Orange Cranberry Star Bread

Apart from my first choice of being an extremely successful full-time writer, I think that my ideal job right now would be a paid internship in a bakery. I’m serious. I think it would be fun, and beneficial to my baking education.

It’s not that I think I’m a shabby baker. I know that I’m not. But as much as I love to bake, I still feel like there’s just so much more that I have to learn.

I’m not huge into food science, but I would very much like to learn about what ingredients and methods make certain bakes turn out the way that they do, and why. Sometimes I’ll have a baking disaster for what appears to be no good reason, even after I’ve followed the recipe down to the letter. It’d be nice to have the know-how to avoid that from happening. I’d also love to train under a baker whose specialty was breads. I’m not too bad at it now, but I’ve seen some UNBELIEVABLE shaped breads that come out of East European bakeries and they make want to get better at my shaping so badly.

Fortunately, today’s recipe features some bread shaping that’s pretty easy to do.

I made my first star bread two years ago for the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas back in 2016. I was thrilled, not only with how it turned out but how easy it was to create such a pretty and delicious loaf. I knew that I was going to want to try it again. Two years later, and here we are on the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas 2018, and I tried it again albeit with some minor changes.

I said back then that there were numerous possibilities for different fillings to experiment with on this bread, including fruit spread. For my second try I decided to take my own advice and put that to the test, where I used the recipe for my favorite cranberry sauce for the filling. I also added orange zest to the dough to give it extra flavor. I’ll be honest; I don’t think the shaping for this year’s star didn’t turn out as well as it did the first time around. It more resembles a snowflake to me than a star, but I do still think it’s a relatively pretty thing to look at. I do know one thing: it’s absolutely delicious.

Aaaaand, alrighty then. I guess that’s a wrap. I’d like to thank each and every one of you who’ve been following along with me for the 12 Days of Christmas series. A lot of work gets put into this and aside from loving to bake, I do also love being able to spread a little bit of holiday cheer on my chunk of webspace. If I can spread some into your homes by encouraging you to try anything I’ve made, it’s even more rewarding. Regardless of what or whether you celebrate or not, I hope you all have a wonderful, delicious holiday. I’ll list all of the recipes made for this years’ series one more time just in case you wanted to check them out. Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all!

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

DAY 7: CRANBERRY ORANGE ROLLS

DAY 8: GINGERBREAD CUT OUTS

DAY 9: ROSEMARY & THYME CRACKERS

DAY 10: SUGAR CRUNCH COOKIES

DAY 11: GINGERBREAD SPRITZ COOKIES

DAY 12: ORANGE CRANBERRY STAR BREAD

Cranberry Orange Star Bread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

For Dough

  • 3/4 cup + 2 to 4 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 1 generous tablespoon of orange zest
  • 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

For Filling

  • About one generous 3/4 cup of your favorite cranberry sauce recipe, or any jam you like

Directions

In a medium size bowl combine the flour, orange zest, nonfat dry milk, potato flour or instant potato flakes and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the water and yeast. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes, until frothy.

Using the whisk attachment mix in the butter. Switch to the dough attachment and gradually fold in the flour mixture, kneading until a smooth dough forms, about 10-12 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel. Allow to rest for 1– 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.

Cut dough into four equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, cover them and let rest for 15 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out 1 piece of the dough into a 10 inch circle. Place this circle on a piece of parchment and use a spatula to spread approximately 1/4 cup of cranberry sauce or jam on top of the dough. Spread it evenly and don’t lay it on too thick, leaving about 1 inch “jam-less” along the outside edge. Set the parchment nearby.

Take a second piece of the dough and repeat the process, placing on top of the completed disc. Repeat with the others, LEAVING THE TOP DISC BARE.

Place a 2 1/2″ to 3″ round cutter in the center of the dough circle as a guide. With a bench knife or sharp knife, cut the circle into 16 equal strips, from the cutter to the edge, through all the layers.

Using two hands, pick up two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other twice so that the top side is facing up again. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough so that you end up with eight pairs of strips.

Pinch the pairs of strips together to create a star-like shape with eight points. Remove the cutter.

Transfer the star on the parchment to a baking sheet. Cover the star with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and let it rise until it becomes noticeably puffy, about 45 minutes. While the star is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Brush the star with a thin coat of the beaten egg. Bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, until it’s nicely golden; the center should register 200°F on a digital thermometer. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #255, co-hosted by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Sugar Crunch Cookies

I want to take this opportunity today, on the 10th Day of Christmas to share a newfound Christmas miracle with all of you.

Every year, I look forward to when the ‘seasonal foods’ start popping up in the grocery stores–the ones that are only sold from about early November to early January. I’ve got some tried and true favorites, but this year I discovered a new one.

I know it’s the fan favorite, but even when I was a kid, Cinnamon Toast Crunch never really ‘did it’ for me. It’s just so, so SO sweet. Plus, there was something about the puffy texture of the cereal that I never liked. So I didn’t eat too much of it. Honey Bunches of Oats & Honey Nut Cheerios–that’s my kind of racket. However, I was in Target a little while ago on the cereal aisle and I happened to see a pretty red box of cereal with the following words written on it:

Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch

Now y’all know me. You KNOW how I am about sugar cookies. (I adore them.) I had to at least give this stuff a try, especially since it was a seasonal product and wouldn’t be around forever.

So the verdict is in and yeah, Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is a bonafide Christmas miracle. Milk improves the taste of most cereals, but when it’s comes to those that are delicious eaten dry, this is the best one I’ve had since Waffle Crisp–and that’s saying a lot. It has that rich, vanilla flavor that every great sugar cookie has, but unlike it’s counterpart Cinnamon Toast Crunch, it isn’t overly sweet. The texture is also better. It’s a perfect toasty golden sugar cookie in cereal form. Yum.

As delicious as SCTC is to eat on its own, my sister gave me the great idea that it would be an even better ingredient to try and bake with. I’ve seen a lot of recipes floating around the internet that use plain cornflakes, Fruity Pebbles or Golden Grahams and turn out great, so I decided to take inspiration from that to craft my own variation of a SCTC cereal holiday cookie for the 12 Days of Christmas.

Here’s what’s in ’em. I used a blend of all purpose and almond flour as a base to the dough. The almond flour gives it a nutty flavor that I think tempers the sweetness nicely, but if you’re nut-allergic you should be able to use all regular flour with no problems. I also added some dried cranberries to the dough for two reasons: I wanted to give some extra texture to the cookie, and I wanted to give a pop of tartness that I also think works well with the sweetness.

Un-chilled dough tends to result in cookies that spread a lot and so, after mixing crushed SCTC into the dough, I let it rest in the fridge overnight. I highly recommend that you do this in order to achieve the puffy round shape that you see in the pictures.  Aren’t they pretty, y’all? I think what I like most about these apart from the flavors is the texture–they’re soft and chewy, also yet crunchy from the cereal. They’re sweet from the cereal, but also toasty from the almond flour with that tang of tartness from the cranberries. It’s like the best Christmas compost cookie ever.

Just 2 days left of the 12 Days of Christmas! There’s still plenty of time to bake for the holidays, so feel free to check out the other recipes if you haven’t already.

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

DAY 7: CRANBERRY ORANGE ROLLS

DAY 8: GINGERBREAD CUT OUTS

DAY 9: ROSEMARY & THYME CRACKERS

DAY 10: SUGAR CRUNCH COOKIES

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Sugar Crunch Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour or finely ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, or cherries
  • 1 3/4 cups of Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch (or any cereal you like), lightly crushed
  • Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

In a medium size bowl combine the flour with the almond flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, or using a handheld one, cream the butter and sugars together until they’re light & fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, stirring just until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture, in 2 batches, stirring just until combined. Stir in the cranberries. Gently stir in 3/4 cup of the crushed cereal.

Scrape the dough into a sealable container and refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Pour the remaining 1 cup of crushed cereal in a small bowl.

Use a 1/8 scoop (that’s about 2 tablespoons) to scoop out balls of dough. Roll each dough ball in the crushed cereal until it has a light coating. Place onto the parchment paper, about 1/2 inch apart. Press down a little on the tops to lightly flatten. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake the cookies until light golden brown and puffy, 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to set for about 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #255, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Rosemary and Thyme Crackers

I have this annoying habit of buying fresh herbs for making one dish, then leaving the rest of them in my fridge, forgotten, until they eventually dry up and I have to throw them out. I hate when I do it. Tell me you do it too so that I don’t have to feel guilty.

I had some leftover rosemary and thyme hanging out in my fridge that I really, really didn’t want to let go to waste. I did get to put some of them in the dough for some sandwich buns that I made one night for our dinner, but after that I still had leftovers. When I did some brainstorming as to what else I could put them in, I realized that it’s been a while since I last made some crackers from scratch.

I know that traditionally, cookies are the treat of choice when it comes to Christmas baking and gift giving. But not everyone has a sweet tooth, and even if you do have one, that doesn’t mean that sometimes you won’t want to take a break from something sweet and taste or give the gift of something a little more on the savory side.

The dough for these is a cinch to put together, but I do recommend that you allow it to rest in the fridge for at least one full day. The dough is very very soft when you first make it, and you want to give it enough time to firm up enough to be rolled out without too much of a mess. The rosemary and thyme flavor will also deepen the longer you let it rest.

You can cut these into whatever shapes or sizes that you like. I did some that were about the size of a Ritz cracker, and then some that were around the size of an oyster. Regardless of the size, I have to say that the most important piece of advice I can give when making any recipe for them at all, is to roll the dough out as thin as you possibly can. There’s no point in baking crackers if they don’t have that snap when you break them in half, and they won’t if they’re rolled too thick. Also, the coarse salt that gets sprinkled on top before baking is highly recommended. That salt helps to further enhance the flavor of the herbs. I really liked these, and I think you will too should you choose to try them out.

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

DAY 7: CRANBERRY ORANGE ROLLS

DAY 8: GINGERBREAD CUT OUTS

DAY 9: ROSEMARY & THYME CRACKERS

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Rosemary & Thyme Crackers

Recipe Adapted from Served From Scratch

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely minced
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons cold vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water, plus more if needed
  • 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
  • coarse salt, for sprinkling

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, herbs, baking powder, sugar and salt together and stir with a fork.

Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter into the dry ingredients. Cut the shortening into small cubes and add the to the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the ingredients. Pour in the oil and water and use the fork to stir together until it makes a rough, but still homogenous dough. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic wrap then refrigerate for at least 24 hours. (The longer it sits, the better the flavor will be)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into quarters and keep the other 3 in the fridge while you work with the 1. Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour. Roll out the dough very VERY thin (as thin as you can get it), using more flour if it sticks. Cut out the crackers into desired shapes, then remove to the lined baking sheets. You can use cookie cutters, or a pizza wheel, bench scraper or sharp knife to make your shapes. Any shape will do. Refrigerate the cut out crackers for 5-7 minutes.

Bake the crackers until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake crackers differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cracker before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Holiday Spice S’mores

Are s’mores just for summertime? I think not.

If y’all have been following this blog for a while you know that I’m a ‘s’mores all the year round’ kind of girl. Let the record speak for itself:

S’mores Cake. S’mores Sandwich Cookies. S’mores Brownies.

Pretty soon, I’m going to run out of S’mores flavored things to bake. But not today. Today, I’ve got one more.

I’ve known that I wanted to make homemade s’mores for a while. As much as I love all the flavors of s’mores, I don’t like eating them with store-bought graham crackers. It’s a texture thing. I was pretty sure I could do better with a cracker that I made by myself, with a more pleasant texture. While I was planning out all I would make for the 12 Days of Christmas series, I thought of them again. I tried to think of how I could make them ‘Christmasey’. This is what I came out with.

Basically, I’ve taken a standard graham cracker recipe and added some spices to the dough that remind me of the holidays: cinnamon, ginger cloves and nutmeg. I cut them into squares just to give them the traditional s’mores look, but you can cut them into whatever shapes you like. (Gingerbread man shaped s’mores would be really cute). These aren’t as crunchy as store-bought graham crackers, but personally I prefer them that way.

When they have a tiny bit of chew, biting into the s’more doesn’t make it ooze all over the place, which can get messy with melted chocolate and marshmallow. It’s also a really, really tasty spice cookie all by itself. We’re just going to enhance that by adding the other 2 components.

Here’s the thing. I said in my last post that I understood why going to the trouble of making marshmallows from scratch may SEEM unnecessary and extra. I also said that I had found another use for them besides adding them to hot chocolate. I am not exaggerating when I say that that second use was a revelation.

A gingerbread spiced graham cracker sandwiching melted chocolate AND a melted, gooey gingerbread spiced marshmallow?

Y’all. I wasn’t prepared. I really wasn’t. That first bite was all of the things. Every single one of them. I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back in my head. This is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had and I’m so pumped to share it here at the holidays. Making marshmallows from scratch is worth it, if for no other reason than this: Holiday Spiced S’mores.

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

Holiday Spice S'mores

Recipe Adapted from Bake From Scratch

Ingredients

For Graham Crackers

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
  • Your choice of chocolate (For assembly)

(For Marshmallows: See recipe Hereor purchase seasonal gingerbread flavored marshmallows from store)

 

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract.

In a small bowl combine the flour with the spices, salt and baking soda, stirring together with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 1 cup increments, mixing just until combined.

Shape dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with powdered sugar. Divide dough into quarters, keeping 3 in the fridge while you work with one. Roll dough to ⅛-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut into roughly 2 inch squares. Use a chopstick to punch a hole through the center of the squares, then remove to a baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper.

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the cut out cookie dough for 10 minutes. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack until just golden brown, about 9-10 minutes. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the s’mores, place a square of chocolate and a marshmallow on one of the crackers. Microwave for about 5-10 seconds, until they just begin to melt. Press another graham cracker on top.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Gingerbread Marshmallows

Full disclosure ahead: as much as I advocate for intentionally making more things that can be bought from a store from scratch, there are some times–SOME times–where even I question whether or not it’s actually worth it to go to the trouble. Sometimes I just don’t think I’m a good enough baker or cook to make it myself. Sometimes I don’t have the necessary time or equipment. Sometimes, I choose convenience.

I’ve known that it was possible to make marshmallows at home from scratch for several years. I never so much as considered making marshmallows at MY home, by MYSELF until this year. The reasons, I think are probably obvious. I debated the issue with myself for several days.

Making marshmallows from scratch? Really Jess?

Why?  For what? Who even does that?

I don’t know y’all. For some reason, this year I felt differently about it. I got to thinking about how cool it would be if I COULD not only make marshmallows, but if I got to do it for the 12 Days of Christmas. And how much more cool would it be if they turned out even better than those I could just buy in a store?

(If you think this is all ridiculous & unnecessary, I get it. Kraft absolutely does sell gingerbread flavored marshmallows during the holiday season. If you were to go to a local grocery right now, you’d probably be able to find them with no problem.)

But if you’re like me and you’re feeling a little bit adventurous, then maybe you ought to keep reading. You may be pleasantly surprised when I tell you that making marshmallows isn’t complicated. It’s really not. You’re going to need 2 very crucial tools: an instant read thermometer and an electric mixer. It doesn’t have to be a standing one, a handheld one will do, but trying to do this without the thermometer and by hand…eh. I can tell you why it’s a bad idea.

Marshmallow is made when a sugar syrup gets poured over gelatin, then whipped at a very high speed for a certain amount of time. You need the thermometer to let you know when the sugar syrup has reached the right temperature. You need the mixer because the gelatin syrup needs to be whipped/beat for up to 10 minutes. Trying to do this manually by hand will put your arms in a whole lot of discomfort. Capisce?

Like a proper gingerbread, these are flavored with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and molasses. What most makes a homemade marshmallow different from a store-bought one is texture. Homemade marshmallows are fluffier and chewier. They melt and are far gooier than storebought ones. They’re just so much better. As you can see, they go beautifully in a cup of hot chocolate, and give it AMAZING flavor. I also found another use for them….that I’ll be sharing on Day 6 of the series. Stay tuned!

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

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Gingerbread Marshmallows

Recipe Courtesy of Betty Crocker

Ingredients

  • Butter or shortening for greasing
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling & coating
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup molasses

Directions

Generously grease the bottom of an 11 x7 baking dish with butter or shortening. Line it with parchment paper, grease the paper and sprinkle the bottom with 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl) sprinkle the gelatin, ginger, cinnamon and cloves over 1/2 cup of cold water to soften. Set aside.

Place a glass of ice water next to the stove. In a medium saucepan, heat granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, water and molasses over low heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until sugar is dissolved.

Bring to a boil and cook without stirring until mixture to comes up to approximately 240 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. If you drop some of the mixture into the glass of ice water, it should form a soft ball that forms its shape, but is still pliable. Remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer onto low speed (or use a handheld one). Slowly pour the syrup mixture over the gelatin. Once all of the sugar has been poured in, turn the speed of the mixer up to high. Beat for 8-10 minutes, until the mixture turns white and becomes thickened and shiny. It should also triple in volume.

Use a spatula to pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Wet your hands to make it smooth across the top. Let stand uncovered at room temp for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight.

Sprinkle a clean surface with powdered sugar. Use the corners of the parchment paper to lift the marshmallow out of the baking dish. Turn it out onto the sugared surface. Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel you’ve greased with butter to cut the marshmallows into squares.  Dip each one into powdered sugar and lightly dust off the excess.

Store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.

Cranberry Buckle

Have you ever cooked or baked something that was really really good, but needed to come with an explanation?

I was looking over the Recipe Index of this blog and realized that I do that pretty often, actually. I’ll announce that I’m making something to my family and the response will be, “Huh?” or “What’s that?”

The conversations usually go something like this:

Me: “I’m making Shakshuka and naan for dinner.”

Family: “What’s Shakshuka?”

Me: “It’s kinda like a tomato sauce, except you put cumin, eggs and ground beef in it. The naan is the dipping bread that goes along with it.”

Family: “…..Um.”

Me: “Look, just don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing, and it’s going to be fantastic, trust me!”

Occasionally it may be a miss, but 9 times out of 10, I’m usually right and the recipe that needed an explanation was still delicious.

Today I’m sharing another one of those recipes that I had to give an explanation for. Unless you’re a baker or someone who bakes with fruit pretty often, I’ve noticed that not a lot of people will know exactly what you’re talking about when you announce that you’re going to bake a buckle. They may have a vague idea, but if you had to differentiate it from say, a cobbler, grunt or pandowdy, they probably won’t know.

The closest comparison that I can give to a buckle is a coffee cake. This coffee cake batter has a lot of fruit in it–like, a lot. There’s actually more fruit than batter. The batter’s function is to absorb the fruit and hold it all together like a cake-like sponge. The cake does rise thanks to leavening agents, but the amount of fruit in the batter does weigh it down. There’s also a streusel topping that gets sprinkled on top of the batter before baking. After baking, the bumpy uneven surface of that streusel looks ‘buckled’–hence the name.

Most buckles are made with blueberries, but because this was for the 12 Days of Christmas, I decided to make mine with cranberries, which I find more festive (and tasty). It came together in literally minutes.

You may be tempted to reign it in when it’s time to add in the cranberries. I was. Three cups is a lot, especially for such a small pan of cake and a batter that is thick. But, listen: we’ve already been through this. The primary function of the batter is to just hold the fruit together. The more fruit that is in this, the better it’s going to turn out. Trust me. Add the whole three cups. Just do it.

Same thing with that streusel: it may seem like it’s too much when you’re mixing it together. It’s not. It’s just enough. Dump it all on top of the batter. The whole she-bang. You will thank me later.

We loved this so much. I had originally intended to send it to an office to share, but upon sampling it, the Family made an executive decision that we were no longer interested in sharing, and that the Cranberry buckle would be staying right here at home with us. Once you bake this, you’ll understand why.

Don’t forget to check out the other recipes from the 12 Days of Christmas series if you haven’t already:

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

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Cranberry Buckle

Recipe Adapted from Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk (plus more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries

For Streusel Topping

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes.

Directions

Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish or cake pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl use a wire whisk or a fork to combine the flour with the baking powder, salt, and ginger and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer using the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one), cream together the butter and the sugar until it’s creamy. Add the egg and stir just until combined.

Pour the vanilla and milk together in a small cup.

Add the flour and the milk to the batter alternately in batches, starting and ending with the flour. (This batter is supposed to be thick, but if it’s too thick to spread in the pan and/or too crumbly, you can add in a few tablespoons of milk–just enough to make it smooth enough to spread.)

Use a spatula to fold in the cranberries. Spread the batter into the baking dish and place the baking dish on a sheet tray.

For the streusel: combine the flour, sugar and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Use the tines of a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like course breadcrumbs. Sprinkle on top of the batter in the pan.

Bake until golden brown and puffed up in the middle, 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #253: co-hosted this week by Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

Christmas Elf Bites

Every year for the 12 Days of Christmas I try to include at least one recipe in the series for any of the followers or visitors to this blog who don’t like to cook or bake, or those who want to cook or bake but just don’t believe that they can.

You’ll notice that I specifically did NOT say that they *couldn’t* cook or bake–that was on purpose.

Take it from someone who not too long ago, couldn’t do much else but scramble eggs and boil water for pasta: you can cook. You can bake. You really can. Yes, even without the help of a cake mix or pre-made cookie dough. It’s possible. This holiday, you can bake 100% from scratch without messing it up, and come out with something you’ll not only enjoy, but be able to share with others who are definitely going to enjoy it too.

I don’t want to shame anyone who doesn’t like to bake or thinks that they can’t bake at all. It’s not something that everyone is going to love to do. I get that. But honestly, today’s recipe is about as easy and basic as you can get for baking without using a frozen dough–and I guarantee that this is going to taste better than ALL of those. (Baked goods made from scratch always do.)

This starts with a very simple, straightforward shortbread. Because it is so simple, I recommend your using a good butter for it. Generic butter has a much higher ratio of water in it, and therefore has less flavor. Name brand butter (especially the European ones) is far more cultured than generic. I don’t mean ‘culture’ as in sophistication–I mean that is has been churned longer in order to have a higher ratio of fat in it. More fat = flavor. You’d be surprised the difference it makes.

This is a rather whimsical themed recipe, and because I think almond extract gives a ‘whimsical’ flavor to baked goods, that’s what I used to flavor these. Vanilla will work just as well, as will citrus extract or zest you add to the flour as well. I also hand kneaded in some sprinkles to give them some color (don’t use a mixer to do this, it will make them bleed prematurely and they may stain messily while baking). The dough is first pressed into a square baking pan and chilled. From there, you lift it out of the pan in one block, cut it up into mini bite sized pieces, then bake.

And that’s literally it. 15 minutes later, you’re done. Sound easy enough?

These cookie bites are a delicious idea for gift giving & stocking stuffers. They’re easy enough to do with the kiddies. They’re small enough to have dessert without feeling guilty. Plus, I just find them cute to look at, so I gave them a cute “Christmas-y” themed name to match. Ho ho ho.

We just started the 12 Days of Christmas a few days ago, so go back and check out Day 1’s recipe if you haven’t seen it yet!

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

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Christmas Elf Bites

Recipe Courtesy of Land O Lakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon multi-colored nonpareils

Directions

Line a square 8 or 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl combine the flour with the salt and stir together with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the almond extract.

Slowly stir in the flour, mixing just until combined. Use your hands to gently knead in the nonpareils. Press the dough into the pan, doing your best to make the top smooth and flat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the corners of the paper to lift the dough out of the pan. Use a sharp knife, pizza wheel or a bench scraper to cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares. Gently place the squares about 1/2 inch apart on a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they’re just beginning to turn golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.