Most people watch It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story…or Miracle on 34th Street to get into the holiday spirit. As followers of this blog should know by now, we like to approach things from a different angle…even with old Hollywood classics. Though technically not a Christmas movie per se–it takes place over the course of four seasons in the life of the Smith family– we all agree Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) is one of those movies we must watch during the holidays…though if it’s on any other time of the year, we still couldn’t pass it up. To be fair, Rina wanted us to feature it on Halloween because of the great “Tootie the Most Horrible” sequence, but I wanted to save it for December because I love that song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the whole climatic scene where Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) has her epic meltdown and whacks away at the snowmen–jeez that kid had a homicidal streak…remember all those dead dolls buried in the backyard and her diabolical plan to derail that streetcar on Halloween? Fortunately for the Smiths, Tootie’s breakdown convinces Mr. Smith to change his mind about moving his family to New York City (God knows they can’t turn that little psycho loose on unsuspecting New Yorkers!).
The whole dramatic sequence ends with the family celebrating on “Christmas Day” with joyous relief that they will be staying in St. Louis after all–Esther won’t have to elope with John, John can go to college, everyone is going to the World’s Fair…crisis averted!
This whole sequence of events had me thinking, what would Katie (Marjorie Main) make for their celebratory “yay, we’re not moving to New York!” breakfast? Since the Smiths were clearly in the process of packing up and moving, she probably didn’t have as an extensive a larder as she normally would have…not to mention the fact that it really was the middle of the night and where the heck would she go to get supplies anyways?! The resourceful Katie would most likely whip up something tasty with whatever she happened to have on hand. This line of thinking invariably led me to look into my own frig for ideas. What I came up with was some leftover homemade tangerine-scented cranberry relish, cinnamon apples (surplus from the crostata I made for Thanksgiving), half of a small butternut squash, and one leek.
So what did I come up with, you may ask? Well, for starters, I knew I had to bake something…something warm and inviting…something worthy to be called (Yay, we’re not moving) Celebration Rolls–a rich brioche slathered with cinnamon browned butter, rolled with cranberry relish and cooked sliced cinnamon apples, and drizzled with a glaze spiked with homemade bourbon vanilla extract. The brioche dough recipe is very simple and basic…lots of butter worked into an egg-enriched dough. Once the dough has proofed, you simply roll it out into a rectangle and proceed to layer on the “filling,” then roll it into a log and cut it into 12 pinwheels, which are then placed into greased muffin pan molds, allowed to rise again until doubled, then baked and glazed. These rolls will guarantee you’ll have a “Merry Little Christmas.”
Yield: 12 rolls
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1 package Rapid Rise Yeast (instant yeast)
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
1/3 cup Whole Milk, lukewarm
12 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, softened to room temperature
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the dry ingredients on low speed. Whisk together the eggs and milk, then add them to the dry mix. Mix everything on low for about 4-5 mins. until the dough comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl about halfway through. Increased the speed to medium low and begin adding the butter a little at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. Kick up the speed to medium and continue mixing for another 10-12 mins. The dough should be somewhat sticky and shiny. Transfer the dough into a greased bowl large enough for double its size, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm space. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Roll dough out to a rectangle about 1/4″ thick.
1/2 cup Browned Butter (or just softened butter)
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
pinch of Sea or Kosher
2/3 cup Cranberry Relish
1 cup Sauteed Cinnamon Apple Slices, cooled to room temperature
Mix together the butter and sugar to form a spread, then slather it evenly onto the rolled out dough. Next, spread the cranberry relish on top of the butter, then arrange the apple slices end to end to form 3 rows lengthwise. Carefully roll the dough, tucking in the apples as you go along to form one uniform log. Cut the log into 12 pieces and place them into greased muffin tins. Cover the pan lightly with plastic and allow the rolls to double in size before baking in a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 20-24 mins. or until the rolls are a golden brown. Let the rolls cool in the pan for about 5 mins. before unmolding.
2 cup Powdered Sugar
1/4 cup Whole Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
pinch of Salt
Whisk together the ingredients until smooth. Drizzle glaze over the warm rolls.
The other dish I came up with plays upon an earlier scene in the movie where the family is sitting down to a dinner of corned beef and cabbage. Mr. Smith thinks it’s going to be a nice, relaxing meal, only to discover much to his aggravation that the entire family, including Katie the cook, are conspiring to speed up dinner in order to facilitate a private phone call between Rose and her erstwhile suitor Walter Sheffield. My Christmas Morning Corned Beef Hash makes great use of the butternut squash, leek, and herbs I had leftover from Thanksgiving. The only things I had to buy were a few little Yukon gold potatoes and some corned beef. I chopped up the squash and leek, along with half of a small yellow onion, sauteed them in my trusty cast iron skillet with some olive oil and a couple sprigs of sage and thyme until they began to soften, then added in the potatoes, which I had cooked until just tender the night before and quartered. When the potatoes developed some nice color, I tossed in the chopped corned beef and cooked it until was warmed through. To serve, I topped the corned beef hash with a sunny side up egg.
Now while I imagine the Smith children would partake in hot chocolate, I think the grown-ups might want something with a little more kick (especially if you had to listen the Tootie and Agnes blathering on about their Christmas gifts or Rose and Esther dithering about their romances all morning). For them, I concocted a coffee drink spiked with homemade Irish Creme and Creme de Menthe–a few of these Merry Irish Coffees work better than earplugs!
Homemade Irish Creme:
(courtesy of Saveur)
Yield: 2 quarts
2 cups Heavy Cream
2 tsp. Dutch Processed Cocoa
1 Tbsp. Espresso Powder
1-1/2 cups Irish Whiskey (e.g. Jameson)
2 cans (14oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 Vanilla Bean, split & scraped
Combine the cream, cocoa, espresso powder, whiskey, sweetened condensed milk and scraped vanilla beans (reserve the pod) in a blender and blend on low for about 30 seconds. Transfer the liquid into a 2-quart mason jar, add the vanilla pod and refrigerate. The liqueur should last up to two weeks in the refrigerator…if you’re not tempted to drink all of it by then.
Merry Irish Coffee
3 oz. Strong Brewed Coffee or 1 Double-Shot Espresso
3 oz. Steamed Whole Milk*
1 oz. Irish Creme
1/2 oz. Creme de Menthe
mint sprig and chocolate shavings for garnish
Pour the liquors into coffee cup, then top with the hot coffee and foamy steamed milk. Garnish with a sprinkling of chocolate shavings and a fresh sprig of mint. *If you don’t have an fancy espresso machine to steam your milk, just vigorously whisk the milk in a small pot as it is heating to create the foam.
And finally, no celebration can be complete without a dessert (no, the rolls don’t count as dessert!). I present my interpretation of the infamous “Hickory Nut Cake” Katie makes for Halloween…which Rina insisted we had to have…otherwise known as Maple Pecan Cake (because hickory nuts aren’t available at Trader Joe’s and I hate walnuts). I essentially took a basic white cake recipe, subbed out some of the butter with browned butter (which I also used in the rolls), then added some finely chopped toasted pecans and a little maple extract. Instead of the very sweet and heavy traditional boiled frosting, I added maple extract and a little bourbon to some vanilla Italian buttercream I had in the freezer and layered in some more chopped toasted pecans for the filling and frosting. And voila….
Not completely satisfied with my pink ombre flourish…Rina added this.