pie filling. These delicate, gooey morsels are one of my absolute favorite “cookies” of Christmas. My mom is a master of the pecan tassie, making them for Christmas for years. I’ve decided to share her recipe. It comes from the original, gingham-covered, 1976 edition of The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, which is definitely showing its age. I’m continually amazed that truly delectable goodies can spring from so few ingredients. From such humble ones, too.

The sacred page from the New Cookbook

I’ve tried several other tassie recipes over the years with mixed results. Mom’s version always yields the prettiest, most delicious tartlets. They are perfect for popping in your mouth, one after the other. Although not the easiest “cookie” to make–they require some planning and fiddling–they certainly aren’t difficult. And, friends, the flavor pay-off is huge. These tassies are tender and sweet with a crackly top and nutty, syrupy middle. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Pecan Tassies (recipe makes approximately 2 dozen tassies)

  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted or stirred with a whisk
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • 2/3 cups coarsely chopped pecans
  1. Blend cream cheese and 1/2 cup butter together until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).
  2. Add flour and combine just until flour is incorporated.
  3. Chill at least 1 hour.
  4. Shape dough into 2 dozen 1 inch balls.
  5. Place in ungreased 1 3/4-inch muffin pan (mini-muffin pan).
  6. Press dough into bottom and sides of each muffin cup.
  7. Beat the egg, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon butter, vanilla and dash of salt together just until smooth. (I do this by hand with a whisk).
  8. Divide 1/3 cup pecans evenly among the muffin cups.
  9. Add about a teaspoon of the egg mixture to each cup, being careful not to completely fill the cups.
  10. Top the tartlets with the rest of the pecans.
  11. Bake at 325oF for about 25 minutes or until filling is set.
  12. Cool and then remove from pan.

Some notes for the best results:

  1. Take time to chill the dough. It’s easier to work with and the crusts bake up prettier.
  2. Don’t mix the pecans and filling to save time. Trust me when I say you’ll get a more appealing looking tartlet if you take your time and follow the directions.
  3. Don’t over fill the tassies. They will cook over the edges of the crusts which makes ugly tassies.
  4. I took a chance with a silicone muffin pan. Wow! It was easy to work with and the tassies popped right out of the pan after cooling. Clean up was a breeze, too.
  5. Two dozen tassies is a woefully inadequate number. Just sayin’.

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 13: The Fat Chewy, an M&M Cookie Recipe

The M Cookie

Toddlers have a knack for impacting a family’s unique vernacular. For instance, when my daughter was small, she called M&M candies Ms. Just Ms. And this is what my family continues to call them, even though we haven’t had a toddler living with us for almost two decades. Today, I’m bringing an M recipe to the party that is both delicious and versatile. It is officially called the Fat Chewy, but here at Whimsey Pie, we’re just going to call it The M Cookie.

The M Cookie is not specifically a Christmas cookie. It can be an anytime or any holiday cookie depending on the color of Ms you use. With red and green Ms, this cookie holds its own alongside gingerbread men and snickerdoodles in the Christmas cookie canon. The recipe is low effort and the pay off in flavor is huge. Paired with a glass of milk, M Cookies are the perfect snack for Santa. Or anyone else who loves cookies or Ms.

The Fat Chewy M Cookie

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk (extra-large eggs work well, too)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounce package of M&Ms Milk Chocolate Candies or 1 2/3 cup M&Ms (plus extra for the tops of the cookies)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I prefer mini-chips for this recipe)
  1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 – 3 minutes.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until completely incorporated.
  3. Whisk together flour, corn starch, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and stir until just combined.
  5. Fold in the Ms and the chocolate chips.
  6. Refrigerate the dough until firm (overnight is best).
  7. Preheat oven to 375o F.
  8. Scoop cookies and roll into balls. (I use a scoop that’s approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons).
  9. Place a few inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet or, even better, a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  10. Bake for 7 – 10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
  11. While cookies are still warm, press a few extra Ms into the top of each one.
  12. Move to a cooling rack.

I think these cookies would be just as delicious made with other varieties of Ms such as caramel or mint or with Reese’s Pieces. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. One small word of warning: These cookies are rich. Bellyaches have been known to happen, so go slow. I know, I know. Easier said than done…

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 8: Sweet Little Strawberry Shortbread Cookies

(One of the ideas I shared in yesterday’s post about creating holiday cheer was to make a favorite Christmas recipe. If you don’t have a favorite recipe or you’re looking for something a bit different from the standard Christmas offerings, you’ve come to the right place. I’m bringing out and dusting off another cookie recipe I posted for the first time 10 year ago (can that possibly be true?). These beauties are fussier than my normal cookie choices, but they are delicious and worth all the effort. So, put on some Christmas tunes, gather your ingredients, and whip up some Christmas deliciousness.)

Most of my cookies, regardless of the final result, begin with the same reassuring formula.  Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, along with the flavorings.  Gradually stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well incorporated.  Finally, fold in nuts, chips, fruit, etc.  To me, these are the simple, tried and true steps for cookie-making magic.

The other day I was yearning to bake some cookies.  My classes were finally finished for the semester and I had some time on my hands.  I considered all the standards I usually make this festive time of year – chocolate, snickerdoodles, molasses spice, peanut butter kiss, gingerbread, soft sugar.  Nothing inspired me.  My lack of enthusiasm for the usual led me on a hunt through the piles of books and magazines filled with cookie recipes I’ve been stockpiling over the years.  (I wonder, is recipe hoarding an illness?)

In the 2007 edition of Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies publication, a shortbread recipe caught my eye.  I’d never made shortbread before and it seemed like it would be a fun challenge.  Besides, the cookies in the magazine photo looked so adorable, I couldn’t resist.  This recipe took me far from my comfort zone.  Freeze the butter?  No eggs??  Knead the dough???  I don’t need my Kitchenaid mixer?!  Very scary stuff, I’m telling you.  However, after taking the plunge, I can confidently say that there is more than one way to bake cookie magic in my kitchen.

These cookies are definitely worth the extra fussing.  Their subtle strawberry sweetness and tender shortbread texture make them pop-in-your-mouth yummy.  The bonus – they’re pretty enough for very special occasions.  At my house, a true test of a cookie’s deliciousness is how quickly it disappears.  All seventy some cookies were gone in less than 48 hours.  Now that is magic!

Strawberry Shortbread (originally printed in Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies, 2007)

2 tablespoons strawberry preserves (I used my homemade strawberry jam)

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Strawberry Glaze

Coarse sugar (optional)

1. Snip large pieces of fruit in the strawberry preserves.  Beat butter, preserves, and almond extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.  Transfer butter mixture to a sheet of plastic wrap; shape into a six-inch log.  Wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 hours or until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Stir together flour, granulated sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Add butter mixture. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender ubtil mixture starts to cling together.  Knead dough until smooth; form dough into a ball.

3. Divide dough in half.  Roll each portion of dough to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.  Cut out dough rounds with a scalloped 1 1/2 to 2-inch cookie cutter.  Place cut-outs 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

4. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 12 to 16 minutes or until edges just start to brown.  Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely.  Spread tops with Strawberry Glaze; if desired, sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Let stand until set.  Makes about 54 two-inch cookies or seventy-six 1 1/2-inch cookies.

Strawberry Glaze

Microwave 1 tablespoon of strawberry preserves in a medium microwave-safe bowl on 50 percent for 30 seconds or until melted; snip any large pieces in the preserves.  Stir in two cups of powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk using a wire whisk.  Stir in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make a smooth glaze of spreading consistency.  Makes about 2/3 cup.

I made a few changes to the original recipe when I baked up my batch.  Instead of the preserves, I used homemade strawberry freezer jam.  I also substituted vanilla extract for the almond variety – I’m not a big fan of almond flavoring.

The process of cutting in the butter and turning the mixture into a kneadable dough takes some time and muscle.  Just be patient and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Whenever I wasn’t working with the dough, I kept it cold in the fridge.  I rolled each half of the dough out only twice to keep the cookies from getting tough.  With a 1.5 inch scalloped cookie cutter, I made about seventy-five cookies.  I’m sorry I don’t have an exact number; I began counting after I had already eaten several directly from the hot cookie sheets.  Finally, for the glaze, I used at least two tablespoons of milk to create the desired spreading consistency.  There was more then enough glaze to cover the entire batch – even the ones I ate right out of the oven, had they actually lasted that long.

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake


At the back of our yard is an unruly patch of wilderness we loosely refer to as “our garden”.   We never seem to have the time to plant and tend anything worthwhile so the patch is overrun with leggy raspberry canes and  prickly thistles.  As bad as it sounds, it’s not a total bust.  In one small corner of the patch, four little blueberry bushes are thriving and have produced a gorgeous crop of spicy, midnight-colored gems.

This surprising bounty is due wholly to Jay’s efforts.  He is the blueberry whisperer and an all-around green thumb.  He grows and tends to all the things and I take that raw potential and create art with it in my kitchen.   This recent blueberry windfall is the perfect example.  As soon as Jay brought the berries in from “our garden” I put butter on the counter to soften and then grabbed my camera to capture the dark beauty of the tiny fruit.  After about a hundred shots of blueberries from every angle and degree of magnification, I got busy making the real magic – turning these berries and a few other humble ingredients into one of the finest coffee cakes in the history of the world.



Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake (Adapted from a recipe submitted to Taste of Home by Lori Snedden several years ago.)

9 servings


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup chopped pecans


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  4. Add egg, milk and butter.  Beat well.
  5. Fold in blueberries and pecans.
  6. Spread batter into pan.
  7. In another bowl, combine the sugar and flour.
  8. Cut in the butter until crumbly.
  9. Sprinkle over batter.
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.

I can’t really tell you what it is about this cake that makes it so good.  The delicate crumb topping?  The abundance of blueberries?  The pecan chunks in every mouthful?  Who knows.  Maybe it really is magic.  All I can say is that I’ve eaten four pieces of this cake in the last two days and I’m about to have another and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Do yourself or those you love a favor, friend, and make this cake.