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Posts Tagged ‘Holiday’

This cookie is relatively new to my holiday repertoire, and quickly has become a favorite. It is packed full of great winter flavors: cranberry, citrus, toasted pecans and maple syrup. It is super easy to put together and have in the refrigerator or freezer for those times when you suddenly need fresh-baked cookies on short notice (something that seems to happen often this time of year). And finally, I love that the dough is not overly sweet.

With all that fruit and nut goodness, and some whole wheat flour thrown in, I can almost convince myself that these are good for me.

Cranberry Orange Pecan Shortbread

Adapted from Whole Foods Market

Makes 32 cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted and chopped

Directions:

In an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Add flour and salt, one cup at a time, mixing well after each cup is added. Stir in the cranberries, orange peel, and pecans.

Shape dough into two logs and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut dough into 1/2-inch slices and arrange on baking sheet. Bake for 18 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cookies will keep several weeks in an airtight container.

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Almond Crescents

I’m often tempted at the holidays to bake elaborately decorated or fancy cookies. And they undoubtedly have their charms.  But, sometimes, simpler is better.

Nothing could be more perfect in its unassuming splendor as these almond crescents. They look like nothing special, but then you bite in, and the cinnamon sugar yields to the tender butter crumb, and then that yields to the subtle flavor of ground almonds.  And then it’s gone, and you find yourself reaching for another, thinking, “well, that was so small, surely one more won’t hurt,” and before you know it you’ve polished off a dozen and wonder what happened.  A couple dozen of these, wrapped in red tissue paper makes a gorgeous gift for someone you really love.

Almond Crescents

Adapted from Rose’s Christmas Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen crescents

Ingredients:

Cookie dough:

2 ounces (about 2/3 cup) blanched slivered almonds

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter

1 2/3 cup all- purpose flour

Topping:

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the almonds and sugar together until the almonds are very fine. Add the butter a couple tablespoons at a time, with the motor still running, and process until smooth and creamy.  Add the flour and salt, and scrape the sides of the bowl.  Pulse the processor a few times, just until the flour is incorporated.

Scrape the dough into a bowl, and cover with plastic.  Refrigerate for two hours or until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Roll a piece of dough into a ball less than an inch in diameter.  Roll it between your palms, until it is in the shape of a cylinder, with slightly tapered ends on both sides, about 3 inches long by 1/2 inch thick. Form each cookie into a crescent shape and place on an ungreased cookie sheet, about an inch apart.

Bake 14-16 minutes, or until set but not brown. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer them while warm into a bowl of cinnamon sugar (see topping, above), turning gently to coat thoroughly, one at a time.

Keep in an airtight container for up to one month.

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Gingerbread People

Certain cookies are iconic at this time of year, but they often don’t taste as good as they look.  Thankfully, these are the perfect gingerbread cookies — adorable, spicy, a tad chewy, and utterly delicious.  I make them every year, and people always say they are the best gingerbread cookies they’ve ever had.

Once again, my reputation as a baker rests on the shoulders of Rose Levy Berenbaum.  Her book, Rose’s Christmas Cookies, should be on the shelf of everyone who bakes cookies at the holidays.

Gingerbread People

adapted from Rose’s Christmas Cookies

Makes about 40 small or 25 large gingerbread people

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup Grandma’s molasses (unsulphured)

1 egg

Royal Icing, for decorating

Directions:

Mix together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a small bowl.  In a separate bowl, cream together the brown sugar and butter until fluffy (about 3-5 minutes using a stand mixer). Add the molasses and egg and beat until blended. On low speed, add the dry ingredients until well blended.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Form into a flat-ish disc or rectangle. Wrap tightly and chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, or overnight, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, to about 1/8 inch thickness or so.  If the dough is very cold, you may need to let it warm a bit on the counter before you begin to roll it out. Cut out the dough with cookie cutters in the shape of people, large or small.  Place the shapes on a piece of baking parchment or a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving an inch or so between them.  Bake for 8-10 minutes for the small cookies, a couple minutes longer for the large ones.  Cookies will not color appreciably in baking, so look for them to rise a bit in the center, and be just starting to firm up.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to wire cooling racks.  Decorate with royal icing (or melted white chocolate).

These cookies keep for months, stored in an airtight container, making them the perfect cookie to make early in your holiday season.

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I guess I’m on an apple tear. I made this dessert for a dinner party recently, where chicken with Moroccan spices was the main course. I wanted something to complement the warm notes of that dish, and be also appropriately seasonal. I found Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for a not-too-sweet Fuji Apple Spice cake, and adapted it for this occasion.  The original made two very high layers.  I prefer thinner layers, and didn’t need that much cake. So I divided the batter into three layers, and baked them all, but set aside one and froze it for later. The two layer apple cake, pictured here, fed eight for dessert, with leftovers. The cake is moist and dense, studded with chunks of apples and chopped pecans, and the frosting is rich and creamy.  A small slice is plenty for most people. Luckily, the cake improves with a little age, as the flavors meld and the cakes get even more moist. This is a good cake to make a day ahead.

Two-layer Apple Spice Cake, with one for later:

Ingredients:

Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (at high altitude, reduce to 1 tsp.)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. bourbon, apple brandy, or rum (optional)

1 1/2 cups applesauce, unsweetened

2 medium apples (Fuji or Gala, about 13 or 14 ounces total), peeled, and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (about 6 oz.)

Frosting:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese (or neufchatel cheese), room temperature

1/2 cup butter, unsalted, room temperature

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Coarsely chopped toasted pecans or dried apple slices (for garnish)

Directions:

Cake:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round. Whisk first 7 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then bourbon, if desired (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions alternately with applesauce in 2 additions, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in apples and pecans. Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 40- 45 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 15 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment paper. Place another rack atop 1 cake and invert again so that cake is rounded side up. Repeat with other cake layers. Cool completely. At this point, you can wrap each cake in plastic and store at room temperature, or freeze for later use.

Frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract and pinch of salt. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy.

Transfer first layer to platter. Drop half of frosting (about 11/2 cups) by spoonfuls atop cake. Spread frosting evenly to edges of cake. Top with second layer. Drop remaining frosting by spoonfuls onto top of cake, leaving sides of cake plain. Spread frosting to top edges of cake, swirling and creating peaks, if desired. Sprinkle with pecans or decorate with dried apple slices (pictured above). Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour to allow frosting to set slightly.

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Bunny Bread

My mother’s family has this fun tradition of making a sweet bread for Easter morning, in the shape of a bunny.  (Well, usually in the shape of a bunny, but some odd branches of the family tree have been known to bake an Easter Chicken or two… )  My mom used to make two, and she’d bring one to the newest neighbor or to the minister or some other lucky person.  I knew I had become an adult woman when I made my own bunny, and invited her to my house for Easter brunch, and she proclaimed it, “the best bunny ever!”  Sadly, she died just six weeks later.

I’ll be baking a bunny again this year, with my daughter’s help, no doubt. It’s a mildly sweet, rich, eggy bread that goes well with eggs and fruit and asparagus or whatever you’re serving.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Wellen’s Easter Bread

Ingredients:

3/4 cup milk

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. yeast

1/2 cup warm water (~110 degrees F)

4 1/4 – 4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

2 eggs

Directions:

Scald milk.  Add butter, sugar and salt, and stir until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved.  Cool to room temperature.  In small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add cooled butter mixture, eggs and 4 cups flour to bowl on stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Add yeast.  Stir to blend.  Knead 5-8 minutes. Dough should be soft and elastic.  Add just enough flour to handle easily.  Put dough into greased bowl, and cover with damp kitchen towel. Let rise in warm place one hour or until doubled in volume.  Punch down. Form into bunny shape on greased cookie sheet.  My grandmother always put a colored egg on the tail and used jelly beans for eyes and a nose.  Let rise.  Bake at 375 degrees F 20-30 minutes.  Glaze when cool.

Hilde’s Cinnamon Variation:

Roll out the piece of dough to be used for the body of the bunny.  Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins.  Drizzle with melted butter.  Roll up, as you would for a loaf of bread.  Try your best to shape it back into a bunny body shape.  Remember that all sins can be covered with glaze later.

Glaze:

1 lb. powdered sugar

Milk, a few Tablespoons, just enough to thin

1/4 tsp. almond extract

As you can see, this is not exact.  I just put some powdered sugar in a bowl, add milk and stir, adjusting the amount of milk and sugar to get a glaze that will barely pour.  Wait until your bread is completely cooled to glaze.  I’ve learned it’s best to wrap up the bunny without glaze and glaze it on Easter morning, so it doesn’t get messed up when I wrap it.

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Love, simply

Tea and cookies are a simply elegant way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Now, I’ve had sumptuous formal teas, like the splendid bounty offered at the Dushanbe Tea House, and truly enjoyed every morsel. But you can create a little oasis of peace in your own home by sitting down to a pot of properly brewed tea and some buttery homemade cookies. Invite your neighbor or your sweetie, or your girlfriend, or your daughter, or your mom to join you for a mid-afternoon tea.  Set out your nicest tea cups and a couple of pretty plates.  What are you saving the fine china for, anyway?  Bring a kettle of water to a full boil and brew some good quality tea (I’m fond of the many wonderful black teas available online from the Upton Tea Imports). Set out a plate of these lovely cookies. And enjoy the company of this person you love. Now, isn’t this what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Rich Roll Cookies

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg until well combined.  Add flour, salt and vanilla.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours.  Roll out on lightly floured surface to about 3/8″ thickness.  Cut into desired shape with cookie cutters.  Transfer to lightly greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or just until edges begin to color.  Cool on rack before frosting.

Decorator Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

1 lb. powdered sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla or 1/2 tsp. almond extract

1/3 cup soft butter, unsalted

Directions:

Cream butter until soft. Add milk, vanilla and salt and mix until combined.  Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

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Cauliflower Gratin

I invited my aunt and uncle for Christmas dinner, and really wanted to make something special and indulgent, while still respecting their need to eat in a heart-healthy way. I found this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy (great name, isn’t it?!).   I made just a few changes, to lighten it a bit.  It turned out to be a delicious, festive side dish that was so good none of us missed the cream or potatoes we’d served in previous years — a hit with young and old alike.  I served it with grilled beef tenderloin with a red wine reduction sauce, haricort verts, and a pear tart for dessert ~ a mostly healthy indulgence.

adapted from Barefoot in Paris

Ingredients:

1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups hot reduced-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Steam the cauliflower florets in a large pot for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/4 cup of the Gruyere, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 9 by 13″ baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Toast the bread crumbs with 1 Tbsp. butter, and sprinkle on top. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned.

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