Holiday Party Recap: A Cookbook Redemption and a Crew of Junior Party Assistants

So it's almost March and I'm just now getting around to finishing up my blog posts on our annual holiday party. Where does the time go?

First, I'm happy to report that I've had a change of heart about Christina Tosi's All About Cake. I had quite a few complaints about her recipe for Pretzel Cake Truffles, but I made her "B'day Truffles" and "Mint Cookies and Cream Cake Truffles" for the party and both were terrific. (I'm also basing my revised opinion on my positive experience with several additional recipes from the cookbook I made after the holidays -- I will get around to blogging about those eventually!)

The cake truffles were so popular at the party that I don't even have a picture of the birthday truffles because they were all eaten before I remembered to set some aside for a photo. I managed to stash away three mint cookies and cream truffles to get the photo below. These delightfully minty truffles have a center of vanilla cake crumbs mixed with miniature chocolate chips. They're held together with mint liquid cheesecake (cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, salt, milk, egg, egg yolk, and peppermint extract), coated with white chocolate, and covered in chocolate sand (sugar, flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt, and melted butter). I didn't encounter any problems with the recipe and I loved the crunch from the mini chocolate chips in the center.

I had a ridiculous amount of chocolate sand leftover and a decent amount of extra birthday sand as well, so I used them as toppings for home made ice cream. The salted caramel ice cream I served at our 2017 party was so popular that I made it again this year, along with ginger ice cream and maple spice ice cream. The full list of ice cream toppings I offered included: shots of espresso, maple cream liqueur, chocolate sand, birthday sand, toffee bits (I saved the crumbs and small bits when I cut this pecan and chocolate almond toffee), and homemade Cracker Jack bits (see below).
I recruited a small army of child laborers to help serve ice cream. My cousin's two children (who have expertly served as party helpers for the past several years, adeptly replenishing platters of cookies and brownies over the evening), my friend Jim's oldest daughter McKenna, and a co-worker's daughter were all eager to help. I dispatched them with a printed menu and some notepads and pencils, and they took orders, ran them back to me in the kitchen, and zipped away to deliver the assembled cups of ice cream with the requested toppings. Guests were very impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of my crew of 9- and 10-year old workers. My husband Tom told me that when the salted caramel ice cream was running low (I'm making a double batch of that next year because guests can never get enough of it) that they were discussing among themselves the need to "push" the other flavors and politely asking guests for their second choice of ice cream flavors in case their first choice was no longer available.

This post is already pretty long, so I'll quickly run through a few more recipes from the party. Bravetart's Homemade Cracker Jack (pictured below): Delicious. Crunchy, caramel-y, peanut-y. Kept well and could be made in advance. Plus, I used the crumbs as an ice cream topping.
Double Pecan Thumbprints from (pictured below): Meh. The texture of the cookie was quite crumbly and I didn't love the espresso powder in the pecan frangipane. I thought the coffee flavor was a little distracting.
Dorie Greenspan's Maple-Star Anise Cookies from Dorie's Cookies, made without the optional cream cheese filling/frosting (pictured below): Good, but I couldn't help comparing them to Ottolenghi's Orange and Star Anise Shortbread from our 2017 party, which were better. Both cookies include ground star anise and orange zest, so the flavor profiles are similar. But Dorie's cookies are slightly soft in the center and Ottolenghi's have a firmer texture and are more buttery.
François Payard's Christmas Balls (pictured below): Quite addictive. These are gluten-free cookies made from almond flour, sugar, egg whites, candied orange peel, candied ginger, dried cranberries, and powdered sugar. They had the flavor of a stollen but the form of a chewy almond cookie instead of bread. Plus, they were super easy to make and very festive.
And I'll close with a few more comments about some of the other desserts. I made the Carrot Graham Layer Cake from Smitten Kitchen and it went so fast that I not only failed to get a picture, but I didn't even get a chance to taste it. I'm assuming it was fantastic but I definitely need to make it again so that I can know for sure. I used homemade Oreo cookies (from Bravetart's recipe, of course) to make the crusts for Karen DeMasco's Cranberry Fool Chocolate Tart and Tiffany MacIsaac's Gianduja Tart with Chocolate-Cookie Crust. While I love the Bravetart Oreo cookies, they didn't work well in either of these tarts -- the crusts turned out greasy and in the future I would just use commercial chocolate wafers. I made the Chocolate Caramels from the Guittard Chocolate Cookbook and instead of chewy caramels I got something that was the texture of fudge. But holy cow was that fudge delicious. I took it to the office and my colleagues raved about it.

The most popular items with our guests were the cake truffles, chilled grapefruit pie, caramel ice cream, carrot cake, Kahlúa fudge bites, and homemade Biscoff. Oh, and of course the chocolate chip cookies and sweet and salty brownies are always favorites. I also have to give a shout out to my husband's pork meatballs, which were the best meatballs he has ever made (and the man has made thousands of meatballs for our party over the years... but I think the Calabrian chili paste he used this year took them over the top). My personal favorites were the Nussstangen, Christmas balls, lemon sugar cookies, ginger ice cream, Biscoffs, Pecan Sandies, Kahlúa fudge bites, and dark chocolate raspberry bonbons.

The complete list of recipes from the party is below:

Baked Goods:
Savory and Miscellaneous:
Previous Holiday Party Coverage: 2017 Holiday Party Recap; 2016 Holiday Party Recap; 2015 Holiday Party Recap; 2014 Holiday Party Recap; 2013 Holiday Party Recap; Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream (2012); Stump de Noël (2011) and 2011 Party Recap; 2009 Party Recap; 2008 Party Recap Parts I, II, and III.


Sally said…
I'm so glad that you liked the carrot cake! I think I recommended it - that salted caramel ice cream is DIVINE. I served with salted caramel sauce (SK) and coconut cake (Turshen's now & again) and the combination was perfect.

I would LOVE a post on how you pull this off!
Louise said…
I think you must have done a marathon in the kitchen to make all of these things. Is the rice flour in the Orange & Star Anise Shortbread the Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour, or something different?
Yes, you did recommend the carrot cake to me and I will definitely be making it again -- thank you! As far as how I get all the holiday baking done, I take three days off from work and methodically work through a prep list that has all of the tasks written out and how far ahead of time they can be done... One of the reasons I have made so many German Christmas cookies in the past couple of years is that they can be made far in advance, which definitely helps! :)
Hi Louise! The rice flour in the orange and star anise shortbread is the regular kind (I think I used Bob's Red Mill), not Mochiko:
Louise said…
Thanks. Last night I thought to pull out my copy of Sweet and it actually suggests Bob's Red Mill. I plan to make some later this week and see if my new embossed rolling pin works.