Happiest of Holiday Recipes

Leslie Byars Register and other Birmingham Dames share their favorite elevated holiday recipes and a simple tick for stylish party favors.

Tray of white decorated sugar cookies.
Photography by Leslie Byars Register

You are in for an extra-special treat this issue. I had a chance to sit down with a few of the best chefs and foodies in town and ask them to share some of their favorite holiday recipes.

Treat your guests to Gia McCollister’s showstopping Pecan and Dulce de Leche Cake with simple spatula decorating detail. Discover the icing tips that Becky Satterfield uses for her Easy Sugar Cookies. Whip up Idie Hastings’s favorite Italian Biscotti. And bake a batch of Brooke Bell’s Cream Cheese-Stuffed Red Velvet Cookies.

Many thanks to these fellow Dames* for elevating my recipes this month to a whole new level. And an extra thank you to Gia McCollister for sharing her exquisite handmade porcelain cake plates and platters. She puts every flower on one by one. For more information on these amazing works of art, go to giamccollisterporcelain.com.

*The Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) is an organization of resident leaders and experts in the food and beverage industries dedicated to growing, creating, promoting, and sharing local food culture.

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Easy Sugar Cookies

Snowflake shaped sugar cookie with iridescent white icing and sprinkles

Becky Satterfield – Becky Satterfield is the proprietor and executive pastry chef of Satterfield’s and El ZunZún restaurants.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl, and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in a bowl, and mix with a hand mixer or a stand mixer with whisk attachment on medium until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla. Mix until smooth.

Add flour mixture a little bit at a time with the mixer on low until well blended. Continue mixing until the dough holds together, up to
5 minutes. Divide dough in half, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375°. While the oven is preheating, remove the dough from the fridge.

Sprinkle the work surface with flour so the dough doesn’t stick. Roll dough to 1⁄4-inch thickness, and cut into desired shapes. Place cookies 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes or just until cookies begin to brown on the edges.

Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, transfer to a cooling rack, and cool completely before decorating.

Icing Recipe:

Star shaped sugar cookie with iridescent white icing and sprinkles

2 1⁄2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
or almond, lemon, or orange extract
1 1⁄2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2-3 tablespoons milk, divided
Food coloring (gel is best)

With whip attachment, beat powdered sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, and 1 tablespoon of milk in a mixing bowl until smooth.

Add more milk a little at a time to reach desired consistency. If you desire a color, stir in food coloring to reach the desired shade. Decorate cookies, and allow icing to set.

Consistency of the Icing

If you’ve watched cookie-decorating videos, you’ll usually see thick icing (peanut butter consistency) used to outline the shape and thinner icing (more like a gravy consistency) to the inside.

If you’re making fancy cookies, you’ll likely want both consistencies. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk (1⁄2 teaspoon at a time; it doesn’t take much). If it’s too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar.

You can test one cookie to ensure the icing doesn’t run off the edges and that it holds its shape well enough but still spreads.

To Ice Cookies:

Use a piping bag with a #2 cake-decorating tip, and outline sugar cookies.

Once the cookie outline has been set for about 10 minutes, you can “flood” the inner section of the cookie with the same color or another color.

Top with sprinkles, crushed candy canes, or a variety of fun toppings.

If you are new to piping with icing, practice on a piece of parchment paper until you get the hang of it. Instant sugar art!

Cream Cheese-Stuffed Red Velvet Cookies

Brooke Bell – Brooke Bell is the vice president of culinary and custom content at Hoffman Media.

Cream Cheese-Stuffed Red Velvet Cookies


1 1⁄2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 1⁄4 cups plus 31⁄2 tablespoons (42 grams) sugar, divided
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red liquid food coloring

1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder,
1 1⁄2 tablespoons baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
Garnish: melted white chocolate

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 21⁄4 cups sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy,
3 to 4 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in food coloring and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating just until combined and stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Cover and refrigerate until dough no longer sticks to your fingers when pinched, 30 to 45 minutes.

In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, remaining 31⁄2 tablespoons sugar, and remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Cover and freeze for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a 1 1⁄2-tablespoon, spring-loaded scoop, scoop dough, and roll into balls. Press balls into 21⁄2-inch disks. Place 11⁄2 teaspoons cream cheese mixture each in center of half of disks; cover with remaining disks, and crimp edges closed. Gently shape into balls, and place 3 inches apart on prepared pans; gently press into 21⁄4-inch disks, pressing together any cracks in edges, if necessary. (Refrigerate assembled disks until ready to bake.)

Bake, one batch at a time, until edges are dry and centers are slightly wet and puffed, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on wire racks. Garnish with melted white chocolate, if desired.

Add a pop of color to your cookie exchange with these red-hued beauties. Moist and chewy red velvet cookies get a dollop of sweetened cream cheese stuffed in the center, along with a decorative white chocolate drizzle. When finished each cookie will look like a perfectly wrapped present with a sweet surprise inside.

Idie’s Italian Biscotti

Idie Hastings – Idie Hastings is owner and director of operations of Hot and Hot Fish Club; OvenBird Restaurant; and One Lucky Dog Treats.

Italian Biscotti


2 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/ 3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking power

1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon toasted and freshly ground anise seeds
1 1⁄2 tablespoons grated lemon zest, about 1 lemon
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 ounces cranberries
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 ounces almonds (skin on)

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, anise seeds, lemon zest, nutmeg, and cranberries in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, stir the flour mixture on low until combined. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and almond extract. With the mixer on low, add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream. Continue mixing until the eggs are almost incorporated. Stir in the almonds, and set the dough aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half, and place on a generously floured surface. Roll each half of the dough into a long shape, about 14 inches long. Carefully transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet, and gently flatten the tops until each log is about 3 inches wide and 3⁄4-inch thick. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven, and allow the biscotti to cool completely.

Decrease the oven temperature to 250°.

Cut the cooled biscotti logs into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices, about 35 to 40 slices per log. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Bake the biscotti at 250° for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Serve warm or at room temperature.

o store, allow the biscotti to cool to room temperature before placing in an airtight container.

Decorate with chocolate, or enjoy as is.

Pecan and Dulce de Leche Cake

Gia McCollister – Gia McCollister is a baker and the owner of Gia McCollister Porcelain.

Pecan and Dulce de Leche Cake

SERVES 16-18

3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3⁄4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1⁄4 cups buttermilk
8 ounces dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease (with butter) 3 (8- x 2-inch ) pans; line with parchment paper.

In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add pecans.

In an electric mixer with paddle attachment,

beat butter for 3 minutes on medium-high speed until light and creamy.

Add granulated and brown sugars, 1⁄4 cup at a time, scraping side of the bowl occasionally.

Add eggs, one at the time.

Reduce mixer speed. Mix vanilla with the

buttermilk. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk mixture. Mix just until incorporated.

Divide batter among the three pans. Bake for 40 minutes or until sides are lightly brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1 cup large egg whites
2 cups sugar
3 cups unsalted butter, at room
temperature, sliced
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons dulce de leche

Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water, and heat at medium-high heat. Place egg whites and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer.

Whisk them by hand until combined.

Place the bowl on top of the saucepan, whisking until the egg mixture reaches 160o on a candy thermometer.

Fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer. With whisk attachment, beat the mixture on high speed for 10 minutes until it holds peaks and is not hot.

Change the whisk for the paddle attachment. Start adding butter gradually at medium-high speed until the buttercream is smooth. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons dulce de leche.

Assemble the cake

Once the cakes are completely cooled, place the bottom tier in a serving dish. Spread half of the 8 ounces dulce de leche with an offset spatula onto the bottom tier. Top with the second tier of cake. Add another layer of dulce de leche. Add the last tier. Frost the top and sides of the cake and decorate.

Pretty Finish
Gia McCollister began her career as a baker and cake designer. She specialized in sugar craft, producing detailed masterpieces to adorn the finest cakes. After perfecting this skill in London and New York, Gia moved to Birmingham and opened Gia’s Cakes. Seeking new ways to express herself, she later closed her bakery to study ceramics. Combining her two passions, Gia now crafts floral-adorned cake plates and sculptures to complement her cakes. giamccollisterporcelain.com

Tie One On

Holiday party favors gift tags and wax seals.

Looking for a perfect party favor or holiday hostess gift? Or maybe you just want to elevate your own gift wrapping. These handmade gift tags are easy to make and a joy to receive.

Purchase card stock in the color of your choosing, and cut to size. Or pick up precut cards. (Leslie used a business-card size.) For the wax impression, choose your seal from a wax impression kit, follow the directions, and allow to cool. Use a small hole punch to add a ribbon or twine. Wrap your creation in clear bags, and tie with a ribbon. (Note: Supplies are available at most crafts stores or Amazon.)

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Leslie Byars Register

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