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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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! 

 

 

 

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 

Bite-Size Biscotti

I really, really like my beautician. Partially because she’s one of the only people in this world who I would trust to dye my hair just-so, and partially because I’ve known her for a big chunk of my life. She likes me, and I like her, and she likes my baking, so I like her even more. When true-blue baking season starts up, the kitchen is always filled with more treats than my family could ever possibly eat, and I always pick out the best of the best to bring to her. Lately she’s really been dropping hints that I’ve been slacking in the baked-good-delivery department, so I’m stepping up my game.

I love biscotti. It’s crunchy and delicious, and there are so many flavor combinations out there that I’ll never become bored with it. It’s the perfect companion to cold-weather beverages, and since my tea kettle has seen a lot more action lately, I thought I would give these a shot.

Traditional biscotti can be time consuming, and nerve-wracking. If you don’t get the first bake right, it can throw off the entire process. After all, you don’t eat soft biscotti, you’re looking for that satisfying crunch. If you still want the crunch, but don’t have all day, try the mini version. These are just as satisfying, but it’ll only take you a few hours, and most of that time is spent impatiently checking to see if the chocolate has set so you can dig in. Patience is your friend when baking, now and forever.

It should be noted that in this recipe, it calls for the zest of grapefruit, but  I think any citrus you’ve got laying around will do. It’s not so much about the grapefruit as it is the presence of citrus that makes these biscotti bites stand out. I zested that grapefruit until I could zest no more because it was $1.25 and I was going to get my money’s worth or die trying. (Dramatic, sorry.)

These bite-sized biscotti are for all fans of the salt-chocolate-cocunut-citrus-more chocolate flavor combination. May your teaspoons be heaping, your cookies crunchy,  your chocolate smoothly-tempered, and your tummies full of the quintessential coffeehouse treat. There are going to be some happy faces at the beauty shop tomorrow.

BITE-SIZED BISCOTTI

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups fine cornmeal (I used white cornmeal)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 stick (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons grapefuit zest (or two tablespoons of zest of your choice. Could be orange!)
  • 11 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Sanding sugar (I used Demerara because that’s what I had in my pantry!), for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and coarse salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Next add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Beat in the coconut, grapefruit zest, and about 5 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate. Mix until everything is evenly distributed.

Drop generous heaping teaspoonfuls of biscotti dough on parchment-lined baking sheets. Set each dough ball about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops of each with a generous sprinkling of sanding sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Note: I don’t have an industrial-size refrigerator, so my fridge only holds so many baking sheets. My solution: scoop the remainder of your dough into a bowl and refrigerate. It’ll still be cold enough to form dough balls that keep their shape in the oven.)

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown. This should take about 18-20 minutes depending on your oven.

Let cool completely on wire racks.

Once your biscotti bites have completely cooled, temper the remaining amount of bittersweet chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the melted chocolate, scraping off any excess chocolate with a spoon, or using the edge of the bowl. Set each on clean parchment-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate until chocolate is set, about 30 minutes. (Note: I didn’t refrigerate again. Instead, I let them to set in a cool place in the house. It took a little longer, but I didn’t have to take all of my food out of the fridge again.)

To Store: These can be be stored in a single layer for up to one week.

SOURCE: Martha Stewart

Fried Green BLTs

Fried Green BLT2

I think we all love a good BLT. I mean, it’s a classic. But have you ever felt like you weren’t getting that extra element of crunch? Sure, the bacon is supposed to pull triple duty as the salty, meaty, crunchy component to that sandwich, but still, sometimes you just need more. How about frying the tomatoes? Perfect.

On a particularly pleasant day, it’s good to throw on your sun hat and shades, and your perfectly dainty fan to keep the heat at bay, and enjoy a nice, Southern-style sandwich out on the back porch. You’re meant to enjoy food in warm weather, and you’re most definitely not meant to spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing it.

These fried green BLTs are not only a super-fast, very fresh lunch option, they’re also totally perfect for a spontaneous summer picnic. They hold up and travel very well, and I may just be imagining it, but I think they actually taste ten times better when eaten al fresco. That might just me though.

All you need is an egg, unripe green tomatoes, some cornmeal, a little vegetable oil, some nice crispy bacon, some baby spinach, a little mayo, and fresh thick-sliced bread (don’t forget to toast it!), and you’ve got a totally fresh take on a pretty traditional sammie. Now all you need is a tall glass of ice-cold sweet tea to wash it down, and you’ve got the perfect summer day. Aaaaaahhhhhhh.

Fried Green BLT

 

FRIED GREEN BLTs

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • Salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 1 pound unripe green tomatoes, sliced (Note: I’ve found that using a serrated knife not only makes it easier to cut the tomatoes, but it also keeps them from getting mashed, releasing too much of their juices, and bruising)
  • Canola or Vegetable oil
  • 8 thick slices of your favorite bread, toasted
  • Mayonnaise
  • Baby spinach or arugula

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with two layers of aluminum foil. Lay your bacon on the foil, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until it has reached your desired level of crispiness. Once out of the oven, drain your bacon on paper towels.

Fill three separate bowels with flour, your egg and water mixture, and cornmeal. Season the cornmeal with plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper. Dip each tomato slice in the flour, then the egg mixture (shaking gently to remove any excess) and then finally into the cornmeal, making sure that every bit of it is covered. Place the slice on a wax-paper lined platter or plate. Repeat the process until all of your slices are perfectly coated.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil until it is shimmering. Add the tomatoes, and cook over medium-high heat, turning once, until golden brown and crispy. This should take about five minutes. Drain your tomatoes on paper towels.

To Assemble:

Lay four slices of toasted  bread on a cutting board, and lightly spread some mayonnaise on each. Next, add at least two slices of tomatoes on top. Next, cut your slices of bacon in half, and add two halves of each on top of the tomatoes. Top with a few spinach leaves.

Now, if you like open-faced sandwiches, then you’re done! If you like a classic sandwich, top each with another slice of toasted bread, and cut in half. Enjoy!

SOURCE: Delish

Maple-Bourbon Pecan Pie

pecan pie 2

My dad’s birthday was Sunday, and birthday cakes just don’t fly with him. He’ll eat them, but he never request them. Instead, you better be pulling out that pecan pie recipe. (Side note: how do you pronounce “pecan”?  In the Midwest, it’s pronounced “pe-cahn.” In the South, it’s “pee-can” or else. I generally go with the latter, despite my upbringing.)

But ugh, pecan pies can be so boring if you’re not careful, and making the same things over and over again can drive a girl crazy. But, it was his birthday, and on his birthday, things have to stay the same…with a few amped up modifications, of course!

pecan pie 1

Enter: bourbon. I love baking with bourbon. I don’t like drinking it, but I LOVE the taste of it. It adds a richness, and a bit of sweet vanilla-smokiness that always takes things to the next level. Have you ever tried making vanilla extract with bourbon? Or how about bourbon caramels? I have to tell you, I can never make either any other way again.

pecan pie 3

Not only is bourbon a key component to this new pie, but there’s also the addition of a little maple syrup. It’s not a large amount, and it definitely doesn’t stand out quite as boldly as the bourbon, but it has a very special place: it helps add more depth, and more complexity. Maple syrup is quite subtly-smoky, and so rich. When you add that subtle hint of smokiness, and mix it with the vanilla and oak notes that the bourbon brings, you’ve got a very flavorful partnership.

This whole pie works. IT JUST WORKS. The pie crust is flaky and soooo buttery, the pecans are crisp, and add that satisfying crunch, and that maple-bourbon combination? Just out of this world. Dad loved it (perhaps more than the traditional?), and was throughly sad to see an empty pie plate once again, a mere three days later. We were all sad to see it go, really.

pecan pie 4

 

So, OK, it’s time to come clean: this pie was an experiment. I knew maple and bourbon would get along famously with the rest of the ingredients, but I was a bit nervous about the measurement modifications. When the expectation after dinner is to be served a slice of something you’ve grown to love just the way it is, deviations can be tricky. Perhaps this recipe was the real deal, or perhaps I got real  lucky. Either way, it’ll take a few more test drives in the ol’ test kitchen before it finds itself on DD. 

BUT, I’d never leave you hanging.. Here are some excellent recipes to try in the meantime:

Martha Stewart’s Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie 

This simple Bourbon Pecan Pie (with an option to add a teaspoon or two of maple syrup) from Garden and Gun Magazine

OR how about this one from Epicurious?

 

Whichever you choose, know that I’ll be right there next to you in spirit, with a fork in my hand ready to dig in.

 

 

Challah French Toast

challah bread 1

What to do when you can’t find challah bread in literally any of the bakeries in your town? Make your own. You know what they say, “Desperate times call for desperate measures” blah blah blah. The truth of the matter is, I’ve always wanted to make challah completely on my own, so I didn’t mind so much that I couldn’t find it anywhere. It meant that it was up to me, and also that I better be extra careful not to mess it up; I had a date with french toast the next morning.

It absolutely must be said that I am a complete novice when it comes to this sweet and super delicious bread, so I’m going to refer you to this stellar tutorial over on The Kitchn. Really easy to follow, and SO USEFUL. I’m totally attempting the six-braid method the next time I make challah. (Hope it goes well.)

challah 2

If making challah bread has taught me anything it’s this: make sure you read the recipe three times before you even get your mise en place. I always read a recipe several times, but after making this bread, the point has been driven home. It’s not that this is a particularly difficult bread to make per seit’s that making challah is very time-consuming. There’s a lot of waiting involved. Like, hours of waiting in fact. So when you make this bread, make sure you’ve got the TIME to do it! This is not something you whip up in an hour. Just be patient, and you’ll have a really pleasant reward.

The recipe called for proofing in a warm place with a clean dish towel over the top, but I had no idea where I could put it. I’ve let dough proof before on the counter, but it didn’t rise like I so desperately wanted it to. Not properly proofing challah dough would guarantee disaster, so I decided to ask the internet for help. The advice that I got was SPECTACULAR: place your covered bowl on a higher rack in an oven that is completely OFF. Next, boil some water and pour it into a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl with water in it onto a lower rack, SHUT THE DOOR, and keep it shut! Now you’ve got your warm place, and you’ll end up with a dough that has doubled in size once the time comes to take it out. It’s thrilling.

challah 3

RIGHT, so let’s get on to the french toast part of this post, shall we? You may be wondering what I did with my challah loaf after it was finished cooling. Well, in order to get the perfect french toast, you need slightly stale bread. In fact, it’s imperative.. So, once my challah was finished cooling (and I’d gone through several  episodes of ‘Tia Mowry at Home’ on Cooking Channel) I simply left it slightly uncovered and went to bed. It worried me a little bit that it might dry out too much, but by the time I was finished in the kitchen that night, there weren’t many hours left before it was time to get up and make breakfast. And everything turned out just fine. (Thank goodness.)

In the morning I sliced up eight very healthily-sized slices of challah, mixed up my custard , and set to work.

. So now, let’s talk about how obsessed I am with challah french toast. BECAUSE I AM OBSESSED.

challah french toast

French toast is decadent, I mean, there’s a reason why its present on every brunch menu that has ever existed. But there is just something so beyond  about whipping up a batch of challah french toast on a quiet weekend morning with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar on top from one of those unnecessary-for-anything-else shakers, and a drizzling of divinely warm maple syrup just waiting to be soaked up. THAT is decadence. Throw in a hot cup of hazelnut roast coffee, and a little bowl of fruit salad (in this case it was strawberry, blueberry, and mango with lemon juice) and we are TALKIN’, my friend. That’s what weekend mornings are all about. Be warned: this breakfast is incredibly rich, but oh my GOSH is it ever worth it.

And would you like to know the best part? It’s made completely form scratch. Who needs a brunch menu?

 

CHALLAH FRENCH TOAST 

What You’ll Need:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 8 slices of challah bread 1″ thick, cut from a slightly stale loaf
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top, optional
  • Fresh Fruit, optional

Directions:

Place a large skillet (Mine is 12 inches) over medium-low heat.

Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, salt, and sugar in a large baking pan (I used an 11X13 rectangular cake pan) until everything is fully incorporated.

Place four slices of bread into the custard to soak for at least one minute on each side (I ended up doing a little longer, but it’s up to you. Make sure it’s at least one minute though! )

While the bread is soaking, melt one tablespoon of butter in the skillet. You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to foam. When it has started to foam, move it around so that it coats the entire bottom of the skillet.

Move your cake pan with the soaking pieces of bread next to the stove so that there will be no dripping.

Lift one piece of bread and very gently shake it to get rid of any excess custard, then gently place it in the skillet. Repeat this process with each piece of bread.

After 1-2 minutes, check under a slice of bread to see if it has turned golden brown. When it has turned golden brown, flip each piece of bread and continue cooking until they’re golden brown on the other side. Be sure to keep an eye on the skillet so that your toast doesn’t burn.

Place your finished first batch onto a serving plate, and your final four pieces of bread into the custard for soaking on each side. (Should you run out of custard before you’ve run out of bread, I’ve found that whisking another egg, some more half-and-half, a little sugar, and a little salt works nicely!) Place another tablespoon of butter into your skillet, wait until it foams, and repeat the process of cooking your french toast. Once all of your pieces of bread have turned deliciously golden brown on both sides, transfer them to your serving plate.

Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on the top if you’re into that, heat up some delicious maple syrup, and cut up some fruit to use as a topping if you;d like. Enjoy!!

 

SOURCE: Adapted SUPER SLIGHTLY from The Kitchn 

 

Apple Spice Hand Pies

apple hand pies 1 Do you ever wonder, after making something new, how you could have lived without it before? That’s how I feel about hand pies. Sure, I’ve bookmarked dozens of recipes in the never-ending black hole that is my “Recipes” folder, and I’ve even eaten them, but never had I realized how much I love hand pies, until I had twelve perfectly golden ones cooling on my wire rack. I should say though, that they weren’t all for me. Last weekend one of my chums, who’s been telling me about Penzey’s for months now, decided to surprise me with a cute little jar filled to the brim with a rather hard to find ingredient: apple pie spice! It was a lovely gift, and to repay them, I decided that the best thing to do was make some apple spice hand pies. It was the best idea for all parties involved, really. apple hand pie 2Pies are not my strong suit; let’s just throw all the cards on the table now. I once tried to make a savory cheddar and garlic pie with an apple cider vinegar crust, and everything was going pretty well, until I tried pouring the filling into the crust only to discover that I’d rolled the pie crust too thinly, and custardy filling was going everywhere. There was a lot of mopping up of counters and floors, but in the end, what was left was delicious. Will I make it again? Probably not. I dunno, it was pretty good. Never say never. ANYWAY, based on my so-so pie track record, making hand pies for the first time made me a little nervous. I had a limited amount of apples and butter, a pie crust that was a little crumbly when I had made it the night before, and I was missing the necessary 5 1/2 inch cookie cutter that the recipe called for. There was only one shot to get this right, and I was determined to show up the next day with pies in hand. Even if I could just get two, that would be enough. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about! Everything went off without a hitch after I got a little creative with the cookie cutter. Instead of one that is 5 1/2 inches (which is really hard to come by unless you’re ready to order it online and wait), I was lucky enough to find an oversized coffee mug that was about 4 1/2 inches. Good enough! I floured the rim, pressed down and carefully wriggled each piece free. Easy.

The trick to a good hand pie is finding the perfect balance between filling and pastry. Too little, and you’re eating a lot of shell with the occasional bite of filling. Too much, and you’re looking at a baking sheet with filling cooking exactly where you don’t want it to be: on the outside. Either way, you’ll end up with a very empty shell. The key is to put the filling right in the center, leaving room on both sides for folding over and crimping the edges. By adding the filling to the center, you’re able to control the amount that goes on with each spoonful. If you feel like you need a little more, you’re free to do so. It’s much easier to add more than to *attempt* to take some out. And do yourself a favor: use a slotted spoon to scoop out your apple filling from the pan. The last thing you want is extra moisture, TRUST ME. What a mess. If you’re wondering which apples to use, I used a mix of Gala and Lady Alice apples. Both worked really nicely. These apple spice hand pies are the buttery and spiced mini pies of your dreams.

What You’ll Need:

For the Pie Pastry:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2-1/2 sticks (1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, very cold, cubed
  • 1/3 cup all-vegetable shortening, very cold or frozen, cut into small pieces
  • 6-7 tbsp ice water

For the Apple Filling:

  • 5 cups apples, peeled, cored and diced (about 5 medium apples)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

OR

  • 2 tsp apple pie spice

For Brushing on Top:

  • 1/3-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Turbinado or Demerara Sugar for sprinkling

TO STORE: Carefully wrap in cling film and keep in a cool place. They taste great when popped back into the oven at a low temperature for 10-20 minutes. Find the recipe on Fork Knife Swoon!

Rustic Blueberry-Lemon Ricotta Scones

SCONES- 1

It went past 50 degrees last week and I could hardly believe it. For the first time in months I didn’t have to prepare myself for the familiar sting of winter wind hitting every piece of exposed skin. And I even spotted neighbors that I haven’t seen in months. The windbreaker is out, the winter coat is buried deep within the wardrobe, and despite what the weather people keep trying to tell me (back to the 40s, sometimes 30s) Spring is here to stay. Why? Because I said so.

The sun is shining so brightly and it’s making me think of Summer. And, it should be noted, I don’t even like Summer that much. It’s just too hot. While most people around these parts relish the feeling of a hot sun on their skin, all I can do is slap on the sunscreen; even while just looking out the window. I’ll take 70 degrees and breezy, please. None of that 90 degree business. Anyway, since the sun is shining and it’s actually remotely warm, it had me missing the fresh fruit that I practically live on all summer: blueberries. And what goes exceptionally well with blueberries? Lemons, m’dear!

Photo 1--SCONES

I’ve been trying to think of ways to spice up breakfast lately. The Cheerios just aren’t cutting it anymore; not by themselves anyway. Toast is a splendid breakfast companion, but I’ve just been looking for a little more oomph. That’s where these scones come in. Such a simple little thing on its own, the scone. So much potential, just begging to be taken to the next level. And so we shall, little scone. So we shall.

Plus, we had some extra ricotta burning a hole in the fridge. Ricotta cheese shall never, ever be wasted. Not on my watch.
SCONES 2

And I know that scones are traditionally wedge-shaped, but we’re not going for tradition here. The beauty of a scone (besides the lovely taste) is that it can be wedge-shaped, biscuit shaped, or maybe somewhere in between like I’ve attempted. Mine sort of resemble drop biscuits with fruit, and you know what? That’s what I’m going for. They’re rustic. And also incredibly delicious.

These scones are crispy like a good southern biscuit, but still super moist thanks to both the ricotta and blueberries. And just as you start to get into the sweetness of the blueberry, you’re greeted by the hint of lemony goodness. Breakfast is going to be really good this weekend.

Scones 3And don’t let anyone speak badly about whichever shape you choose. You do you.

What You’ll Need:

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

zest of one lemon

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed if frozen)

Heavy cream for brushing

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Once fully combined, add the ricotta. (It’s okay if there are still little lumps once you’re finished combining.)

Combine the lemon zest and granulated sugar in a small bowl, rubbing the two together with your fingers until it gives off a lovely fragrant smell. Set aside.

In a large bowl,  use a whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon-sugar mix. Add the cut up pieces of butter and gently toss with a fork, making sure each piece of butter is coated with the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or fork, incorporate the butter into the flour until you get a mixture of little lumps of butter and flour.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix together using a rubber spatula until just combined. Careful not to over-mix. Next, gently fold in the blueberries. Turn out the dough onto a very well-floured surface and gently knead the dough. Add a little flour as you knead if the dough is too sticky. Pat the dough into a 1/2 inch thick disk. Cut into a wedges, or a circles using a biscuit cutter, or for a more rustic look, gently cut a section and carefully shape it yourself. Transfer the pieces onto your prepared baking sheet.

Brush each piece with heavy cream (to help it brown nicely in the oven), and sprinkle scones with Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

Two things to note:

1. This dough is VERY sticky because of the ricotta cheese. If you need to, add a little flour when kneading, but make sure to be gentle and not over-knead the dough.

2. Depending on your oven, it may take more than 20 minutes for your scones to turn golden. Be patient. They’ll get there. But do keep a close eye on them: scones can go from lovely brown to too dark in no time flat.

SOURCE: Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod