Christmas in Savannah: Gifts of the Low Country

Tasty Travel Thursday

Destination: Savannah, Georgia

Book: A Savannah Christmas by Kimberly Ergul and Holley Jaakkola

Review by Brette Sember

Savannah is one of my favorite cities to travel to. There’s something gracious and charming about its squares, muggy air, architecture, cuisine, and friendly people. There may not be snow in Savannah for Christmas, but there is just about everything else you could want. Showcasing all of this is A Savannah Christmas by Kimberly Ergul and Holley Jaakkola, a gift you must give yourself this season. As much as I love cookbooks, sometimes they can be a little too much pressure. After all, each page is something new you should cook, bake, or create. They ask a lot of you.

Savannah Mansion
Savannah Mansion, from “Christmas in Savannah” by Kimberly Ergul & Holley Jaakkola, © Kimberly Ergul and Holley Jaakkola used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

Not so this book. This is a little Christmas vacation from the pressures of the kitchen, and of the holiday season. Mostly it is a lovely book of photographs in which someone else has done the decorating, baking, planning, and preparation so you can simply drink them in and imagine yourself in each photo. Sprinkled in with the photos are about fifteen recipes that epitomize Christmas in Savannah. No pressure here to make a million recipes to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth from the book!

Instead, this is a book to cuddle up with on the couch with a cup of cocoa and immerse yourself in the holiday wonderland that is the Low Country. When you’re not lazily paging through the book and imagining yourself climbing elegantly decorated staircases, swinging on a hammock with the Tybee River in the background, being enchanted by the live oaks on Wormsloe Plantation, or being wait upon hand and foot at bedecked holiday table in a mansion, you can leave the book on your coffee table as part of your holiday décor.

I felt like I’d take a little holiday get away to Savannah in December after I read this book. I use the term “read” lightly, however. The book is sparse on text, offering just enough to explain the photos and the areas of the city that have been highlighted. In addition to homes, cottages, and mansions (and their porches, bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms), you’ll also peek inside shop windows and tree farms. And you’ll come away with lots of great decorating ideas to use in your own home.

As laid back as the cookbook aspect of this book it is, the recipes that are included come across as special jewels because there are just a few of them. Baked Pimiento Cheese, Eggnog Pound Cake, Coffee Punch, Crab Stew, Lace Cookies, and Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ham are all dishes that you might decide to add to your holiday repertoire after you’ve virtually sampled them in this book. I was enchanted by them because they seem so carefully chosen to embody the tastes of the area and the spirit of the holiday.

If you can’t physically get to Savannah over the holidays, this book is the next best thing.

Dress up your holiday table with this recipe.

Red Velvet Cake, Savannah
Red Velvet Cake, from “Christmas in Savannah” by Kimberly Ergul & Holley Jaakkola, © Kimberly Ergul and Holley Jaakkola used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

Mile High Red Velvet Cake

2½ cups cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ounces red food coloring
½ cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
¼ cup (1 stick) butter, room
temperature
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
1 pound finely chopped pecans, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and line 2 (8-inch) backing pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix the food coloring and cocoa to form a thin paste without lumps and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together for three minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and red cocoa paste, scraping down with a spatula as you go. Add the flour mixture alternatively with the buttermilk to the butter mixture. Beat until combined. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar and baking soda together. Be careful—this mixture will fizz. Add this to the cake mixture and mix to combine. Divide evenly between cake pans and bake at 350 degrees F until a cake tester or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn the cakes out of the pans onto cooling racks and cool completely. When cool, cut each layer in half to make 4 layers, or cut into thirds to make 6 layers. Frost the cake generously between layers and on all sides with cream cheese frosting.

To make the frosting, cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla. Slowly add the sifted sugar to the creamed mixture. (For a stiffer and sweeter frosting, an additional pound of powdered sugar can be added to the frosting mixture.)

3 thoughts on “Christmas in Savannah: Gifts of the Low Country

  1. Hi Brette,

    Great review. Makes you want to get the book. :)

    Anyway, I have a question and I’m wondering if you can help me.

    I tried red velvet cake once and I fell in love with it. I want to bake one but we don’t have an oven. I wonder if it is possible to make a mug cake version of this recipe.

    Cheers!

  2. nice thought that the recipes are like jewels because there are so few of them.

    I’ll chime in to add that if you don’t make it to Savannah during the holiday season, they have two interesting Irish culture and music festivals in February, a multi day one and another that’s a one day celebration, usually in a city park.

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