Sourdough Discard Crackers

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I had finally decided to tackle one of the things on my Baking Bucket List and learn how to bake sourdough bread.

As an update, the learning process is still ongoing, and I’ll have something in the way of results for you all pretty soon. But until then, I’m here with these.

An unfortunate part of working with sourdough starter is having to ‘discard’ the majority of it at every feeding. For those of us who hate waste, it can almost feel like a waste of ingredients, even if the ingredients are only flour and water.

That’s where sourdough discard recipes come in to save the day. I’ve learned in the past few months that discard can work as a leavener and a flavor enhancer in a number of other baking recipes. My first experiment with it was with biscuits, and I really loved the results. This time, I put it to use in crackers.

Thanks to Julia, who reminded me of this recipe that I’d had pinned for a while to try out once I actually took the plunge and began learning how to bake with sourdough. It was easy to put together, and I was really really pleased with the results.

Make sure you roll the crackers as thin as you can without tearing the dough so that they bake crisp and chewy. The white whole wheat flour pairs well here with the flavor of the sourdough starter, and the herbs give the crackers a fresh, artisan flavor. Also, the sea salt on top is a must.

More on my Sourdough Baking adventures still to come..

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Sourdough Discard Crackers

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (227g) sourdough starter, unfed/discard
  • 1 cup (113g) white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into tiny cubes
  • 2 tablespoons dried herbs ( I used a combination of basil and rosemary, but you can use whatever you have available/prefer)
  • oil, for brushing
  • coarse salt, (such as kosher or sea salt) for sprinkling on top

Directions

Combine the flour, sea salt and dried herbs together in a medium sized bowl and stir together with a fork.

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with fork, until it resembles tiny pebbles.

Make a well in the center of the dry mix and pour in the sourdough starter. Stir together until a smooth, not sticky dough forms. (If you need to add a few tablespoons of water here, that’s fine.)

Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Divide dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, very lightly flour a piece of parchment, a rolling pin, and the top of the dough.

Place the dough onto the floured parchment and roll it about 1/16″ thick. It’ll have ragged, uneven edges; that’s OK. Just try to make it as even as possible.

Transfer the dough and parchment together onto a baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil and then sprinkle the salt over the top of the crackers.

Cut the dough into 1 1/4″ squares. I used a fluted pastry wheel, but a pizza wheel, a bench scraper or even a large knife in a pinch will work fine too.

Prick (dock) each cracker a couple of times with a fork.

Bake the crackers for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re starting to brown around the edges. Midway through, rotate the baking sheets both top to bottom and front to back; this will help the crackers brown evenly.

When fully browned, remove the crackers from the oven and place the pans on a rack to cool.

Roll and cut the second piece of dough following the directions above.

Store crackers, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #420, hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

Cinnamon Sugar Croutons

Consider today’s recipe as a Part II from last week, where I shared a simple, but really special way to make your own croutons from scratch. This week, I’m back with a sweet option.

I’d actually never tried or even heard of sweet croutons before a few weeks ago. Croutons are typically envisioned for savory salads, and as such are flavored savor-ily (if that’s even a word).

But sweet croutons do in fact have their place and purpose. They can go in sweet fruit salads as a crunchy element. They’re good for sweet trail mixes with nuts and candy.

They are also absolutely fantastic for eating all by themselves as a sweet and crunchy snack. Ask my niece; that’s what she’s been doing with them quite contentedly.

Like last week’s Rosemary and Browned Butter croutons, these are a cinch to put together, and they yield such tasty results.

It’s actual cinnamon toast crunch, you guys. How awesome is that?

Cinnamon Sugar Croutons

Recipe by Jess @CookingisMySport

Ingredients

  • 1 (1 lb) loaf of sourdough bread, outer crusts sawed off, and cubed into 1-1/2 inch cubes
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup white granulated sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon)

Directions


Preheat stove to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix together one tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar with the melted butter and whisk with a fork until dissolved, then set aside.

Pour the rest of the cinnamon sugar into a shallow container/bowl and set aside.

Place bread cubes into a gallon size resealable plastic bag. Drizzle the cooled cinnamon sugar butter over the cubes and toss with a spoon. Once you’ve used all the butter, reseal the bag and shake it around, until there is an even coating of butter on all the bread cubes.

Spread cubes into a single, even layer on each of the sheet pans.

Toast croutons one pan at a time on the middle rack of the oven, for about 15-20 minutes. Flip the croutons once halfway, to ensure they are evenly toasted. They’re finished when they’re crisp, golden brown and firm on the outside to the touch.

While croutons are still warm, toss them in the dry cinnamon sugar until evenly coated, Set on a piece of wax paper or aluminum foil to cool completely.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #417.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Much like sour cream from last week, raw tomatoes are another one of those ingredients that I don’t care to eat on their own, but I’m very appreciative of what they can do as a recipe ingredient.

Salsa is one of those recipes. I don’t mind a verde, but a red salsa will always be my preference, and the flavor of the actual tomato plays a huge part in that.

I’m a huge advocate for roasting things. It concentrates and enhances ingredients’ natural flavor, and that’s especially true for tomatoes. I can’t think of a better (or an easier) way to showcase the flavor of when they’re roasted than in a fresh salsa.

This salsa broils tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro until they’re roasted/charred. They’re then blitzed together in a blender and seasoned, minimally.

And that’s literally it. Definitely one for the “You Can’t Mess This Up, No Seriously” category.

I will say that texture is also important here; I can’t stand runny tomato juice salsa. It’s gotta be chunky for me all the way. So I was very intentional in my blending to actually only press the Pulse button a handful of times so as to not have ‘soup’ instead of salsa. But if that’s your preference, feel free to blitz it for as long as you like until it’s as thin as you like.

This salsa made me scold myself for not having made myself some before up until now. It tasted so fresh and bright. The flavors of each of the broiled/roasted ingredients really shined through here, and my only regret about it i that I hadn’t made a double batch.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients

  • 10 Roma Tomatoes, halved
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium yellow sweet onion, quartered and separated.
  • 8 oz fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice (about 1/2 a lime)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions


Preheat stove broiler on High. Line two sheet pans with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.

Arrange tomatoes and garlic cloves on one sheet pan and the other for the onions, cut side up for the tomatoes and onions. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes and the onions with salt and pepper.

Broil on the rack of the nearest to the broiler grill. After about 7-10 minutes, check on the garlic cloves; if they are browned and the skins have begun to open, remove them from the oven and their skins, and set aside.

Broil the tomatoes about 5-10 minutes more, until they have begun to char and blister on the tops. Remove from oven, and broil the onions until they’re softened and beginning to char at the tips, 5-7 minutes.

Spread the cilantro out on one of the sheet pans; broil for about 35 seconds to 1 minute; don’t walk away from it. Once cooled, tear the softened cilantro into pieces.

Once the tomatoes and onions are cooled, place them and the garlic into a a blender. Pulse a few times until it forms a chunky paste; I only needed to pulse about 5-6 times to my desired consistency.

Pour the salsa into a bowl, season with the lime juice, cumin, smoked paprika and salt and pepper. Taste & adjust for seasoning, then stir in the wilted cilantro.

Chill in the fridge for about 30-40 minutes before serving.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #415

Apple Cider Donut Muffins

We’re just about approaching the close of autumn (which is wild to me; time flies), but I knew I didn’t want it to get too late before I got around to making something with apple cider in it and sharing it here on the blog.

I’ll be honest with you all: what I really wanted was a fried apple cider doughnut. I’ve done/shared it before on the blog, but that was years ago when I was still very new to blogging and I think those pictures are terrible. So ideally speaking, I would’ve just done a do-over of that post.

However, any of you who have made scratch/fried doughnuts before knows that they are…a project, one that can take up a lot of time. And the way my life is set up right now, time is just something I have a lot less of than I did when I first began blogging.

But, I mean… I still wanted a donut.

So, I compromised with time and with myself. And, here we are.

Still Apple Cider Donuts…but also, muffins.

The most obvious difference here was the one that was most important for me: the cooking time. Depending on what kind of dough/batter you have, making doughnuts from scratch can be an hours long project.

I didn’t have hours to spare, and fortunately, this recipe doesn’t need them. In fact, if your cider is already boiled/reduced, you’ll probably be done in 1 hour, tops.

I was very pleased with how these turned out. Apart from the quicker and easier baking process, they still satisfied that craving I had for an apple cider donut without having to go to the extra trouble.

They’ve also been kid-approved by the resident taste tester in our house, so if that doesn’t sell em to you, I don’t know what else will.

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Apple Cider Donut Muffins

Recipe Adapted from New England Food Today

Ingredients

For Muffins

  • 2 cups sweet apple cider
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

For Sugar Topping

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Directions

For Muffins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan either with butter or shortening and set aside.

Put the apple cider in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Set aside to cool.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend.

Add a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just to combine. Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine.

Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake until tops are firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5-7 minutes.

For Topping

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. As soon as the muffins are cool enough to handle, brush their tops and sides with the melted butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #406, co hosted by Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Banana Streusel Bundt Bread

My tastes for certain foods fluctuates according to the time of year. In the winter, I want to eat hearty, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. At the holidays, I want to eat a lot of gingerbread, sugar-and-spice and cranberry-flavored everything. In the summer, I like eating light, fresh, citrusy things. But then I also think there are some foods that for me are good and wanted year-round.

Banana bread has always been one of them.

Whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall, I’m always up for some banana bread. Come to think of it, I’m up for banana bread at pretty much any time of day. It’s one of those things that’s sweet enough to have for dessert, but not too sweet to where you can still have it in the morning with coffee for breakfast without feeling guilty.

I had a very strong craving for banana bread, but I wanted to do it up a little more than I usually do with the typical loaf pan. Y’all know me, I’ll throw a streusel on anything and call it holy, so that’s pretty much what I went for here.

Doesn’t it look glorious?

Also, you should know that this recipe makes a lot of banana bread–no, like, a LOT. That’s never a problem for me, but be advised that this is a feeding a family-brunch size batch of banana bread, which is why it calls for so much mashed banana, and why it gets baked into a full size bundt pan.

Like I said, I can eat banana bread whenever, so I ate this both in the morning warmed up and smeared with butter, and I also ate it at night for dessert topped with whipped cream. It’s delicious both ways.

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe. Be kind.

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Banana Streusel Bundt Bread

Recipe Adapted from Bake From Scratch

Ingredients

3½ cups plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 cups  plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
4 teaspoons unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups mashed ripe banana
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, preferably room temp
⅔ cup sour cream, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 15-16 cup bundt pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together 4 tablespoons (32 grams) flour, 2 tablespoons (28 grams) brown sugar, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and ¾ teaspoon cinnamon. Add butter; using your fingers or 2 forks, work butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs or slightly wet sand. Set streusel aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat banana, oil, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, remaining 1½ cups  brown sugar, and remaining 1⅓ cups  granulated sugar at medium-low speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, nutmeg, remaining 3½ cups flour, and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to banana mixture, beating until combined and stopping to scrape sides of bowl.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap pan on counter a few times to evenly spread batter and release any air bubbles.

Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with streusel, and bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking and loosely covering with foil to prevent excess browning, if necessary. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Using a small offset spatula, loosen cake from pan. Slowly invert bread onto a wire rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet. (Some streusel will fall off.) Using a large, flat plate or a cake lifter, turn bread streusel side up, and place on wire rack; let cool completely.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #368

Chicken Empanadas

Meatpies are one of my favorite foods. Back when my kitchen skills were as advanced as scrambling eggs or boiling pasta, I used to tell myself that if I ever learned how to cook one of the things I was going to learn and learn well, was how to make a meatpie.

While I still may have some more things to learn, I do think the practice I’ve had thus far has led me to understand what really makes a good meatpie. It depends on giving equal amounts attention and consideration of both the casing and the filling because a good filling encased in tough pastry is no bueno, and a good pastry with bland filling is also not so great.

My strategy for avoiding bland meatpie filling is to as Chopped judge Marc Murphy says “season with authority.” I’ve tried to inject flavor at just about every step of the cooking of this empanada filling. And then after it’s finished, I allow it to rest in the fridge just to give the spices the time to really set in so that they come through after the empanadas are finished baking.

The key to flakiness of this crust is the shortening. It’s VERY easy to work with and roll out. I could obviously still use some more practice when it comes to my crimping/sealing skills, but that’s completely on me, not the recipe. Trust me, it really does melt in your mouth when you eat it.

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe. Be Kind.

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Chicken Empanadas

Filling recipe by Jess@CookingisMySport, Pastry recipe courtesy of The Kitchn 

Ingredients

For Chicken Filling

  • 2.5-3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 (1 oz.) packet of your favorite taco or fajita seasoning
  • 2 bell peppers, diced (you can mix and match different kinds; I used 1 red and 1 green)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 16-32 oz low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 heaping teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 2 heaping teaspoons of smoked Paprika
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Pastry

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or lard, frozen
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Directions

For filling:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

In a small bowl combine the taco/fajita seasoning with 1/3 cup of the flour. Place the cubed chicken in a gallon sized resealable plastic bag. Pour the flour-seasoning mixture over the chicken and seal the bag. Toss the bag to season the chicken in the flour until evenly coated.

Pour a tablespoon of oil (canola, vegetable or olive) in the bottom of a Dutch oven or pot. Sear the chicken over high heat, just to get a crust on the outside of it (it doesn’t need to be cooked through here). Remove the chicken to a 13 x 9 baking dish and keep loosely covered. (you may need to do this in batches).

When the chicken has finished searing, pour a bit more oil into the bottom of the pot and saute the peppers and onions over medium heat until they are soft and translucent. Remove them to a bowl and set aside.

Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of flour into the pot, and allow to toast for about 2 minutes. Pour in 16 oz of the chicken broth and stir briskly with a whisk or fork until flour is dissolved and a smooth and somewhat thick ‘gravy’ forms, then pour in the other 16 oz of broth. Season the mixture with the cumin, smoked paprika, honey and salt and pepper. Allow to come up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Pour the gravy mixture over the chicken. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until chicken is fork tender.

Remove the chicken from the baking dish and mix with the sauteed onions and peppers. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld and for the filling to completely chill.

For crust:

Place 3 cups of the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Use a box grater (or cut it up into small cubes) to cut the shortening/lard into the dry ingredients. Stir together with a fork. It should have a sandy texture.

Whisk the egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl until combined. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients.Continue mixing until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Empty mixture onto a lightly floured work surface and use your hands to shape it into a rough ball. Using the heels of your hands, gently knead the dough into a smooth, elastic ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or overnight.

Lightly flour a clean, large work surface and a rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thick. Using a 4-inch-round pastry-cutting mold, cut circles from the dough. (Alternatively use a knife and trace around a 4-inch plate to form the circles.)

Gather the dough scraps and form into a ball again. Roll out the dough and cut more circles. (If the dough springs back and is difficult to roll out, let it rest before rolling again.) Makes about 16 dough circles.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.Take 1 of the cut circles and and place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling in the center. Brush the edges of the empanada with the beaten egg. Fold the circle in half to form a half moon and seal the edges together with a fork or pinch with your fingers. (Be mindful when sealing to squeeze out any air pockets.) Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough circles, spacing the formed empanadas a few inches apart.

Chill the formed empanadas for 20 minutes before baking. Meanwhile, arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 375°F.

Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the sheets front to back and top to bottom, and continue baking until the empanadas are golden-brown, about 10 minutes more. Let cool a few minutes before serving with salsa.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #363, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

Secret Ingredient Rice Krispie Treats

So, I feel like on a list of the easiest things to cook/bake, rice krispie treats are right up there with spaghetti, scrambled eggs, and grilled cheese sandwiches. They all feature pretty basic ingredients, come together within minutes and are all (I think) pretty hard to mess up.

Even back when I was an abysmal cook, I knew how to put together rice krispie treats. No matter what anybody says, the pre-made packaged ones don’t taste as good as the ones made from scratch. They just don’t.

There’s nothing wrong with pre-packaged rice krispie treats, but I’m partial to making my own from scratch because if I can control the amount of marshmallow in the mix, then I can control the ‘gooey-ness’ factor. Packaged ones don’t really have it.

You want to know what ones do? These.

I’m always interested in finding ways to improve on classics, and today’s recipe is another one of those ways. If you’re a fan of scratch made rice krispie treats and you want to up their gooey-ness factor, this is for you. It doesn’t require a whole lot of extra steps or ingredients. There’s just one extra step and one extra addition to the usual suspects of ingredients, actually:

Browning the butter, and a can of sweetened condensed milk.

That’s right folks. Browning your butter and adding sweetened condensed milk to your treats mix will alter everything you ever thought you knew about how to make or eat rice krispie treats. You are not prepared for how incredible this is. I wasn’t. The rich, gooeyness it adds to them is everything you want in a treat. It adds a real ‘bakery’ taste and flavor to them that almost makes no sense, because rice krispie treats aren’t baked at all. I don’t understand it, and I really don’t need to. I’m just glad to have discovered it, and you will be too once you try this out for yourself.

Wear a mask. Social Distance. Stay safe. Be kind.

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Secret Ingredient Rice Krispie Treats

Recipe Courtesy of The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 6 cups toasted rice crisp cereal, such as Rice Krispies
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (10-ounce) package mini marshmallows (about 4 cups)

Directions

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cereal and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or pot over low heat, gently stirring with a rubber spatula so all the butter melts evenly. When the butter is bubbling, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk* and stir to combine.

Bring the sweetened condensed milk to a boil (this will happen really quickly) and cook for about a minute until it is fragrant. Once the butter begins to foam, watch carefully, as it will quickly begin to brown and emit a nutty aroma. When browned, turn off the heat. Stir in the salt and vanilla.

Working quickly, add half the marshmallows and stir until thoroughly melted. Add the remaining marshmallows and stir until melted. The residual heat from the butter should be enough to melt them off the heat, but you can return the pot to low heat for a few seconds if the marshmallows aren’t melting easily. Keep a close eye on the butter, however — you don’t want it to continue to brown to the point of burning.

Add the toasted cereal and gently fold it in until the cereal is completely coated with the marshmallow mixture.

Transfer the mixture to an 8 x8 inch baking pan that you’ve sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Using the rubber spatula, lightly and gently press into an even layer.

Let the treats stand at room temperature until set and completely cool, about 1 hour.

Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

*This all depends on how gooey you want the treats to be. I went for the full 1/2 cup.

Linking up to Fiesta Friday #362, co-hosted this week by Petra @ Food Eat Love.

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.

Reindeer Munch

For me, the holidays are about flavors AND smells. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “You eat with your eyes first,” and that’s true. But you also first eat with your nose too. There are some foods where the second that their smell hits my nostrils, I can already half taste them in my mouth.

It’s (obviously) been a long tine since I’ve been in a mall, but one of the few times of year I always used to like going to them was the holidays. Not so much to shop til I dropped, but mostly because if any of you have ever walked through a mall during the holiday season, then there is a certain smell that you’re going to be able to recognize.

The spiced nuts kiosk. In just about every place I’ve lived and every mall I’ve visited during the holidays, there’s a local vendor who rents out a booth/kiosk for the season to sell spiced/sugared nuts. Most of them have a tabletop stove contraption thingy that lets them make the nuts right there for you to see. It makes the most wonderful smells. I would get them in a candle if I could. Bath and Body Works should really consider it.

What does that have to do with today? Well I was trying to think of a snack recipe to include in the series and I started thinking about how the spied nuts kiosk. Nuts are a pretty pricey ingredient, so although I wanted to do a spiced nuts post, I wanted it to be a bit more accessible for those who may not want to splurge on buying them in bulk. Plus, I’ve just always been curious as to how spiced nuts were made. You can find practically any answer to any question you have through Google; so here we are.

Turns out, you don’t need one of those stovetop spinning contraption thingy things to make your own spiced nuts. Your oven will do the job just fine. The process is actually pretty simple. The sugary crusty coating comes from beating egg whites and water together, then folding in sugar. That gets poured over your ingredients, then they get baked off until crisp. Because the coating is so sweet, I wanted to use something salty that would offset the sweetness, balance out the flavors together, and also be sturdy enough to hold the topping. Enter in pretzels. I added in a little bit of cereal to play with different textures; the recommendations I give in the recipe are personal preferences. Feel free to use whatever cereal you like. Finally, I added in a little bit of dried fruit that would provide a tart, tangy flavor to balance out the sweet and salty.

I realized that this was going to be delicious when it was in the oven baking and my house smelled like a mall during the holidays. This stuff is dangerous. Bag it up and give it away as gifts and stocking stuffers, or there’s an excellent chance you’ll stand over the stove, munching on handfuls. Like I did. 

We’re officially halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas! Be sure to check out the other recipes that have been shared on the blog and get that holiday baking in while you still can.  

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

Reindeer Munch

Recipe Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

  • 3 cups pretzels
  • 1 cup of a cereal mix of your choice (I used Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch, but you can swap in practically anything else so long as it’s dry and sturdy)
  • 1 cup of nuts of your choice (pecans, almonds would be my preference)
  • 1 cup dried fruit (like cherries or cranberries)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and spray it generously with non-stick cooking spray; or you can use a silicone baking mat. Set them aside.

Mix pretzels, cereal and nuts together in a large bowl. Set aside.

Using a handheld mixer, beat egg whites and water together on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 4-5 minutes. Add the sugar, spices and salt, gently folding until combined.

Pour/spoon mixture over the pretzel- cereal-nuts mixture and stir to coat it completely. Spread them over the baking sheets and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely. Stir in the dried fruit. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container or a resealable plastic bag.

Butter Pecan Scones

Butter pecan is one of those flavors that draw a line in the sand with people’s taste buds.

They either absolutely love it or they absolutely hate it.

I’ve even seen it become an age debate; supposedly, ‘old people’ like butter pecan while for the young folks, it’s a no go.

I don’t know what kind of logic goes into that argument. But I guess that makes me old, guys. Cause I’ve always loved butter pecan. Roasted pecans and rich vanilla flavored butter is my kind of carrying on. Outside of cake batter, I’d say that butter pecan was my favorite ice cream flavor. It’s so simple, but still so rich and divine.

Typically butter pecan is a flavor that is reserved for ice cream. I haven’t seen it pop up in too many other recipes. This past week I was trying to decide what to make for brinner and although I decided upon scones, I wanted to do a little something different with them that I could share here on the blog.

I knew that I had some unused pecans in the pantry that I wanted to use up (nuts are way too expensive to waste) but I didn’t want to just throw them into a regular scone dough and call it a day. Because I’m extra like that.

Adding pecans to a recipe doesn’t make it butter pecan. You have to create those rich, warm, vanilla flavors to go along with the nutty goodness.

Rich and warm flavor brings one thing to my mind.

And thus, the browned butter chronicles continue on Cooking is My Sport.

 

I’ve said before that there are very few ways of improving upon butter; browning it is one of them. Browned butter creates a rich, warm and nutty flavor to it that I thought would be perfect for a butter pecan flavored scone. After browning the butter, I froze it, just like I do with all of my biscuit/scone recipes. From there, I went with my usual formula.

In lieu of white sugar, I used brown to give it extra caramel-y flavor. I added sour cream along with buttermilk because in the first place, it really gives the dough a tender texture that is needed, as the nuts soak up a lot of the moisture from the buttermilk.

These came out even better than I expected them to while they were baking, filling the house with all kinds of wonderful aromas. They’re not overly sweet, but that buttery, pecan flavor sure does come through. I are mine sliced in half, toasted with a smear of pumpkin butter. It was absolutely delicious.

(As a brief but very important aside, if you live in the United States, please exercise your right to vote in the upcoming election. We can’t have four more years of this; we just cannot.)

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.

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Butter Pecan Scones

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cups brown sugar (preferably dark, but light will work fine too)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1 to 2 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 cups buttermilk* (The amount of milk to use is going to vary depending upon the time of year and the location you’re in because of the varying moisture levels in the air. I always start with one cup, then gradually add more as I deem fit).

Directions

For browned butter:

Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2 quart saucepan. Let it cook and watch it closely until 3-5 minutes until the butter begins to foam, forms a golden brown color and browned bits form on the bottom. (It will have a sweet, nutty smell). Immediately remove it from the heat. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then place butter in a small bowl, and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.

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

 Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. Add the pecans. Stir with a fork.

In a small bowl combine the eggs with the vanilla extract and stir until the yolks are broken. Set aside.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg mixture and sour cream and buttermilk. Use a large fork and a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add the additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or a clean smooth countertop with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Use a bench scraper or a large sharp knife to divide the dough in half. Roughly shape each half into a square. Stack one of the halves on top of the other and use a rolling pin to roll it together into one mass. Repeat this process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle. (This is a process of layering so that the scones will bake flaky).

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and unwrap the biscuit dough out onto it. Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to trim the edges of the rectangle. Use a square cookie cutter, or a knife to cut the remaining dough into squares, about 2″ each.

Remove the cut scones to the baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper, placing them rather close to each other (it will help them rise higher). Freeze until cold, about 15 minutes.

Bake until golden brown, 18 to 23 minutes. You may need to cover them with foil to keep from browning too fast. When you pull one away from the others, it should look baked all the way through; the edge shouldn’t look wet or unbaked.

(Linking up to Fiesta Friday #352)