A global phenomenon, Christmas is a holiday that spans almost every corner of the globe, with each country and every family celebrating in a unique way that reflects their culture, religion, and traditions. Though the traditions vary, one thing remains similar— a focus on special dishes made exclusively this time of the year. Throughout this series, I’ll explore” Christmas Around the World”; how people in different countries celebrate, what they eat, and share a sweet recipe from each region. All beginning with a rift on a traditional holiday favorite here in the states: Bourbon Pecan Pie Stuffed Cupcakes. Stay tuned as we eat our way around the world!
Christmas is by far my favorite foodie holiday, perhaps because I have a perfectly good reason to indulge on that extra piece of pie. But also because it’s the time of year that show stopping desserts make their yearly appearance- oh, and chocolate everything. Family and friends gather together in front of warm cozy fires, exchange gifts, and celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s a time of love, warmth, wonder, anticipation, and celebration. I have so many fond memories of Christmas growing up. Decorating the Christmas tree, making cookies and the excitement of waking up Christmas morning to discover Santa had made it to our house.
In addition to the usual sugar cookies, peanut butter buckeye balls, and candy assortment, pie always made it on the dessert table. Although I’m not the biggest fan of traditional fruit pies, one did become a favorite: pecan pie. My grandmother, who was an expert baker always made sure my tastes were satisfied, and took my Christmas requests every year.
Over the years as my tastes matured and baking skills have progressed, I’ve started experimenting with the classics and become brave enough to create my own recipes. This year, I decided to take the traditional pecan pie it to cupcake form and fancy it up a bit, resulting in Bourbon Pecan Pie Stuffed Cupcakes. This recipe takes all of the best parts of the pie- pecans, gooey brown sugar filling, bourbon, and chocolate, and wraps it up in a tasty little package. I will forever have dreams about this smooth velvety batter that transforms into a medley of complex and rich flavors. I hope this cupcake will find a place on your holiday dessert table this year.
CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
As a melting pot of cultures, the United States borrows many traditions from those that brought them here many generations ago and have changed greatly over time. Therefore, they have been blended by families around the country creating their own unique and special ways of celebrating the holiday.
Here are a few traditions common throughout the US:
The tradition of Christmas trees is believed to have begun in Germany in the 16th century. According to legend, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther first added lighted candles to a tree to remind his children of the wonders of God’s creation. It wasn’t until the 1800s that Christmas trees became popular in the United States. Today, people purchase a fresh evergreen tree or set up an artificial version and decorate it with lights, garland, ornaments, and other unique decorations.
Santa Claus, (aka Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, etc) came about to the United States the 19th century as well, and is derived from the Dutch Sinter Klaas and the German Saint Nicholas. He gained the persona of a jolly giver of gifts by way of a reindeer-drawn sleigh through the 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Children around the states (and the world) wait anxiously on Christmas eve for Santa to appear, leaving a glass of milk and a plate of cookies to help sustain him on his long journey of chimney hopping.
Decorating for Christmas began in the late 1850’s, shortly after Massachusetts declared it a legal holiday in 1856. At the time, decorations were very modest and included decorated trees and swags of greenery adorning the exteriors. It has certainly come a long way since then, with a large percentage of the population putting up some sort of exterior decor; with some getting super elaborate with their decor, hanging thousands of lights and creating light shows synchronized with music.
The tradition of gift giving began as a pagan custom, particularly during the winter solstice, which happens in December in Europe. In ancient Rome the Saturnalia holiday was celebrated during this month and was celebrated with gift giving. As Christianity spread, the custom of gift giving continued, and was reinterpreted and tied to the story of three Magi (or wisemen) giving gifts to baby Jesus.
In the 19th century (sense a trend?) modern, commercialized Christmas began to emerge with the new custom of purchasing gifts for young children given both from their parents and St. Nick. Thus creating a huge economy for the Seasonal “Christmas shopping” traditionally kicking off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the US.
Stay tuned for more posts in this “Christmas Around the World” series!
Chocolate bourbon brown sugar cupcakes stuffed with pecan pie filling and topped with a brown butter brown sugar frosting. Rich and complex flavors that make for a perfect end to a holiday meal.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United States
CHOCOLATE BOURBON BROWN SUGAR CUPCAKES
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dutch process cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup bourbon
3 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temp
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
PECAN PIE FILLING
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/8 cup cold water
BROWN BUTTER BROWN SUGAR FROSTING
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/3 cup whole milk
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Making the cupcakes:
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line cupcake tins with paper liners
- In a medium sized bowl mix together dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Using a smaller bowl mix together wet ingredients: milk, bourbon, molasses, and vanilla
- In a stand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce the blender speed to medium-low and add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each is blended well before adding the next. Beat until creamy.
- Slowly add the flour and milk mixtures in thirds, alternating between the two and blending until just incorporated after each addition.
- Once all of the flour and milk mixtures are added, continue to blend 1-2 minutes more until well blended and batter is silky and smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly among the tins and bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Let cool slightly, then remove cupcakes from pan to cool completely on a wire cooling rack.
Making the filling:
- Combine water and corn starch, mix well, set aside.
- Place a small saucepan over medium heat and combine sugar, corn syrup and butter stirring constantly until butter melts and sugar completely dissolves.
- In a large bowl, combine egg, bourbon, vanilla, salt and corn starch mixture. Mix thoroughly. Very slowly pour into sugar mixture, whisking constantly so that the heat from the sugar mixture doesn’t cook the egg mixture.
- Continue simmering over low heat until mixture reduces and becomes thicker.
- Set aside to cool
- Once the mixture is cooled, add the chocolate chips and pecans and stir to mix well. When well incorporated, place in the fridge at least 1 hour to let cool (overnight is better).
- After the cupcakes and filling are completely cooled, cut a small hole in the middle of each cupcake with a butter knife making sure not to go too close to the bottom. Scoop out the cake creating a small hollow area.
- Scoop in 2 tbs of the pecan mixture into the cupcake.
Making the Frosting:
- Place the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat to make brown butter. If you have never made brown butter, it’s super easy. Just let the butter melt, and keep it over heat until the bottom bits essentially begin to burn slightly, releasing a deliciously complex aroma. During the process, the butter will bubble and sizzle loudly (don’t worry this is normal), just keep and eye on it and stirring frequently. Once the butter reaches a golden color, immediately remove from heat as it can burn quickly.
- Add the brown sugar and return the pan to medium heat stirring until brown sugar as dissolved completely. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower temp to low to simmer for 2 minutes.
- Carefully add the milk (there may be splatters) and return to a boil stirring constantly until mixture is well combined.
- Remove from heat and cool.
- Once mixture is cooled to the touch, place in a stand mixing bowl.
- On a low speed, slowly add confectioners sugar until well blended and thick.
- Add more milk if frosting is too stiff 1 tbs at a time until desired consistency is reached.
- In a heavy skillet, toast chopped pecans over medium-low heat, stirring often until lightly toasted and nutty aroma is released.
- Frost the cupcakes either with a small spatula, butter knife or piping bag with a large tip (piping may be difficult due to the thickness of the frosting).
- Once frosted, place the cupcakes on a baking sheet and top with roasted pecans, gently pressing to adhere to frosting.
This recipe can also be made as a cake by using two 10 inch cake pans.
What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?
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