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.

Cranberry-cherry bars a creation of my own

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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.

Dessert for breakfast?

Sometimes I crave something sweet for breakfast; something other than jam on toast or orange juice or a muffin. When I have berries in the fridge and a bit of time to cook, I’ll whip up a clafouti (pronounced klä-fü-ˈtē). “The Joy of Cooking” has a Cherry Clafouti, described as a simple French country dessert, in its “pies and pastries” chapter. It’s like a baked custard. But, once in a while, it can also serve as a treat for breakfast.

I like to use fresh fruit in this recipe. I’ve made the clafouti with both cherries and blueberries, but usually use blueberries because I don’t have a cherry pitter. I find the process of cutting and pitting the cherries makes the process take much longer than I want it to.

It’s nice to have options for breakfast. Give it a shot.

Ingredients
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon Cognac or rum
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 pound of sweet cherries or blueberries (frozen fruit, thawed and patted dry, or canned fruit, drained and dried, can be used)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 10-inch, deep-dish pie pan. Beat the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until frothy, about two minutes.

Add the milk, Cognac and vanilla and beat the mixture until smooth.

Stir in the flour and salt.

Pour the fruit into the bottom of the pan.

Pour the batter over the fruit and place the pie pan on a baking sheet. Bake the clafouti for 10
minutes. Reduce the over temperature to 350 F and bake until the top has puffed (it will sink on cooling) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving.