I remember that Christmas morning with all the clarity of the glass icicles adorning our Christmas tree — at least one of which was shattered each year, an inadvertent Christmas tradition. Mom was sitting on the couch in her dramatic floral robe. The scent of coffee — which I loved, despite being averse to the bitter taste — filled the house. The rest of the family was milling about the living room, preparing to distribute the presents.
Suddenly, with a pine needley, jingle-jangly harrrrrumph!, the Christmas tree outright fell on my mother.
I mean, one minute that thing was standing tall, looking regal and festive, and the next it was on her head. She let out a startled cry and flailed from between its branches, sending ornaments and pine needles flying around the room.
Mom will disagree — and okay, my little brother’s First Christmas ornament broke, and that was sad — but this was quite possibly the most hilarious and lively Ruble Christmas morning to date.
Other Christmas mornings were notable too. There was the one where I found, after opening all my gifts, that I hadn’t received the one thing I wanted most: a pedal go-kart. I pasted on a happy face, but I was disappointed. I did have one present left, but it was a card and didn’t look promising.
The card turned out to be from Santa. I scanned it halfheartedly, and realized that it was a set of instructions. I was supposed to head upstairs to my sister’s room. Suddenly, my heart filled with hope. I charged up the stairs eagerly and shot through the door. There, in all its bright yellow glory, was my go-kart!
Other years brought a dose of holiday reality. When I was around 6, I opened my parents’ closet a few days before Christmas to put some clothes away. To my great surprise, I found myself staring at a gigantic dollhouse. I was so stunned that it took me a few moments to realize that this must be a poorly hidden Christmas present.
My tiny heart filled with glee as I briefly surveyed the three-story mansion, complete with furniture, a balcony, and landscaping. I’d always been enamored with miniatures, and now my parents had apparently decided to indulge my dollhouse obsession. I closed the door, thrilled at my discovery and determined to act surprised when I received my gift.
On Christmas morning, I ran downstairs and sure enough, the dollhouse was standing in the living room like a beacon of childhood happiness, boasting a big bow. I squealed joyfully and ran over to it, only to hear my parents call out, “That’s for your sister!”
Those four words — so tiny! so brief! — cut me down faster than a fir tree on a Christmas farm.
Then there was the Christmas morning I woke up and accidentally stabbed myself in the nose while trying to brush my hair out of my face. My entire family, probably bemused but not surprised by the fact that I’d managed to injure myself immediately upon waking, waited patiently while I tried to stop the bleeding.
I couldn’t make this stuff up.
It’s true; Christmas morning has varied wildly over the years — exciting, disappointing, joyous, dangerous, absurd. One constant that we’ve all come to cherish, though, is Christmas morning breakfast. Every single year, without fail, my mother wakes up early, bakes an egg casserole, and rolls out dough to make fresh cinnamon rolls. While we’re all still counting sugar plums in our jammies, she’s hard at work in the kitchen.
This year, in her honor, I decided to design some recipes specifically for a holiday breakfast — dishes that in addition to being fancy and indulgent, could be prepared almost entirely in advance. To test my menu — that’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ to it — I threw a Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party, where I decked my halls and created a make-believe Christmas morning.
The party turned out to be special even beyond the menu. See, Mike and I have never spent a Christmas morning together, despite being in a relationship for most of the past 12 years.
I’m not complaining. So many families are separated on Christmas morning because of deployment, distance, and even death. Our situation is downright joyful by comparison. We’re separated each year because both of our families have Christmas morning traditions. We spend time with our own parents in the morning before meeting later to enjoy Christmas afternoon together. This year, though, my Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party was the perfect way to create a “Christmas morning” for just us.
So yesterday morning, we donned our PJs and slippers in true Christmas morning fashion. I lit my first ever fire, put the finishing touches on all of the make-ahead dishes I’d prepared earlier in the week, and we sat down together to eat. Little Byrd sat between us eating her Christmas kibble. Our plates, however, were loaded down with Gingerbread Coffee Cake, Cinnamon Stix with Eggnog Glaze, Savory Bread Pudding with Cranberries and Fennel, Winter Breakfast Chili in Sourdough Bowls, and Buttered Toast with Bright Pepper Jam.
Between bites, we sipped this Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate. I’m not one for hot breakfast drinks, usually, but I’d make an exception for this thing any day. You coat the mug with hot, buttery salted caramel before pouring in the steaming mocha hot chocolate (where coffee plays a supporting role rather than the lead). The whole thing is topped with a mess of caramel whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.
I’ll be sharing the other make-ahead breakfast recipes with you throughout the coming weeks as you prepare for the holidays. In the meantime, share your favorite Christmas morning memories. Anyone have any harrowing experience with falling Christmas trees?
Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Savory Sweet Life, adapted from Martha Stewart (caramel and cream) and TLC
Yield: 2 big mugs of hot chocolate
I can’t really quantify how buttery, caramelly, chocolatey, and delicious this Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate is, so let me just say: mmmmmm. I don’t like coffee, but in this recipe it’s there to add richness and balance, and isn’t the dominant flavor. The recipe is designed to be completed mostly in advance, making it lovely for a holiday morning breakfast — or anytime you’re in a festive mood. Also, don’t be afraid of caramel. This recipe includes temperatures, and as long as you use a candy thermometer, you’ll be great!
Mocha Hot Chocolate Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips (I love Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
2 tablespoons sugar
Caramel Sauce and Cream Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt
1 to 3 days in advance: Make the hot chocolate and the caramel. First, heat the milk, coffee, chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until it comes to a boil. Remove it from the heat and whisk it to ensure it’s fully combined. Pour it into a bowl and let it cool, stirring periodically, before covering it and refrigerating it.
Make caramel sauce: Prepare an ice-water bath and set a heavy bowl in it. Heat the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves (don’t stir at all, or crystals will form and make your caramel grainy). Use a pastry brush to wash down sides of pan often to prevent crystals from forming. When the sugar starts to turn amber, you can swirl a couple of times to ensure it’s caramelizing evenly.
Cook until the sugar turns a dark amber (definitely use a candy thermometer here! You’re looking for it to read about 345 degrees), 5 to 7 minutes more. Immediately remove from heat, and slowly whisk in 1/2 cup cream (reserve the rest of the cream in the fridge). It will bubble up when you do this, so be careful. Return the caramel to medium heat, whisking and heating until the sugar melts completely and the mixture boils.
Remove the pan from the heat and pour the caramel into a bowl set in an ice-water bath. Let the caramel cool, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Whisk in creme fraiche or sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate this.
The morning of: Reheat the chocolate mixture in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove (or for a couple of minutes in the microwave), stirring often. In the meantime, whip your remaining 1/4 cup cream in a cold bowl to stiff peaks.
Coat the sides of two mugs with caramel sauce, reserving a little over half of it. Gently fold most of the rest of the caramel sauce into your whipped cream (reserving a little to drizzle on top). Fill caramel coated mugs with mocha hot chocolate. Top with caramel cream and drizzled caramel. Serve immediately.
Note: I received a stipend from Foodbuzz for creating this meal.
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14 responses to “Foodbuzz 24×24: The Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party (Recipe: Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate)”
great post ! love your version of hot chocolate 😉
No falling Christmas trees here, which is a shock given our family cat’s fascination with the tree!
This sounds delicious, and I can’t wait for the rest of the recipes, especially the bread pudding!
No falling trees but I do have a story similar to your doll story.
Every year my brother and I would search for gifts. We would carefully unwrap them and return them to their hiding spots.
This particular year I found the gifts pretty easily. One was a set of Winnie the Pooh activity and story books. Every day I’d sneak into my mother’s room and read some of the book. By Christmas, I was done.
Christmas Day rolls around and I don’t see Winnie among my gifts. After lots of consideration, I decided to confess and ask about it. That’s when my mother told me It wasn’t my gift but her godson’s. Oops. It was too advanced for him anyway (I told her this) so I ended up with the books.
I have to say, the image of your mom flailing under the Christmas tree definitely made me laugh!
What a great idea to have an early Christmas morning with Mike. That food sounds amazing and this Caramel Hot Chocolate concotion could be the most amazing way to start a day!
love your stories! one of my favorite stories happened last christmas. each year my mom prepares orange juice and champagne in one pitcher and sets out a pitcher of regular orange juice as well. when she was pouring glasses last year she accidentally switched the pitchers so 12 year old alex was the only one to get a spiked OJ!
Your poor mom! (Though so so so funny.) Our Christmas tree fell over one year because the dog attacked it…but it wasn’t on Christmas morning. I think she’s learned since to avoid the tree at all costs.
Now I certainly see why you’re addicted to sugar! I would be too after this stunning menu…happily so!
This might have to be my new Christmas morning drink. We have so many great Christmas traditions. The earliest… Usually whoever wakes up first will wake everyone else up. Nobody is allowed to go downstairs where the Christmas tree (and presents) is until everyone is awake and ready to go down. It’s always magical every year to see the tree all lit up, shiny presents around it, and my family in Christmas pajamas.
Wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading your great idea of making such a special Holiday breakfast. That salted caramel looks amazing and I can imagine how great the hot chocolate tasted with that.
Julie, I just love your story-telling and these photos make me feel all warm and fuzzy!
Looks great! I love the photo with You, Mike & Byrd! 🙂
I love your photos and memories! You made me smile. I think the caramel mocha will be a highlight this year for my daughter who is away at college now but returning for Christmas. I know she’ll love that! I can’t wait for the coffee cake and cinnamon stix. It’s like Christmas early with all these little recipe gifts you give us. Thanks.
What a delicious beverage! I haven’t experimented much with salted caramel, but I think I need to start! Christmas mornings are big in my family as well – we have a feast after opening our stockings, complete with Cinnamon Pull-Apart, quiche, bacon and sausage, fresh fruit, homemade granola and yogurt…the list goes on! And then we proceed to eat Christmas baking all afternoon!
I love the idea of having a Christmas morning celebration before Christmas with those loved ones that you are not able to spend actual Christmas morning with – so sweet!
Hi Julie! It was a pleasure to meet you at the Foodbuzz Festival 2011. Not sure if you recall me though.. congrats for being apart of 24×24. Looking great there and your idea of make-ahead holiday breakkie certainly sounds like a lot of fun. I can’t wait to jump in and start baking some holiday goodies. Till then, cheers Jo.