Lightly Spiced + Everything Nice Christmas Cookies

This year, I am the Christmas Queen. SERIOUSLY. I am so incredibly proud of myself because I have NOT waited until the very last minute for my gifts. Usually, things get pretty down to the wire for me and I wind up finding myself staring at the impossibly long line at the post office praying that I can get things out on-time, then paying an arm and a leg to insure that possibility becomes a reality. But not this year, friends. This year, your girl started shopping a full TWO (2) months in advance. Granted, that first purchase was actually for myself (holiday cards), and I didm’t buy anything else for a month, but it COUNTS.

I will say this though: I’ve been behind on my holiday cookie making/ consumption. Only ONE batch of classically-Christmas cookies (oo alliteration) has made it out of the kitchen, and it’s already December 21st! I’m ashamed. BUT, I plan to make up for this in the coming weeks. First up: these very lightly spiced (+ everything nice) Christmas cookies!

These are very, very simple cookies meant for when you want a taste, but you don’t have a ton of time to fuss. The base is a classic sugar dough recipe, but with a hint of every single spice you have ever associated with Fall/winter.

These cookies are crispy, buttery and a bit little crunchy from the optional topping of Demerara sugar, which I recommend because not only does it add an extra layer of texture,  it also makes your cookies sparkle like they’re supposed at Christmas time. And although these cookies do have spice, it’s only a hint. I like it because it elevates your sugar cookie, and gives it a little more oomph. These cookies are for sugar cookie purists looking to fray a little from the pack. Go crazy, but not too crazy, know what I mean?

Try some!

 

LIGHTY SPICED + EVERYTHING NICE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

What You’ll Need:

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Demerara sugar for topping, optional

 

DIRECTIONS 

Whisk the spices, salt, baking powder, and 3 cups flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon), beat the butter and sugar on high speed until well-combined. Next, add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Reduce the speed to low, then add about half of the dry ingredients until just combined. Then, add the rest and mix until combined; be careful not to over mix.

Form the dough into two 3/4 inch thick disks (you should see flecks of spices throughout the dough), wrap each disk in plastic wrap, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Let one disk of dough come to room temperature on the counter for 5-10 minutes so that is softens slightly. On a sheet of parchment paper that has been lightly floured, roll out the first disk of dough to 1/4 inch thickness, dusting with flour if it gets too sticky. Make sure to also flour your rolling pin, and cookie cutters. Cut out shapes with your cookie cutters, then transfer to the cookie sheets. Leave about 1 inch of space between each cookie.

Bake cookies about 12-16 minutes, rotating from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking, until the edges are lightly golden brown. If using, immediately sprinkle Demerara sugar liberally on the tops of each cookie, then let them sit for five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.

TO STORE: Cookies will last for at least a week if kept in an airtight container.

 

 

SOURCE: Adapted from Bon Appetit and Dorie’s Cookies

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BOOK REVIEW: Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking

I feel like I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I am a cookbook lover. You know this about me. But one thing that I am not is a cookbook hoarder. I don’t have the space for it. But more than that, I’ve realized that my life has to be about more than just collecting. The books the adorn these shelves must be able to earn their keep. So last Spring, I took a long, hard look at my bookshelf and made some tough decisions. I went through each cookbook that I have accumulated in the past four years. If I loved it for the pictures, but hadn’t marked any recipes, it had to go. If I bought it, read it once, then literally forgot that I had it, it had to go. If I hated it because the recipes were completely inconsistent, out it went. And so on. The process took a bit longer than I thought that it would, but in the end, it felt like a well-needed cleanse. I had donated books that were perfect, but not necessarily perfect for me, and freed up beloved real estate on my shelves. This left room for my absolute favorite time of the year: Fall Cookbook Season!  And number one on the list of new titles for Sydney’s Library? Breaking Breads!

You may know Uri Scheft as the owner of Breads Bakery, or you may be more familiar with what he has made so popular both in New York, and with literally every online food publication: chocolate babka. People lose their minds over it, and you’ll see tons of recipes all over the place trying to replicate it, but there’s nothing better than the real deal, so now you can make it in your jammies in the comfort of your own home forever.

Uri was born in Israel, but moved all the way across the world to Denmark during his formative years. This blending of two cultures (mixed in with the handful of cultures from countries that he’s lived in as an adult) gives his writing and recipes a sense of well-roundedness that is sometimes very hard to come by. For many, it will be an introduction to spice blends and flavor combinations that will both surprise and entice them.  For me, that’s the sign of a real winner. And you know I love me some fresh bread, so it’s like a win-win.

Let’s get this out of the way first: this book is not for beginners. Nor is it, I’m afraid, for bakers with very little patience. For starters, bread is never quick and it makes you wait. For hours. And hours. And Uri, who is truly an artist, not only wants your bread creations to taste good, but he also pushes and encourages you to become your own resident bread artist at home. It is challenging, it is sometimes confusing, and it’s also very delicious. And while the instructions can seem a little daunting (and at times you may feel like you have completely lost your will and ability to finish the project), Uri gives very detailed step-by-step instructional photos to help keep you on track. I needed those. Desperately.

I also enjoy that this book has tons of variety. Of course the core of this book is bread (flatbreads, challahs, babkas, etc), but you’ve also got cookies, hummus, and  great recipes for things like preserved lemons and babaghanouj. After completing a five-hour recipe for bread, you will want to take advantage of something quick and relatively easy to ease yourself back into the kitchen.

So, if you’ve made it this far, let me break it down for you:

The Good: This book is going to teach you how to make bread, or else. You will learn about yourself, and learn about your strengths and varying levels of patience. I also love how absolutely thorough and thoughtful Uri was when writing this book. It’s got everything from proper bread storage tips, to words of encouragement, to alternative designs and creations for when you want to deviate a little from the recipe. Every question is covered.

The Bad: There’s nothing bad about this book, really. One thing that I wish had been included was bolded estimates at the top indicating  how long each recipe would take altogether. Of course, I understand that each kitchen is different so therefore proofing times will be different, but a ballpark number  would’ve been so wonderful. I also wish that some instructions had been explained a little bit clearer, but I have always been able to soldier on and put something tasty on the table.

Overall: This was a book that I was so excited about, and my expectations were totally exceeded. Almost every recipe in this book has been bookmarked for further endeavors in the DD kitchen. This is my favorite book of Fall 2016, and I urge you to buy it for every patient baker you know. Once they’ve got it in their hands, encourage them to make the Sticky Pull-Apart Cinnamon Challah Braid (pg. 56), because it is my favorite and I need more people to talk about it with for hours and hours.

 

You can buy it here!

P.S. HAPPY THANKSGIVING, GUYS!!! I have 100000 pies to make.

Mini Atlantic Beach Pies

Living a stone’s throw away from the Atlantic Ocean now has gotten me thinking about beach town culture. The locals around these parts are very set in their ways when the sun is shining and you haven’t seen a thermometer drop past 80 degrees in a week. They get up when the sun rises, slather on a healthy coating of sport sunblock, then set up shop at the beach until the sun goes down. And once the sun goes down, if they’ve planned correctly, they’ll have a bonfire on that very same beach. Lather, rinse, repeat.

They’re fueled by frozen lemonades and hot dogs, and vow to be olympic-level good at beach volleyball and sailing everyday until their feet hit the pavement and reality sets in. Every minute is water, sand, and sun, and it’s all incredibly new to me. Sure, in the town I grew up in, in the Midwest, we were lucky enough to live right by the Lake with beautiful beaches and our own fair share of summertime rituals, but it’s just not the same. In the Midwest, fairs and festivals are the name of the game, and stuffing yourself to the very brim with authentic foods of many cultures is how you play to win. But not here. Here, ne’er a pretty Summer day is squandered indoors, and every moment a bull is taken by the horns and ridden all the way to where life begins and ends: the beach. I’ll tell you what, it’ll certainly take a little getting used to (first things first, I’ll have to order a vat of SPF 70 off Amazon), but I plan to be alll about that life one day. Provided there are snacks. And the weather stays between 75 and 79 degrees, as I am prone to fits of hot weather-related complaining.

Can you believe that Summer is unofficially officially over?? Three months just whizzed past. If the humidity hadn’t had its way with my hair from May to present day, I could almost tell you that it never happened at all. And while I’m more than delighted to welcome in my favorite season, Fall, with as many apple cider doughnuts, hay rides, pie baking, and cardigans and flannel as my lil’ heart can take, I’m also a sucker for goodbyes. Why, it wasn’t a mere seven months ago that I was tightly bundled up in a heavy winter coat, greedily bathing my face in the glow of a sun that only gave a whisper of warmth. And the days were short and dark, and I wished for Summer with every breath I took. But you can never appreciate or miss something until it’s gone, so it’s time for Summer to TTFN so I can remember what it was like to love it once more. To give it a proper adieu, I chose to make my favorite dessert: pie, in miniature form because who doesn’t love a PERSONAL PIE, with a little wink and nod to my new-ish new home. Hello, Atlantic Beach Pie.

At its core, this Atlantic Beach Pie is the baby of a Key Lime pie and a Lemon Meringue pie. It has both lemon and lime juice, a saltine cracker crust, and delicious, over-the-top, fluffy and puffy meringue; if so you choose to whip up a batch and use it. (P.S. You’ll have so many egg whites leftover. Make the meringue.)

There are many, many things that I love about these baby Atlantic Beach pies. For starters, the saltine cracker crust, a detour from the usual graham cracker crust found in basic Key Lime and Lemon Ice Box pies, reminds me of the beach, and transports me to those sunny sand-filled days everyone from my neighbor to the bank teller are always raving about. I love the freshness and brightness that the just-squeezed citrus juices bring to the table. The pies are so fragrant that even a quick whiff of one in passing can wake me right up. And most of all, these are pies that I can not only give to those friends and loved ones who absolutely adore citrus desserts, but also to those friends who *GASP* aren’t dessert people. They’re sweetened by a few tablespoons of sugar in the crust, and the sweetened condensed milk, and that’s it. There’s enough sweetness to keep your sweet-tooth happy, but overly-sweet they are not. It’s a win-win for every party, and I can go to bed at night knowing that even the most savory-oriented people can compromise every once in a while. Plus, and I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: WHO DOESN”T LOVE PERSONAL PIES? They’re just too cute to resist.

In conclusion, now is the time to raise our forks to a lovely, hot, and humid summer by digging into petite summer-tastic citrusy pies, and reminiscing about the good times. Cheers, Summer ’16. It’s been real.

 

Now, pass me that can of pumpkin, would ya? We’ve got work to do.

 

MINI ATLANTIC BEACH PIES

Makes 4 6-inch pies (these are the ones I use from WS!) 

What You’ll Need:

For the crust:

  • About 2 1/2 sleeves of salted saltine crackers, or about 120 crackers
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the pies:

  • Two 14-ounce cans of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 8 egg yolks (save the whites to make a tasty meringue!)
  • 1/2 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Lime zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take out two baking sheets, set them aside.

Finely hand-crush the saltine crackers in a large bowl, but be careful not to crush them so much that they become cracker dust. Add the sugar and stir to mix. Next, add the butter and knead it in until the cracker crumbs come together like a dough. Take out your four mini pie plates, then press the dough evenly into each. (Note: You may end up with more pie dough than pie plates to press it into, and that’s perfectly fine. Better to have too much than not enough when it comes to mini pies!)

Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, or freeze for 10-12. Once your pies have chilled, place two on each baking sheet and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the crusts have gotten nice and golden brown. Let them cool slightly.

While your pie crusts are cooling, it’s time to make the filling. Start off by beating the egg yolks into the milk until everything is completely combined. Next, add the citrus juice. At first, the  juice may sit right on the top and make your custard look very thin and watery. It is very, VERY important that you stick with it and carefully stir it (it tends to splash all around at first) until all of your ingredients are completely combined. You’ll start to see it thicken to a normal consistency again, just give it a little time.

Once your custard has come together, pour it into each pie plate, making sure to avoid overfilling them. Carefully set your pie plates (if you haven’t already) back on their baking sheets, then bake the pies for 16 minutes until the filling has set.

Let your pies cool on cooling racks for 15-20 minutes, then pop them into the fridge to chill completely (they must be absolutely cold in order to be sliced.)

When you’re ready to serve, top each with a lovely meringue using your leftover egg whites (here’s a great tutorial from The Kitchn!), or freshly whipped cream, then top with a lemon or lime wedge, citrus zest, or coarse sea salt as a garnish.

 

SOURCE: Adapted from Food52

NYT Blueberry Muffins

SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME (…the early 1990s…) blueberry muffins have been a staple in my life. They’re the go-to treat when I’m in an airport and want something sweet in a hurry. They’re my pick-me-up when I have them on-hand and I’ve had a rough day. They’ve been in the Special Sunday Breakfast rotation at my house for two whole decades. They’re just the epitome of classic baked goods in my book.

Before I became a baker and didn’t truly know what a difference home-baking could make in a person’s life, my go-to if I wanted blueberry muffins was the store-bought boxed mix. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you? The one with a  cellophane  bag full of flour mix and chemicals, and a slim tin can full of tiny, preserved blueberries swimming in syrup. Then you just had to add a few eggs and a cup of milk, and you were on your way. At the time, those muffins, always served still-warm from the oven and a bit crispy (if not a little dry to be honest) on the outsides tasted great, but it hasn’t been until I was the age and stage that I am now that I realized I could’ve been having it so much better all this time.  Don’t get me wrong; those mixes definitely have their place…somewhere, but, my friend, fresh is always best. Sure, it may take a little longer to measure out all the ingredients when you’re making blueberry muffins from scratch, but really, how much time are you actually  saving by using boxed cake mix? Not as much as you think.

Despite the fact that blueberry muffins are such a classic, there are perhaps dozens of ways that you can prepare them. And believe me, as someone who has had her fair share of muffins, I’ve also tried a fair share of those recipes. One particular favorite of mine (and incidentally one of the first recipes I EVER tried) comes from Joy the Baker. She doesn’t stray too far from the standard, but she takes things up a notch in her recipe with the inclusion of melted brown butter instead of regular-old softened and unsalted. It brings a sort of nuttiness and depth of flavor that I just absolutely love.

And while that recipe is definitely wayy up there on “Sydney’s Favorite Baked Goods, Blueberry Muffin Category” list, something inside me was desperately seeking a recipe that stayed within tradition. If I’m going to have that perfect cup of coffee early on a Sunday morning, with the window shades opened and the glow of dawn seeping in, I want to capture that moment just-so. I want that feeling of being in a coffeehouse somewhere where they serve you cafe treats exactly the way they were intended to be served and consumed: no muss, no fuss, just something that tastes phenomenal. Enter: the New York Times Blueberry Muffins.

These muffins are the perfect celebration of summer blueberries (although, frozen and thawed blueberries will work perfectly well when it’s off-season). It calls for two cups, which means that all twelve of these muffins are packed with plump antioxidant-rich blueberries just waiting to burst when you bite into them. And as much as I love a good crispy, crumbly topping made out of flour, sugar, and butter, sometimes a little coarse sugar will also do the trick of adding a bit of texture quite nicely.

Hey, blueberry muffins are a classic for a reason.

 

NYT BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

What You’ll Need:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (I’ve been really into Irish butter lately! Have you heard about Kerrygold?)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups blueberries, washed, drained, and picked over
  • 3 teaspoons sugar

(Baker’s Note: Some of the commenters suggested that the blueberries should be rolled in a bit of flour before being added to the batter to prevent them from sinking while baking. I tried it, and it’s definitely something to consider!)

 

Find the recipe HERE from the New York Times!

Peach Jam

How can we let Summer pass us by without celebrating one of it’s many gifts: peaches? Seems like an opportunity that just can’t be missed if you ask me. Now, there are many different directions that we could go in with our little round friends that are only in season for a hot (really hot, like 90-degree-weather kind of hot) second. Ice cream, shortcake, scone, sangria. But I decided to do what my heart was telling me to do; make jam. And what baby wants, baby gets. My heart is the baby in this scenario…Or maybe it’s my stomach?

Let’s move on.

Some people prefer to make their jam with granulated sugar, but I tend to prefer light brown. To me, it brings a warmth and more nuanced flavor than just white sugar. It helps to sweeten whatever berry or stone fruit that you’ve decided to make into a jam, while also giving more of a depth of flavor. This go-round, I also decided to add a little splash of vanilla. But, you should only do this if you’re truly a die-hard vanilla fan as it is a flavor that refuses to stay subtle. I happen to love it, but the choice is yours and yours alone.

Of course, one very vital ingredient when making jam, whatever kind you choose, must be lemon. Not lemon extract, but fresh lemon juice, plus the zest. What lemon does is not only brighten the other flavors in your delectable compote, but also cuts through some of the sweetness with a little kick of acidity. Without lemon, your jam could become cloyingly sweet, and no matter how big of a sweet tooth you have, there is actually such a thing as something being too sweet. I learned that the hard way.

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I’ve said it before, and I will say it forever: I am at my utter best when making jam. Perhaps it’s that it fills the home with such warm and sweet aromas that linger for hours. Or maybe it’s because it’s the closest I ever feel to my ancestors, the ones who lived in the real country in Tennessee, who knew the value of hard work, who foraged and canned not because it was on trend, but because it’s just what was done. I feel like my great-grandmother is with me somehow when I’m standing over a bubbling pot, guiding me along, and introducing me to the Tennessee side of me. I call her Country Sydney, and I only get to see her when the sun’s out and I’m frolicking outside in a field in a pair of wellies. I like Country Sydney  And I think my great-grandmother would, too.

Great Granny Tiny, this peach jam is for you.

 

PEACH JAM 

What You’ll Need:

  • 6 peaches, peeled, pitted, diced
  • 1 cup (at least) brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon, plus juice of (AT LEAST) half
  • Splash of vanilla, optional
  • Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS

Add peaches, brown sugar, lemon zest, juice of half of a lemon, vanilla (if using), and pinch of salt to a medium sauce pan. Stir to combine.

Cook the pan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon so that the sugar starts to dissolve, and the peaches begin to release their juices. Occasionally, mash the peaches with the back of your spoon to flatten them.  As the mixture starts to heat up, it will start bubbling rather vigorously, and maybe even spit up at your arm while you’re stirring. Do not be alarmed. This is par for the course when you are creating delicious magic. DO NOT leave your jam at any time during this stage as it can go from fruit to burnt-beyond-belief in very, very little time.

Along the way, make sure to taste test. If the mixture is too sweet, add the other half of the lemon juice. If it’s not sweet enough, add sugar by the teaspoon until it’s sweet enough to your liking. (I tend to think that it’s better to start off with less and add a little more, rather than start off with too much and not be able to fix it.)

Cooking time should be around 30-50 minutes depending on your stove. What to look for when seeing if your jam is done is whether or not it coats the back of the spoon. CAREFULLY draw a vertical line down the back. Has it left a defined line while the rest of your spoon is still coated with a thick jam? Yes? Congratulations, you’ve just passed the “line” test. Also, YOU HAVE PEACH JAM.

It’s important to note that I prefer my jams on the “chunkier” side  because I like the differences in texture. If you are the same way, make sure that while there are still some little chunks of peaches, those chunks are completely soft. If you just want straight-up smooth jam, you can run it through a fine mesh sieve when it has cooled.

Once your jam has reached it’s final stage, take it off the heat and let it cool in the saucepan before transferring to a clean mason jar. Store in the refrigerator.

The jam should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Coffee Stracciatella

For my birthday last year, I decided that the gift that I wanted to give myself the most was an ice cream maker. I love ice cream. I love how versatile it is. I love how it can be eaten a million different ways. Most of all, I just loved that there was a (relatively) inexpensive appliance out there that could help me make a treat that I seek out at various life stages (monthly mood swings, breakups, summer giddiness, etc. etc.)

The day it arrived my brain danced with all the different recipes that I could toss into my little white ice cream/gelato/sorbet/frozen yogurt maker, but, like with literally every single new thing I ever buy, I deemed it too nice to use just then and promptly put it back in its box to “rest” until an occasion momentous enough arose for me to finally break it out and use it. Classic Sydney move. My ice cream maker sat new, empty, and alone in its original packaging for 1.3 years.

Finally, friends, an occasion momentous enough arose: I found a recipe, and I wanted ice cream. Groundbreaking stuff, guys.

I am far and away a morning person. Always have been. When I was in college I woke up at 6:30 for my 8 AM classes with a pep in my step whilst my roommates couldn’t even utter a syllable without first groggily shoving a mug under the coffe-maker and taking a few sips. But there was one class that even I couldn’t wake myself up for and thus had to turn to those beyond delicious frappe drinks that Starbucks sells in grocery stores. My go-to was always “vanilla mocha.” Did it totally wake me up? Not really. Was it delicious? Totally!

And so, as I spooned this decadent coffee stracciatella into my mouth, all of a sudden the memories of my vanilla mocha frappe days came rushing back. I was there again, in that 8 AM, sipping away at my creamy, milky, choclatey coffee drink which was perfectly cold and perfectly delicious. And it of course makes perfect sense: Stracciatella is milk-based, mixed with heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and egg yolks. Add in two heaping tablespoons of espresso powder, plus a drizzling of melted bittersweet chocolate (the latter is added whilst the ice cream is churning), and you’ve got the frozen vanilla mocha treat of dreams. It’s rich, creamy, decadent, and so velvety smooth. The coffee flavor is concentrated and completely complimented by the flecks of chocolate that, while being churned, freeze instantly and disperse throughout the entire ice cream. This particular ice cream is special, and I’m so glad it was my first homemade.

 

Have an ice cream maker? You’ve GOT to try this coffee stracciatella

 

COFFEE STRACIATELLA 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (I like Cafe Bustelo)
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

 

DIRECTIONS 

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, salt, and 1/4 cup sugar. Next add the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Bring your mixture just to a simmer, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, which should take about 2 minutes. Very carefully whisk in about 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture to temper the eggs, then whisk the yolk mixture into the remaining cream mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Strain the custard into a medium bowl set over a large bowl of ice water. Next, stir in the espresso powder until dissolved. Let the mixture cool, stirring every so often.

Process your custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions (Make sure to read them VERY carefully!). Once custard is frozen to your desired consistency in the ice cream maker, gradually pour in the melted chocolate (this is best to do when the machine is on, so you won’t get any frozen clumps). Process until the ice cream is flecked with chocolate, about 2-3 minutes longer.

At this stage, your ice cream will probably be at soft-serve consistency. If you prefer a harder consistency, go ahead and pop your ice cream into a freezer-safe storage container and into the freezer for another hour or two. The longer you keep it in, the more solid it will become. Enjoy!!

 

SOURCE: Bon Appetit 

Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles

On this episode of “Sydney Makes Easy Things That Impress Her Friends,” we’re talkin’ ’bout chocolate truffles. But not just any regular chocolate truffles, oh no, we’re throwing vanilla chai into the mix. Essentially, they’re chocolate balls, but doesn’t the word “truffle” just make it sound much fancier? Ya, I agree.

The bond that a woman of color has with her hairdresser is one that is sacred, and must be fostered and nurtured. I do this by surprising mine with edible treats at least once a month. And since the hot cross buns that I made a few weeks back were given to family and church members, I decided that my beloved beautician should get something specifically made JUST for her. And like many, many women that I know, she looooooooooves  chocolate. So, I thought, what better treat than just straight-up homemade truffles?

During the holiday season my television basically stays on Food Network and Cooking Channel, and I watched a special episode of Giada at Home in which she made chocolate truffles for some “guests” (more likely the production crew, but ya know, TV magic and all that) who were stopping by for a holiday party. She stepped it up by brewing a bunch of bags chai  in heavy cream, then taking it off the heat and pouring it over chocolate to melt it. Then she stirred it all together until it turned into chocolate ganache, refrigerated it for a few hours until it set, then scooped out the mixture by the tablespoon, rolled it into a ball, coated it in cocoa powder, and then wrapped a little gold leaf around each for a classy touch. They were so cute and elegant, so I logged the recipe away for an occasion when I would really, really want to make them. But when it came time to make these truffles, wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have any gold leaf on hand (I’m not workin’ with a Food Network budget here), and instead of brewing with classic chai, I decided to switch it up with my favorite bundling of vanilla chai tea bags. Was it a success? Oh yeah. She loved them!

These truffles are perfect for anyone who has a semi-sweet tooth. They’ve got a bit of an edge to them, with just the hint of sweetness to balance everything out. Basically, you get this intensely rich, deep chocolatey flavor, mixed with the warmth of spices that you find in classic chai, and finished off with the subtle hint of vanilla. The vanilla may just be a gentle whisper, but it definitely won’t let you ever forget that it’s there.

Best of all, they can be made wayyyy in advance, which works perfectly for me because I can enjoy leftover truffles that didn’t fit in the gifted container for weeks to come.

Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles: Good for friendship, good for random chocolate cravings.

 

VANILLA CHAI CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 bags vanilla chai tea (I like Bigelow)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder

 

DIRECTIONS

Before you begin, tie all of your tea bag strings together in a knot. This makes it much easier to fish them out when you’ve finished with them.

Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan, then add your tea bags. Place the pan over medium-low heat, warming the cream slowly; stir occasionally. You’ll know when your mixture is heated through when you see little bubbles start to form around the edges of the cream, about 5-7 minutes. Simmer for 3 minutes more, then remove from heat.

Remove the tea bags from the sauce pan. Place the finely chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl, then strain the cream mixture over it using a fine-mesh strainer. Let sit for 3 minutes so that the chocolate begins to melt on its own. Slowly whisk the melted chocolate into the cream starting in the center of the bowl, then slowly making your way outwards. Remember to do this slowly and carefully so that the chocolate doesn’t seize up! Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and completely blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap DIRECTLY on top of the ganache, and press down gently to make sure the surface is completely covered.  Let set in the  refrigerator for AT LEAST 3 hours, but the best is overnight. The mixture should be firm by that time, but still easy to work it.

Measure your coca powder, then place in a small, shallow bowl. With a tablespoon cookie scoop (or just a tablespoon measuring spoon), scoop even rounds of ganache into your palm, then very quickly but gently roll into a ball.  Next. roll the ball in the coca powder to coat; gently shake off any excess.. Repeat this process until you’ve run out of ganache. Place your truffles in an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Make Ahead: The truffles can be made several weeks ahead of time, kept refrigerated in an airtight container. On the day of serving, roll each in the cocoa powder.

 

 

SOURCE: Very, very slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentis 

 

 

Hot Cross Buns

Hiiiiiiiiiiiii, how was your Easter??  Mine was epic and uplifting, and full of food. Simply the best.

Have you ever had hot cross buns? This was my first year. Before that, my only knowledge of them began and ended with the song of the same name that I was forced to learn on the recorder in 7th grade. That was it. (Fun fact: I haven’t picked up the recorder since.) But when you’re young, it’s almost a necessity that you start your own traditions and/or jump on holiday-specific bandwagons, so here we are. And I have to tell you: I can’t believe I’ve lived my life up until now without hot cross buns. I mean, it’s crazy. I can honestly say, in the four years that I have been baking, hot cross buns are the best things to ever come out of my oven. BY. FAR. Easter Sunday’s breakfast was just EXCELLENT, you guys.

Best served warm, these buns are yeasty, squishy, icing-topped perfection. Traditionally, hot cross buns are filled with dried fruit like raisins, currants, cherries, or dates, but my grocery store was serisouly lacking in the traditional dried mixed fruit bags. What I found instead was a mix of dried strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and cranberries, and I LOVED that combination when paired with the warmed apricot jam and blend of cardamom and cinnamon spices. And while I enjoyed the little bursts of strawberries I got, next time ’round, I’ll try to make my own fruit mix because the cardamom-cinnamon was practically begging for raisins. Either way, fruit in yeast rolls just WORKS.

You may see these most often on Easter, but something tells me these would work extremely well around Christmas time…or just all-year-round in general.

 

It’s never too late for Hot Cross Buns.

 

Find the recipe HERE from Bon Appetit! 

 

 

 

WEEKEND READS

What am I looking forward to this week? Brooklyn  will be on my doorstep in TWO DAYS. I told you last week that the book changed my life, and when I heard that they were making a movie….well, I could barely contain myself. Unfortunately, going to see it in theaters proved to be much more difficult than say, if I wanted to see Zoolander 2, so I resigned to wait until it came out on DVD. AND THAT DAY IS FAST APPROACHING. I’ve been re-reading the book in anticipation of comparisons, and literally crossing out the days in my calendar. So stoked.

Here’s what else I’ve been reading this week:

Using food to fight the power? I’m all about it! How Suffragists Used Cookbooks as a Recipe for Subversion

Do you dye Easter eggs? I haven’t done it in agessss, but I might start this year now that I’ve seen these awesome minimalist designs! So rad.

Learning to arrange flowers is on my eternal to-do list. Here’s a fun article about supermarket flower hacks!

Donut + Macaroon= The Macaronut is upon us. Silly? Yes. Delicious? I’m thinking also yes, yes, and yes.

I’m  definitely teetering on the line between ‘too much’ and ‘just enough’ clutter every single day of my life; Strike the Right Balance: Having Just Enough ‘Good Clutter’ .

Have you pre-ordered Sweeter Off the Vine yet?? Yossy Arefi is one of my favorite food photographers/bloggers ever! You HAVE to buy this book. March 22nd, get here faster!!

 

How’s your Sunday going? Mine’s rainy, and I’m feeling very sleepy/content.

Dark Chocolate and Anise Biscotti

There are two sides to me. One side has this need to bake things all the time. The other side is aware that if I bake all the time, then I will feel obligated to eat everything I’ve made in the event that I don’t have anyone to share the wealth with. It’s very complicated. That’s why I love, love, love biscotti. They’re crunchy, they’re sturdy, and they last for WEEKS at a time.  I have the freedom to nibble (or not nibble) at my leisure without the looming pressure to not waste a single crumb. It’s beautiful.

Biscotti are tough cookies in the best way. The longevity of them is fantastic, but they’re also the perfect option for care packages. As much as I love the Midwest (especially now that I can walk outside without a parka), most of the people I care about live in completely different parts of the country. You know that I am a big fan of sending and receiving gifts in the mail. but the edible options for packages are limited. Biscotti are PERFECT for this task.

This week I whipped up a quick batch of Buttery-Cayenne Pecans, then made these Dark Chocolate Anise Biscotti, wrapped everything in half a roll of bubble wrap, threw in a couple of heartfelt cards, then sent them on their way. Two days later, I got a “thank you” text, and a very warm heart. Care packages are my jam. And one of these days, you and I are going to make one together, step-by-step.

As you’re well aware by now, I am a huge fan of deceptively easy recipes. Making biscotti? Wayyyy easier than you think. All you have to do is keep up with the time. The rest is a total breeze.

What I love most about this recipe is that it’s a lot like having a chocolate chip cookie, but with a hint of licorice. And if you aren’t a black licorice fan (I’m not,), have no fear, you’ll still love these The anise seeds bring a subtle flavor of licorice that does nothing but completely compliment the oodles of dark chocolate chunks throughout. And I will never turn down a crispy cookie that brings a little texture to the game. If a little softness is more of what you’re after, you totally have my permission to dunk a couple of these babies in a steaming cup of coffee.

Eat some biscotti.

Send some to your friends.

Do your thing.

 

 

DARK CHOCOLATE AND ANISE BISCOTTI 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, slightly crushed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 4 oz chocolate, roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS

Place oven racks in the center and upper third of the oven, then preheat to 325 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, slightly crushed anise seeds, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer, or with a wooden spoon), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy; about 5 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to low, then add one egg and the egg yolk, then beat until well combined; about 3 minutes.

Add the flour mixture all at once to the stand mixer, and beat on low until well combined. The dough may seem a bit crumbly. Next, add the chocolate chunks and make sure they are evenly distributed throughout.

Divide the dough in half, then place each half on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Gently knead the dough a few times, just to get it to come together a little more. Next, shape each dough into logs about 8 inches long, and 1 1/2 inches wide. Beat the remaining egg, then generously brush it over each log. Next, sprinkle sugar liberally over each log.

Bake the biscotti on both racks for 20 minutes, then swap racks and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the biscotti are golden brown and baked all the way through.

Take your cookie sheets out of the oven, and let the biscotti rest for a few minutes. Once the biscotti logs are cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch slices using a serrated knife, cutting in a swift motion.

Place the cookies cut side up onto the baking sheets, then put back in the oven for another 15-25 minutes, depending on how crisp you’d like your biscotti to be. (I prefer mine on the crispier side, so I kept an eye on mine for 25 minutes.)

For an even crispiness, flip your biscotti over and bake for another 2-5 minutes.

Let cool, then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. 

 

SOURCE: Adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes