Christmas is coming for those who celebrate — and the holiday season is already here. For many of us, there’s a drumming urge to welcome it all back emphatically. Stringing fence lights and staging trees earlier and earlier, we hope to be swept away into something larger than ourselves.
One of the best ways to capture the benevolent spirit of the season is by baking festive sweets and sharing them with those closest to us, but also finding moments to enjoy them for ourselves.
There’s a pocket of time in the early hours of Christmas morning that has magic in it. It’s the most climactic point of the day, when the possibilities are fulfilling enough on their own and the entire house seems to wink with what’s to come. As the prologue to the evening feast, it should be prolonged with warm drinks, spiced confections and a brunch of festive breads that can be prepped the night before.
If you pull yourself from bed early enough to catch the tree with its belly still full of presents — before the boxes and bags turn to heaps of decorative paper — you’ll probably need caffeine and something sweet to perk you up. A brewing pot of coffee fills the kitchen with the smell of roasted beans, and a cup keeps you company as you settle into the scene. Take in a couple of bites of coffee-soaked cookie, some sips of cookie-soaked coffee and a final glimpse of the plump stockings.
When gingerbread biscotti is dipped in coffee, it adds spice and sweetness, its chocolate coating softening the bitterness. At the same time, the coffee soaks into the stiff biscotti, transforming its dry-brick texture into tender cake. The cookie is a gift in itself, filled with chunks of chewy ginger and all the best winter spices, such as star anise and clove, and can be baked days ahead.
While the biscotti alone can set the tone for the day, it’s not a show without popcorn. A small batch of sweet popcorn dusted with cinnamon takes little time to make and adds the luring scent of spice and caramel to the air, an aroma sure to rouse the household from slumber.
Grab some of Santa’s uneaten oatmeal cookies before the little ones awake, and arrange them on a serving platter with the cinnamon toast popcorn and biscotti. It’s the perfect dessert board to munch on while you watch the commotion around the tree.
If, before you know it, it’s already time for brunch, take an overnight-soaked French toast and ready-to-bake cinnamon roll wreath from the refrigerator and pop them into the oven. They can bake side by side while you return to opening gifts.
The eggnog-flavored French toast is essentially a bouquet of cream and butter made by deeply scoring a round loaf of bread and leaving the bottom intact. You do the same for raisin-stuffed cinnamon rolls: shaping the dough logs into an oval, then slicing them without cutting through the base and arranging the rolls to resemble a holiday wreath. Once baked, both become decorative centerpieces for the table.
While pulling at sticks of caramelized, custardy bread and hot cinnamon rolls, everyone is sure to feel merry, and so will you, having wittingly stretched the day you’ve waited for all year.
But you can do the same any day, for any celebration or none at all. However you choose to savor the season, fill the moments with something sweet.
Recipes: Cinnamon Toast Popcorn | Eggnog Overnight French Toast | Raisin Cinnamon Roll Wreath | Iced Oatmeal Cookies | Gingerbread Biscotti
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