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 confused 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 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.