best of (a holiday round-up)

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Season’s Greetings! It’s really happening. Since I’ve adopted the tradition of giving mostly food gifts, my kitchen becomes a factory of sorts this time of year. While I really love to do a little bit of experimenting during the holidays, I have a few go-to treats that I can’t do without. Here are a few of my favorites. If you’re looking for some last minute gift ideas, this is for you.

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granola – I’ve heard that this granola has become somewhat legendary in certain circles. People tell me that it’s become their favorite and that they’ve passed the recipe on to others, which makes me incredibly happy. Granola is surprisingly easy to make and totally customizable – add whatever seeds or nuts or dried fruit you like. I love this granola mixed in with a big dollop of plain Greek yogurt. And if you put it in a Mason jar and tie it with some pretty ribbon or fancy twine, you’ve got yourself the perfect gift.

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vanilla marshmallows – The first time I made these marshmallows, I was shocked by how insanely good a plain marshmallow could be. These are perfection. Pair them with a tin of hot cocoa, or some graham crackers and a bar of dark chocolate and you’re all set.

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fleur de sel caramels - I could not let a holiday season pass without whipping up at least one batch of these caramels. Rich, chewy caramels topped with a sprinkle of fleur de sel – need I say more? I know a handful of people who look forward to seeing these caramels every Christmas, and I can’t say that I blame them.

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quince jam - My obsession with quince is relentless. Every Christmas, I make some sort of quince treat; whether it’s membrillo or jam or jelly, I just love this stuff. Since quince pairs really nicely with cheese, I like to give jars of quince jam with a wedge of Manchego. It’s the perfect gift for the foodie(s) in your life.

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rugelach – Rugelach is one of my all-time favorites. These little crescent-shape pastries are one of those treats that really get me going, especially because they’re not super easy to come by in these parts. A tin of ruggies is such a treat. Your friends and family will be impressed.

I know we’re nearing the big day, but I might have one or two new goodies to share with you before then. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that I get everything done over here. In the meantime, I hope you’re getting all of your holiday shopping and/or treat-making taken care of and enjoying these days with loved ones. I’m hoping to sneak in a little down time – I’m so ready for some warm, spiced apple cider (with a nice big splash of bourbon). Happy Holidays, my dears!

 

rugelach

It’s about to be a factory of sweets up in this joint. I’m making my list and checking it twice. And I’m getting excited.

These rugelach are most definitely adding to the excitement. Whenever I go to New York, I make sure I get my fill of rugelach. And for whatever reason, I pretty much only eat them when I’m in New York. Until this past weekend.

The original plan was to make a chocolate babka. But I was reviewing recipes and they all involved several hours from start to finish, as most yeast doughs do. This usually is not a deterrent for me, but my hours are precious these days and I just couldn’t commit to such a lengthy project.

And then this rugelach recipe winked at me. And I just knew. I love it when a new recipe works out perfectly, no mishaps, no funny business.

If you’ve never had rugelach, you’re in for a treat. They’re sort of a cookie-pastry hybrid; tender, flaky cream cheese dough, filled with preserves and nuts and cinnamon-sugar and rolled into little cresents. As they bake, the sugar mixture melts into the preserves, which become a little bit sticky and caramelized and the dough puffs around it. And since they’re not terribly sweet, they are dangerously easy to eat.

rugelach

from Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours by Sarabeth Levine

makes 36 cookies

16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

8 ounces cream cheese, softened, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup raspberry or apricot preserves, or a mixture of the two

1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until evenly combined, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Beat in 2 tablespoons of sugar, vanilla, and salt. Reduce the speed to low. Add 1-1/4 cups of the flour and mix just until incorporated, then repeat with the remaining 1 cup of flour. Do not overmix.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour your hands and gently knead to be sure that the ingredients are evenly distributed, about 10 seconds. Divide the dough into thirds. Shape each portion into a 1-inch thick disk and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 2 hours.

To make the filling, combine the walnuts, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Position the racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

Working with one disk of dough at a time, unwrap and place on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and roll out into a 13-inch-diameter circle. Using a small offset metal spatula, spread with about 2 tablespoons of the preserves, leaving a 2-inch diameter space in the center of the dough, and a 1-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the jam with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture. Using a sharp pizza wheel or large knife, cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into 3 wedges, to give a total of 12 wedges. One at a time, starting at the wide end, fold the corners in about 1/4-inch and then roll up. Do not roll the rugelach too tightly or the filling will ooze out. Wipe your fingers clean after rolling each rugelach to avoid getting jam on the outside of the cookies. Place each rugelach on the pans about 1-inch apart, with the point of each facing down. Curve the ends of the rugelach slightly toward the center to make a crescent. Repeat this process with the other two disks of dough.

Bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely on the pans. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Just before serving, sift with confectioners’ sugar.