The anticipation used to kill me, trick me, tease me. Christmas break would start on a day before Christmas Eve and last all the way through to January 3rd. I would cry when I didn't get what I wanted, I would cry when I had to go back to school. I would eat turkey and ham and lasagna and seven different types of fish with my family. We would play cards, pretend to like each other. It was tradition and now I realize how ephemeral it really was. How days moved like molasses, and then quick like warmed syrup. From a small flurry to a blizzard, we wrapped ourselves in fleece blankets and wondered how the cold got into our old, old house and made our bones feel just as old.
That's what I remember about Christmas and I used to envy how others described it as magical, mystical, something worth looking forward to. All those years, it seemed like a chore and how greedy I was to ask for more, to count the dollar value or my gifts compared to my siblings'. How sad it all seemed the next day, anticlimactic and messy. I always wanted more, but I could never articulate what I wanted the most. I think all I wanted was to feel loved, held, a part of a larger family than the small nucleus that was mom, dad, brother, sister.
Lately I've been feeling nostalgic and hungry, grateful and like I lost something and can't remember where I put it. These feelings don't often hit me in such full force. Going home last week to Pennsylvania (more on that later) brought something out of me that I didn't know was in me: the power to create magic. The ability to create peaceful, loving memories with my mother. Instead of remaining bitter, remembering how a week before Christmas in 2010 I got tested for HIV and then threw a fit when I didn't get the new iPhone, I could laugh with my mom and hug my dad tight. I was invited to spend the night at my sister's first place, I called my brother and congratulated him on his new house. I was creating, making, forging, and shaping a future with my small nucleus to last longer than the one day a year we forced upon ourselves for tradition's sake. And that's what Christmas is about, that is what my parents wanted all along. And I want to return that favor to all of you. Bake this cake, forge those memories, make someone smile and discover that all you needed was there all along. It's one part Christmas and two parts mountain dessert, Appalachian baking. A moon pie, a whoopee pie. Whatever you call it, it's a survivalist attempt at decadence. It's delicious and light, moist and dense. A mile-high contradiction where you can splurge a little, if it helps you remember your care-and-calorie-free childhood a little easier.
I received a lot of presents this year -- marble and ceramics, wood and paper -- but the best gift I could receive was knowing that I'm loved by someone, and I can return that love to anyone who will let me.
Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie
- 1 2/3 cup eggnog, divided
- 1 cup cold water
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (mix it up with smoked salt)
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso mix
- 2 cups flour
- 2/3 cups cocoa powder
- 4 oz butter, softened
- 4 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon gelatin, bloomed in cold water
- 2 candy canes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 9" cake pans with butter and parchment paper
- In a mixing bowl or measuring cup, whisk all wet ingredients (1 cup of the eggnog) together and set aside
- Sift together soda, salt, espresso, flour, and cocoa in a large mixing bowl and create a well in the middle
- Slowly begin combining wet and dry ingredients, mixing with a rubber spatula to scrape all sides
- For an added level of smoothness, pour wet ingredients through a sieve and scrape sides with spatula into a clean mixing bowl
- Divide batter between two cake pans
- Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
- Allow to cool
- While cake is cooling, prepare the icing.
- In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of gelatin with a tablespoon of cold water and set aside while gelatin blooms
- In a large mixing bowl, use a mixer to combine butter, confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, until combined. Whip in the remaining eggnog and vanilla. Add a pinch of salt, if desired
- When gelatin has stiffened, put in microwave for 15 seconds or until melted and whip into icing mixture
- Allow to set for 15-20 minutes
- When cake is completely cooled and icing is set with the gelatin, you can assemble the cake
- Put one cake onto the plate, then scoop and smooth icing using a wet icing spatula or butter knife. Of course, this can be messy, so don't stress too much
- Top with remaining cake
- Pulse candy canes in a food processor until a fine dust
- Brush VERY lightly with water on cake to allow peppermint to stick
- Pour peppermint crumbs onto cake to taste's desire
- Enjoy with your family!
Merry Christmas, everyone!