Photos by Aimee Broussard

Aimee’s Pretty Palate: A Pretty Palate Indeed

In December of 2016, then publisher Ashley Sexton Gordon and I bounced around names for this very column. Some of the suggestions were calling it “Sip and Savor,” “The Main Ingredient,” “From the Heart” and … “Pretty Palate,” her top choice because she said my photos are always pretty. I liked it too, and thus, “Aimee’s Pretty Palate” was born. 

For six years now (how has it been six years?!), I’ve taken seriously the responsibility of ensuring that whatever dish I deliver to you is as “pretty” as it is delicious. Casseroles challenge me and beverage glare causes me anxiety, but if there’s one time throughout the year that I know I can knock your socks off by sharing something beautiful, it’s the holidays. 

It’s when laboring over a beautifully decorated cake for loved ones really doesn’t feel like labor at all. It’s when the delightful smell of the kitchen encourages you to linger a little a longer and put just a wee bit more effort into your creations because you know how great the reward is when proudly answering, “No, it’s not from the bakery.” 

Gathering the family around a classic Yule Log Cake (Buche de Noel if you’re fancy) is fun for all ages. This tender spongelike chocolate cake filled with an irresistible whipped mascarpone filling and then topped with buttercream is what holiday dreams are made of. And while it does require a bit of prep time, the results are delicious, impressive and surprisingly easy! 

Sugared cranberries are a sweet, tart and crunchy treat. They are incredibly easy to make, with only two ingredients, and the highlight of the holiday season. Have them on hand for snacking, alongside a festive sangria, or for dressing up a holiday recipe like the Christmas Wreath Cake. 

Perfectly festive, this is a classic white cake layered with luscious cranberry jam-like filling, iced with a shortening-based frosting, then decorated with sugared cranberries and fresh rosemary to make a wreath. It’s a true holiday showstopper. 

And if you find yourself intimidated by either of those cakes, then give the Raspberry Layer Breakfast Cake a whirl. It’s simple to prepare and makes a wonderful neighbor gift. Just grab an inexpensive loaf pan while out shopping, wrap in cellophane, and you’re all set. 

Sugared Cranberry Christmas Wreath Cake

Sugared Cranberries Ingredients:
2 cups sugar, divided
1 (12-0z.) bag fresh cranberries
Combine ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes. Gently stir in cranberries until well coated. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a wire rack; let dry for at least 1 hour. 
Working in batches, roll cranberries in remaining 1½ cups sugar until well coated; let dry for at least 1 hour. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. If they begin to weep, just roll them in a fresh coat of sugar to revive.
Cranberry Filling:
2 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup sugar
2 ½ Tbsp. fresh orange juice
½ tsp. orange zest
¼ tsp. cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
23 cup whole milk
23 cup water
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
5 egg whites
2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup Crisco shortening
2 cups Crisco shortening
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract
2 lbs. powdered sugar
3 to 4 Tbsp. whole milk, as needed
For Cranberry Filling, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cranberries, sugar, orange juice, orange zest and cinnamon. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to a medium bowl to cool. Once cooled, transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Set aside.
For Cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3 (9-in.) round cake pans with nonstick baking spray with flour (Baker’s Joy) and line with parchment paper cut into rounds. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Combine milk, water and extracts in a measuring cup with spout. In another large bowl, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high, and gradually add ½ cup sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes. Beat together Crisco with remaining 1½ cups sugar in another large bowl, on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes; add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Stir about one quarter of egg whites into batter; fold in remaining egg whites in 3 additions. Divide batter between pans, filling about halfway. Tap pans to even out batter and smooth tops. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until cakes are golden brown on edges and a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out mostly clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then turn out to cool completely on a wire rack.
For Icing, beat together Crisco, salt and extracts in bowl of stand mixer until light. Add half of sugar and 3 Tbsp. milk; beat on low speed until combined. Add remaining sugar and beat on low until no dry patches remain and icing becomes light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add additional milk in 1-Tbsp. increments, as needed, until icing is spreadable.
To assemble cake: Use a cake leveler or a serrated knife and trim dome from each cake layer. Place 1 layer on a cake plate, spread a heaping amount of cranberry filling, and top with a second cake layer. Repeat with cranberry filling and top with final cake layer, bottom side up. Coat cake with a thin layer of icing and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes. Remove cake from refrigerator and completely cover cake with icing by adding a heaping amount to top of cake and using an offset spatula to smooth down sides of cake.
Garnish with fresh rosemary, sugared cranberries and upside-down white chocolate morsels, if desired.
Makes 8-10 servings.

Yule Log Cake (Buche de Noel)

¾ cup all-purpose flour
13 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
4 large eggs, divided
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups heavy whipping cream
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch salt
4 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
13 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
13 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 to 3 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 17 x 12-in. jelly roll sheet pan with parchment paper with paper extending over short sides. (You’ll use the excess parchment as handles to remove cake.) Spray parchment paper with nonstick baking spray.
For Cake, in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar and whisk together until well combined. Add sour cream, butter and vanilla extract to egg mixture, whisking together until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, a little at a time, whisking together until combined. In bowl of stand mixer or in separate bowl with electric mixer on high speed, whip together egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of egg whites into batter until batter becomes loose, then add remaining egg whites. Spread cake batter evenly onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. Remove cake from oven and immediately lift cake out of pan using parchment paper; place on counter to cool slightly. While cake is still warm, use the parchment paper the cake was baked in and, starting at short end of cake, slowly roll cake. Set cake aside to cool completely.
When cake has cooled completely and you are ready to fill, make Filling: Add cream, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt to a large mixing bowl; whip on high speed until soft peaks form. Add mascarpone to whipped cream and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
Unroll cooled cake very carefully. Spread filling evenly onto unrolled cake, leaving outer edges clean to keep filling from escaping. Roll cake back into a log, leaving parchment paper off this time. Cut a 4-in. piece of cake at a 45-degree angle; place angled edge against log to resemble a branch. Place log on a serving dish with seam sides down and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to firm back up.
Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, beat cocoa and butter on low speed until thoroughly mixed. Beat in the 2 cups of powdered sugar, in batches, until mixed. Beat in vanilla and enough whipping cream (beginning with 1 Tbsp. at a time) until frosting is smooth and spreadable. When ready to frost the cake, use an offset spatula to spread frosting all around outside of log. You can score frosting with a fork to make it look like bark or use offset spatula to create swirls for a more rustic, uneven bark appearance.
Refrigerate, lightly covered, until ready to serve. Just before serving, dust top of cake with powdered sugar and garnish with rosemary sprigs and cranberries, if desired.
Store any leftovers in refrigerator, well wrapped, for 3 to 5 days.
Makes 8-10 servings.

Raspberry Layer Breakfast Cake

8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup raspberry jam or preserves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mist an 8½-by-4½-in. loaf pan with baking spray; line pan with a parchment sling with overhang on the long sides.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar together for 2 to 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until each egg is incorporated. Add sour cream, vanilla and almond extract, beating until well combined.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to butter/sugar mixture, a little at a time, mixing just until combined.
Spoon one-third of batter into prepared pan. Top batter with ¼ cup raspberry jam, followed by another layer of batter, then remaining ¼ cup raspberry jam. Finish with remaining batter.
Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out mostly clean. Transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely. Remove from pan, discard parchment, and top with Lemon Glaze, if desired. 
Makes 1 (8½ x 4½-in.) loaf cake. 
Lemon Glaze Ingredients:
¾ cup powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 
In a medium bowl, whisk powdered sugar, zest and lemon juice together until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake and top with additional lemon zest. 

Aimee Broussard is a Southern food blogger and award-winning cookbook author. Seen on QVC, Rachael Ray and more, she is a self-proclaimed accidental entrepreneur with a penchant for porches and sweet hospitality. Find her online at