Friday, December 19, 2014

Orange-scented cranberry cake with sugared cranberries

Sugared cranberries are something I've been wanting to make for a while now because they just look so pretty and festive. Recently, we had a birthday dinner for my mom and I was in charge of the dessert. She requested a cranberry cake and this gave me the opportunity to make sugared cranberries to decorate this cake studded with fresh cranberries and orange zest. My mom doesn't like frosting, so I went with a very light glaze made with fresh orange juice - or you could top each slice with some freshly whipped cream and the sugared cranberries. Everyone enjoyed the cake and my husband really enjoyed the sugared cranberries and was eating them like candy!

This cake was adapted from this recipe that I've had marked for a while now. I'm really glad I gave this cake a try. It was only lightly sweet, but sweet enough, with punches of tartness from the fresh cranberries. I really do love fresh cranberries and do not use them nearly enough in my cooking. I'm changing that for sure. If you are looking for an elegant holiday dessert, look no further! It's a bit of a process, but the results are worth it. I'll definitely be making sugared cranberries more often now!

Orange-scented cranberry cake with sugared cranberries
for the sugared cranberries:
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus another 1/2 cup for rolling (I used unbleached)
1/2 cup fresh cranberries

for the cake:
1 cup granulated sugar, (I use unbleached)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
zest of 1 medium orange (about 1 tablespoon)
1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries 
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

for the glaze:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
fresh orange juice 

First make the sugared cranberries. In a small skillet, heat the water and 1/3 cup of sugar over medium low heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cranberries and stir them around well until they are all coated. You don't want to sugar/water to boil or for the cranberries to pop! Once they are coated, remove them with a slotted spoon to a tray or wire rack (that they can't fall through) to dry for one hour. Try to keep them from touching. Once they are dry gently roll them in the remaining sugar until coated. Set aside on a tray or plate to continue to dry.

While the cranberries are drying, start the cake. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of your stand mixer), stir together the sugars and the orange zest. Use your fingers to rub the zest and sugar together until well-combined and fragrant. Set aside.

In a small bowl, gently toss together the cranberries and the 2 tablespoons of flour until they are coated. Set aside.

In one more bowl, whisk together the 2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Add the butter to the sugar and orange zest bowl. Beat with paddle attachment (or hand mixer) until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. 

Turn the mixter to low and add about 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the buttermilk, and continue alternating until they are gone and incorporated. 

Gently fold in the cranberries with a rubber spatula. Spread the batter into the pan in an even layer.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out cleanly. Check at 45 minutes. 

Let cool on a wire rack. While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze by simply adding fresh orange juice to the powdered sugar about 1/2 teaspoon at a time while stirring until the glaze will drizzle.

When the cake is cooled, drizzle with the glaze (as much or as little as you want) and then let dry. Top/decorate the cake or each slice with the sugared cranberries as desired.

What was I cooking one year ago?: German cinnamon stars
Two years ago?: honey-cinnamon coconut snowballs
Three?: curried sweet potato, lentil, & spinach soup
Four?: Pfeffernüsse
5?: cranberry-clementine cornmeal thumbprints

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brown butter pecan cookies

Butter pecan is taken to the next level in these cookies by taking the regular ol' butter and making it nutty and golden brown butter! Yes, that's right - these cookies are full of rich nuttiness and are a perfect cookie for the holidays or anytime of the year. These cookies were adapted from a chocolate chip cookie recipe that uses melted butter - I just swapped the chocolate for pecans and cooked the butter longer. The result were perfect - chewy, nutty, rich, and delicious. Plus the smell was amazing. I'm really glad I decided to give this idea a try! I always try to make at least one or two new cookies each Christmas, along with the standbys that we have pretty much every year like my Great-grandmother's thumbprint cookies and these rosemary shortbread Christmas trees. What are your favorite cookies you make each year?

This recipe will make about 2-1/2 dozen cookies. I have a feeling that I may need to make another batch of these before Christmas so we have more to share - they are going fast!

Brown butter pecan cookies
1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups roughly chopped toasted pecans (plus a few whole ones for topping, if desired)

First you will need to brown the butter. Place the butter in a small heavy-bottomed skillet. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring often. The butter will begin to froth a bit and then the milk solids will begin to fall to the bottom of the pan and start to turn golden. Keep stirring and cooking until the milk solids are a deep brown, but not black - you don't want it to burn and it can happen quickly. The whole process can take about 10 minutes. Once the butter is browned, pour it into a large mixing bowl and let it cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. 

Mix together the cooled browned butter and the sugars using a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until well-combined. Mix in the eggs and vanilla and continue to mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until combined. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until combined and then mix in the pecans.

Roll the dough in tablespoon-sized balls and place on the baking sheets about 1-inch apart. Gently flatten them slightly and add a whole toasted pecan to the top if desired/needed. 

Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until the bottoms and edges turn golden. The may look slightly underdone, but that is fine - it will help them stay chewy. Let the cookies cool for another couple of minutes on the baking sheets and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat until all the dough is used. 

Store in an air-tight container.

What was I cooking one year ago?: glazed eggnog loaf cake
Two years ago?: honey-cinnamon coconut snowballs
Three?: date-walnut bars
Four?: Pfeffernüsse
5?: candied ginger spice cookies

Monday, December 15, 2014

Smoky garlic, delicata squash, and bacon pizza

It's Week 7 of 12 Weeks of Winter Squash and I can't believe it's taken me this long to feature one of my most favorite winter squash - delicata! I love delicata squash because not only are they delicious, but they are so pretty and very quick cooking. I've been thinking about putting winter squash on a pizza for a while now and finally decided that delicata would be the winner. The sweet, creamy squash pairs so nicely with the salty, smoky, and crispy bacon. To up the smoky deliciousness of the pizza, I used smoked mozzarella.

For my pizza crust, I almost always use this recipe (or this one if I'm in a pinch for time). For this pizza I used the first crust which I find usually makes two pizzas that are about 10-11 inches in diameter (this depends on how much flour your dough takes that day given the humidity, etc.) This recipe is for two pizzas about that size. We make pizzas probably about once a week or every two weeks. We love pizza and now that I've discovered these simple dough recipes, it's so simple to make at home. Plus, you can try out all sorts of toppings and combinations!

Smoky garlic, delicata squash, and bacon pizza
prepared pizza dough
4 large cloves of garlic, pressed (or very finely minced)
about 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 small-medium delicata squash
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 lb. smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
dried oregano for topping

Prepare your dough/pizzas on parchment paper and you can use it to pick easily them up and on/off the pizza stone (or an upside down baking sheet). To make the best pizza at home, you'll need to crank the oven full force and use the very bottom rack. So if you use a pizza stone, you'll only be able to fit one in the oven at a time (you may be able to fit both if using baking sheets.) Then swap - you can eat the first while the second one bakes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Halve the delicata squash lengthwise and remove the seeds/strings. Then slice into about 1/4 inch pieces, tossing the stem ends. Place on a baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and roast in the oven until the squash just starts to become tender and brown, about 6 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the garlic with the olive oil and set on the top of your stove to warm up slightly.

Roll out your crust to about 10 inches in diameter on the parchment. Top each pizza with half of the garlic-olive oil mixture, leaving about a half-inch of crust along the edge. Then top with half of the cheese, half of the bacon, half of the red onions, and half of the squash. Sprinkle with a bit of dried oregano.

Place the pizza on the stone and onto the bottom rack of the preheated oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes - until the pizza crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

What was I cooking one year ago?: chicken, butternut squash, & spinach pasta bake
Two years ago?: dates stuffed with cardamom goat cheese & salted pistachios
Three?: sesame-cranberry cookies
Four?: roasted buttercup squash & apple soup
5?: rosemary shortbread Christmas tree cookies