Holiday Berry Champagne Cocktail

It's hard to believe we're already in December.  Where did this year go?  As the days quickly approach towards the Holiday season, we're filled with urges to celebrate -- Ugly Christmas Sweater Party! White Elephant! Holiday Potlucks! Whatever your reason may be this year to celebrate, what's a party without the booze?

For the next few weeks I'll be posting some holiday cocktails for you guys to try this season -- this week I'm featuring this elegant Blackberry Champagne Cocktail.  As you know, I'm not the best bar tab is usually under $15 before things start looking hazy.

So I usually gravitate towards "girly" drinks.  Seeing that most girly drinks usually mean some type of fruity flavor with TONS of sugar -- I wanted to remake a drink that gave me the fruity touch I needed but without the sweetness.  Plus anything with champagne makes everything a bit more fancy don't ya think?

Feel free to use other types of berries and fruits, strawberries, pomegranate, and orange would work well here.

Holiday Berry Champagne Cocktail
Recipe Type: Drink
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 25 mins
Serves: 6
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 pint blackberries, cleaned
  • 1 750-ml bottle chilled Lindeman's framboise
  • 1 750-ml bottle chilled brut Champagne
  1. Stir sugar and brandy in medium bowl. Crush about 10 blackberries; add to brandy mixture. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature, then strain. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover; chill brandy mixture and remaining blackberries separately.)
  2. Divide brandy mixture among 6 Champagne glasses. Add 2 blackberries to each glass. Fill halfway with Framboise and the rest of the way with Champagne; serve.


There are many things to love about winter: extra blankets on the bed, sweatshirts, fuzzy slippers and boots, scarves and mittens, oh my!  There are also many things to despise about winter: shorter days, dry skin, the blistering cold, and oh yes, getting sick.  Being prone to respiratory infections, I always panic when I feel the symptoms coming on.  Stuffy nose, tender and swollen throat, head congestion—I’ll rush to chug packets of Emergen-C and chug glass after glass of hot water with lemon but sometimes it’s just too late. 

The Mighty Respiratory Monster prevails and wastes no time making your entire body feel like a listless lump of coughing, sniffling, icky snot glob.  You sound gross, you look gross you feel gross and downing half a bottle of Nyquil along with that gigantic glass of Theraflu gives you weird dreams.  (It also gives you the worst hangover the next morning or is that just me??)  So unfortunately I got sick over the weekend and by Monday I felt delirious – achy joints, fatigue, sore swollen throat and congestion to the max.  I opted for the more natural route this time to treat my cold symptoms and folks, the results were a huge WIN.

I hocus pocused a magical concoction that will now be my go to cure-all for all future cold symptoms.  I introduce to you – the Intesi-toddy.  It’s like a Hot Toddy but INTENSE.  What makes it intense you ask?  Your usual Hot Toddy has brandy (I used spiced rum), honey, lemon and tea – I’ve pumped it up a notch and threw in some cayenne, cloves, cinnamon and ginger to give the drink a KICK.  I’m telling you, it really knees your cold straight in the groin – it shows your cold who’s the boss and tells him to get the hell out of town.  (I always imagine my colds as male characters because they cause so much trouble, ZING!) In other words, it’s awesome and next time you’re as sick as a dog make this and drink at least 4 cups a day. 


Make sure it’s really hot, add more honey to the recipe if you want it sweeter, and don’t be a baby when it comes to the cayenne because that’s the magical stuff that does the ass kicking. All the spices in this drink are anti-inflammatory and can help with cough suppression, breaking up of mucus and increased blood circulation to help fight the infection.  Also for the men out there, if your Toddy needs an extra kick like my Mister’s did, feel free to give it some extra love ;).

In the meantime, stay warm, drink lots of fluids, and wash your hands often.   Remember to cough into your arm instead of your hand and don’t be gross when you sneeze.    And if you see someone a little sniffly just tell them “Sounds to me like you need an INTENSI-TODDY!!” Be sure to yell extra loud for the extra dramatics because people who are sick tend to like that. 

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes with Brandy Soaked Strawberries and Chantilly Cream

If there's one thing in life I can't live without (besides french fries) it would have to be cupcakes.  Even on my worst days, if there was the perfect cupcake waiting for me at home all my troubles would melt away during that brief moment when I'm stuffing my face.
Let's get real people, life is too short to go on those crazy "no carb, no meat, no sugar aka nothing fun" diets.  I feel anything in moderation is fine, but don't get me wrong -- this recipe will definitely be hard for any normal person to resist from just eating one.  The secret ingredient for this chocolate cake is coffee, it really makes the chocolate taste richer adding a nice body to it and BOY is it moist!  Not to mention the grownup filling of the brandy soaked strawberries topped off with a sweet chantilly cream, these cupcakes would be perfect for any occassion.
I think one of my favorite parts about desserts is the give-ability factor.  Not only does it save YOU calories but you are spreading the love to others.  Whenever I bake I usually send some to my neighbors, friends and family -- it's kind of a nice unexpected "pick me up" for maybe a stressful, boring, or busy week.  Plus, when you give these bad boys away I can gurantee you will suddenly have many "best friends", hell, girls you may even win a husband with this recipe.  Anyways, enough talk about how freaking delicious these cupcakes are -- here's the recipe!
(I don't know why I can't revert my text out of italics -- WP is being strange, but I kinda like it :) ) Have a great weekend folks :)
Ingredients for Moist Chocolate Cupcakes: (Makes 12-18 cupcakes)
  • 1 3/4 cup All-Purpose flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup coffee

Preheat the oven to 350F.

For the chocolate cake, mix all of the dry ingredients together so they are evenly distributed.  Add the wet ingredients one at a time as listed, until fully incorporated.  This ensures the batter comes out nice and smooth. Line the muffin pans with cupcake liners and pour the batter about 3/4 of the way, leaving room for the cake to rise when baking.  Place in the oven for 20 minutes, you can check the doneness by inserting a toothpick in the middle, if it comes out clean it is ready (Because oven temperatures differ, if the batter is still wet leave for 5 minutes longer, repeat until done.)  Set aside and cool.

Ingredients for Brandy Soaked Strawberries:

  • 1 lb container fresh strawberries, cleaned thoroughly and hulled
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup honey

In a large container or bowl, whisk the brandy and honey together.  Small dice the strawberries and immerse completely in the brandy honey mixture.  Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour.

(You can use any remaining strawberries you don't use in the cupcakes as an ice cream topping!)

Ingredients for Chantilly Cream:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Using an hand held beater or electric stand mixer, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Add in the sugar and vanilla and beat until just stiff.  Be sure not to over whip your cream, if your cream curdles gradually beat in more cream until it becomes smooth again.

To assemble cupcakes first cut a cone like shape off the top of each cupcake in order to create a space for the strawberry filling. (Baking Bites offers a nice step-by-step photos here.) Carefully spoon the brandied strawberries into each cupcake and place the lids on top.  Using a pastry bag with a star tip, apply the chantilly cream on the top of each cupcake -- you can be creative as to how you would like to apply the topping, I chose to do a simple swirl.  Decorate with chocolate sprinkles and sliced strawberries if desired.

Chestnut Brulee with Brandied Oranges

A couple weeks ago I signed up to compete in Foodie Fights .  Every week, the authors Nick and Dan pick two new ingredients and ask the chosen competitors to submit their top creation using the challenged ingredients and the winner is decided by guest expert judges as well as the general public vote.  Being new to this blogging world, I thought this would be a great way to meet new people and have some creative fun :)!

This week is Battle 16 (My lucky number!) and the two featured ingredients are: Chestnuts and Kumquats.   Unfortunately I was unable to find Kumquats anywhere in Dallas -- many stores said it was too early in the season so I had to settle for oranges instead.  I just bought some ramekins over the weekend and instantly knew I wanted to make some type of brulee.  After much thought over the weekend I finally decided on making a Chestnut Brulee and topping it with some brandied soaked oranges for an extra punch, pow!

It turned out to be a pretty whimsical dessert, the nutty brulee served as a nice contrast with the sweet and tartness of the brandied oranges.  I also added a pinch of cinnamon to compliment the nuttiness of the chestnuts.  I think the best part of a creme brulee is cracking into the burnt sugar crust, nothing is better than the little "crunchies" of burnt sugar mixed with the creamniess of the custard.

If you enjoy this recipe, please do not forget to vote for me, it would be much appreciated ^_^!!!

Ingredients for Chestnut Brulee:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, hot
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 10 oz chestnut,peeled, skinned and pureed

Preheat the oven to 350F.

For the Brulee, mix the egg yolks and sugar until well combined.  In a medium sauce pan, heat the cream at a medium heat.  (Be careful to not burn it).  Pour the hot cream gradually into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking until thoroughly combined. Slowly fold in the chestnut puree and mix well. Set 4 shallow ramekins in a sheet pan and divide the custard mixture equally amongst the dishes.  Pour water into the sheetpan high enough to come up halfway to the side of the ramekins.  Bake for 30 minutes or until the custard is set.  (You can test this by lightly hitting the side of the sheet pan and seeing if the how much the custard "jiggles" to the force, if it does not move much it is ready)

Take custard out of the oven and place in the fridge to cool, about 1 hour.  When ready to serve, evenly coat the surface with sugar and using a hand-held torch, burn the sugar until it forms a thin caramel brown crust.  Be careful not to burn your fingers!

Ingredients for Brandied Oranges:

  • 1 orange, peeled, sliced into 12 sections
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp of brandy

Mix the oranges with the cinnamon and soak in brandy for 20 minutes.  Serve with Chestnut Brulee.

I hope you guys enjoy my creation for Foodie Fights, it was definitely a fun challenge.  I had a blast looking for the featured ingredients and brainstorming ideas and flavor combinations and am happy with what I have created.  I hope everyone enjoys this recipe as much as I have, I love how the burnt sugar harmonizes with the brandied oranges and it was fun using chestnuts in a new way!  Thank you to Ed and Dan for letting me participate and I look forward to competing again :)

Prep Time: 20 minutes Total Cooking Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Chocolate Layer Cake with Ganache

Food Blog 049 Holy moly geez o pete, if you're a chocolate lover this cake is definitely for you.  Even if you're not a chocolate lover THIS CAKE IS FOR YOU.  I know this may sound crazy, but I am really not a fan of chocolate but let me tell you what, this is one cake that I can bury my face in and eat til its gone.  I actually got this recipe from Bailey's Prime Plus for the short time I was a pastry chef there.  The cake is so moist and decadent, every bite is a mouthful of heaven.  I definitely think the secret is the coffee, it really brings out the richness of the cocoa and paired with the silky chocolate mousse nestled in between the cake layers...honestly, what could be better?  I also added a ganache topping and spiked it with brandy because I am firm believer that liqours and dessert should always go together, it just kicks it up a notch.  :)


Ingredients for Chocolate Cake:

  • 1 3/4 cup All-Purpose flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup coffee

Preheat the oven to 350F.

For the chocolate cake, mix all of the dry ingredients together so they are evenly distributed.  Add the wet ingredients one at a time as listed, until full incorporated.  This ensures the batter comes out nice and smooth. Take a springfoam pan like the one pictured below or a standard 9-inch round pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Pour the batter about 3/4 of the way, leaving room for the cake to rise when baking.  Place in the oven for 35 minutes, you can check the doneness by inserting a toothpick in the middle, if it comes out clean it is ready.  Allow to cool and place in the freezer.  (This makes the cake easier to cut)


Ingredients for Chocolate Mousse:

  • 12 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 large egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (cold)
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate mousse, place the chocolate chips and butter in a double boiler as pictured below.  Simply heat water in a large pot at medium heat and place a mixing bowl over it.  This helps you melt the chocolate and butter without burning it.  Be cautious of letting the water boil, it could potentially get inside the bowl with the chocolate and butter and that is a BIG no-no. Once melted and mixed thoroughly, set aside and cool to room temperature.


Meanwhile, whip the egg whites until they are firm and hold peaks and add the sugar.  Be careful not to over whip the egg whites, they should be shiny and smooth, not chunky.  Also make sure the bowl you are whipping your egg whites in is dry and contains no water or any liquid -- this ensures that your whites will form peaks or else you'll be whipping until your arm falls off with no results.

Mix the melted chocolate with your egg whites in a folding motion -- you do not want to over mix or you will flatten your egg whites and that will make your mousse "goopy". Whip the cream and when partially stiff add the vanilla.  Once it is thick fold it into chocolate egg white mixture.  Set aside.


Ingredients for Chocolate Ganache:

  • 8 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon brandy

For the Chocolate Ganace, heat the cream and butter in medium sauce pan at medium heat.  Add the brandy once the cream begins to bubble and pour over chocolate chips.  Mix until all ingredients are incorporated.

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Take the cake out from the freezer.  If you are using a spring foam pan fill it with the chocolate mousse to the top and place it back into the freezer.

If you are using the standard 9 inch pan flip it upside down onto a flat surface with parchment paper.  If you have a torch, torch the sides and bottom of the pan, this will release the cake from the pan.  If you do not own a torch, take a paring knife along the edges of the pan and firmly tap the pan upside down, the cake should pop out.    Then cut the cake in half horizontally -- the easiest way to do this is to trace where you want to cut first around the edges of the cake and then cut into it the rest of the way.  I use to just cut it without tracing and ended up with uneven, unhappy cake pieces.

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Another reason why you place the cakes in the freezer is so that the ganache frosting comes out nice and shiny.  If the cake is warm, the icing comes out dull.  Place one of the cake halves onto a wire rack and spread the top with chocolate mousse and place the other half on top. It is important that the cake is on a wire rack so the ganache can drip through.   Carefully pour the ganache ontop of the cake, starting from the center and allowing it to drip down the sides.


You can garnish the cake however you like, I chose to use raspberry and some left over cream cheese frosting from the cupcakes I made last weekend.  Please excuse my poor decorative icing skills hahaha :)!