The holidays are a time for togetherness, thoughtfulness, and of course, indulging, and the act of baking manages to be the perfect apex of all these wonderful pursuits. Our friends at Lucques Group (the masterminds behind some of our favorite LA restaurants – Tavern, AOC, and of course, Lucques) and executive pastry chef Sahar Shomali invited us in for a behind-the-scenes look at their tasty treats. We were inspired to bring some of Sahar’s merry ideas home with us, and to share a few traditions of our own.
Tavern’s Christmas Classics
To visit this Gather go-to during the holidays is to enter a little wonderland. An enchanted forest Bûche de Noël and candy cane, peppermint and gingerbread cookies abound; magnolia leaf garlands and a sparkling, cool-toned tree make for an understated but festive space. Sahar’s holiday line-up is thoughtfully crafted and available for order via The Larder.
“My favorite contribution to this line-up is the Linzer cookie. Derived from the classic Linzer Torte, this is one of the first desserts I ever made by myself when I was a child just learning how to bake. The memory has always stayed with me, and the fact that it is a Christmas classic makes it all the better. It’s the perfect combination of flavor (sweet from the cookie, sour from the jam), texture (crunch from the cookie, gooey from the jam), and color (bright red in the middle and powdered sugar that looks like snow). I hope people enjoy these as much as I do every time I make them!“
– Sahar Shomali, Executive Pastry Chef
Courtesy of Tavern
- 240 grams butter, softened
- 325 grams sugar
- 1/4 tsp grated orange zest
- 1 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 1/4 tsp cardamom, ground
- 4 egg yolks
- 110 grams hazelnuts
- 300 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- Raspberry jam (as needed)
- Powdered sugar (as needed)
Toast the hazelnuts in a 310F oven for 10-15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, and then process in a food processor until a fine meal. Reserve.
Mix and sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Reserve.
In a KitchenAid or other mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, paddle together the butter, sugar, the zest and spices, on medium speed for 3 minutes.
Scrape down and mix in the egg yolks in 2 steps, scraping in between.
On low speed mix in the hazelnut meal and the sifted dried ingredients, until the dough comes together.
Take the dough out of the machine and pat into a block. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about ¼ inch thick.
Using fluted cookie cutters, cut out pairs of cookies. Using a smaller cookie cutter, cut out the center of half of the cookies. These will be the top portion of the cookie sandwiches.
Place the cookies on an oven tray with parchment on, and bake in 325F oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Let the cookies cool.
Separate the bottoms from the tops.
Spread 1 ½ tablespoons raspberry jam on the bottom portion. sprinkle powdered sugar on the top portion. sandwich the two.
And my one and only tip for the home cook:
Buy a scale! Learn to weigh ingredients for recipes instead of measuring with cups – it makes a world of difference.
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Katie’s No-Bake Goods
“There were countless observed Christmas rituals in my house growing up, and fudge was the omnipresent background player at every single one of them. A decadent treat reserved exclusively for this time of year, I knew the holiday season had officially commenced once I saw my mother melting chocolate on the stove (typically the day after Thanksgiving at my impatient request). I was notoriously disinterested in kitchen arts as a kid, and it is a running family joke that it only took me a couple of decades to master precision marshmallow counting — the key to fudge success. There are no double-broilers or fancy candy thermometers to worry about with this recipe, and it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes of active prep time – my idea of ‘baking’! Yet, it is the best fudge I’ve ever tasted – a perfect, not-too-sweet little morsel passed down from my grandmother, and now to you.”
Courtesy of Grace Gibbons & Gayle Christopher
- 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (plus a few extra for good measure)
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup chopped nuts (I love pecans but walnuts are great too)
- 1/4 cup crushed candy cane (optional)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 110 mini-marshmallows (it’s very important to be exact – I speak from experience!)
Butter an 8-inch square pan.
Bring gently to a boil the milk and marshmallows, stirring constantly at the boil for 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate, butter, vanilla, and nuts.
Pour mixture into buttered pan, smooth with a spatula and allow to set for several hours. Sprinkle crushed candy cane over top if desired. Cut into small, bite-squares, arrange on a seasonal platter and serve.
Can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to a week.
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Baking Party Tips
- Keep it casual. Have friends kick off their shoes and tie on an apron as soon as they arrive.
- Set up loosely defined “stations” in your kitchen so people can participate at their own pace.
- Fuel the ‘fire’ with light snacks, drinks and holiday movies while you work.
- Whip up a warm sip while your treats are in the oven. We can’t get enough of this Irish hot cocoa!
- Sample the goods and swap recipes. Send friends home with goodie boxes of their handiwork.