Cranberry Pound Cake

Happy eve of Christmas Eve everyone. We’ve reached the final day of the 12 Days of Christmas series on the blog. And as with every year, I feel a little blue about it. I’ve said before that the lead up to Christmas Day is actually my favorite part of the season, not the actual day itself. Once the day comes, it’s already almost over and the next one is as far away as it’s ever going to be. Add to that this year has been… a particularly different kind of year and holiday season for most of us.

2020 has been very, very difficult. Unimaginable, really. If you’re reading this and you have experienced particular hardship, tragedy or loss in 2020–also if the holiday season is a typically bleak and sad time of year for you in general– please know that you are in my thoughts. I wish there was a way that I could send/share some warmth, compassion and light in your direction–or at the very least some of my food.

I don’t know what all is going to happen in 2021. After the year we’ve had, it’s rather pointless to try and make predictions. The best that I can do is to remain grateful for all of the blessings I have in my life, and to hang on to the hope that better things and times are on the horizon for myself, and for all of you reading this blog post.

12 Days/recipes of baking a lot of work, but I do it because it never fails to insert a lot of light and cheer into my holiday season. To those who’ve been following along with it, I hope that my little baking series has done the same for you.

I decided to close out the series with pound cake, because why not? It’s something that I think it’s safe to say, most people like, and it gave me another opportunity to work with an ingredient I’ve been particularly obsessed with this season: fresh cranberries. Cranberries are a perfect addition to pound cake because as with many other desserts, they provide a much needed tart and slight bitterness to balance out all the sugar. With six eggs in the batter, this cake is extremely dense and rich, but the cranberries give it a real lift of freshness that almost makes you forget about pesky little things called calories. This is a really delicious cake, you guys. Try it sometime.

I wish everyone a sincere and heartfelt Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Social distance. Be kind.

 

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Day 9: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Day 10: “Berry” Christmas! Scones

Day 11: Chocolate Turtles

Day 12: Cranberry Pound Cake

Cranberry Pound Cake

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients

For Cake

  • 1 lb. unsalted butter (4 sticks), softened
  • 2 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries

For Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • a few tablespoons orange juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 16 cup (10 inch) Bundt or tube pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld one) beat the butter at medium speed until creamy and lighter in color. Gradually add the sugar, about 1 cup at a time, beating 5-7 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until the yellow disappears. (Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as you’re doing this to ensure even mixing.)

Add the flour to the butter mixer alternatively with the milk (begin and end with the flour). Beat at a low speed, just until combined after each addition. Add the extracts and the cranberries, stirring just until combined.

Pour the batter into the cake pan. Lift and tap it down on the counter a few times (this will prevent air bubbles from forming).

Place the cake pan on a sheet pan, then bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour and 40 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. (Pound cake is done at an inner temp of 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

For icing, stir together ingredients in a small bowl, then use a small fork to drizzle on top of cake. Allow icing to set for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Chocolate Turtles

A very significant part of the inspiration behind my doing this series every year on the blog in the first place comes from growing up in my grandparents’ house and my memories of the holidays there. 

Food is a personal thing for me, and cooking/baking food is even more personal because you’re providing sustenance and mere satisfaction to someone else, presumably someone else whom you care for. Most people who holiday bake, do so with the intention of giving it away to people they care about; it’s an act of love, which is really what the holidays should be about anyway.

All of that to say, my grandmother baked a lot during the holiday season, and so it always created this increased atmosphere of holiday giving and warmth and nostalgia that I try to recreate myself now every year now that I’m old enough and have discovered how much I love to bake. She pretty much did it all; cake, cookies, pie, peanut brittle, fudge, and another little nifty treat known as chocolate turtles.

For those who may be unfamiliar, chocolate turtles are a candy where pecans are mixed with a soft caramel, then dipped in chocolate. They’re VERY popular back where I come from in the Midwest, so much so that you can buy them much like you can buy a chocolate bar in a grocery store checkout line. Here on the West coast…not so much. So, my solution, as with a lot of things that I can’t find in stores out here is to just make it myself.

It may surprise you to know that the process for making chocolate turtles isn’t too complicated. There’s no need for candy thermometers, tempering, or any other complicated steps. You don’t have to use an oven to make them at all, since technically, you’re not ‘baking’ anything new. This really just comes down to assembly.

The most important things to stay on top of when making chocolate turtles are first of all, make sure you line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Not aluminum foil; parchment paper. Caramel is notoriously sticky, especially when it’s soft, and you will save yourself a lot of mess and frustration if you assemble these on parchment paper so as to ensure that they’ll actually come off when they’re set. Second, be diligent about ensuring that you’re not overheating the caramel in the microwave when softening it; don’t skip the step of pausing at the 30 second intervals to stir. That’s really about it. Enjoy y’all. One more day left in the 12 Days of Christmas. Any predictions on what we’ll close on?

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Day 9: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Day 10: “Berry” Christmas! Scones

Day 11: Chocolate Turtles

 

Chocolate Turtles

Recipe Courtesy of Averie Cooks

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces roasted pecan halves
  • 25 soft candy caramel squares (about 1 heaping cup; note, make sure you are not using hard caramel candy, they have to be the soft chewy ones)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half, divided
  • 16 ounces of your favorite chocolate bar (You can mix them up like 8 ounces milk and 8 ounces dark, if that’s your preference; I used Hershey’s milk chocolate bars for the whole thing)
  • Sea salt, optional for sprinkling
  • Nonpareil sprinkles, optional

Directions

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray.

Arrange pecan halves in small piles on the paper, about 1 inch apart, in bunches of about 4-5 pecan halves per pile. Try to make them overlap so that the caramel doesn’t seep through.

In a glass measuring cup or microwaveable safe bowl, heat the soft caramels with a few tablespoons of the heavy cream or half & half for 3-4 minutes, pausing every thirty seconds to stir it so that they do not burn (This is important). You also may not need to let it go the full 3-4 minutes, you don’t want it to be liquid, you just need the caramel to be soft and loose enough to drizzle off the spoon, but still hold it’s shape around the nuts.

Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the caramel over each pecan pile and set aside for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt about 8 oz of the chocolate in another glass measuring cup or microwaveable safe bowl. Heat in 15 second increments until it’s smooth. (Melt the additional chocolate as is necessary.)

Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the melted chocolate over the caramel pecans, trying to ensure it encases the whole thing.

If desired, sprinkle a pinch of sea salt and the nonpareils over the turtles.

Allow the turtles to firm up at room temperature (this will take several hours, I recommend letting them rest overnight).  After an hour at room temp, you can place them in the fridge before serving, and to store.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

As the saying goes, you learn something new every day; hopefully, the something new that you learn is useful and pleasant. Today’s recipe came as a result of me recently learning something new that was useful, pleasant, and delicious. It’s always nice when that happens.

It wasn’t until the month of November in the year 2020 that I learned about a nifty little invention called cookie brittle for the first time. Maybe some of you will be learning about it for the first time in reading this blog post. To you, I say: welcome. Your lives will never be the same.

Cookie brittle is a cookie dough made without any leavening agents (no egg, no baking powder, no baking soda). Ingredient wise, it resembles shortbread. But the method in making it departs from shortbread in that no air whatsoever is whipped into it. Instead, the butter is melted, combined with sugar, then spread thin into a sheet pan. With no air or leavening, the baked dough creates a very close textured crumb that after it cools becomes extremely, well…brittle.

I have a very special relationship to chocolate chip cookies. I have a go-to recipe that I very seldom deviate from, as I believe it’s as close to perfection as one can get. But in this instance I was just too curious not to give this cookie brittle thing a try. Boy. I learned something that day, that’s for sure. Texturally speaking, cookie brittle goes far beyond the texture of crispy chocolate chip cookies like Chips Ahoy or Tate’s Bake Shop. It’s called brittle for a reason; if I had to describe it, I would say that it’s like…a chocolate chip cookie crunchy toffee. Chocolate chip cookie candy. Now, doesn’t that sound absolutely delicious?

The recipe is actually very easy to follow, you just have to make sure that you follow it to a T. The dough has to be cool before you mix in the chocolate and nuts, and you have to be careful not to leave it in the oven too long. Because it’s baked directly in an ungreased pan, it can go from perfectly golden brown to burned in seconds. Don’t ask me how I found out both of those tips, just follow them.

Did I mention that this also makes great gifts? Cause it does. That’s if you’re still feeling in the giving Christmas spirit after trying this for yourself. You may not be. It’s that good.  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Day 9: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Recipe Courtesy of Cookies & Cups

Ingredients

  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 cup Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the raw)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a medium saucepan on medium heat combine the butter and sugar, stirring constantly. Once butter is melted, cook for one more minute and remove it immediately from the heat, being careful not to bring the mixture to a boil. Alternatively place butter and sugar in a large heat-safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 90-120 seconds until the butter is melted and sugar has dissolved slightly.

Whisk mixture until it is combined.Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes (this part is VERY important, it needs to be cool before you continue) and then whisk mixture again for 1 minute.

Whisk in the vanilla and the salt. Stir in the flour until the dough forms and then stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Press the dough onto the ungreased pan spreading it out all the way to the edges, you want the brittle to be thin.

Bake for 22-25 minutes, rotating the pan every 7-8 minutes until it’s lightly golden and firm to the touch in the center.

Let the brittle cool in the pan for 3 minutes and then line a counter or second baking sheet with parchment paper and invert the first pan onto the second, and allow it to cool completely.

Break the brittle into pieces and enjoy!

 

Gingerbread Blondies

Only seven days left until Christmas! Is everyone excited? It’s 50/50 for me. On one hand, I absolutely love the holiday season, but on the other hand it’s the season that I love more than the actual holiDAY itself. Christmas itself is bittersweet for me because once it comes, the holiday season is almost over.

But on the flip side, there’s still six more days until it’s over, so let’s just celebrate that with some more recipes in the five days that we have left of the 12 Days of Christmas, shall we? In all the years I’ve been doing the series, there are always certain categories of recipes that I try to make sure make an appearance, just for variety’s sake. I always try to do a savory recipe option. I always try to do a yeast bread recipe. I always try to do a snack. Then, I always try to a recipe that fits squarely into my “You Can’t Mess This Up, No Seriously You Can’t” category.

The “You Can’t Mess This Up, No Seriously You Can’t” category is for people who don’t like to cook or bake, or those who think that they can’t. I say “think” because I’m of hte opinion that if you can read, measure and follow a set of instructions, you can cook SOMETHING. Doesn’t have to be complicated. Doesn’t even have to be that delicious. But if you can read, count and do what you’re told, there’s something out there that you can cook and bake.

  Today I’m pleased to be able to share my “You Can’t Screw this Up” recipe of the 12 Days of Christmas: gingerbread blondies. While they’re the furthest thing from complicated that you can get, don’t let their simplicity fool you: they come together in minutes, and are absolutely delicious.

The base of the blondie itself is rich with warm, sugary, winter spices. It tastes like a dense and rather chewy cake. I modified the original recipe and decided to try and cut through the sweetness of the molasses and brown sugar by adding fresh cranberries to the batter. The cranberries burst as they bake creating lovely pockets of juicy, tart flavor.

I wasn’t kidding when I said you can’t screw these up. I’m also not kidding when I say they’re absolutely delicious.  The only way they could possibly be improved is with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Then they’re beyond perfection; they’re holiday nirvana.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Gingerbread Blondies

Recipe Adapted from Betty Crocker

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries

Directions

Line an 8-9 inch square baking dish wish parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, combine the four, spices, and salt. Stir together with a fork, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter or margarine, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and egg. Stir together with a fork or a wire whisk unto; thoroughly combined.

Add the flour mixture in 2 increments, stirring just until the streaks disappear. Fold in the cranberries.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan.

Bake for 26-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 1 hour before cutting into squares.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #359, cohosted this week by Jhuls@The Not So Creative Cook.

 

Jell-O Butter Cookies

As a snack/dessert all on its own, Jell-O doesn’t do much for me. I’ve just never been much of a fan. I think that for me, it comes down to the texture. Because of the gelatin, it’s rubbery, and doesn’t have much of a ‘chew’ to it. It’s just…there. Hanging out in your mouth until you swallow it. Where’s the ‘experience’ in that?


Even after I had a tonsillectomy and could only eat soft, cold, texture-less things, I still never wanted Jell-O. I stuck to popsicles and ice cream. All of that to say, Jell-O isn’t an ingredient that’s usually in my house. But when I was putting together the recipes for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas, I found one from the folks at Springerle Joy that made me change my mind. Not for the sake of Jell-O itself, but as an ingredient for another treat.

Butter cookies are really as close to a perfect dessert as you can get. Like pound cake, they’re wonderful all on their own, but their simplicity allows for a variety of different flavors to be added to them that can really enhance their taste.

This recipe is for a standard butter cookie that tastes perfectly fine all on it’s own. But rather than spices, the powdered base of two different flavors of Jello gets kneaded into the dough. Isn’t that clever? I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it’s 100% the recipe developers at Springerle Joy who come up with all kinds of imaginative recipes for stamped cookies, which are a favored go-to of mine. As with most other butter cookies, they hold up VERY well to cookie cutters, stamps and designs after baking.

When it comes to flavors, the sky’s really the limit, isn’t it? I mean, it’s been around for so long that there must be dozens of flavors of Jell-O out there by now. I know that around the holiday season, there’s a cranberry flavor that gets sold in some locations. I could’t locate it where I live, so for my rendition, I used cherry and lime. I then added red and green coloring gel to give them an extra vivid pop of color. Feel free to use whichever flavors you’re partial to.

These were fun to make, and eat. If you’re the kind of person who always has a box of Jell-O in your pantry, maybe you want to give this recipe a whirl.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

 

 

Jell-O Butter Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Springerle Joy

Ingredients

  • 250 grams unsalted butter at room temperature (2 sticks + 2 Tablespoons)
  • 150 grams confectioner’s (powdered) sugar (1/3 lb)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 450 grams all-purpose flour (1lb)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 (3 oz.) packages of Jell-O (flavors of your choice. I used cherry and lime.)
  • Red and green food coloring gel (optional)

Directions

In a medium size 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 egg, mixing just until combined and yellow disappears. Add the vanilla extract.

Fold the flour-salt mixture into the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.

Divide the dough into two sections. Sprinkle two Tablespoons of Jell-O powder onto each section and knead the dough until combined. You can add a few drops of food coloring gel to boost the color if desired.

Wrap both doughs in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a few hours.Dust the surface of your counter and rolling pin with flour or powdered sugar and roll out the dough to a thickness of approx. 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch. (If your dough is too soft to work with, refrigerate it 15-30 minutes.)

Dust the surface of your dough and your cookie mold with flour. Press the mold into the dough just far enough down to fill the mold cavity. Dust off any flour that appears on the impression. Place your cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Chill your cookie sheet full of molded cookies about 1/2 hour in the fridge.

Take your cookie sheet out of the fridge and immediately place it on the center rack of a preheated 325 degree F (160 degree C) oven. Bake your cookies about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Remove the cookies when the bottoms are just beginning to turn golden brown.

(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.)

 

Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

It just wouldn’t be Christmas if gingerbread didn’t make an appearance, would it? Every year I try to think of some new method that I can try out outside of just making the typical pan of gingerbread, but still come out with a treat that tastes like the original. You may be surprised by just how many different options there are out there.

This year, I decided to take inspiration from a past recipe I did for the 12 Days of Christmas back in 2017, Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries. They were a riff on a mass produced sugar cookie in the form of little sticks that was sold back in the 90’s that I absolutely loved. To this day, they’re one of the favorite recipes I’ve made for Christmas, and just in general.

Today’s recipe is made pretty much the same way that those were, except it’s a gingerbread dough. As I did before, I cut the dough into strips using a pastry wheel that had a fluted edge to give the sticks an extra decorative ‘flair’, but it’s fine if you don’t have one of those and just cut them into straight straws. So long as you give them the freezer time before baking, I promise they’ll still hold their shape just fine.

Do make sure you add a little sprinkles or sanding sugar to them, though. They just look more festive that way. If you do choose to add the cayenne pepper, these are going to have that real spicy gingerbread kick to them, which I love. But if you’re trying to serve them to kids or just aren’t overly fond of spicy flavors yourself, feel free to leave it out. Texturally speaking, these are rather crisp cookie that I think would be great eaten and dunked in coffee or tea. Because they’re crunchy, they last longer and also hold up pretty well in transport if you want to make them gifts. Enjoy, guys.

We’re almost halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas! Be sure to check out the other recipes shared so far for this year, and stay tuned for more….  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Recipe Adapted from She Paused For Thought

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  •  cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
  •  cup mild or medium molasses not blackstrap
  • ¼ cup brewed coffee cooled
  • nonpareil sprinkles

Special Equipment: Fluted pie cutter wheel, optional

Directions

In a large bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, spices, and the salt. Stir together with a fork until well combined, using the back of the fork to get the lumps out.

In a small bowl whisk together butter, molasses, and coffee until very well blended. Immediately, add butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring vigorously, until evenly incorporated.
 
Turn dough onto floured surface. Knead with your hands for 30 seconds to make it smoother and more malleable. If dough is too dry or crumbly to roll out, work in a few drops of water until it holds together; if too wet, thoroughly knead in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a couple of hours.
 
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside two large baking sheets and two sheets of parchment paper.

 

Divide dough in half. Roll each portion out onto a well floured surface into a 6×12-inch rectangle. If necessary, cut and patch to make the sides roughly even. (Don’t worry about making it perfect.) Using a fluted pie cutter wheel (or a sharp knife) cut dough lengthwise into 3/4″-1″ thick strips (varies depending on how thin or thick you want them; you can also cut the dough crosswise first to make these shorter too). Spray lightly with cooking spray, sprinkle with nonpareils, and transfer cookie sticks to baking sheets.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 15-30 minutes.Working with one rectangle batch of dough at a time, bake on the middle rack for 13 to 16 minutes or until just firm. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cookie sticks 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.)

 

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.

Gingerbread Spritz Cookies

Today’s recipe is a reminder that great things really do happen at Christmas.

A few months back, I wrote a post about how cookie presses and I just didn’t ‘get along’ with each other. I had owned two up to that point and neither one of them worked, no matter what I did. It was frustrating. I think that cookie presses were made for this time of year. They’re an easy way to make a LOT of pretty cookies with little effort and in a very short turn around time. I really wanted to be able to make some.

I don’t like giving up. So, I decided to give the whole cookie press thing one more try and went scouring the internet for reviews of some of the ‘wider known’ models on the market. I finally settled on the OXO Cookie Press, as it had the most consistently positive reviews and the stencils that came with it were ones that I preferred to other brands. It stayed on my Amazon wishlist for a while, but one day I decided to get myself a little something for Christmas and bought it.

Not gonna lie, I was a tad bit nervous about whether or not it was going to turn out. Oftentimes baking appliances and tools with come with a tiny recipe booklet, so I decided to go with one that was in the booklet that came with the OXO cookie press. I figured it had to be safest bet. The recipe was for gingerbread cookies. I thought that it would be cute to use the teddy bear stencil, and if it turned out, share for the 12 Days of Christmas.

The recipe for the dough comes together much in the same way as most other cookie doughs. The main difference here is in the chilling time. If you’ve ever used one of the cookie recipes I’ve shared on the blog before, you’ll know that I’m a strong advocate for overnight chilling. Most cookie doughs need that extra time to minimize spreading and maintain their shape. However, when it comes to spritz cookies, overnight chilling is the wrong move. You don’t want the dough to be room temp or warm, but if it’s TOO cold then it won’t be pliable enough to press through the metal plates of the cookie press. So, for these 30 minutes of chilling in the fridge will do just fine.

With spritz cookies, the dough has to be at the right temperature and the baking sheets should also be extremely cold when you press the dough out onto them. I don’t know why, but it helps the dough come out cleaner. Place your baking sheets in the freezer prior to even getting started so that by the time you’re ready to press, they’re nice and chilled. No greasing the sheet or (as I usually do) using parchment paper. Don’t worry; they won’t stick.

The entire process to make these was incredibly easy, and quick. I couldn’t have been happier with how they came out, in look or taste. If you’re looking for a cookie press to buy, I give my unpaid & completely enthusiastic recommendation to go with OXO’s.

Just one more day of the 12 Days of Christmas! Stay tuned for the final recipe to be posted tomorrow.

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

Gingerbread Spritz Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of OXO

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, doesn’t matter)
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temp
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place about 3 baking sheets in the freezer to chill thoroughly.

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

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, cream together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the egg, molasses and vanilla and stir just until combined.

Gradually add the flour into the mixture, in about 3 batches, just until it’s combined.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place chilled dough into your cookie press. Press dough out onto ungreased and unlined baking sheets.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges. Allow to sit on baking sheet for about 60 seconds 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.

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.)