Cemitas Sandwich Buns

If you were to ask me for a valuable piece of advice when first starting out cooking, I’d try and boil it down to about three rules:

1 . Start with a basic dish with minimal ingredients and steps that won’t intimidate you. When I first started baking, my non-too-intelligent self decided my first dish was going to be my grandmother’s angel biscuits. Big mistake. It didn’t work for a number of reasons but first among them being that making biscuits is both science and an art form. It took me a while to get good at it. Later on after that first failure, I downsized to trying out easier recipes like quick breads and brownies–these are baked goods that are very difficult to mess up.

2.  Read the whole recipe before you start cooking. This one is so important that I’m thinking maybe I should’ve listed it first. I’ve been cooking an`d baking for several years now and this is still a rule that I have to remind myself of when making lengthy recipes like layer cake that have a lot of steps and ingredients. There’s nothing worse than getting started on a dish and getting to the fourth or fifth step and discovering that you’re missing something, or that you needed to spread it out over 2 days rather than try to make it all in one go.

3. Be patient–both with yourself and the food. Nobody starts out cooking like Bobby Flay or baking like Hedy Goldsmith. Even they have days where things go wrong in the kitchen. Give yourself room to mess up and learn from your mistakes. Also, let yourself get more comfortable with allowing the time for letting flavors develop. I’m not a huge fan of most 30 minute or less meals largely because in my opinion, unless you’re a veryveryVERY talented cook, spices simply need more than 30 minutes to infuse into food. It may be easier to put together in 30 minutes, but wouldn’t you rather it taste better?

Cemitas are a Mexican sandwich that come from Puebla. A piece of meat (such as beef, chicken or pork) is pounded thin, dredged in flour and breadcrumbs, then fried in oil in a skillet until golden brown and crispy. The meat is then layered with cheese, avocado, chipotles and tomato. It all gets placed a on a round sandwich bun that gets sprinkled with sesame seeds.

As it turns out, today’s recipe required me to fall back on all three of the basic rules I just gave. There are a minimal amount of ingredients involved with it and so far as bread recipes go, it’s one of the simplest you could make. Rules 2 and 3 come in for two reasons. First, it’s important that you read the entire recipe beforehand because the first rising runs much,much longer than the average time. I’m relieved that I took my own advice and looked ahead to see that the first rise lasts a whopping 4 hours. This seems excessive, but the dough needs enough time to more than double in size; more like, double and a half. Because it did require such a long rising time and we wanted to have these for dinner, I did wake up early to put the dough together and give it time to rise.

After that first rise, the dough is divided into smooth balls of dough and left to rise again for one more hour. They will then get a sprinkling of sesame seeds and go for a quick bake in the oven.

The buns rise with perfect domes and puff up HUGE in the oven, making them the perfect size for a slab of meat and all the fixings you want to pile on top of it. They’re soft and fluffy on the inside, yet sturdy enough to where you can create the sandwich of your dreams without having to worry about the bun being too flimsy to support the stuff inside.  Even if you’re a beginner when it comes to baking bread, I’d still say this was something you could try and expect to have good results–honestly, the hardest part is the wait. And these buns were WELL worth that 😉

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #206, co-hosted this week by Diann @ Of Goats and Greens and Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life

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Cemitas Sandwich Buns

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2-3 cups all purpose flour
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Directions

In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over low heat on the stove until about 120-130°F. Sprinkle the yeast on top of heavy cream, and one tablespoon of the white sugar on top of the yeast. Allow to proof for about 10 minutes, until frothy.

In a small bowl, beat 2 of the eggs together lightly with a fork, set aside.

Combine the flour with the salt and mix together with a fork. Set aside.

Pour the heavy cream-yeast mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer, then pour in the beaten eggs. Mix together with the paddle attachment until just combined. Switch to the dough hook, then add the dry ingredients. Allow to knead for about 5-7 minutes. The dough will and should still be sticky, but if it’s not coming together in at least homogeneous mass, you can add more flour, about 1/3 cup at a time until it is one.

Grease the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl. Place the dough inside, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until grown 1  1/2 times larger, about 4 hours (yes, 4 hours, so plan ahead accordingly).

Sprinkle a work surface with flour, then turn dough out onto, it gently deflating air bubbles. Shape into a ball, then divide the ball in half. Divide each half into 3 pieces, giving you a total of six. Shape each piece into a smooth ball.

Lay a sheet of parchment paper onto a sheet pan, then place each bun seam side down onto the paper. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the stove.

In a small bowl beat remaining the egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Brush over the buns and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until deep golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool on pan for about 60 seconds, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pillowcase Cookies

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2018 is off to a good start for all of you, and that you’re feeling at least a little optimistic for the year.

Okay, so…I try to stick to a pattern in my posting schedule so that I’m not posting more sweet than savory or vice versa–variety being the spice of life and all. The 12 Days of Christmas series is usually enough of a sugar rush/overload for me where I need a break from making & eating sweets and for a while stick to savory and relatively healthy recipes on the blog.

Having said that, you all should know that I did intend to hold off on posting any sweets or baked goods for at least a few weeks, but well…here we are. Thing is, I’ve had this post sitting in my Drafts folder since August and I just couldn’t put off sharing it any longer.

You guys need to see (and make) these. You REALLY do.

If you know anything about my food preferences, you know that sugar cookies are in my Top 3 of favorite desserts. A good sugar cookie–one that is so good it doesn’t even need any embellishments from icing or glaze– just can’t be beat.

Some people like their sugar cookies crisp. Some like them chewy. Some like a combination of the two. Some like them to have a vanilla flavor. Others prefer almond.

I make my stance on this highly contested, divisive issue, loud and clear: I love and must have my sugar cookies thick and soft. I don’t mind almond extract in the dough, but the vanilla needs to be the star flavor for me.

The sugar cookies that I’ve posted on the blog thus far have met all of the above criteria. The first (and also, the most popular post on the blog to date) were these cut-outs. I’ve also shared two vanilla sugar cookies that are good for cookie stamps and molds, here and here.

As delicious as all of these recipes are, they do fall short in one area.

Although they’re all thick and soft, they’re still missing what I think of as the ‘cloud’ factor; where the texture of the cookie is SO light and soft that when you’re biting into it, you feel like you’re biting into a fluffy cloud of pure heaven. I’ve tried a lot of sugar cookie recipes that claim they deliver these goods, only to be disappointed because they just didn’t.

Guys. This recipe de-LIVERS.

I had my doubts before I made these just because the method is unlike any method I’ve ever done when putting together cookie dough. Rather than being creamed or melted, the butter actually gets cut into the dry ingredients just like it is when making biscuits and scones.  The eggs get beaten together with the vanilla and a little milk, then folded into the butter-flour mixture. I have no idea why this is. I have no idea how it works together with the rest of the ingredients. All I know is that it works. It works so well.

As a Southern recipe, this one supposedly gets its name from when the cookies would be given out to journeymen to store in their pillowcases by their families as they traveled around doing work. I’d certainly be a happy camper (or journeyman) if I had a pillowcase full of these to eat.

My favorite thing about the cookies is their texture. It’s just perfect. They rise with a perfect dome and have that thick, soft, fluffy center that practically melts in your mouth. And, no: they absolutely don’t need any help from icing or glaze. These are delicious enough to eat all on their own. This is THE sugar cookie of my dreams, the one I’ve been searching for–which is why I just had to share it with all of you now.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #205, co-hosted this week by Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau and Petra @ Food Eat Love.

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Pillowcase Cookies

Recipe Adapted from LouisianaCookin.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking power
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk, plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1 cup of sugar and baking powder and stir together with a fork.

Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. (If you don’t have a box grater that’s okay. Just cut the butter into small cubes and stir them evenly into the dry ingredients with a fork.)

Stir the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Use a rubber spatula to make a well in the center of the bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract with a fork, then pour into the well you made in the dry ingredients. Flour the rubber spatula and mix together, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed and it forms a slightly sticky dough. (You may need to add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time to make it all stick together; that’s fine.)

Generously sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, a cutting board or wax paper you tape to your countertop) with flour. Dump the dough out onto the surface and knead together with your hands just until it forms a large ball. It will get messy, but that’s okay; just keep sprinkling with either flour or powdered sugar until it’s relatively easy to pick up in one mass.)

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at LEAST one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray, set aside. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough cookie dough out to about 1/4 inch thick, then use a 3 inch cookie cutter to cut out circles. Place the cut cookies on the sheet pans. Either refrigerate for about 45 minutes, or freeze for about 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar, then bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden brown on the bottom & slightly puffy on the tops. Allow to cool on the sheet pan for 1 minute, then remove to wire racks to allow 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.)

Kolach Bread

There’s just something so satisfying to me about baking bread. I really do love the entire process from start to finish. Especially the part of the ‘finish’ where I get to taste it.

I’ve incidentally developed a habit of making at least one fancy holiday bread for Christmas, and I didn’t want to break that tradition this year. I had a few different ideas, but because I was crunched for time and also frankly, because I was kinda tired from the last few days of baking, I eventually decided on one of the more simpler ones. This was it.

Festive breads and cakes are a huge part of the holidays in Eastern Europe. I’d heard of babka, stollen, and povitica before, but Kolach was a new one for me.

Kolach Bread derives from the Czech word ‘kolo’ (wheel or ring). It’s a bread that’s typically been braided/coiled into a ring, then in some cases, stacked on top of each other. My braids and coils aren’t stacked, but they did create what I think is still a pretty nice bread to look at.

I loved the ‘feel’ of this dough. The butter and egg yolks give it a slick, pliable feel that makes it VERY difficult to overwork, and also lets you know even before baking that it’s going to turn out great.

If you’re familiar with basic bread baking techniques, then you’re gonna find the process for making this very simple. The dough is divided into three ropes, the ropes are braided together and the braid is then coiled into a kolo— a ring. It reminded me of how I make challah honestly, except after the first rise, I typically make my challah in loaf pans.

I’ll just say one thing right upfront: this recipe makes a lot of bread. Like, a LOT of bread. By the time you get done you’ll have not one, but two massive loaves that will feed a crowd. You want my advice? Either keep one and give the other away, or keep one for Christmas breakfast or dinner, and freeze the other one for another time. The taste will of course make you tempted to gobble them both up in one sitting or within the space of a few days, but I wouldn’t exactly advise it. Portion control and all.

And speaking of taste…

Rich, rich, rich. Buttery, buttery, buttery. That’s the most honest way I can describe this bread for you guys. The texture is just fantastic. It’s so good, so so SO good that it doesn’t even need added butter or jam. I’m serious. This is right up there with the delectable goodness of brioche, except it’s not nearly as messy or finicky to make. Plus as it bakes, your kitchen, and possibly your whole house is going to smell like a bakery and send anyone who may be in it at the time wandering over to the oven asking you “What smells so darn good?”

Well, I guess this is it, again. We’ve reached the end of the 12 Days of Christmas. I hope you guys have enjoyed the series I put out this year and that you get to try some of the recipes for yourselves this holiday season. Check out any of the recipes you may have missed below–I know twelve posts is a lot to keep up with.

Linking this post up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #203. I wish all of y’all a very happy holiday and new year. Thanks for all the love you give Cooking is My Sport–I really do appreciate it.

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

Day 12: Kolach Bread

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Kolach Bread

Recipe Adapted from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups warm milk (120°-130°)
  • 8 1/2-9 cups all purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • 3 teaspoons dried active yeast
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
  • Sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Directions

In a small bowl, Sprinkle the yeast on top of the warm milk, then sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar on top of that. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, until proofed and frothy.

In the bowl of a standing mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, egg yolks, salt and lemon juice.

Pour the yeast-milk mixture into the bowl and stir to combine. Switch to the dough hook attachment and gradually add the flour in about 1 cup increments. Knead for about 5 minutes in the mixer. The dough should be smooth enough to gather into a mass, but still moist and slightly sticky.

Sprinkle a work surface with flour, then turn the dough out onto it. Knead with your hands for about 5 minutes, using a firm push-pull motion until it is elastic and not sticky, adding more flour if needed.

Grease the mixing bowl, then place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 60-70 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and gently deflate air bubbles. Divide in half and place one half back in the bowl, keeping it covered so it doesn’t dry out. Divide the other half into three equal parts. With your palms, roll out each part into a rope about 24”  long, and braid together. Coil the braid into one round mass, tucking the end under the coil so it doesn’t break free as the dough rises. Gently lift the mass up and place onto a sheet pan you line with parchment paper. Repeat this process with the other dough half. Cover both with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the beaten egg together with the milk. Use a pastry brush to brush on top of risen bread coils. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Bake until golden brown on top and bottom, 45-60 minutes. (Mine baked quickly, so check it early and cover with aluminum foil if browning too fast on top) Bread is done at an inner temp of 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.  Allow to cool on wire racks for about 10 minutes before slicing.

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

**************************************************

Christmas Tourtiere

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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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 375°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 75-80 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.