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The Sweet Side Of Holiday Celebrations

I hugged the children a little tighter the other weekend, remembering what’s really important.

Passing up the opportunity to spend time at the malls doing last-minute shopping, I headed into the kitchen and got out the mixing bowls and wooden spoons. The boys followed enthusiastically, and we began a Sunday of baking shortbread, pecan tarts and white chocolate chip cookies.


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Brasserie Du Vin's Christmas Chocolate Amaretto Cheescake. Jo McGarry photos

There’s something soothing about the ritual of baking, something about the folding and stirring and mixing that calms the spirit and encourages conversation. And as we spent a rainy, windy afternoon beating butter and sugar and vanilla and eggs, I was heartbreak-ingly grateful for the opportunity to make a holiday memory with our children, when parents in Newtown, Conn., could not.

Food is the tie that binds us all, that brings us together in times of trouble and of celebration. Transcending culture, the act of sharing food is a ritual we too often take for granted, yet our food traditions, our recipes, our family’s favorite dishes are some of the things our children will remember most as they grow. And in the kitchen, children learn lots of lessons. Our boys have learned math through measuring and cutting, and they’ve learned patience by waiting for things that cannot be rushed or accessed on an iPad. They know that pizza dough takes time to rise, that perfect icing takes a lot of work, and that licking the chocolate chip cookie dough from a wooden spoon is bliss beyond the stirring and mixing it takes to create.

If you have time this holiday week and next, ditch the returning of gifts and the madness of malls and head into the kitchen with your kids, your grandma or whoever is family to you, and pass on memories that will last a lifetime.

As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen, my baking skills will never match those who dedicate their life to the art. Niel Koep, the owner of Fendu Boulangerie, prepares for Christmas by creating Stollen that’s in a league of its own, and a decadent Bouche De Noel that sells out almost as soon as it appears on the bakery counter. Koep picked up his idea for the Stollen while studying with master baker and world baking champion Pierre Zimmerman back in 2008.

“Pierre made an Alsatian Stollen, almost like a brioche,” explains Koep, “and I had a German formula that I’d made for years. So I took the traditional German recipe and mixed it the French way.”

The result is a cake with the flavors of Germany with a delicate brioche texture. Light as air and dusted with sugar, the Stollen tastes like Christmas in one bite. Amid his other beautiful cakes and pastries is a yule log bearing little resemblance to the Americanized jelly roll covered in chocolate butter cream. Koep’s is a multilayered creation with strawberry Bavarian center, dark chocolate mousse and a pistachio flourless chocolate cake bottom.

The cakes will be in the Manoa store as long as he can make them.

“I run out of time, more than anything else,” Koep says, smiling. “I’ll make as many as I can. I promise.”

Good news is that the Christmas Stollen will be available through the new year. It makes for the perfect late-night treat with a glass of port, or as a special holiday breakfast.

And if you can’t make it to Manoa before the cakes all run out, there are plenty of wonderful offerings downtown. Beth Iwata’s chocolate amaretto cheese-cake with chocolate cookie crunch is one of the most gorgeous offerings of the holidays season – available from Brasserie Du Vin, by phone order only.

Merry Christmas!