Baking For Others: Southern Flourish Perfect Holiday Pairings

EVENT: Southern Flourish Holiday Issue
VENUE: Cara’s Kitchen, Prospect Heights
PARTY SIZE: Anyone and everyone!
TYPE: Festive Pairings: Small Sweets and Decadent Drinks
MENU: Toffee Pudding Bites with Creme Fraiche and Whisky Cider; Peppermint Snowballs and Spiked Hot Chocolate; Lemon Sugar Cookies with an Elderflower Fizz

Southern Flourish is an online magazine with the most exquisite taste. It has home, lifestyle, fashion, and cooking articles, and we came on board via Olivia, the food and travel editor, who also happens to have exquisite taste, which she also showcases on her blog, Everyday Musings.

We may not be from the south, but we covet the magazine’s style, and we were thrilled when Olivia asked us to contribute–knowing full well, of course, that we were New Yorkers. No matter. We came up with a cute (we think) and approachable palette of dessert and cocktail pairings that transcend (we hope) the Mason-Dixon line.

The challenge was to figure out a type of holiday party that felt luxurious enough for the holidays but that didn’t break the bank. We’ve been writing about finger food parties lots recently (check out posts here, here, and here), and we’ll be talking about them soon enough again. But for the moment, we abandoned all savory bites and focused on sweeter things.

By reducing our holiday party menus to small sweets and fun, festive drinks, we get to focus our time and space on the most perfect pairings in our repertoire. Shortbread cookies tweaked with candy canes are homey but fanciful. Our warming and wintry or cool and celebratory drinks set the scene for spirited conversation, mingling, and even dancing. Sure, no one will leave a party like this stuffed to the brim, having overindulged on ham and canapés. But perhaps this is a good thing. Instead, they’ll save their room for dessert, which you’ll diligently feed them.

You can read the full article over at Southern Flourish (use the code FLOURISHFRIENDS to save $2 on the $10/year subscription fee), but we wanted to give you a tour of the the photo shoot and share one of our new favorite recipes–for Sticky Toffee Pudding Bites–with you.

The Sticky Toffee Pudding Bites with Creme Fraiche. Serving Suggestion: Whisky Cider.

Peppermint Snowball Cookies. Minty and rich. Serving Suggestion: Spiked Hot Chocolate.

Lemon Sugar Cookies. So dainty and heart-warming. Serving Suggestion: Elderflower Fizz.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Bites with Creme Fraiche
Makes about 75

The beer gives this firm, airy cake its texture, and mixing it with baking soda before pouring it over the dates helps break down the dried fruit. We use whole wheat flour to amplify the slightly nutty taste, and then finish the bite-sized squares with crème fraiche and a generous sprinkling of toffee bits. I can always find Heath brand toffee bits at my supermarket, but if you’re having trouble, buy toffee bars and break them up in a food processor.

1 cup beer
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 ounces pitted dates
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons turbinado or brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 ½ cups flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup crème fraiche
1 cup toffee bites

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with softened butter and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment too.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the beer just to boiling. Add the baking soda—it will fizz dramatically—then add the figs. Stir to distribute, and make sure the figs are submerged. Set aside for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture reaches room temperature. Then, transfer the dates and a bit of the liquid to a food processor and run it until the dates are smooth and paste-like. Add the remaining beer and process again.

Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla with a handheld mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

In another bowl, or on a sheet of wax paper, combine the flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger. Sprinkle about one-third of this over the butter-sugar mixture and stir until combined. Add half the date mixture, mix, then repeat with the remaining flour and date mixtures, ending with the flour.

Scrape into the prepared pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the cake is risen and golden springs back when you press it lightly. You can also insert a toothpick, and if it comes out clean you’re done.

Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. Then use a knife to loosen the cake from the sides and invert onto a wire rack or cookie sheet. Invert again so it’s right side up and let come to room temperature.

Cut into squares slightly larger than 1-inch in dimension. Arrange on your serving plate, top each square, with a dab of crème fraiche and sprinkle with toffee bits.


  1. Quick question on the beer for these? Is a medium or dark beer better? I’m assuming it takes something with a bit more depth than say a bud light?

  2. I have a thing for finger foods myself. And they always seem to run out of them whereas the dinner items just sit there, at those large catered parties!
    Yours all look so delicious!

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