Friday, January 03, 2020

All's Fair: Cranberry-Almond Teacakes

For the first time last Fall, I entered the baking competition at my local harvest fair. There were lots of entries, of all shapes and sizes, including an outrageously decadent-looking pan of cinnamon rolls! And while I didn't win anything, these Cranberry-Almond Teacakes still say "blue ribbon" to me :-)

cranberry-almond teacakes

Cranberry-Almond Teacakes

Dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup dried cranberries

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with muffin liners; set aside.

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, and ground ginger together in a small bowl. Add the dried cranberries and toss in the flour mixture, breaking up any clumps as you go. In a large bowl (or the pan you used the melt the butter, if it's big enough), cream butter and sugar together until fluffy, then mix in extracts and eggs. Blend in half of the dry ingredients, stir in the milk, then add the remainder of the dry ingredients and combine until just smooth. Divide evenly among the liners (about 2/3 full each). Sprinkle tops with about 1 teaspoon each almonds and sugar, then bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

cranberry-almond teacakes

Notes: Why "teacakes?" Well, they're not sweet enough to be cupcakes, yet they're still too delicate to be muffins! These are perfect, as you may have guessed, with a cup of tea for elevenses, or even as a mid-afternoon snack. The crumb is tender and rich, and the little bit of ginger adds a pleasant warmth. The headiness of the almond extract is divine!


Monday, December 09, 2019

Short and Sweet: Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

Every year, I like to make a lightly-spiced shortbread cookie, cut into seasonal shapes for holiday gifting—and eating! In previous years, I've used cinnamon, cardamom, or ground ginger for the main flavoring. This year, I decided to make a thoroughly warming, comforting, chai-spiced version. These cookies are rich, delicious, and will last several weeks stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Sprinkling the tops of the cookies with a little granulated sugar before baking allows them to twinkle in the light, and provides a little burst of crunch and sweetness as well. These are perfect for the holidays, or any day when you need a special treat!

Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons chai spice mix (or see notes below)
2 Tablespoons (or so) granulated sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together flour, salt, and chai spice mix. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, then blend in flour mixture until smooth. Divide dough in two and wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap, flattening into discs as you go. Chill dough for several hours, or overnight.

When ready to make cookies, remove one disc of dough from the fridge about 30 minutes beforehand, line baking sheets with foil or parchment paper, and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unwrap and roll dough out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin (lightly flour the rolling pin and the dough as well). Roll out evenly to about 1/8" thick, then cut using shapes of your choice with cookie cutters dipped in flour. Transfer cutouts onto prepared sheets an inch or so apart, and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, if using. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly golden around the edges (cookies will puff up during baking, but settle back down when close to being done). Re-roll scraps, flouring as needed, and keep cutting shapes until the dough is completely used. Repeat with the other disc of dough.

Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

Notes: This recipe will yield about 4 dozen cookies when using two-inch cutters. If you don't like chai spice, use whatever spice mix you enjoy, like pumpkin or apple pie spice. Before starting, I like to scoop out some plain flour into a small dish for my "bench" flour, sprinkling where needed and for dusting the cookie cutters. I don't have a pastry board or any other special equipment, so I simply roll my dough out on a piece of wax or parchment paper. This actually makes it very easy to rotate the dough when rolling to achieve an even thickness!


Friday, September 20, 2019

Fall for It: Creamy Pumpkin Sauce with Pancetta and Baby Greens

Earlier this month, I was thinking it was too soon to talk about pumpkin or anything #PSL (I'm looking at you, Starbucks). Yet one day, as I held a package of dainty porcini mushroom ravioli, I suddenly found myself craving a creamy pumpkin sauce to go with them. I don't know where this came from - I've never had pasta with a pumpkin sauce before - but I knew I had to make it. Did I know how? No, but that didn't stop me. Did I fall for all that pumpkin advertising? Yep, I sure did!

creamy pumpkin sauce with pancetta and baby greens

Creamy Pumpkin Sauce with Pancetta and Baby Greens
Olive oil
Two garlic cloves, minced
4-5 oz. diced pancetta
Ground nutmeg, to taste (optional)
Fresh or dried rosemary and sage, to taste (optional)
5 oz. baby greens (like spinach, Swiss chard, arugula)
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz. filled pasta (ravioli, tortellini, or other; gnocchi would also work here nicely)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, drizzle in about two Tablespoons of olive oil, and add minced garlic and pancetta. Saute for a few minutes, and add nutmeg and herbs, if using. Continue to saute gently, stirring often, until pancetta is crispy on the edges and has rendered most of its fat (cover pan with lid to help this process along). Add baby greens and cook until wilted, then stir in pumpkin puree and cream cheese. Keep stirring to combine and heat all the way through, then turn off heat.

In a medium pan, cook pasta according to package directions (omitting salt) until just done. Turn heat on low under sauce, then scoop out and add pasta to sauce, adding as much pasta water as needed to thin sauce to desired consistency (I like mine quite thick, but you may want a looser sauce). Stir to combine and remove from heat. Server and enjoy!

Notes: You could certainly substitute sliced mushrooms for the pancetta if you prefer not to have meat; likewise, you could substitute cooked cannellini beans or cooked diced/shredded chicken for the pasta. Butternut or acorn squash puree would also be lovely here instead of pumpkin. The cream cheese works really well, but I bet an herbed goat cheese would be fabulous!

winter squash at the farm market