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.

Vanilla-Red Pinwheels

Hey, everyone. If you’ve been following me for a while, then you’ll know that this is the time of year where I start the 12 Days of Christmas–an annual series of twelve baking recipes I post during the month of December that remind me of the holidays. Growing up, my mom and my grandmother baked a LOT of delicious things at Christmastime.

Apart from loving to eat it, I also just loved the overall atmosphere that all of their baking created in the house. Now that I’m an adult, I guess this series is my way of recreating that atmosphere for myself, and for the people who I love. I look forward to it every year, and I hope y’all enjoy it too. (Also, if you’re interested in viewing the series from past years, you can search the 12 Days of Christmas tag to find past recipes for the past few years.)

I knew even in the early days of planning this years series that I was going to make these. They’d been on my radar for a while for two reasons: first, I just can’t resist a butter cookie. Second, pinwheel cookies are so pretty, they’re nearly hypnotizing. I remember the first time I saw one. I just stared at it, becoming more and more determined with every passing minute that I was going to figure out how it was made asap and make a batch for myself.

I know that pinwheels look like they’re super elaborate, but the actual construction of them isn’t that difficult. Honestly, the ‘trickiest’ part is making sure the dough is at the right temperature for when it’s time to combine & roll the two different colored doughs together. Too cold and it will crack when you try to roll it. Too warm and it won’t hold the pinwheel design of the two colors. Don’t worry, though: because this is a basic butter cookie dough, it is very forgiving. If you think the dough is too cold, simply leave it out for a few extra minutes before you try to roll. It you think it’s too warm, leave it in the fridge for a little bit longer. You’re going to find that happy medium, I promise.

A lot of pinwheel recipes are either a vanilla-chocolate mix of doughs. Some are a single vanilla dough where one half has just been dyed with food coloring. For mine, I went with a vanilla dough and a red one that I flavored with a Red Velvet Emulsion from LorAnn oils. I also flipped the order of layering in my second log so that there is a vanilla wrapped cookie dough AND a Red Velvet flavored one. Also, don’t you dare throw away the scraps from when you trim the doughs! Those pretty tie-dye patterned cookies you see below are made solely from my scraps. I gently kneaded them together with my hands into a log, then wrapped it up with the others. When you cut it, you can see that the colors marble together and hold their design even after baking. Nothing wasted.

These cookies are excellent; like a classic butter cookie, they’re slightly crisp with a crumb that melts in your mouth. The two flavors work beautifully together. And (of course), they make one heck of an impression when presented on a plate. Not too shabby a start for the 12 Days of Christmas, eh?

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Vanilla-Red Pinwheels

Recipe Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of LorAnn Oils Red Velvet Emulsion (you can also use a strawberry or raspberry flavoring. A combination of 1 of these flavorings with Red food coloring will also work)

Directions

In a medium sized bowl combine the flour with the salt and baking powder. Stir together with a fork, then set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld one), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, stirring just until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in batches, stirring just until combined.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a plate. Divide it in half. Set one aside, and place the other back into the bowl. Add the the 1 teaspoon of Red Velvet emulsion and stir until it’s uniform in color. Remove the Red Dough from the Bowl.

Divide the Vanilla Dough into 2 portions. Divide the Red Dough into 2 portions. You should now have four balls of dough. Roughly shape each one into a rectangle, then wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate them for about 30 minutes, or until firm.

Remove one of the vanilla doughs from the fridge. Sprinkle a clean surface (like a pastry mat or a piece of wax or parchment paper you’ve taped to your counter) with powdered sugar. Lay a piece of parchment paper down, place the dough on top of the paper, then place a second piece of parchment on top of that. Roll out the dough until it’s about 6 x 12 in size. As your roll, occasionally move it around/flip it, just to make sure it doesn’t stick. When it’s the right size, (keeping it sandwiched between the parchment paper)transfer the rolled out dough to a baking sheet.

Repeat this process with the other doughs. Place the baking sheet with the doughs in the freezer for 15 minutes. It should be firm, but not stiff–too stiff and it won’t roll properly.

Remove one of the vanilla doughs and one of the red doughs. Peel away the top parchment paper from them both. Flip the red dough on top of the vanilla dough so that they are sandwiched together. Peel the bottom paper from the raspberry dough. Trim the edges so that the 2 doughs line up. Carefully and tightly roll from the long end into a log, peeling away the bottom layer of parchment as you go.

Repeat this sandwiching and rolling process, but this time put the red dough layer on the bottom so that when you roll the dough, the red dough is on the outside.

(There is an excellent step by step pictured process of this, located here.)

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Don’t throw away the scraps from the trimmings! I gently kneaded them together with my hands and formed a tie-dye patterned log that I also refrigerated with the pinwheel cookies.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to slice the cookies into slices 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Place them about 1 inch apart on the sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until they begin to just turn golden brown on the bottom & at the edges. Allow to set up for 60 seconds on the baking sheet 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.)

I’ll be linking this post up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #252, co-hosted this week by Alex @ Turks Who Eat and Zeba @ Food For The Soul.

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

Honey Gingerbread Cookies

I’m very honored by the compliments that I get on my baking. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into my practicing and I do have to say I think that that practice has paid off. I’m good at it.

However, if I’m being completely honest with myself and all of you, then I have to admit that my baking skills wouldn’t be half of what they are now without a little…help.

That ‘help’ is modern amenities–specifically, automated mixers. I can’t imagine my kitchen life without my KitchenAid standing mixer, and I really don’t want to try.

It makes me sound like such a young, first-world brat to say that, but it’s true. Me and that mixer are joined at the hip. I think I might love it. I think of how women used to make cakes with nothing but the strength of their wrists to whip enough air into the batter to make them rise and be moist on the inside, and I’m just in awe.

Cause, no. I’m good…but I’m just nowhere near on that level.

Biscuits, brownies, pie crust, quick breads and muffins are all exceptions to the rule–you kinda SHOULD make those by hand. Breads are tricky–there are some recipes that I think I could get away with going without my KitchenAid, but others like brioche sure aren’t one them. Even most cookie recipes require the butter in them to be whipped up pretty good with the sugar before you add anything else to it.

Notice that I said MOST. Why?

Go ahead and guess.

Yep. This is a from scratch cookie dough recipe where neither a standing mixer or hand mixer is needed. You really can put this all together with a wire whisk using nothing more than your hands. Rather than being softened and whipped with the sugar, the butter is pre-melted and cooled. The dough is sweetened with a combination of honey and brown sugar.

Since it’s a dough that can be made sans mixers, you can guess that it’s a cinch to put together. You really can’t mess it up.

Apart from being so easy to make, I think one of my favorite things about making these was that the dough was very good for making cut out cookies that hold their shape and stamp impressions even after baking. I had a set of three Christmas themed ones that I broke in with this recipe and they came out just perfect. However, if you don’t have cookie stamps or they’re just not your thing, then you really don’t have to use them. If you wanted to just roll these out and cut them out with a gingerbread man cutter, it would still be great. The ‘spice’ factor isn’t as strong in these as it is in other gingerbread cookies, but you’ll definitely still be able to taste a gingery, caramelized flavor. They’re delicious plain but they’d also taste great iced if you prefer that too.

So, now all you mixer-less folks have no excuse: get baking, will ya?

Just one more recipe left in the 12 Days of Christmas. Be on the look out for it, and be sure to check out the other recipes in the series if you haven’t seen them all yet.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

Day 7: Winter Spice Peanut Brittle

Day 8: Christmas Tourtiere

Day 9: Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

Day 10: Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

Day 11: Honey Gingerbread Cookies

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Honey Gingerbread Cookies

Recipe Adapted from The Monday Box

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Special Equipment: cookie stamps/molds of choice

Directions

In a small bowl, melt the butter and cool slightly.

In the bowl of a standing mixer,or using a hand mixer, (or a in a large bowl using a wire whisk) combine the beaten egg, honey, milk and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Beat into the egg mixture, then slowly beat in the melted butter.

Add the flour in 1 cup increments, mixing until it forms a soft and slightly sticky dough.

Collect dough into one mass, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide dough in quarters and keep the other 3 in the refrigerator while you roll out the first. Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie stamps into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess. Press firmly into the dough, then gently remove stamped cookie and place on sheet pan. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 25-30 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until bottoms start to turn golden brown. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: You don’t HAVE to use cookie stamps for this recipe. I think it would work just as well without it. Use whatever cookie cutters you have, or shape the dough into a log, freeze for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices and bake as directed. Also,  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.)

Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

When I was a kid, the Keebler  company used to make these things they called Rainbow Cookie Stix. They came in a square blue package and were a crisp, buttery sugar cookie with sprinkles mixed in the batter and shaped in tiny little stick shapes, with about the thickness of my finger.

I thought they were sooooo good.

They weren’t overly sweet, but definitely had that buttery vanilla flavor that reminded me of sugar cookies. I most liked to eat them dipped in those cannisters of pre-made vanilla frosting–you know, the ones I absolutely cannot stand now because they taste like overly sweetened paste.

The Rainbow Cookie Stix have been discontinued for what I’d guess is at least over fifteen years now, but every now and then when I get the munchies I’ll remember them. When I was putting together the recipes I would make for this years 12 Days of Christmas series, I thought of them again and how cool it would be to be able to recreate them somehow.

I think I might have come as close as I could to doing just that at home. What it really comes down to is making a cookie dough that first of all, won’t spread too much and second, will bake up crisp but not overly dry on the inside. This dough is not only simple to put together, it’s simple to work with when the time comes to roll out into strips for your ‘fries’, which brings me to another point:

Crinkle Cuts are the best type of fry there is–don’t debate me on this, there’s just no point. You’ll lose the argument every time. I knew that this dough would work fine if I just used my bench scraper to cut them into strips, but since this was Christmas I knew I wanted to give them a special, ‘festiv-y’ look.

If you’re like me and you love kitchen gadgets (especially inexpensive ones), then I’m positive that you’ll love this pastry wheel I found on (where else?) Amazon. It has a dual wheel that can cut both straight and fluted edges on doughs–pie and cookie. The scalloped edge on my cookie fries come from using the fluted wheel. It’s larger than I expected it to be, durable and easy to use. I found it a very worthwhile buy. If you’d rather not get it, that’s totally fine; you’ll just have shoe-string fries rather than crinkle cuts.

Because I wanted to recreate the flavor of the Rainbow Cookie Stix, I kept the flavors of this simple and only used sugar and vanilla bean paste to flavor my dough. In the future I can certainly see myself experimenting with different flavors and extracts as this is a very versatile recipe.  A few teaspoons of the Winter Spice Mix I’ve used in other recipes in the series would work very well for this, as would pumpkin pie spice or apple pie spice. I sprinkled white sugar on top of the fries just before baking to give them added crunchy texture. They baked up perfectly golden brown.

These would be perfect for a cookie swap party, or just a regular Christmas party in general–not just because there’ll be plenty to go around, but because you can serve with them so many different dips and sauces: frosting (REAL frosting, not that crap in a can for God’s sake), jam or fruit preserves, melted milk or white chocolate, Nutella spread, or even peanut butter. I really couldn’t have been more pleased with how these turned out.  They were exactly what I was going for and they gave me a nice feeling of nostalgia.

Only two more days left of the 12 Days of Christmas series–yikes, how did that happen? Stay tuned for our last two recipes–you’re gonna love em.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

Day 7: Winter Spice Peanut Brittle

Day 8: Christmas Tourtiere

Day 9: Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

Day 10: Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

Recipe Adapted from Delish.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 Sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c. granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Special Equipment: Fluted pie cutter wheel, optional

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, or using a handheld one, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 1 cup increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Gather the dough together in one mass, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide dough in quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the other on a clean work surface that you sprinkle with flour. Roll out dough into a large, thin rectangle. Using a fluted pie cutter wheel (or sharp knife) cut dough crosswise into 3/4″-1″ thick strips. Cut the strips in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with sugar and transfer cookie cutouts to baking sheets.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 25-30 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until bottoms start to turn golden brown. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cookie fries with frosting, Nutella or fruit jam for dipping.

(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.)

Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

I’ve made a pretty wide variety of sweets for the 12 Days of Christmas series but when I was still in the planning stages for this year’s, I knew that there was one thing I wanted to make that I haven’t yet: a Christmas-themed/flavored layer cake.

Layer cakes are a project but I find them worthwhile projects for a few reasons. First, they can feed a lot of people. Second, they make great showpieces. Third, they’re a good opportunity for a baker to create different layers of flavor (pun kinda intended) all in one dessert.

My first thought was to maybe do a gingerbread layer cake, but ultimately, I veered away from it. There’s a very narrow difference between what’s really just gingerbread and an actual spice cake. I do think that I can find the sweet spot in that difference but maybe next year. This year I went with something that I knew I could nail in terms of getting those fresh, festive flavors that were undeniably for Christmas. There are three components to the cake, and they’re all pretty easy to make: the sponge, the frosting and the sugared cranberries.

The cake batter itself is flavored with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, which makes it hit all the warm notes of Christmas spices. If you can get your hands on vanilla bean paste, please do and use it. You’d be surprised the superior taste of it in comparison to regular vanilla extract. My favorite part of it though is the inclusion of whole cranberries that I folded into the batter. While baking, they kinda explode and their juices then bleed, giving the sugary spice cake a pleasant pop of tart sweetness.

The frosting has a cream cheese base, both to offset the sweetness of the cake and the orange juice and zest that goes inside. It’s still sweet, but has just enough of a tang from the cream cheese to where the sweetness isn’t overwhelming. Also, yes, there does call for four layers to be baked of the cake itself in the recipe. I can explain that. I left the fourth layer off first because I thought it was a bit overkill(most people struggle to finish a slice of a three layer cake themselves alone), and second because I wanted to make sure that I had enough frosting to cover the three. I did, but just enough. The fourth layer we had plain and actually discovered that it made a delicious dessert even without the frosting. You can eat your fourth layer plain, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze it for later, or cube and use it make trifle or cake truffles.

I’ve never made a layer cake and left it ‘naked’ before, but I’ve also never made sugared cranberries before and I have to say I think they give the cake a neat but festive decoration even without extra piped frosting and sprinkles, which is usually how I choose to decorate my layer cakes. As delicious as the frosting is, the cake really doesn’t need the extra amount of it. It’s a fantastic bite that manages to deliver on so many different flavors at once. You get the freshness from the citrus, the warm undertones from the spices, the tartness from the cranberries, and the tang from the cream cheese.

I just love everything about this cake and if you choose to make it apart of your Christmas dinner, I think you’ll see why.

Linking up to Fiesta Friday #202, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Laurena @ Life Diet Health.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

Day 7: Winter Spice Peanut Brittle

Day 8: Christmas Tourtiere

Day 9: Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living & Taste of Home

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Ingredients

For Cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2- 3 cups fresh cranberries, tossed with about 1 tablespoon of flour

For Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon orange peel

For Sugared Cranberries

  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

Directions

For Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour four 9 inch cake pans and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, ginger and nutmeg. Stir with a fork and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the buttermilk with the vanilla bean paste/extract and set aside.

Using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer (or a handheld one) cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients to the butter mixture with the wet ingredients. Start and end with the flour mixture, and make sure you use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.  Fold in the cranberries.

Evenly divide the batter between the four prepared pans. Lift each one up a little and allow to tap down on counter top (this will help prevent air bubbles). Bake for 20-22 minutes in the oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (layer cakes are done at about 190°F). Set on wire racks to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out of pans and allowing to cool completely.

For Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat butter together with cream cheese until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar in 1 cup increments, scraping down the side of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add the orange juice, vanilla and orange peel, mixing just until blended.

For Sugar Cranberries: Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, then pour over fresh cranberries. Allow to cool for one hour, then drain. Roll cranberries in white sugar, then set on wax paper to dry for 4 hours.

For Assembly:  Level the tops of each cake. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on the platter. Spread a little over 1/3 cup of frosting over layer. Top with another cake layer and repeat process. Top with final cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of cake until it form a translucent layer over it. (You’ll still be able to see the cake sides). Refrigerate cake for about 1 hour to allow frosting to set. Top with the sugared cranberries. Remove the parchment strips just before serving.

Christmas Tourtiere

Hey y’all. How’s the weather in your neck of the woods?

It was sunny and a high of 66° in mine. I can and have definitely gotten used to this. I’ve spent most of my life in the Mitten, but one thing that I can tell you for sure I don’t miss about it is snow and all the extra crap that comes with it. In most other parts of the country, winter has definitely settled in and made herself comfortable. (Snow storms in Georgia, yikes.)

Even if snow and all of its inconveniences aren’t apart of my life anymore, this is still the time of year where I want to eat warm, comforting, stick to your ribs, make-you-want-to-take-a-nap food. My body craves that whether I’m in the midwest or on the west coast.

The bulk of this Christmas series is sweets and desserts (as is expected), but I did want to try and mix things up this year with the inclusion of some savory options. The first were the savory chili crackers on Day 2. Today for Day 8, I’m super excited to share this second savory recipe that’s actually been a long time coming.

I’ve mentioned before that I really love meat pies. You can find the proof of this through several posts that are already on the blog. There’s a meat pie for just about every culture, region and taste. This one is a French Canadian one called a Tourtiere.

Tourtiere is a meat pie typically made with ground beef, pork, veal or a mixture of all three. What I think makes it most distinctive from other meat pies is the spices that are used inside to flavor the filling. They’re the warm, sugar and spice flavors that hit those same winter notes that I’ve put in other recipes in the series. Tourtiere was something that I’ve known about for a few years. Because it’s a pie that is traditionally baked at Christmas time I thought it would be a good addition to the 12 Days of Christmas, done my way.

I’ll be honest. I love meat pies, but in making them I have found through trial and error that there are two things that can easily go wrong. First, your pie crust can either turn out too tough, too thin or underbaked with a soggy bottom. Second, the filling can turn out too dry and bland–this is ESPECIALLY true with ground meat fillings. *Shudder*

I’ve tried to eliminate those problems for you guys here so that we all can have delicious winter meat pie to eat with no disappointments along the way. Y’all ready?

I wanted to make sure that the pie crust I used was sturdy enough to stand up in the pan and also durable enough to support the bulk of the filling with minimal to no leaks. At the same time, I wanted it to be buttery, tender and flaky as well. This one pulls both off. I used the same method in putting together the dough as I do with making biscuits and scones: frozen butter grated directly into the dry ingredients with minimal hand touching. I also added seasoned salt and black pepper to give it a boost of flavor. All in all, it’s a cinch to put together.

The filling is also easy to make, it just requires more attention. The ground beef is mixed with sauteed onion and white roasted potato. Half of that roasted potato is going to be cubed and mixed with the ground beef and onion. The other half is going to be mashed and used as a kind of ‘glue’ that helps the beef and onion stick together while also retaining their moisture.

Seasoning in a meat pie is everything. You have to make sure it’s seasoned, and seasoned well. I simmered this filling in beef broth and was VERY generous with the spices. Keep tasting it along the way to adjust. Also, I highly recommend letting both the pie crust and the filling sit in the refrigerator overnight, for two reasons. One, pie crust needs time to rest so that the butter will stay cold enough to make flakes as it bakes. It will also be easier to roll out and press into the pan. Second, the filling will develop deeper flavor the longer you let it sit. You also don’t want to put hot (or even warm) filling inside a semi-warm pie crust. I don’t foresee that turning out well.

One thing I do want to advise is to bake the pie on a lower row of the oven. Why? Well, the lower it bakes, the more the bottom crust will cook and avoid the dreaded soggy bottom. If you have to cover the top crust with foil to keep it from browning too quickly so be it, but don’t neglect the bottom one.

Doesn’t this look good, guys? I think I’ll share it at this week’s Fiesta Friday #202, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Laurena @ Life Diet Health.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

Day 7: Winter Spice Peanut Brittle

Day 8: Christmas Tourtiere

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Christmas Tourtiere

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

For Pie Crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or butter flavored shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
  • 6-8 tablespoons ice water

Special equipment: (HIGHLY recommended): a box grater

For Filling:

  • 1 large potato, roasted until tender and cooled
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup of chicken or beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
  • Plenty of onion powder, seasoned salt and black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Directions

For Pie Crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and pepper with a fork and set aside. Rub the pieces of shortening into the flour mixture either with your hands or a fork, mixing just until it looks like coarse bread crumbs. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter directly into the flour mixture. Stir a few times with a fork , then make a well in the center of the mixture. Pour in the ice water, using a stiff rubber spatula/fork to make the dough come together. If it’s still too dry, you may add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it holds together. Divide the dough in half, then wrap each half in plastic wrap. Allow it to rest in the fridge overnight.

For Filling: Scoop one half of the roasted potato out of the skin. Use a fork to coarsely mash it. Peel the skin off of the other half and roughly chop it into chunks. Set potato aside for now.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven and brown ground beef. Drain the beef of fat, then place it covered in a bowl. Saute the onions in the skillet until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute or two, then add the beef back to the skillet with the broth and spices, stirring to combine. Bring the mixture up to a boil, then lower heat down to medium and allow the liquid to mostly cook off. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Take the reserved mashed and cubed potato, and add to the beef mixture. Taste and adjust for seasoning, then refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to develop.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease a 9 inch deep dish springform pan. Sprinkle a work surface with flour. Divide pie crust in two, making one half slightly bigger than the other. Keep smaller half in fridge while you roll out the other into roughly an 11-12 inch circle. Carefully place crust in bottom of the pan and use your knuckles to press it into bottom and up the sides. There should be some overhang dough; that’s a good thing, don’t cut it off.

Take the filling and spoon it into the prepared pie crust. Keep refrigerated while you roll out the other half of the dough into a 10 inch circle. Use a pizza wheel or knife to cut it into strips if desired. (You can also just place the top crust whole on top of the pie without cutting a design) Lay the strips over the pie in a lattice design, then bring the overhanging pie dough up over the strips, crimping them together to seal. If you have some extra scraps, you can use a pie cutter to make decorative shapes like I did.

Use a pastry brush to brush the beaten egg over the pie crust. Place the pan on a sheet pan that you’ve lined with foil. Bake for 25 minutes, then lower heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake for 30 to 40 more minutes covering with foil if top crust start to become too brown. Allow to rest on a wire rack for at *least* 40 minutes before unmolding from the pan. If you don’t want to wait that long, it’s okay, the crust just may not hold up its structure as well when it’s still piping hot.