Notes From Swan's Nest


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St. Nicholas Day 2012

After a whirlwind Celebrating Home book tour that took me from coast-to-coast, my husband Randy and I returned to our historic Colorado mountain home Swan’s Nest a few nights ago, and any dreams of snow-covered rooftops were quickly dashed. Though there was snow on the mountain tops and plenty of man-made snow on the ski slopes, our grass had nary a flake. Could it really be almost Christmastime?

The sky was crystal blue this morning, but our local news warns of a snowstorm that’s due to arrive tonight, and another more potent storm this weekend. Like magic, the scenery will be transformed into a winter wonderland in a matter of hours and days. But, before the first snowflake falls, I need to deck our front veranda with garlands of greenery and cranberry-red ribbons intertwined with tiny white lights; hang wreaths and place electric candles in the windows; and make preparations for St. Nicholas Day.

St. Nicholas Day is Thursday December 6th. It’s a simple, but important holiday widely celebrated in Europe, when children receive sweets and small treats. Though Americans rarely take notice of this primarily European holiday, I’ve embraced it as a day to reach out to those who are special to me with a simple token of remembrance.


Every year on December 6, I bake irresistible gifts-from-the-kitchen, wrap them in small, attractive packages, and tie them onto neighbors’ front doors with pretty ribbon for later discovery. This year, I’m baking “St. Nicholas Brownies” – decadent, fudgy brownies cut into rounds and decorated with buttercream St. Nicholas faces.


Leave the last-minute Christmas rush and stress to others this year, and celebrate friendship and loved ones on St. Nicholas Day with simple treats from your kitchen. And as if to prove this is truly a magical time, it started snowing at last! Happy St. Nicholas Day to you and yours!


St. Nicholas Day Brownies

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 square unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set it aside.

In a large bowl, stir together eggs, sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter, and vanilla until the mixture is well blended. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until the batter is smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts, if desired.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownies are set, but not dry. Remove them from the oven, and set them on a rack to cool completely. When they are cool, cut the brownies with a 3-inch round biscuit cutter, spread a thin layer of Sugar Glaze on the top of each, and set them aside 10 minutes until the glaze sets.

Sugar Glaze

  Sugar Glaze
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
3 drops vanilla

In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla until the glaze is smooth. Add a bit more milk if needed if the glaze is too thick. When the glaze is set, decorate each brownie with Buttercream Frosting.

Buttercream Frosting

  Buttercream Frosting
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  Dash of salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
15 red cinnamon candies
  Blue and red food coloring

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla together to form a thick frosting. Place ¼ cup of frosting into a small bowl, tint it with blue food coloring for St. Nicholas eyes, and transfer the blue frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip. Divide the remaining frosting in half, tint one of the halves with red food coloring for St. Nicholas’ fur hat, and transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip. Transfer the remaining white frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip.

Pipe half of each brownie with small white stars for St. Nicholas’ beard and add a flourish to form his mustache. Gently place a cinnamon candy “nose” in the center of the mustache. Pipe two blue eyes above the mustache, then pipe red stars around the top half of each brownie to form St. Nicholas’ hat. When the frosting is slightly firm to the touch, pipe a white swirl of frosting at the top of the hat. Set the brownies aside until the frosting is dry, then place brownies in small cellophane bags tied with ribbon.

Yield: 15 brownies

Last-Minute Gifts: If time is short, bake and cut the brownies into rounds, spread with Sugar Glaze, and garnish with tinted decorator sugars.