Merry Christmas with a Cherry (in a Tart)!

Merry (almost) Christmas!!!! I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of the holiday season is dessert. There are so many to choose from at this time of year! You have cookies, cakes, pies, candy, and more! And people are practically begging you to eat! The only down side to the many options is that it’s hard to choose what to serve for Christmas dessert. Do you go with an apple pie (one of my personal favorites), a classic buche de noel, decadent bread pudding, or something a little more modern?

I like to change it up from year to year, so this year for Christmas, my main dessert will be cherry tarts. They’re small and easy to eat with your fingers or with a fork. They’re pretty unassuming but they have a lot of flavor and texture for their size. My mom used to make these around Christmas and I’m excited to have them for dessert this year!

The tarts are so easy to make that you could prepare the dough ahead of time and then fill and bake them while everyone’s digesting after dinner. By the time your guests are ready for dessert, the tarts will be ready to devour! Another great thing about this recipe is that it is incredibly versatile. Not a fan of cherry? Try apple, blueberry, or even something more savory. You can also add flavors to the crust; just watch the balance of dry and wet ingredients. This is similar to a pie dough, so you want the dough to be on the drier side but not crumbling.

And I have even more good news for you- today is your lucky day! I don’t usually post recipes that aren’t mine, but this one came from my mom and I am excited to share it with you!

First, pull out your ingredients and let the butter and cream cheese warm a little. You don’t want them completely at room temperature because your dough will get too soft, but you need them workable.

Next, toss all of the ingredients except the pie filling into a bowl and blend. A pastry blender is ideal for this because you can mix everything well without beating the dough to death. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use a combination of a hand mixer (to chop everything up and start the mixing) and your hands to finish blending. I don’t recommend using a mixer the whole time because overbeating can make the dough tough. It’s more forgiving than standard pie dough but you don’t want to beat it to death.

Once everything’s mixed, stick the bowl covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for about an hour. You want the dough to be thoroughly chilled but not rock hard. Once it’s chilled, break the dough into evenly sized balls and smush them into the muffin tins. You should have 12 for a standard sized muffin tin or 6 for a jumbo (which is what I used this time). Once it’s separated, form the dough into the shape of the muffin tin. The dough will be fairly thin, so if you end up with holes just smush the dough around a little more. Don’t get precious about this- you want to move quickly so the dough doesn’t melt on you. They may not win any awards for looks, but any deficiencies in the appearance will be forgiven as soon as you bite into one.

Once the dough is in the tins, add a spoonful of pie filling to each tart. If you go with the jumbo pans it will be closer to 1 ½ spoons. The shells should be about ¾ full- enough for a good bit of filling but not so much they overflow when the dough shrinks during baking.

Once they’re finished and cool, all that’s left is to remove them and enjoy! I do recommend waiting to remove them from the pan until they’re cool- otherwise there’s a decent chance they’ll fall apart on you. If you want to serve them warm, reheat them in the microwave for just a few seconds right before you’re ready to serve.

Cherry Tarts

1 – 3 ounce package cream cheese
¼ pound butter
1 cup flour
1 can cherry pie filling

Step 1: Blend cream cheese, butter and flour
Step 2: Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate
Step 3: Mush the dough into the shape of the muffin tin
Step 4: Fill tarts with 1 Tablespoon of pie filling
Step 5: Cool and enjoy!

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with these delicious tarts!

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Mulled Wine- Spicy, warm, and full of holiday spirit

As the nights turn colder, we start craving warm, comforting foods and drinks- hot lava cake, warm apple pie, cider, hot cocoa, and mulled wine. Mulled wine is a classic, hot spiced wine made around the holidays (or anytime someone needs something warm and comforting). It is commonly served in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Brazil- pretty much all around the world. Each country puts its own spin on the wine, but the basic ingredients are wine; spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon; sugar of some sort; and citrus.

Even in Houston, where a winter day can easily reach 80 degrees, we enjoy many of the winter classics and I recently made some mulled wine and curled up with it on the couch to do some reading. Since the “recipe” is so general, I read over a few, checked my pantry and got to work.

img_1496Here’s what I used:
1 bottle of cabernet sauvignon
1 orange
1 lemon
3 cinnamon sticks
¼ cup of granulated sugar
Dash of ground cloves

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Once all the ingredients were in the pan, I brought the liquid to a boil and then simmered it for 15 minutes. That’s really all there is to it! It’s so simple you can easily make it when you want to throw on a pair of fuzzy socks and curl up with a good book, or when friends come over for an impromptu gathering!

img_1512Are you a mulled wine fan? What’s your favorite version?

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A Childhood Tradition Grows Up

One of my favorite childhood memories is making Christmas cookies. It was an annual tradition and we had a set menu: chocolate crinkles, cut-outs, snickerdoodles, snowballs, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. We also made fudge and divinity if it wasn’t too humid for the candy to set. When we made the cut-outs my siblings and I each got a pan of cookies to decorate, and then of course we got to eat them when they were finished! I always preferred the smaller cookies (especially the candy cane shaped ones!) because they were a little crunchier than the others. The cookies were, of course, left out for Santa on Christmas Eve and featured prominently on Christmas morning, when we ate cookies and candy for breakfast because my mom was too busy to make breakfast.

I still love to make Christmas cookies, and I love the idea of carrying on the tradition of making them with loved ones each year. If your loved ones are old enough, why not add to the tradition and make it a wine and cookie party? This year, I made 3 of my favorite cookies and sampled them with wine to find the best matches. Here are my picks for Christmas cookie and wine pairings:

Sugar cookies and a white blend

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My absolute favorite sugar cookie recipe comes out of the oven with a slightly chewy middle and crispy edges. I usually use vanilla extract in the cookies, but you could easily play with the flavors and make a variety of cookies- peppermint, lemon, strawberry, orange…just make sure to adjust your wine pairings if you change the extract from vanilla. I like an easy drinking white blend with the cookie best because it blended well with the super sweet cookies. Riesling is a good runner-up as well. The big surprise is that a Portuguese red blend from Dao actually went well with the sugar cookies. Usually the tannins in red wine don’t pair well with super sweet desserts, but in this case the tannins and the sugars almost dance on your tongue.

Chocolate crinkles with pinot noir

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I have recently learned that not everyone in the world has heard of chocolate crinkles, let alone tasted them. I’m shocked! These cookies have been such a big part of my holiday life that I assumed everyone made them. The best chocolate crinkles recipe is in the Williams-Sonoma cookbook- it calls for both cocoa powder and chocolate chips, which makes the cookies rich. You can change the types of chocolate to suit your tastes- want something dark and rich? Use a bittersweet or dark chocolate. Prefer your cookies ultra-sweet? Go for a milk chocolate, or even throw in some white chocolate chips. The wine pairing will vary depending on the type of chocolate you use. I opted for a dark chocolate cocoa and dark chocolate chips and paired them with a pinot noir, a syrah/Grenache blend, and a cabernet sauvignon. All of these worked well because the cookie is nice and bold with the dark chocolate.

Snickerdoodles with Riesling

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While snickerdoodles used to be relegated to my holiday baking repertoire, I now make them year-round because they’re easy to make and a big crowd pleaser. The snickerdoodles are pretty easy to overbake, so don’t be afraid to pull them out of the oven slightly earlier than you think you should. Leave them on the cookie sheet for a minute or two and the heat will help them finish while setting the cookie. Riesling and chardonnay both mix with the cinnamon in the cookies to evoke an apple flavor, which I love.

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Whether you’re leaving your cookies out for Santa or packaging them in cute tins as gifts, don’t be afraid to have a little extra fun pairing your favorite cookies with a glass of wine!

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Don’t Break The Bank

December is expensive for many people. Between gifts, parties, shows, going out for New Year’s, and anything else everyday life throws at you, your wallet may be hurting a bit by the time you hit January. It seems like everything that makes December fun and exciting also strains your budget.

When you throw a party, you want your guests to have a great time and enjoy the food and drink, which may make you want to spend a little more to make your gathering memorable. But throwing a party doesn’t have to send you into bankruptcy; you just need to find some good, inexpensive wines, have a few tricks up your sleeve, and enjoy the party. While there are some good wines out there under $10, you won’t usually get the level of complexity or flavor profiles that you would in a more expensive bottle. It’s simple economics- better wines cost more because of the quality of grapes, the abilities of the winemaker, and many other factors. So, how do you make your $10 bottle of pinot taste like it’s worth more?

First, save money on the wine by buying in bulk. Many stores offer a discount if you buy 6 bottles or more, so take advantage of this! You can purchase better quality bottles for less if you buy multiples. Check out warehouse clubs like Sam’s and Costco. You can get some great values there, especially on the larger bottles. Also, look for unoaked white wines. Oak is expensive, which means money was pulled from somewhere else for it, probably lowering the quality of the finished product. Finally, don’t be afraid to try lesser known grape options. These can be a little less expensive because there isn’t super high demand. Not only will you save a little at the store, but your guests will get to try something new and possibly find a new favorite. Some of my favorite wines are made from grapes like gamay, carmenere, and tempranillo.

Once you get your wines home, make sure to treat them properly by decanting the reds and keeping the whites at the right temperature. Decanting allows the wine to breathe and the flavors to develop. The volatile compounds that cause unpleasant smells liked burned matches and rubbing alcohol will also have a chance to evaporate, which makes the tasting experience much more pleasant. And it doesn’t take that long- most of the work is done as you pour the wine from the bottle into the decanter. Don’t have a decanter? Leave the wine bottle open for a good hour.

img_1529You also want to serve white wines at the correct temperature- don’t just serve them as cold as humanly possible or pull a bottle out of the fridge at the beginning of the night and leave it out to get warm. If a wine is too cold the flavors will be suppressed and you won’t necessarily get the best taste, but if it’s too warm any less than desirable flavors will be more obvious. You can leave your wine in the refrigerator, but guests might forget about it if they’re serving themselves. If you prefer to leave the wine out, you can use a wine bottle chiller, a bucket of ice and water, or a wine chiller stick.

img_1533Once you have your wines purchased and decanted/chilled, you still have to serve them. Don’t spend a fortune on glassware. Yes, certain types of glasses can enhance the taste of certain wines. But are you hosting a party for a bunch of sommeliers who will notice the difference? I’m guessing not. Don’t worry about buying all new specialty wine glasses for the party. Just use what you have or get some from Amazon or Target for not a lot of cash. If you have a bunch of wine glasses from various wine tastings, don’t be afraid to pull those out even though they don’t match. The different logos will inspire conversations and even help people make connections when they discover they’ve been to the same places.

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This post contains affiliate links. The Sugar Vine may receive a commission if you purchase something after clicking on a link. I promise to only recommend products I genuinely like.

I recently stopped by my local grocery store to pick up some inexpensive wines. Here are a few suggestions that will please any crowd, all for under $10 a bottle:

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