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
In a medium saucepan, combine the apple cider, orange slices, star anise, whole cloves and one cinnamon stick, broken into 2 in. pieces.
Heat the mixture over medium high heat until just beginning to boil.
Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Remove and discard the spices and orange slices.
Pour the cider into four mugs. Add a long cinnamon stick to each mug.
Serve piping hot.
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.
This year, my neighborhood decided to try a Luminary Night. If you aren’t familiar with luminarias, they are lanterns which are usually made from white lunch-sized paper bags, some sand for stability, and votive candles. The plan for this Luminary Night was for everyone who was interested to line the front of their properties with lanterns, at the same time, on the same night. Tonight was the night! The soft glow from the luminarias gave the streets a magical, quietly festive feel. Christmas lights make me exceedingly happy; I reveled in the ambiance as we walked around the neighborhood.
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.
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
Blend cream cheese and 1/2 cup butter together until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).
Add flour and combine just until flour is incorporated.
Chill at least 1 hour.
Shape dough into 2 dozen 1 inch balls.
Place in ungreased 1 3/4-inch muffin pan (mini-muffin pan).
Press dough into bottom and sides of each muffin cup.
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).
Divide 1/3 cup pecans evenly among the muffin cups.
Add about a teaspoon of the egg mixture to each cup, being careful not to completely fill the cups.
Top the tartlets with the rest of the pecans.
Bake at 325oF for about 25 minutes or until filling is set.
Cool and then remove from pan.
Some notes for the best results:
Take time to chill the dough. It’s easier to work with and the crusts bake up prettier.
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.
Don’t over fill the tassies. They will cook over the edges of the crusts which makes ugly tassies.
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.
Two dozen tassies is a woefully inadequate number. Just sayin’.
I was driving to a friend’s house the other day and discovered this very irreverent and creative Christmas decoration. I laughed out loud, alone in my car. Cousin Eddie has moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania!