The Holiday Season

New Years Eve

November 25, 2007

Welcome Home Bakers and Friends,

For those of you that celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States (and for those Americans who reside elsewhere), I hope you had a happy holiday, spending it with family and friends and ate lots of turkey with all the trimmings such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes or yams, seasonal vegetables and of course the traditional desserts; pumpkin, apple, pecan or mincemeat pie.

Now, is everyone ready for the other upcoming holidays? After all that good food at the Thanksgiving table, it's hard to think of eating so much again in this month of special holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and of course, New Years Eve. I'm already "stuffed" just thinking about it.

Well, this is my favorite time of the year, Autumn turning into Winter, family get-togethers, and sharing time well spent with good and sometimes new friends.

I thought I would share with you some of my favorite recipes for the festive holidays this month. I do hope you try some of them, and hopefully that you'll enjoy them.

Happy Holidays....Diana

Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah)

Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Hebrew term for rededication.

When Does Hanukkah Begin?

Hanukkah (the festival of lights) begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar (November/December). It is celebrated for eight days in honor of the Jewish victory and the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 days to rededicate the temple. This year (2007) Hanukkah begins at sundown December 4th, and ends on December 12th.

Why is Hanukkah Celebrated?

Over 2300 years ago in a country called Judea (Israel) there lived many Hebrew, or Jewish people. There also lived a very wicked man called King Antiochus. Antiochus ordered all the Jewish people to give up their God, religion, and customs and worship only the Greek Gods. By his orders Jewish temples were destroyed or used for his purposes and those Jews who would not worship how he commanded were severely punished.

Some of the Jewish people chose to obey Antiochus, but others refused. Now one of these men who refused to worship the Greek Gods was Judah Maccabee. Judah had four brothers and together they formed an army with as many as would join with them. Their goal was to defeat the Syrians that oppressed them so that the Jewish people could be free to worship as they believed. They chose to call themselves Maccabees, which means hammer. The Maccabees and the Syrians fought for about three years until finally the Maccabees defeated the Syrians and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem.

Their first priority was to clean and rededicate the temple to the service of God. So they washed and scrubbed the temple clean and removed the Greek symbols and idols from within the walls. Now they were ready to rededicate it unto their God. Remember Chanukah/Hanukkah means "rededication". The only problem was that Judah and the Judean heroes could not find any blessed oil to light the lamps. They searched and searched. Finally, in one of the Temple chambers they discovered a very small cruse of oil.

The Maccabees knew that there was just enough oil that the lights could be lit for one evening. Then a miracle happened. That very small flask of oil lasted not just one night but eight nights! This is why the menorah has eight candles. Each one represents a night that that small flask of oil kept the lights of the Holy Temple lit.

What is a Menorah?

A Menorah is a very special arrangement of nine candles. Eight of the candles are for each night of Hanukkah, and the highest candle, known as the Shamash or "servant", is used to light the other candles.

On the first night of Hanukkah one light is lit and this continues for eight days until all eight are shining brightly. This reminds the people of the Miracle that happened so long ago. The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but lit from left to right. Special blessings are recited each night before the lights are lit.

Long ago olive oil was used in Hanukkah menorahs, but over the years colorful candles have been substituted. In Israel, the Hanukkah menorah is called the Hanukiyah. They come in all shapes and sizes and resemble the Holy Temple's menorah.

What is a Dreidel?

A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. In America the letters stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There". In Israel the letters mean "A Miracle Happened Here".

The Dreidel game is played by giving each player a number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts a fixed proportion of the amount of coins received into the "Kupah" or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters. According to the letter, the following will happen:

Nun - no win / no lose
Gimmel - take all (from the kitty)
Heh - take half (from the kitty)
Peh or Shin - lose (what you deposited)

The game continues until players run out of 'funds' or agree to stop (anyone losing all funds is out of the game).

The dreidel game was popular when Antiochus ruled. Jewish people, struggling to keep their faith alive, would gathered together to study the Torah, outlawed by Antiochus. They would keep the dreidel near by so if soldiers appeared they could hide their scriptures and pretend to play with the dreidel. In Israel the dreidel is called a sivivon. The Yiddish word "dreidel" is derived from the German word "drehen", or "turn".

What is a Latke?

The most popular ingredient in Hanukkah dishes is oil. Why? Because the oil reminds the Jewish people of the small cruse of oil that burned eight days instead of one.

Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, and fried in vegetable oil. They are crispy on the outside yet soft inside. They are served hot and often dipped in apple sauce or sour cream.

The Maccabee soldiers ate latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits which were brought to them on the battlefields. However, they didn't eat potato latkes, as potatoes weren't available until the sixteenth century.

What are Sufganiyot?

Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts without the hole. They're dropped into hot oil without being shaped and come out in odd, funny shapes, then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are particularly popular in Israel, where they are sold on stands in the streets over a month before Hanukkah begins.

Source: Kaboose.com. Article written by Alecia Dixon.

Here are a couple of nice dessert recipes for your Hanukkah celebration.

Star of David and Dreidel Cookies

Servings: Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies

If you're planning to make cookies for a Hanukkah treat, remember to buy dreidel and Star of David shaped (6 pointed star) cookie cutters before the holiday gets here. You can usually find these cutters online.

Note: These cookies can also be made using other shapes of cookie cutters for Christmas, etc. For Christmas cookies, for example, use snowman or Christmas tree cookie cutters (see image of cookies at top of newsletter).

You can find dreidel and 6 pointed star cookie cutters and other Jewish holiday cookie cutters at www.amazon.com.

1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz/113g) unsalted butter, softened
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup finely ground walnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Assorted colored icings, sprinkles and colored sugars

1. Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar, honey, egg and vanilla in large bowl at medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Stir in flour, walnuts, baking powder and salt until well blended. Form dough into ball; wrap in plastic wrap and flatten. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease cookie sheets. Roll out dough, small portion at a time, to 1/4-inch thickness on floured surface with lightly floured rolling pin. (Keep remaining dough wrapped in refrigerator.) Cut dough with 2-1/2-inch to 3-inch dreidel-shaped cookie cutter and 6-pointed star cookie cutter. Place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.

3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cookies stand on cookie sheets 1 to 2 minutes; transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

4. Decorate cookies with colored icings, sprinkles and colored sugars (blue and white are the most traditional Hanukkah colors, but you can use your imagination when decorating cookies).

Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.
Click here to view recipe and photo of Star of David and Dreidel Hanukkah Cookies on Diana's Desserts Website

Sufganiyot for Hanukkah

Servings: Makes 16 sufganyiots (chocolate hazelnut spread, jam or jelly filled doughnuts)

These yummy, golden brown sweet rolls are like doughnuts, but are filled with jelly, jam or chocolate spread, such as nutella. During Hanukkah, Israeli vendors sell sufganiyot by the basketfuls.

3/4 cup water
1 large egg
4 teaspoons cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast, instant yeast, or bread machine yeast
1/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (nutella) or fruit preserves, jam or jelly, such as seedless red raspberry or blackberry
Cooking oil for deep-fat frying
Sifted confectioners' sugar

1. Add the first 9 ingredients to a 1 1/2 or 2-pound bread machine according to the manufacturer's directions. Select the dough cycle. When cycle is complete, remove dough from machine. Punch down. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

2. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough with a floured 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, dipping cutter into flour between cuts. Re-roll and cut trimmings. Place about 1/2 teaspoon chocolate spread, fruit preserves, jam or jelly onto the center of half of the circles. Lightly moisten edges of circles; top with remaining circles. Press edges together with fingers or tines of a fork to seal.

3. Fry doughnuts, 2 or 3 at a time, in deep hot oil (365 degrees F/185 degrees C) for about 2 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Using a slotted spoon, remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Makes 16 sufganiyot.

Source: DianasDesserts.com

Click here to view recipe and photo of Sufganiyot for Hanukkah on Diana's Desserts Website


What is Christmas?

Beyond the trees and poinsettia,
Beyond the bows and wrapping paper,
Beyond the sounds of carolers and smells of gingerbread,
Beyond the armloads of gifts and the grim reality of credit card bills,
Beyond red-suit clad Santa’s and tiny angels adorned with aluminum foil halos,
Ever wondered what Christmas was all about?

Far from the glamorous festivities that mark today's holiday celebrations, the first Christmas proved the humblest of events.

A couple engaged, but not yet married, traveled to a distant city to pay taxes. Adding to the rigors of the journey was the woman's very-pregnant condition. Despite her state, she claimed to be a virgin and said the child she carried was the Son of God, not the product of any human relationship.

How the tongues must have wagged in ancient Palestine! Probably they questioned her sanity. Certainly they challenged her morality. And they must have wondered about the intelligence of her husband-to-be. What sort of man would marry a woman about to have a child which was not his?

Whatever the community thought, Mary knew the truth. Joseph initially doubted his bride-to-be's fantastical story, but an angel appeared to him one night and told him that the child was indeed God's and that his fiancée was pure and honorable, a suitable wife. After that night, Joseph needed no more convincing. Together, the couple made plans for their new life as one flesh, and for the addition that was soon to grace their family. That meant obeying Caesar and paying taxes.

Yet when the twosome reached the city, they could find nowhere to stay. Every room in the city was taken. Mary's condition complicated matters. The child was ready to be born. And as any woman who has ever given birth knows, babies don't delay their arrivals because of inadequate facilities.

Finding no other shelter, Joseph and Mary settled for a stable--a common barn filled with animals and the accompanying smells. The baby came, but no soft receiving blankets graced his skin. No sterile crib awaited the squirming newborn. Mary did the best she could for her baby. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in the softest spot the barn offered--a trough filled with hay.

Glamorous? No.

Festive? Hardly.

But glorious? Yes. A thousand times yes.

You see, like any proud father, the infant's Father--God Himself--hastened to announce His Son's birth. Yet unlike any other father, He proclaimed the good news as only God could.

Without warning, the night sky over Bethlehem came alive. An angel split the night-sky, hovering over a pasture filled with shepherds. Fear gripped their hearts, but the heavenly visitor immediately spoke peace.

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Before they had time to regain their composure, similar creatures literally filled the sky. And angelic praise shattered the typical evening quiet.

The shepherds probably didn't think twice. Who would have under the circumstances? Abandoning their flocks, they headed back into Bethlehem. They didn't stop until they found the child about whom the angels sang. Then, there in the barn, they worshipped the newborn King.

Source: theholidayzone.com

From Diana,
"Of course, Christmas time is also that special time of year for your family and friends to smell those wonderful aromas coming from your kitchen. It's definitely "THE" baking time of the year".

Venetian Christmas Bars

Servings: Makes 4 dozen bar cookies

Make these rich almond-flavored bars for a festive Christmas bar cookie. Pack the cookies in Christmas tins and give as gifts to friends and family, or co-workers.

For best flavor, make the cookies up to 3 days before serving and store them covered in the refrigerator.

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tube or can (7 to 8 ounces) almond paste
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks/10 oz/283g) margarine or butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
20 drops red food coloring
20 drops green food coloring
5-10 drops yellow food coloring, for coloring the uncolored batter, (using yellow food coloring for the uncolored batter is optional)
1 jar (12 ounces) apricot or raspberry preserves, warmed, strained and cooled* (See Notes below)
4 squares (1 ounce each) semisweet chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick/1 oz/28g) unsalted butter, (melted with chocolate)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease 3 (15 1/2 x 10 1/2-inch) jelly-roll pans* (See Notes below) and line pans with waxed paper, allowing waxed paper to extend over ends of pans. Grease and flour waxed paper.

2. In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form; set aside.

3. In large bowl, with same beaters, and with mixer at medium speed, beat almond paste and remaining 1/2 cup sugar until well blended (there will be some small lumps of almond paste remaining). Reduce speed to medium-low; beat in margarine or butter until blended. Beat in egg yolks and almond extract until blended. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour and salt just until combined.

4. With rubber spatula, fold egg-white mixture into almond mixture, one-third at a time, until combined.

5. Remove one-third of batter (about 1 1/2 rounded cups) from large bowl to small bowl. Remove half of remaining batter from large bowl to another small bowl. (You should have equal amounts of batter in each bowl.) Stir red food coloring into 1 bowl of batter until evenly blended. Repeat with green food coloring and another bowl of batter. At this point you may add the yellow food coloring to the "uncolored batter" if desired, (this is optional).

6. Spread uncolored or yellow, (if using yellow food coloring) batter in 1 jelly-roll pan. With metal spatula (offset, if possible), spread batter as evenly as possible (layer will be about 1/8 inch thick). Repeat with red batter and another pan. Repeat with green batter and remaining pan.

7. Bake layers 10 to 13 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time, until layers are just set. It is important to under cook this batter slightly to ensure moist cookie layers. (If you don't have enough oven space for 3 pans, you can bake 2 layers at once, and then bake the last layer separately.)

8. Let layers cool slightly in pans on wire racks, about 5 minutes. Invert layers onto racks, leaving waxed paper attached; cool completely.

9. When all 3 layers are cooled, remove waxed paper from green layer. Place green layer on serving tray or platter; spread with half of apricot or raspberry preserves. Place white layer on top of green layer, waxed-paper side up; remove waxed paper. Spread with remaining apricot or raspberry preserves. Place red layer on top of white layer; remove waxed paper.

10. With serrated knife, trim edges (about 1/4 inch from each side). Spread melted chocolate/butter mixture on top of red layer (not on sides); refrigerate until chocolate is firm, at least 1 hour. If you like, after chocolate has set, cover and refrigerate stacked layers up to 3 days before cutting and serving.

11. To serve, cut stacked layers lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 12 small rectangles. Store cookies in tightly covered container, with waxed paper between layers, in refrigerator.

Nutritional Information
Each cookie contains approximately 130 calories, 2g protein, 15g carbohydrate, 7g total fat (1g saturated), 18mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium.

1) A good idea is to slightly warm the preserves in a medium saucepan on very low heat; then strain and cool preserves slightly before spreading. This makes the preserves easier to spread over the layers.

2) If you have only 1 jelly-roll pan, you can still make this recipe. Just bake layers 1 at a time, and be sure to let pan cool completely before reusing.

Makes 4 dozen bar cookies.

Click here to view recipe and photo of Venetian Christmas Cookies on Diana's Desserts Website

Steamed Christmas Persimmon Pudding

Servings: 6-8


What is a Persimmon?

Definition: [puhr-SIHM-muhn] The most widely available persimmon in the United States is the Hachiya, also called Japanese persimmon. It's large (up to 3 inches in diameter) and round, with a slightly elongated, pointed base. The Fuyu persimmon is smaller and more tomato-shaped. When ripe, both have a red-orange skin and flesh. The Hachiya is quite soft when completely ripe and has a smooth, creamy texture and a tangy-sweet flavor. If eaten even slightly under ripe, it will pucker the mouth with an incredible astringency. The Fuyu, however, is still firm when ripe and is not at all astringent. Persimmons are available from October to February. Choose fruit that is plump and soft but not mushy (the Fuyu should be quite firm). The skin should be smooth, glossy and brightly colored. Persimmons that are not quite ripe can be ripened at room temperature. Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Persimmons can be used in baked goods, puddings and other desserts, as well as eaten out of hand. They contain a good amount of vitamin A and some vitamin C.

Steamed Pudding

A sweet or savory pudding that is cooked (usually in a special steamed-pudding mold) on a rack over boiling water in a covered pot. The pudding mold is usually decorative so that when the finished pudding (which is firm) is unmolded it retains its decorative shape. Steamed puddings can take up to 3 hours to cook on stovetop, half that time in a pressure cooker. They're customarily served with a sauce. The traditional Christmas plum pudding, for instance, is customarily accompanied with hard sauce.

Source: The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst

Since persimmons are available only during a short time during the late fall and early winter, this is a terrific fruit to use for making holiday desserts. Add raisins or nuts to the pudding, and if desired, use extra spices such as nutmeg, ginger or ground cloves.

3 large (about 1 pound total) very ripe and soft Hachiya persimmons, with stems removed
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz./113 gm) unsalted butter, softened
6 tbsp. brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Boiling water

For Flambe: (optional)
1/3 cup brandy

Garnish (optional):
Confectioners' sugar
Holly Sprig (real or artificial)

To Serve:
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

You will need:
1). 1-quart pudding mold
2). Large stock pot with lid (pot must be taller than the pudding mold)
3). Kettle or large pot for boiling water
4). 1 small trivet or rack, for placing inside the bottom of large stock pot
5). Either a blender or a food processor

Purée the persimmons (with the skins) in a blender or the bowl of a food processor; set aside. Beat the butter and sugars together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg and combine thoroughly.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients, one third at a time, to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk. Add the persimmon purée and vanilla and blend thoroughly.

Generously butter a 1-quart mold. Pour the batter into the mold and cover tightly with a buttered lid or aluminum foil.

Place a rack in a pot taller than the mold. Place the mold on the rack and add enough boiling water to reach the middle of the mold. Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil. Place over medium heat on the stove top (It can also be baked in a preheated 325 degree F/160 degree C oven.) Cook until firm, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check the water level frequently and add more boiling water if necessary to maintain the same level.

Transfer mold to cooling rack; remove the lid and let cool until lukewarm.

To serve, invert the pudding onto a serving plate and lift off the mold. If desired, dust with confectioners' sugar and garnish top with a holly sprig.

Brandy Flambe: (optional)
In a small saucepan, warm the brandy over medium heat just until it begins to bubble around the edges. Immediately remove from the heat and ignite with a match. Pour the flaming brandy over the warm pudding. When the flames die, serve the pudding immediately with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Photograph taken by Diana Baker Woodall© 2006

Source: DianasDesserts.com

Click here to view recipe and photo of Steamed Christmas Persimmon Pudding on Diana's Desserts Website

Cranberry Bread Pudding

Servings: 8

A simple bread pudding is the perfect use for a day-old baguette or coarse country loaf. These breads have a similar texture and both have a rather bland flavor when stale -- the perfect foil for a flavorful custard. Cut the bread into 3/4-inch slices, and then cut again into 3/4-inch cubes. These bite-size pieces are perfect for soaking up all the custard yet still hold together well enough to give the dessert some texture.

12 slices day-old baguette, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
4 cups milk
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Lightly butter an 8-inch (20cm) square baking dish. Spread the bread cubes in it.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well blended. Pour in the milk and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes. Let stand, pressing down on the bread occasionally, until it is evenly soaked, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Scatter the cranberries evenly over the surface of the soaked bread and press to submerge the fruit. Set the baking dish in a large, shallow roasting pan. Add very hot tap water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish.

Bake the pudding until a knife inserted near the center comes out almost clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Generously dust the top of each slice with confectioners' sugar.

Makes 8 servings.

Click here to view recipe and photo of Cranberry Bread Pudding on Diana's Desserts Website

Gingerbread Squares with Chocolate Topping

Servings: Makes 9 gingerbread squares

Children will love this moist, spicy treat. Get the entire family involved by decorating the squares together with frostings and candies to suit the festive holiday.

3 tbsp. (1 1/2 oz./43g) butter, softened
2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 egg white
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sweetened applesauce

Chocolate Topping (Ingredients and instructions follow)

Christmas candies, pieces of crystallized ginger, candied orange slices or other festive decorations of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar in medium bowl until well blended. Beat in molasses and egg white.

3. Combine dry ingredients in small bowl; mix well. Add to butter mixture alternately with applesauce, mixing well after each addition. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Frost while still warm with Chocolate Topping, if desired. When topping has firmed up in the refrigerator, decorate top of squares with Christmas candies, crystallized ginger or candied orange slices.

Chocolate Topping

4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons butter

Place chocolate and butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on medium, stirring halfway through, until almost melted, 3 minutes. Remove. Stir until smooth. Or melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan set over low heat. Spread topping over warm gingerbread, right to corners of baking dish. Cool in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, until topping firms up, approximately 1 hour. Slice into squares. Decorate with Christmas candies, crystallized ginger, or candied orange slices, if desired. Serve or wrap and refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Makes 9 gingerbread squares.

Click here to view recipe and photo of Gingerbread Squares with Chocolate Topping on Diana's Desserts Website


Kwanzaa is the African-American cultural holiday conceived and developed by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga and was first celebrated on December 26, 1966. Kwanzaa is traditionally celebrated from December 26 through January 1, with each day focused on Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles. Derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits", Kwanzaa is rooted in the first harvest celebrations practiced in various cultures in Africa. Kwanzaa seeks to enforce a connectedness to African cultural identity, provide a focal point for the gathering of African peoples, and to reflect upon the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles, that have sustained Africans. Africans and African-Americans of all religious faiths and backgrounds practice Kwanzaa.

Here are a few delicious desserts to enjoy during Kwanzaa.

Banana Pudding

Servings: 6-8

Banana Pudding is a very traditional southern style dessert. Why not make this delicious and simple dessert to serve your guests for your Kwanzaa celebration. It's a definite comfort food for all to enjoy!

For Pudding:
1 (12 oz.) box Vanilla Wafers
2 (4-serving size each) packages Cook and Serve (not instant) Vanilla Pudding or Banana Cream Pudding and Pie Filling mix
4 cups whole or reduced fat milk (do not use fat-free or lactose reduced milk)
3 medium-large size bananas, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces

For Topping (optional)
1 (8 oz.) container frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed, or 2 cups prepared whipped cream
Additional Vanilla Wafers, for garnish
1 additional banana, sliced, for garnish
Ground nutmeg

1). Line bottom and sides of 8 x 8 x 1-inch or 1-1/2-quart baking dish with vanilla wafers (use as many wafers as it takes to line bottom and sides of baking dish).

2). Combine pudding mix and milk in saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil. Remove from heat. Layer slices of banana over vanilla wafers in baking dish, then add a layer of pudding. Repeat layers of vanilla wafers, sliced bananas, and pudding (pudding should be the very top layer).

3). Chill pudding in refrigerator until firm, about 3 hours. Spread thawed whipped topping (or whipped cream, if using) over the top of pudding and garnish with vanilla wafers and banana slices, and if desired, sprinkle with a little ground nutmeg.

Makes 6-8 servings.


1). Bananas should be medium ripe, but not overly ripe.

2). Banana pudding may also be layered in individual dessert glasses or dishes.

3). Sprinkle banana slices with a little lemon juice to keep them from getting brown while preparing pudding.

4). The amount of vanilla wafers you use depends on what size and shape baking dish you are making the pudding in. One (12 ounce) box of vanilla wafers will be enough for the pudding and garnish.

Topping Variation
A meringue topping may be substituted for the non-dairy whipped topping or whipped cream topping. If you are going to make the meringue topping, make it as soon as you finish layering the pudding and spread over top of pudding, sealing to edge of baking dish. Bake at 325° F (160°C) for 15-20 minutes or until meringue is golden but not too brown. Chill pudding in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving.

Meringue Topping
3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Beat egg whites at high speed of a mixer until foamy. Gradually add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue evenly over pudding, sealing to edge of dish. Bake at 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Microwave Instructions for Making Pudding

Combine pudding mix and milk in 1-1/2-quart glass bowl and blend well. Heat in microwave oven on HIGH for 3 minutes. Stir. Heat about 3 minutes longer, stirring every minute, until mixture boils. Remove from oven and proceed as directed above.

Photograph taken by Diana Baker Woodall© 2004

Click here to view recipe and photo of Banana Pudding on Diana's Desserts Website

Orange Cocoa Cake

Servings: 10-12

A delightful looking and tasting layer cake celebrating the joyous holiday, Kwanzaa. A very lovely cake for this very special holiday, or serve this delicious cake for any special celebration during the year.

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick/2 oz./56g) butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), divided
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk or sour milk, divided* (see note below)
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
1/4 teaspoon orange extract

Orange Buttercream Frosting (see recipe below)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease three 8 or 9-inch (20cm or 23cm) round baking pans; line with wax paper.

2. Stir together cocoa and water in small bowl until smooth; set aside. Beat butter, shortening, sugar, salt and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs; beat well. Stir 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda into 1 cup buttermilk; add to butter mixture alternately with flour.

3. Measure 1-2/3 cups batter into small bowl; stir in remaining 1/8 teaspoon baking soda and 3 tablespoons buttermilk, orange peel and orange extract. Pour into one prepared pan. Stir cocoa mixture into batter; divide evenly between remaining two prepared pans.

3. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Carefully peel off wax paper. Cool completely.

4. Place one chocolate layer on serving plate; spread with Orange Buttercream Frosting. Top with orange layer; spread with frosting. Top with remaining chocolate layer; frost top and sides of cake.

How to "sour" milk
Use 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup; use 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 3 tablespoons.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Orange Buttercream Frosting

2/3 cup (5 oz./150g) butter or margarine, softened
6 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange peel
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 to 6 tablespoons milk

Beat butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, orange peel and vanilla in large bowl until creamy. Add remaining powdered sugar alternately with milk, beating to spreading consistency.

Click here to view recipe and photo of Orange Cocoa Cake on Diana's Desserts Website

Kwanzaa Tropical Fruit with Pistachios and Coconut Milk

Servings: Makes 4 servings

Luscious tropical fruit topped with creamy coconut milk and crunchy pistachios is a simple yet delicious dessert. You may double or triple the recipe ingredients if you're serving this quick and easy dessert for a Kwanzaa celebration.

16 slices ripe mango, pineapple and/or papaya
4 teaspoons lite coconut milk
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios

Place fruit slices on a serving platter. Drizzle with coconut milk and sprinkle with pistachios.

Makes 4 servings.
Click here to view recipe and photo of Kwanzaa Tropical Fruit with Pistachios and Coconut Milk on Diana's Desserts Website

New Years Eve

New Year's Eve is the last day of the calendar year, or December 31 in the Gregorian calendar. Since most of the world uses this calendar, New Year's Eve is celebrated around the globe.

Celebrations on this night typically include going to parties or gathering in public places. One of the most famous gatherings occurs at Times Square in New York City. At 11:59:00 p.m., a 1,070 pound, 6 feet in diameter Waterford crystal ball is lowered 70 feet in sixty seconds. When the ball reaches it destination at midnight, bells ring, confetti is tossed, and everyone shouts "Happy New Year!" This tradition (although it was originally a 6-foot shimmering apple shaped ball that was lowered) began in 1907 after New York City outlawed firecrackers for New Year's Eve. The lowering of the ball is followed by the singing of Auld Lang Syne and drinking a toast to the New Year.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake with Toffee Bits

Servings: Makes 16 servings

An elegant dessert to serve for a special occasion or in this case, New Year's Eve. You will bring in the New Year with "raves" from your guests about this yummy, creamy and delectable cheesecake.

1 1/3 cups (22 cookies) shortbread cookie crumbs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick/2 oz./56g) butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar

16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk chocolate English toffee bits

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup milk chocolate English toffee bits

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/160 degrees C. Combine all crust ingredients in small bowl. Press onto bottom of ungreased 9-inch spring form pan with removable bottom. Bake in preheated oven for 4 minutes.

Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until creamy. Add melted chocolate, eggs and vanilla; beat until well mixed. Stir in 3/4 cup toffee bits. Spread cream cheese mixture over crust. Continue baking for 50 to 55 minutes or until center is set. Cool in pan 1 hour. Remove from pan; place onto serving plate.

Meanwhile, place chocolate chips in small bowl. Place whipping cream in small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat (2 to 3 minutes). Pour whipping cream over chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes; stir until smooth. Cool until mixture falls in ribbons off spoon (about 1 hour). Spread over top of cheesecake; sprinkle outer rim of cheesecake with 1/4 cup toffee bits. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Makes 16 servings.

To melt chocolate, place in 1-quart saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally, over very low heat until melted. Or, place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM (50% power), stirring occasionally, until melted (1 to 2 minutes).

Click here to view recipe and photo of Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake with Toffee Bits on Diana's Desserts Website

Pomegranate Champagne Punch

Servings: Makes 4 1/2 cups or 6 (3/4 cup) servings

Serve this festive and very tasty punch for New Year's Eve or for a special festive occasion. Double or triple the ingredients if you're having more guests.

2 cups champagne
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup seltzer or club soda
1/2 cup citrus vodka

Garnish: (optional)
1/2 cup frozen cranberries
Lemon or orange twists or curls

Combine champagne, pomegranate juice, seltzer (or club soda) and vodka in a large bowl or pitcher. Spoon 1/2 cup frozen cranberries over punch. Ladle approximately 3/4 cup punch into fancy mugs or champagne glasses over ice and garnish each mug or glass rim with a mint sprig and a twist of lemon or orange peel.

Makes 4 1/2 cups, or 6 (3/4 cup) servings.

Click here to view recipe and photo of Pomegranate Champagne Punch on Diana's Desserts Website

Until Next Year

Well, another year will have come and gone, and I do hope all of you have a happy holiday season during the last days of this year 2007, and have a joyous New Year, 2008.

My husband and I are planning to spend the holidays quietly at home with our dogs; Rosie, Clancy, Buster and Tinker Bell. We may visit with my aunt and uncle and my cousins who live nearby, during Christmas, but otherwise, we will stay "comfy and cozy" at home by the fireplace.

Happy Holidays and PEACE to all of you.

Sincerely, Diana

Diana's Desserts

Diana's Desserts
A Website Dedicated to Home Bakers

E-mail Address: diana@dianasdesserts.com

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