Christmas Baking, Part 1: The Part Dealing with Molasses

Imagine this: it's Sunday night of the week before the week of Christmas (but let's face it, with so little time between Christmas and Thanksgiving this year, it's already crunch time), and after being semi-snowed in all day (ok, not really. We weren't snowed in, but it was a quiet afternoon at home after a snowstorm and digging out in the morning), I wanted to bake.  Forget the fact that I have things I will be baking for the next week.  I wanted to bake something else.

My first thought was gingerbread granola.  Because as much as I love my pumpkin granola (and will be making more soon), I felt like something festive.

Oh wait.  I don't have molasses.  Ok, nevermind.  Well, I also need to make some cupcakes for NES's work event this week.  Oh yeah, I was going to make gingerbread cupcakes.  Ok, so it's banana bread time.  Because banana bread is always essential when there are 4 brown bananas sitting on the counter.

But when one has no molasses and the title of the recipe is "Banana and Molasses Toffee Chip Bread," one questions whether even that is worth it.

I eventually decided it was, and that the world was conspiring to get me to go out the grocery store, so I finally did.  I got molasses, and all my other baking needs for the week.  In the end, it was worth the trip (even if the grocery store was out of lots of things).

So first came the gingerbread granola.  It was a little more involved than my average granola recipes -- a.k.a. it actually took more than one bowl!  Gasp!  But it makes for a very different type of granola, so it was worth it for the change.  This is more of a coated and crispy granola than my usual dry and crispy granola (or cakey and not crispy at all, if you don't bake it as long).

When I was putting it in the oven, it smelled EXACTLY like gingerbread cookies.  I was so tempted to break down right then and there and decide to make gingerbread men later in the week.  But they really are a project, and I just don't think I'll have the time.  They were always one of my necessary Christmas projects before last year.  Dad and I would spend a whole afternoon making them.  And I used to be so, so impatient about them having to chill.  Maybe when we have kids old enough to help, I'll get back into the spirit.  Or maybe just when there's more time before Christmas.

I happened to have leftover pumpkin seeds in the fridge, so I added a few in the granola instead of nuts.  The jury's still out on that one.   I'm not sure I'll put them in next time.  After all, what drew me to this particular recipe was the simplicity of it.

Gingerbread Granola
from Make and Takes

4 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
3/4 cup chopped nuts or seeds, optional
pinch of salt
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Combine the oats, flour, spices, salt, and nuts/seeds, if using, in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the oil, maple syrup and molasses over low heat until small bubbles form.  Add the vanilla extract.

Pour the liquid mixture over the oat mixture and stir until well coated.

Pour the mixture onto a aluminum foil lined baking sheet.  Bake for 40 minutes, stirring 3-4 times.  The granola should look dry.  It will become crunchier as it cools.

So yes.  Granola.

Fast forward to snowstorm #2.

Well, first, Monday.  I spent my Monday wrapping, paper-crafting, and watching White Christmas.  It's growing on me.  Lovely.

Then storm #2.  Sort of.  It actually just started to snow as I was finishing my baking for the day.  It was a little surreal to finish my Christmas baking and look to see it snowing.  See, I was planning on making my trip to school this week on Tuesday, but I decided against it in the snow.  That'll be later this week.

So instead I stayed cozy inside and made cupcakes for NES's work event and banana bread for my trip to LB's house!

Since NES isn't a big mint fan, I didn't make peppermint and chocolate cupcakes.  Otherwise, I would have in a heartbeat.  But finding a Christmas cupcake I felt like making and NES would like gave me a challenge.  I eventually did settle on gingerbread, since they were a little out of the ordinary (and I was missing my gingerbread cookies!).

They were easy to make, and they were tasty!

I LOVE cream cheese frosting, so I was glad to experiment with a new type.  I didn't use whipped cream cheese, so it came out very dense and very cream cheesy -- I think I'll add a little more powdered sugar next time!

I was a little concerned about piping the frosting on the cupcakes, since it didn't seem like the recipe made much.  However, I had enough to pipe frosting onto 18 of the 21 cupcakes, so I'll take it!

The other three were just kinda sad looking next to the rest.

I decided that I wanted to be daring and put red and white swirled frosting on non-mint cupcakes.  KEB assured me that it was not mean to potentially trick people this way, so I did.  I even found myself thinking mint occasionally as I looked at them, though.  Maybe it was a little mean.  But they looked festive!

However, it gave me an opportunity to try out the swirled frosting technique I'd seen, but never tried!  I dyed half of the frosting red (and yes, that is red . . . don't question it).  I put the red and white into separate pastry bags.  Then, both of those pastry bags went into another pastry bag with a large star tip at the end.  The first one I did came out only red, but after that, they came out great!  It was so easy!

Then a little sanding sugar, just for holiday sparkle!

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
from Busy in Brooklyn

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

8 oz. whipped cream cheese
4 tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.

Mix together the oil, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a separate bowl.  Add the eggs to the wet ingredients and mix.  Add the molasses to the wet ingredients also, and mix well.

Add half of the dry ingredients and half of the hot water to the wet mixture and mix.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.  Mix to incorporate.

Line a cupcake pan with liners and fill to 2/3 full.  Baking for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cupcake comes out clean.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

Meanwhile, for the FROSTING, beat the butter and cream cheese together until almost white and fluffy.  Add the brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and mix well.

Add the powdered sugar in 3-4 installments, mixing between.  Mix well.

Frost the cupcakes.

Ok.  One more thing.  The banana bread.

For one thing, this banana bread did have some Greek yogurt in it, making me think it might be a slightly healthy version.  The butter and toffee chips might (or do . . . ) totally counteract that, but it didn't have the texture I am used to getting with yogurt, which was nice.

The one mystery I found with this bread was the toffee chips. In the pictures from Picky Palate, they stayed sitting nicely on top of the bread.  It looks so pretty.  Mine sunk.  Entirely.

One of the loaves kind of turned into an "upside down cake," in that the chips made a caramelly layer on the bottom.  In the other they kind of just disappeared.  It's a mystery.

However, it was tasty.  And made a perfect snack while we were waiting for lunch at LB's Bible study!  And an extra loaf for a gift, too, since I had four overripe bananas!
Oh yeah, and there was peppermint hot cocoa and baking really tasty peanut butter cookies involved, too!

Banana and Molasses Toffee Chip Bread 
from Picky Palate

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp. molasses
2 large overripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup toffee chips/bits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Cream the butter and sugar until well combined.  Add the egg, molasses, mashed bananas and yogurt.  Mix until combined.

Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and mix well.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle evenly with toffee bits.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 30 mins., then remove from the pan and cool completely.


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