Cranberry-cherry bars a creation of my own

Cranberrycherrybars1-121414

My first Christmas baking test run of the year was a success, so I’ve decided to share it now instead of waiting until next year. For quite a while, after trying one of the cherry oat bars at Starbucks, I had been toying with the idea of doing something similar. I wanted to do a kind of cranberry bar, but didn’t see any recipes. I let the idea retreat to the back of my mind and, last week, it came forth again and I was ready to give it a shot.

I knew I wanted a simple, sweet shortbread base, so I really just had the filling to contend with. I decided to approach it similar to a pie filling, and I knew I wanted to use rose water in it to mellow out the tartness.

The bars ended up being tart, but not in an overwhelming way. The crust and topping balanced the flavorful filling, which was firm enough to stay together if you want to eat it without a plate.

Cranberrycherrybars2-121414Ingredients
1 29-ounce can of tart cherries
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon rose water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups old-fashioned oats

Pour the cherries, including the juice, into a saucepan with the cranberries. Cook over medium heat, covered, until cranberries have popped and flavors begin to combine, about 20 minutes. Add sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Add arrowroot starch and stir until combined. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Once mixture begins to thicken, add rose water and salt. Stir. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, salt, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Cut in 3/4 cups butter and mix with fingers, until mixture resembles pea-size bits. Evenly press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13×9-inch pan. Sprinkle crust with water. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine butter, flour, salt, and oats.

Once crust is ready, pour cranberry-cherry mixture and spread it evenly over the shortbread base. sprinkle oat mixture over the top and bake for another 15 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.

Shortbread all dressed up for the holidays

redvelvetshortbread

There is always some kind of shortbread on my Christmas cookie platter. They’re also usually the easiest cookie to make. A couple years ago, I made pecan fingers, but last year I opted to make these Red Velvet Shortbread Cookies. They were almost as easy as regular shortbread, but dolled up for the holidays by a hint of chocolate, red coloring, and a white chocolate drizzle. They were small, too, so they were perfect for people looking to nibble on treats during Christmas eve.

If you’re a fan of red velvet—as many people are—give this one a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1 tablespoon red food coloring
3 ounces white chocolate (with cocoa butter), coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons shortening

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Cover and process with on/off turns until combined. Add butter and red food coloring. Cover and process with on/off pulses until mixture starts to cling. (If you do not have a food processor, cut in the butter and add food coloring, then knead until mixture resembles fine crumbs.) Transfer to a large bowl. Form mixture into a ball and knead until smooth.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a 1/2-inch thickness. Using a floured 1-1/2-inch round cutter, cut out dough. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until centers are set. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

In a heavy small saucepan, cook and stir white chocolate and shortening over low heat, until melted and smooth. Drizzle cookies with melted white chocolate. Let stand until white chocolate is set.

Peppermint-powered cookies for the Christmas platter

peppermintbrowniecookies

If you were a reader of my blog last year, you’ll know that I get intense about Christmas cookies. I’m the designated baker for our extended family gathering on Christmas Eve, and each year I like to find new recipes to add to the enormous platter of cookies for my family to enjoy.

Last year, I found this recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Brownie Cookies in California Bountiful magazine. As you know by now, brownies are my favorite dessert. Adding peppermint and putting them in cookie form seemed like an acceptable idea, so that’s what I did. I liked that the inside was chewy and the outside got slightly flaky when bitten into, just like a perfectly baked brownie. I made them teaspoon-size like the recipe called for, and they were perfect little bites of deliciousness.

If you’re baking cookies for the holidays, try this one. It was a nice, flavor-packed addition to the assortment I made. If you’re looking for a more mellow chocolate cookie, try these totally adorable cocoa cookies instead.

Ingredients
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tbsp. brewed espresso (see note)
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, whip eggs for 1 minute. Add sugar, peppermint extract and espresso and whip on high speed for 15 minutes or until mixture is thick. While eggs are whipping, melt bittersweet chocolate and butter together in a bowl in a water bath.

Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture until partially combined, as there should still be some visible streaks. Carefully fold flour mixture into batter, then add chocolate chips and almonds. If batter is runny, let it rest for about 5 minutes to thicken.

Scoop generous teaspoonfuls of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until cookies puff and are cracked on top. Allow cookies to cool before removing from baking sheet.

Note: In place of espresso, you may substitute an instant coffee extract (for example, 5:1 ratio of instant coffee to water).

Abandoning the rules for apple pie

Applepie112314-2

I’ve always been a by-the-book, play-by-the rules kind of girl. I think with my head instead of my heart and always approach things from the most logical angle I can find. That’s why I always cook according to recipes, too. Except for pie.

Things are different for me when it comes to pie. I’ve made dozens and feel confident that I know what good dough feels like between my fingers, and can trust my senses to guide me to the perfect combination of spices for the filling. This is a rare departure from my normal approach to things. It makes me feel confident in my abilities, enough so that I let go a little and try new things on a whim, instead of following every single instruction in the book from beginning to end. Pie is one of the more forgiving things you can make because you don’t have to rely on leaveners and eggs for consistency. Without those things involved, there’s more of a chance to play without fretting that it will fail entirely.

I went to a friend’s place for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner last night. I volunteered to bring my pumpkin scalloped potatoes and an apple pie, both of which I’ve made a few times before. I based my apple pie on the one from The Joy of Cooking, but improvised on the filling by adding a vanilla bean, honey, and a bit of brown sugar. It turned out really well.

If you ever watched Lee Pace as the charming piemaker in “Pushing Daisies,” you might remember when he said “pie is home. People always come home.” For me, apple pie is something I’ll likely make throughout my life, and I can take comfort in knowing it will turn out, and there’s room to try new things.

Applepie112314So here’s my latest version of apple pie for you to share with your families and friends during Thanksgiving. I hope every bite reminds you of home.

Crust
2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 sticks of butter
6 tablespoons cold water

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into mixture and mix with hands until mixture resembles pea-size pieces. Sprinkle water over mixture and mix in using your hands. When water is combined, divide dough in half. Put each half between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to about a 12-inch circle. Put dough—still between papers—in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes have passed, line the bottom of an ungreased pie dish with one layer of dough, using your fingers to press it to the sides. Refrigerate. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While oven is preheating, make filling.

Applepie112314-3Filling
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot or corn starch
2 tablespoons honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and insides scraped
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Pour mixture into bottom pie crust, letting apples heap in the bottom crust. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter over the top of the filling. Take the top pie crust out and cut holes so the filling can vent during baking. Place crust on top of filled pie and use a knife to cut any crust hanging over the pan. Press crusts together with fingertips to seal. Place pie on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, or until filling is soft when a knife is inserted.

Let cool for at least an hour before serving.

Carrot-ginger soup has a bit of a bite

Carrotgingersoup

There is a booth at the farmers market that has the best carrots I’ve ever tasted. I buy a bunch of them each week. Last weekend, they had a bulk bag of them, and I picked one up, determined to do something with them. I had seen carrot soup on menus before, but never felt terribly enthusiastic about it. But then I came across this recipe for carrot-ginger soup.

Carrot soup on its own has always sounded bland, but the ginger in this recipe really made it interesting. It was flavorful in a way I didn’t expect, and I enjoyed it for lunch for a few days after I made it. The best part is that it was pretty easy to make, too, as long as you’ve got some time to devote to the simmering process. As usual, I used my immersion blender for this, and it worked perfectly. I’d highly recommend using one if you have one in your kitchen.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons sweet cream butter
2 onions, peeled and chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 cup whipping cream
Salt and white pepper
Sour cream
Parsley sprigs, for garnish

In a 6-quart pan, over medium high heat, add butter and onions and cook, stirring often, until onions are limp. Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender when pierced. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Serve soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of parsley.