Shortbread wreaths pleasing to the eye and the taste buds

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Bon Appetit had a gorgeous cover for their holiday edition. What at first appeared to be a wreath was actually a shortbread cookie beautifully decorated with freeze-dried flowers. The concept seemed pretty simple and, since I usually have shortbread on my platter, I thought it could be a more sophisticated offering for the adults in the group.

Staying with the mantra of always using what I have on hand, I used all regular flour instead of rice flour, as the original recipe called for. I also had no idea where to find freeze-dried flowers—I check the tea and produce aisles and came up short—so I made it easy and chopped up some dried cherries and apricots. Since I don’t like lavender, I used about a half teaspoon of rose water instead. It worked well.

I made one batch and used smaller cookie cutters, so it made nearly four dozen cookies, but they were the perfect size. I was pleasantly surprised at how gorgeous and tasty these ended up being, and my coworkers loved them, too. I can’t wait to see how they’re received on Christmas eve.

Glaze
3 large egg whites
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar in a medium bowl until a thick paste forms with no dry spots. Ideally, glaze should sit at least 12 hours for sugar to fully hydrate, but it can be used as soon as cookies have cooled. Or, you can cover and chill up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.

Shortbread
2 1/2 + 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon rose water
Freeze-dried and/or dried fruits, dried edible flowers, fresh and/or dried herbs (for decorating)
*Raw egg is not recommended for the elderly, pregnant women, children under 4, and people with weakened immune systems.

Whisk flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, sugar, and rose water in a medium bowl until very pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in dry ingredients on low until fully combined. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured parchment to 1/8-inch thick. Using large cutter, cut out 16 rounds, rerolling scraps. Using small cutter, punch out centers. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets until edges are golden, 12–14 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Working quickly, dip tops of cookies into glaze, letting excess drip off. Transfer to wire rack and decorate.

Window cookies worth the work

If you’re a fan of jam in your cookies, this one is for you. Window cookies are the last item in my cookie countdown to Christmas. They require a bit of time and effort, but they’re beautiful. They’re worth it.

I found the recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens website. They’re a sandwich cookie, so be conscious of the thickness of the cookies when you roll out the dough. The recipe calls for 1/4-inch thickness, but I found that to be a little too thick once I made the sandwich.

You can make them your own by adding chopped nuts to the batter or using a different kind of jam. You can use any cookie cutter shape to make the design in the top cookie, too. I used a snowflake cutter and really liked how they looked. The jam and nuts complemented each other well, and I dusted mine with a bit of powdered sugar to finish them.

Make it fun, make them yours and have a Merry Christmas.

Ingredients
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds (optional)
3/4 cup apricot jam

In a food processor, combine almonds and the 1 tablespoon sugar. Cover and process until nuts are finely ground. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 2/3 cup sugar. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Add the ground almonds, the egg, egg yolk, salt, vanilla, almond extract, and nutmeg, beating on low speed until combined. Beat in flour until combined. If adding nuts, combine them into the dough.

Divide dough into four portions. Cover and chill about 2 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Between waxed paper or parchment paper, roll out one of the dough portions to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Peel off top sheet of paper. Using a fluted 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out dough. Place dough cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using a fluted 1-inch cookie cutter, cut out centers from half of the dough cutouts.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are a pale golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough portions.

Spread 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of the jam in the center of each whole cookie. Top with the cutout cookies, flat sides down, pressing lightly together.

Summer stone fruit serves as a sweet topping

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Apricots are in season, and I love to use them in baked goods. I purchased a few ambercots at the farmers market a few weeks ago. Though they were delicious raw, I couldn’t eat them quickly enough, so I needed to find a recipe to use for the three I had left. Lucky for me, a recent edition of Bon Appétit contained a recipe for little apricot cakes.

As with most cakes, these proved to be a challenge at high altitude. Adding a couple tablespoons of flour usually helps keep cakes from sinking but, in this case, it made them more dense and muffin-like instead of being light like cakes. Next time I make these, I’ll stick to the original flour measurement and beat it for a shorter amount of time so the batter isn’t as stiff. Apricotmuffins2

I enjoyed the sweetness and slight tart flavor of the apricots on top. They provided a nice contrast to the lemony cake beneath them. The raw sugar sprinkled on top created a nice, sugary crust once they had cooled. They’re a nice summertime treat.

Ingredients
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 1 teaspoon if at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
2 apricots, halved, pitted, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
2 tablespoons raw sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat muffin cups with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until combined.

With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter among muffin cups (cups will be only 1/3 full) and smooth tops. Top with apricot slices and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake until cakes are golden and a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let pan cool 5 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack and let cool completely.

Cooling down with homemade ice cream

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The recent hot weather in Tahoe has made me reluctant to turn on my oven. When temperatures hover near 90 degrees, I don’t want to do much of anything.

My best friend recently gave me his old Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, so last night I decided to turn it on and see how it went. I looked up the manual for the model online and downloaded it to figure out how the machine worked. Included in the manual were some basic ice cream recipes.

When I first decided to make the ice cream, I thought starting simple with a vanilla bean ice cream would be the way to go. Then I discovered I had some apricots that were just about to go bad. I also had almonds in my baking supplies cupboard. I used the manual’s recipe for strawberry ice cream as a guideline and improvised using the ingredients I had.

I didn’t have enough eggs to make any of the premium ice cream recipes, so the texture was more like that of frozen yogurt. The flavor was perfect. Next time I’ll make the higher-quality recipe for the firmer ice cream texture.

I stored some of my ice cream in plastic tupperware and turned the rest into popsicles. I think I might prefer this as a popsicle — it tasted like an apricot-almond creamsicle. While the tupperware is not ideal, it helps prevent freezer burn for a little while. I may invest in an ice cream-specific freezer container, because this definitely won’t be my last batch of homemade ice cream.

2ApricotAlmondIceCreamIngredients
6 ripe, soft apricots, mashed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups soy milk or whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped finely
2 drops amaretto oil
1/4 teaspoon cognac

In a small bowl, combine the apricots with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup of the sugar; stir gently and allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream, amaretto oil and cognac, plus any accumulated juices from the apricot mixture.

Stir the almonds into the rest of the apricot mixture and set aside.

Turn the machine on, pour mixture into freezer bowl through ingredient spout and let mix until thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Add the apricot-almond mixture during the last 5 minutes of freezing.