December 6, 2017

Cranberry Gingerbread Linzer Cookies

One of my favorite parts about this time of year is all the cookies. You can bake cookies for no reason and nobody will question it or berate you for ruining their summer bodies or New Years resolutions. It is prime cookie-eating time, y'all, and boy do I have some good recipes for you. There's my all-time most popular recipe for white chocolate cranberry cookies, some naturally beautiful red velvet crinkle cookies, festive Christmas light cookies, and the best of holiday cookies swirled into one snickersnap. These cranberry gingerbread linzer cookies only add to the merriment and the food babies. They consist of spiced gingerbread cookies sandwiched with a fresh cranberry compote, and you can sprinkle them with powdered sugar for extra holiday flair.

The keys to any good gingerbread cookie (or gingerbread in general) are molasses and the perfect blend of spices. Here, I mix the molasses in when I add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar. This makes sure it's properly incorporated, since you have to avoid overworking the dough once you add the flour. I normally add brown sugar to most of my cookies, but here you get the molasses flavor and chewiness from the molasses itself, so granulated sugar works just fine. The spice mixture is my favorite blend of 3 parts cinnamon, 2 parts each ginger and nutmeg, and 1 part each allspice and cloves. You can adjust that if you want extra-gingery gingerbread or have other preferences, or you can just buy pumpkin pie spice blends if you don't plan on using these spices much.

Most of my cookies are scoop and bake, meaning that you can just take a cookie scoop or spoon to the dough and bake it right away. Others are slice and bake; you roll the dough into logs, slice them into coins, and bake them. These are probably the most complicated since you have to roll them out and cut them into the proper shapes. If you want oreo-style sandwich cookies, you can use the slice and bake method, but for the classic linzer cookie shape with the center cutout to see the filling, you're going to need to roll them. I make mine about 1/4" thick (chilling for a few hours definitely helps with the rolling) so you still get some chew with a bit of crispiness, and I have a set of round cookie cutters with scalloped edges. You can make these any shape, whether it's simple round cookies (use a glass/cup if you don't have any cookie cutters) or more festive shapes. I cut all the dough to the same size then cut out the centers of half the shapes. This way, you get one whole piece for the bottom and once piece with a window for the top.

The cranberry filling is like a traditional cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving but cooked down more (and with more sugar) so it's more of a jammy consistency. If you can find cranberry jam or another flavor of jam you prefer, you can save yourself some time and swap it in. I, however, love taking advantage of the cranberries since they're only in season for a few weeks out of the year.

All you have to do is combine cranberries, sugar, and a splash of orange juice and cook it for 10 minutes or so until the berries burst. I take a wooden spoon to it to help crush the berries since I like some texture but whole berries would be a bit too clunky for these delicate cookie sandwiches. If you want it really smooth, you can pulse it in a food processor or blender and/or strain the compote to get out the big pieces. The natural pectins in the cranberries help to thicken the mixture, as does boiling off the water during cooking. If it looks too thin (it should be a spreadable consistency), put it back on the stove until it's ready.

Once the cookies and the cranberry compote cool, it's time to sandwich them. I take a whole cookie, spread some cranberry jam on the flat side (the bottom of the cookie since the top puffs up a bit), and top it with a cookie with a window. Just before serving, I like to dust them with powdered sugar to dress them up a bit and give even more color contrast. These would make lovely gifts, especially if boxed with some of the other cookie recipes, or can stand on their own for a platter to keep your holiday guests happy.

1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
3 T Molasses
2 2/3 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Cloves
1/4 tsp Allspice
2 Cups Cranberries
1/4 Cup Orange Juice

Beat the butter and 1 cup sugar together. Add the eggs, vanilla, and molasses and beat until smooth.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices together. Gradually add to the butter mixture. Chill for at least 2 hours or until firm.

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Split the dough in half and roll to 1/4" thick. Cut into circles and rings and bake for 6-8 minutes or until just golden.

Meanwhile, combine the cranberries, remaining sugar, and orange juice in a medium pot. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat until thick, stirring occasionally and mashing with a spoon until the berries are burst.

Spread a small spoonful of cranberry compote on each cookie. Top with another cookie or ring and repeat until all cookies are sandwiched.

Makes 28

November 22, 2017

Pumpkin Biscuits

I'm hiding from my family while writing this. In the less than 24 hours since I arrived in Atlanta, I've made my dog hate me for petting him too much, my grandma exploded microwave oatmeal while watching Snoop Dogg, and we've had approximately 3 minor Thanksgiving food emergencies. As much as I love Thanksgiving, I'm excited for the stuff that comes after, like leftovers, online shopping, and having my own bathroom again. One of the greatest Thanksgiving mysteries is what to do with all those leftovers since turkey sandwiches can get a bit boring. In my opinion, biscuits make everything better, so of course the best leftovers should be piled on a biscuit sandwich. Now, it needs to retain the Thanksgiving spirit, so I add some leftover pumpkin puree for a gorgeous color and extra pizzaz to dress up those leftovers.

It's hard to improve upon my basic biscuit recipe. My one modification to treat myself is to use lard instead of butter and shortening if I have it, but I figured my family's arteries are already clogged enough this week. These biscuits are the perfect balance of fluffy, buttery, salty, and soft. To achieve that, I blend flour, plenty of baking powder, and salt with ice cold butter (and shortening). I mix it only until the butter is in tiny lumps. I then stir in buttermilk until just combined, gently pat out the dough, and bake until golden and perfect. The buttermilk is non-negotiable for its tang and magical acidic leavening powers; trust me, it's worth buying for this recipe.

To pumpkin-ify these biscuits, I take out some of the buttermilk and replace it with pumpkin puree. Make sure you don't buy the big cans of pumpkin pie filling, since those have spices, sweeteners, and other ingredients you don't need in your biscuits. You still need some buttermilk in there for texture, leavening, and flavor, but you have to have pumpkin in your pumpkin biscuits. I've found that about a 50/50 mix works out just fine. You can serve these plain, alongside your Thanksgiving feast, for breakfast all week, or to make your leftovers on Friday just a little bit better.

3 1/4 Cups Flour
1 T + 1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
4 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 T Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Shortening, Chilled & Cubed
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree

Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie tray with parchment.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter and shortening. Whisk the buttermilk and pumpkin together, then gently stir into the flour until just combined.

Roll the dough out to a 1” thick slab. Cut into circles and place on the prepared tray. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden. Brush with melted butter.

Makes 12

November 15, 2017

Mushroom Dip

I'm going to be home in exactly a week for the first time since May, and I can't wait! I get to not have roommates (unless you count my grandma), see my dog, and cook for people that eat more than just frozen pizza and chicken nuggets. Of course I already have my Thanksgiving recipes picked out, but it's also extremely important to have a noshing plan, too. You know, all the snacks you eat during the Thanksgiving parade and while you're killing time before Thanksgiving dinner when you're hungry but still want to save room. Noshing is also incredibly useful for avoiding awkward questions and conversations because talking while eating is obviously more rude than whatever offensive things your family wants to talk about this year. Pigs in a blanket and quiche are staples for my family, and you always need a dip. This one happens to be filled with all my family's favorite ingredients: mushrooms, caramelized onions, wine, and plenty of cheese.

Like most of the best dips out there, the base consists of cream cheese and mayonnaise. I suppose it's ok to eat this raw, but these melt beautifully for a warm, gooey dip. I throw in a handful of parmesan, which doesn't contribute to the melt factor but adds a sharp flavor that helps cut the richness.

The onions are probably the most labor-intensive part of this dish. Caramelized onions have to be watched over and stirred often for the hour or so it takes to brown since the whole point is to slowly caramelize them as opposed to quickly sauteeing them for color. This way, you end up with soft, sweet onions instead of still-crunchy-despite-being-basically-burnt onions. Once the onions are done, you can use the same skillet to sautee the mushrooms with garlic and herbs. I like to throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme since I typically have some on hand during Thanksgiving anyway. I also add in a splash of white wine to brighten the dish and further soften the veggies.

You could leave the mushrooms and onions whole, but that tends to get clunky and difficult to eat without rummaging around the whole bowl with your crackers just to find one piece. Since everyone still likes the texture of the vegetables, I found a compromise. I grind about half the veggies in a food processor until fine so that they are easy to stir into the cheese mixture and are fully incorporated. I then stir in the remaining half of the veggies whole. This way, you get all the flavors of all the ingredients in every bite but still have some nuggets of whole veggies buried around the dish. That all gets baked until golden and bubbly and served with your favorite crackers or dippables, like baby carrots or just your finger. Making this dip for your family this Thanksgiving basically guarantees that they'll be too busy eating to ask you invasive questions or make drunkenly racist comments (well, it wouldn't be the holidays without them), so do yourself a favor and pregame your Turkey Day festivities with this recipe.

1 Sweet Onion, Sliced Thinly
2 T Butter
12oz Mushrooms
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
2 Sprigs Thyme
1/4 Cup White Wine
4oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook for 1 hour or until caramelized, Season with salt and pepper and remove from the skillet.

Heat 1 T butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Remove. Add the remaining butter to the skillet with the garlic and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the mushrooms, onions, and white wine. Cook for 3 minutes or until some of the liquid evaporates.

Transfer half of the mushroom mixture to a food processor and pulse until ground.

Mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and parmesan together. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ground mushroom mixture, then fold in the whole mushrooms.

Transfer the dip to a baking dish and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly.