Sarah Kieffer, creator of The Vanilla Bean Blog and author of two other cookbooks, is bringing a sleigh full of wintery delights for the holidays. The book itself is pretty, pale and silvery, just the sort of thing to show up in an Instagram photo of an inspired baker wrapped in a thick fleece blanket while watching snow fall through the window with a dreamy look in their eyes. All right, maybe that’s a bit much but I thought maybe that’s what I looked like when I was reading it.

My first time flipping through the book I noticed that these are not quick and easy recipes for people who have a long list of errands around the holidays. This is for someone who wants to take their time making something special. Many of the recipes call for preparing a dough or ingredient and letting it sit overnight, which is fine as long as you plan the right day to bake, but you’ll need to read through each recipe carefully before you begin.

I found some of the instructions to be confusing. For example, the Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies call for you to turn on the oven to 350 in the very first line of instruction, and then you begin putting the dough together. But the dough chills in the fridge for at least 6 hours, so why did I start by turning on the oven?  A lot of times I found myself re-reading recipes over and over to make sure I was following the instructions correctly.

Let’s get to the good part: the results!

Classic Cinnamon Rolls – This was a major victory for me, I’ve never done well with yeast breads of any sort, and I was nervous about trying this because the whole idea of proofing and kneading and shaping has always been intimidating. However I’m so glad I tackled this recipe because it worked! My very first batch of cinnamon rolls from scratch was a success! The dough turned out smooth and soft, just like it was supposed to. I think I will make some adjustment to the glaze the next time I make these, but honestly I’m happy I got the book just for this one recipe alone.

Streusel Coffee Cake– I picked this one because I figured it would be easy and I might have a new coffee cake recipe in my repertoire. I was incorrect. Things did not go well.  I think I used every bowl in my kitchen and the results were disastrous. I have thought about what went wrong, but I think basically it was the idea that something with 6 egg whites and 4 teaspoons of baking powder was going to behave enough to contain itself in a 9 x 13 pan as instructed. My cake ballooned up and spilled over the sides of the pan, and then it never really baked through in the middle. I finally gave up after 45 minutes in the oven because I didn’t want to clean anything else off the oven floor. I had trouble prepping the cream cheese swirl too, I couldn’t get it soft enough to swirl with a knife, so I ended up with cream cheese pockmarks. This was just a big disappointment because I had such good luck with the cinnamon rolls.

Well, now I need a tiebreaker…

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies – This was another success! I made the dough at lunchtime on a Saturday and had meant to bake the cookies after dinner but got caught up in watching Ted Lasso so that never happened. I worried that by morning the dough would be dry and crumbly, but it wasn’t at all. The cookies do spread when they bake, even after chilling overnight, so don’t overcrowd the baking sheet. Her suggestion of 8 cookies on each cookie sheet is spot on. I’m definitely making these again when my daughter comes to visit, she loves red velvet everything. I don’t have a picture of them because they got gobbled up so quickly, but they looked just like the ones in the book!

Baking for the Holidays is absolutely worth owning or giving as a gift, despite my experience with the coffee cake. I had great success with the other recipes I tried, plus there are more that I want to make, like the Crème Brulee Pumpkin Pie, the Lemon Pull-Apart Bread, and the Apple, Caramel and Hard Cider Pie which are just calling out to me.  Pick this one up and add it to your cookbook collection!

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