Hark! While hear those “angels” sing during those most cherished holiday moments, we are usually engaging in other forms of celebration, most notably in the forms of eating and drinking.

As the month of December is frequently an inevitable break from calorie counting, one philosophy about indulging is to make sure every decadent bite is worth it by making sure that what you put into your mouth is incredibly delicious.

With this in mind, we decided to hit up some culinary bigwigs to make sure that our suggestions were helped make tasty holiday memories that friends and family talked about long after the get-together is over!

The following recipes were pulled from the pages of recent cookbooks: At Home with Lynn Crawford, Back to Basics with Michael Smith and In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita, all courtesy of Penguin Books.

Not only were these delights expertly designed but all of the following recipes have also been exhaustively sampled to ensure maximum pleasure and holiday cheer.

Chef Lynn Crawford

From Chef Lynn Crawford, the following two confections are more ideal for adult tastes, particularly as one contains alcohol. They would be great for a grown-up gathering or something for the big people to enjoy while the little ones get their hands on the other treats listed below.

Strawberry Icewine floatStrawberry Ice Wine Float

While this is generally a summer recipe, it could be the perfect light cocktail to serve at your next celebration.

Serves 4

1 cup (250ml) finely diced strawberries
1/3 cup (75ml) ice wine
4 scoops strawberry ice cream
Champagne or sparkling water to cover

Stir together strawberries and ice wine and let sit for half an hour.

Divide strawberries among 4 glasses. Top with a scoop of ice cream, add a splash of champagne and serve immediately.



Baked Brie with Fruit & Nut Honey

“I always have lemon thyme honey on hand ready to go. I keep it in mason jars and put it on everything: with yogurt for breakfast, with ice cream for dessert, and in this case, with baked Brie for an awesome sweet and sticky snack. Be sure to pile on the dried fruits and nuts. It looks great,” said Crawford.

Serves 4

1 wheel Brie (about 8oz/225g)
1 cup (250ml) assorted dried fruits and nuts
1 cup (250ml) Lemon Thyme Honey
½ tsp (2ml) black pepper
Baguette slices

Preheat oven to 350°f (180°c).

Place Brie in an ovenproof dish and bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine fruits and nuts, honey and black pepper. Heat over medium-low heat until warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Top Brie with honey mixture and serve immediately with sliced baguette.

Lemon Thyme Honey
Makes 2 cups (500 ml)
1 lemon
2 cups (500ml) honey
4 sprigs thyme

Using a vegetable peeler, strip rind from lemon. Place in a small saucepan with honey and thyme, bring to a simmer over medium heat and then pour mixture into a clean, sterilized jar. Cover and let sit to infuse for 24 hours before using.

Chef Michael Smith

From Chef Michael Smith, two incredible sweet treats featuring the “twists” that are the theme of his new book.

Banana Rum Bread Pudding

“A simple bread pudding is one of the easiest treats to get into the oven and onto the table. It’s easy for a few flavours to tag along as well, because once you’ve mastered the basic recipe you can easily freestyle your own ideas into the works,” said Smith about this delight.

Serves 8

Preheat your oven to 350˚f (180˚c) and turn on your convection fan if you have one. Lightly oil a 13×9-inch (3 litre) baking dish.

To make the pudding, in a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk, cream, rum, brown sugar and vanilla. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chunky banana. It’s okay if the banana makes the works a bit lumpy. Stir in the bread cubes, evenly coating every piece with the delicious custard. Let the works rest until the bread absorbs all the custard, 10 minutes or so. Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Bake until the pudding is set and cooked through and the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the cream with the sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla until soft and pillowy.

Serve and share with mounds of whipped cream!

For the bread pudding
4 eggs
1 cup (250ml) of milk
1 cup (250ml) of whipping cream
1/4 cup (60ml) of any rum
1 cup (250ml) of brown sugar
1 tablespoon (15ml) of vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, mashed but still chunky
1 loaf of your favourite bread, cubed

For the whipped cream
2 cups (500ml) of whipping cream
2 tablespoons (30ml) of sugar
1 teaspoon (5ml) of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon (5ml) of vanilla extract

Bread pudding started out as a simple way to use up stale bread, so don’t feel limited in your bread choices – any average-sized loaf works. Just remember, the better the bread, the better the pudding. Experiment with different baking spices, both in the whipped cream and in the pudding. Try stirring in other fruit, like apples. Nuts work well too. And of course chocolate in its many forms can sneak in – cocoa powder or melted chocolate in the batter or chips in the pudding. Your call!

Sparkle CookiesSparkle Cookies

“Every now and then you stumble onto a bit of perfection. Years ago my buddy, renowned Vancouver pastry chef Thomas Haas, introduced me to these cookies. I promptly introduced them to everyone I know – they’ve been a staple in my holiday gift baskets ever since – and now I’m proudly telling the world: these are the best cookies I’ve ever baked. Thanks, Thomas, for sharing them!” said Smith.

The following recipe makes about 60 cookies

1 pound (450g) of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (125ml) of butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon (5ml) of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5ml) of pure orange extract
4 eggs
1 cup (250ml) of sugar, plus more for rolling
2 cups (500ml) of ground almonds
2 tablespoons (30ml) of cocoa powder

Set up a double boiler to melt the chocolate while insulating it from direct, damaging heat by placing a large heatproof bowl over a smaller pot of barely simmering water. Put the chocolate and butter in the bowl and gently stir the works until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the vanilla and orange extracts, then remove the bowl from over the water.

Toss the eggs and sugar into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on the highest speed until the sugar is smoothly dissolved and the mixture thickens dramatically into smooth ribbons that fall from the beater, no more than 10 minutes. In a separate bowl,
whisk together the ground almonds and cocoa powder.

Pour the egg mixture over the chocolate mixture, then sprinkle with the almond mixture. Fold the works together with a rubber spatula until everything is evenly combined. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and firm, several hours or even overnight.

Preheat your oven to 325˚f (160˚c) and turn on your convection fan if you have one. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper or a non-stick liner.

Pour a little sugar into a shallow dish. Scoop out tablespoons of the dough and roll them into 1-inch (2.5cm) balls. Toss the balls in the sugar, evenly coating them with sparkly bits. Arrange 1 inch (2.5cm) apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. They’ll slump a bit and crisp on the outside but the inside will stay delightfully fudgy. Transfer to racks to cool. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, cram a few in – strictly for quality-control purposes – then serve and share!

Remember the old days when chefs wouldn’t give out their recipes and there was always a secret ingredient or two? Not anymore. Now they’re happy to share and encourage you to make their recipes your own by stirring in your own ideas. These cookies may have been created in Thomas Haas’s pastry shop, then tweaked and simplified a bit in mine, but ultimately they become yours as soon as you bake them once.

Chef Stefano Faita

And finally from Chef Stefano Faita, a snacking delight that is perfect for a family get-together or something to munch on while enjoying the hockey game.

Snacks Candied PeanutsSweet ’n’ Spicy Candied Peanuts

“I take after my dad when it comes to my love of peanuts. These addictive slightly sweet, slightly spicy nuts are so easy to make and have only a few ingredients. It’s a quick way to make ordinary peanuts extraordinary!” said Faita.

Makes 2 cups (500ml)
1 cup (250ml) sugar
3 tbsp (45ml) water
2 cups (500ml) unsalted peanuts
2 tsp (10ml) kosher salt
1 tsp (5ml) smoked salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar melts and starts to boil, 3 to 5 minutes. Add peanuts, kosher salt, smoked salt, cinnamon and cayenne. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar crystallizes. (It will get sandy in texture.) Transfer to a baking sheet and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

On behalf of all of us at the Nation, happy holiday entertaining!