Monday, December 26, 2011

Raspberry Filled Brioche French Toast

I was a pretty picky breakfast eater growing up. I would only eat my cereal dry (no milk, no yogurt). I liked bagels with cream cheese and lemon poppyseed muffins. I'd eat my dad's homemade, whole-wheat pancakes, but I steered clear of french toast. It was far too eggy. I had one bad egg as a kid, so those were off the menu for years.

I'm much less picky now, but my breakfasts still tend toward the simple side. Toast, bagels, eggs-- the usual. Except when I venture out to the flea market for a Dough donut (their blood orange donuts are divine and well worth the walk) or I head out for brunch with friends.

I had a very similar dish to this one at James Restaurant during a day-after-my-birthday brunch with my good friend Yana, and every bite felt like a treat. Then, I saw this restaurant on Beantown Baker, and I just couldn't resist. Jen said this recipe elevates french toast to a new level, and she was certainly correct.

While I doubt anyone could stay healthy if they had this french toast for breakfast every morning, it is absolutely delicious. The bread seemed almost caramelized on the outside, and there was just the right amount of sweetness from the raspberry and cream cheese mixture in every bite.

Have someone make this for you on your birthday or make it for yourself. Then pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit down and enjoy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas and Cranberry Nut Muffins

It's (finally) beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. There's snow outside, for the first time since Halloween. I'm at my parents' house where there is a real, live, fully decorated Christmas tree and little bits of Christmas tucked everywhere. My Christmas presents are finally all purchased and wrapped. There's been Christmas music on all day, and we're headed to our family's annual Christmas Eve party in just a few minutes.

It's about time. Despite how long stores have been selling Christmas for, it took me much longer to really feel it this year.

These muffins, though, always make me feel festive. Unlike some muffins, with just a few mix-ins, these are just filled with goodies. You'll get cranberries and walnuts in every bite. There's just the right amount of sweet and tangy in each muffin.

I hope your Christmases are merry and bright!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Twelve Days of Cookies: The Final Products

'Tis the season for baking! Twelve days of cookies done, and I feel like my Christmas baking is just beginning. Homemade gifts for coworkers and relatives, dessert for a Christmas party, muffins for my class. 

In case you missed any, here are The Twelve Days of Cookies.

Butterscotch Haystacks
Dad's Famous Toffee
Rich Chocolate Fudge
Peanut Butter Blossoms
Swedish Crescents
Betty's Wreath Cookies
Sugar Cookies
Poppy-Raspberry Kolachkes
Pecan Tassies
Nutella Pop Tarts
Cowboy Cookies
Lemon Bars

What's on your cookie plate this year? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day Twelve: Lemon Bars

As a child, I never saw the appeal of lemon bars. They were too sour and too sweet, all at that same time. Plus, they were completely devoid of chocolate. I passed them over year after year.

I rediscovered these lemon bars as an adult, much to my delight.

I love the ratio of shortbread to lemon filling in these bars. Each bite feels perfectly balanced. They're a great addition to your Christmas cookie plate. Though not necessarily cookies, they'll bring a burst of flavor to your celebration.

Check back tomorrow for a roundup of the Twelve Days of Cookies and to see any posts you might have missed!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day Eleven: Cowboy Cookies

I've been appreciating all the restaurants with sweet and salty desserts lately. The salted chocolate mousse at The Farm in Ditmas Park is one of my hands-down favorites. It's a rich chocolate mousse topped with a salted whipped cream. The whipped cream on its own wouldn't be too tasty, but paired with the mousse, it's just divine. 

But we digress from the topic at hand: cowboy cookies. Note that these cookies have absolutely nothing to do with cowboys. 

My love of sweet and salty led me to these cookies, and I was not disappointed. These are chewy oatmeal cookies, loaded with sweet M&Ms, and lined AND topped with crushed pretzels. You'll have a little salty and a little sweet in every bite. 

Just be warned: If your mixer is several years old and the beaters are starting to break, do not try to use it to mix this dough. I did, unfortunately, and I managed to break both of my beaters at separate times. 

Only one more day of Christmas cookies to go! Be sure to check back tomorrow!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day Ten: Nutella Pop Tarts

After you make these scones, you'll be faced with one tiny problem. You'll have a jar full of leftover Nutella. Stay calm. Do not panic.

I know what you're thinking. Sure, you're asking, aren't there are other ways to solve this problem? Of course there are. Nutella on toast is one of my favorites. But you probably won't want to stop there.

Because what could be better than a homemade Nutella pop tart? Not store-bought pop tarts. Those don't even compare. These are light and flaky, with just the right amount of sweetness. The added bonus of Nutella takes these pop tarts right over the edge.

Not the most traditional Christmas cookie, but they'll fit right in on you tray of treats.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day Nine: Pecan Tassies

If you thought pecan pies were only for Thanksgiving, you are in for a treat. These tassies are pecan pies in miniature. Just as delicious, with a flakier crust and crunchier pecan layer.

I am particularly grateful because we skipped the pecan pie at Thanksgiving this year.

I like my tassies with a thick crust, but if you want a thinner crust, try rolling each ball into a circle before pressing it into the tin. It's more time consuming, but it will yield results closer to typical pecan pie.

These freeze well and are tasty with ice cream.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day Eight: Poppy-Raspberry Kolachkes

Kolachke, traditionally, are fruit-filled pastries from Central Europe. I tend to think of them as delicious, fun to make treats.

Just look at the kolachkes making process.

Step One: Mix the dough and roll it out on a floured surface until it is very thin.

Step Two: Cut circles out of the dough that are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Use a cookie cutter or the bottom of a glass! Please 1/4 teaspoon of jam in the center of each circle.

Step Three: Fold the top of each circle over. Seal the edges of each circle with a fork dipped in flour.

Step Four: Bake at 375 degrees until light golden brown. Let cool and then drizzle with delicious icing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day Seven: Sugar Cookies

My first memory is making these cookies. Not for Christmas, mind you. I was at my Grandma's house the night my parents were at the hospital welcoming my little brother into the world. We (most likely Grandma) decided that we would make tiny baskets of sugar cookies to bring to my parents and little brother in the hospital the next day.

I can still picture her round wooden table covered in thinly rolled cookie dough, the tiny cookie cutters slicing in and out of the dough, and the little animals that resulted.

We made tiny paper baskets. Again, I'm sure this was mostly Grandma, but 2 1/2 year old me has very vivid memories of being actively involved in the delicate paper folding process.

The next day, we carried the tiny baskets of cookies to my mom and dad. I was so proud of our creations and so happy to welcome my new little brother.

These sugar cookies always remind me of that night. Everyone has a favorite sugar cookie recipe, and this one, straight from my Grandma's table, will always be mine.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day Six: Betty's Wreath Cookies

There are five unique locations to buy Christmas trees within 2 1/2 blocks of my apartment.

Since I moved to the city, I've only had a Christmas tree once. We bought it from a seller outside the YMCA. It was a small, scraggly tree, both what we could afford and what would fit inside our tiny living room. We brought it home, decorated it with Mardi Gras beads and the few ornaments we could scrounge up.

We loved it, but it was a far cry from the Christmas tree excursions I remember from growing up. We'd get all suited up in our snowsuits, load the whole family (and dog) up in the car, and drive to the Christmas tree farm up the street. We'd pour over hundreds of still living trees, searching for the perfect shape and height for our living room. A bird's nest was a bonus; we knew it would bring us good luck.

Finally, the tree would be spotted, my parents would both agree, and we'd saw it down to bring it home. It  would take a few of us to drag the tree down the road back to the car. We'd get it strapped on and we'd head home for hot chocolate.

My dad was always in charge of the lights, and he'd regret the years when we got the prickly pine tree. Last night he sent me a picture of their tree, lights on.

This recipe is certainly a tribute to Christmas. These wreath cookies, from the kitchen of my Grandma Clements, are a little fussy but certainly worth the trouble. Several may break in the process, but do not fret. They taste just as good.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Day Five: Swedish Crescents

Growing up, we spent Christmas Eve with my mom's parents and Christmas with my dad's mom. Christmas with Grandma Clements meant opening stockings that would be filled with lots of practical gifts, including tape and apples. It meant spending hours admiring the Christmas scene she had constructed each year on the mantle. It meant a big, hearty dinner with little gems, our favorite tiny biscuits.

And of course, it always meant cookies, and lots of them. There would be butterscotch haystacks, these swedish crescents, and many more of the cookies you'll be seeing over the next few days.

We'd enjoy them after dinner, on Grandma's beautiful china dessert plates, alongside a bowl of ice cream with hot fudge sauce.

I'd always have to have at least one swedish crescent that night. The powdered sugar made them messy, and I would be left with hands coated in sugar. I didn't mind. These swedish crescents are still delightful today. The outer layers melt in your mouth and the inner cookie has a satisfying crunch to it. These were so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of the finished cookies before eating them all. Oops.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day Four: Peanut Butter Blossoms

I think chocolate and peanut butter just might be my favorite combination. I love this cake from Smitten Kitchen and these peanut butter crispy bars from Baked in Brooklyn. I will forever crave Nectar Nuggets, which have to be the best chocolate peanut butter cups EVER, although these new Justin's peanut butter cups are a close second.

You could safely say I'm addicted.

That's why I've always held a special place in my heart, and stomach, for these peanut butter blossoms. Every year before Christmas, my mom and I would bake batch after batch of cookies and store them away, freezing them for the big day. By the time dessert rolled around on Christmas day, I'd usually be so full from dinner that I could only manage some ice cream with homemade hot fudge sauce and one or two cookies.

Despite the fact that we made 10 or 12 kinds of cookies each year, I always chose a peanut butter blossom cookie on Christmas. The combination of sweet chocolate and salty peanut butter always seemed just right.

These cookies are a crowd pleaser. They freeze well. If you are not patient enough to defrost them, no worries. They taste equally delicious straight out of the freezer.

Note: I submitted these blossoms to Di's Kitchen Notebook for her 2nd Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange. Visit her blog to view all the submissions!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day Three: Rich Chocolate Fudge

We have fudge on our table every year at Christmas time, but we've never really had a go-to family recipe for fudge. I imagine there was one at some point, but once I assumed fudge-making responsibilities, I just couldn't find it. So instead, I'd dig through my mom's recipe box every year looking for a fudge recipe that seemed right, or I'd pull out the Betty Crocker cookbook and see what she had to say.

One year I'd use mini-marshmallows, and the next year, I'd switch to sweetened condensed milk. The fudge was always chocolate, but it ended up with different consistencies each year.

I've been in charge of making the fudge for Christmas since I was 11 or 12, and I think I've finally settled on a recipe I'm happy with.

Although this fudge primarily consists of semisweet chocolate, there are a few ounces of bittersweet chocolate mixed in, which gives the fudge a nice depth. Add walnuts or pecans as desired to give it a little crunch. Or top it with crushed candy canes (when you pull it out of the oven so they don't melt!) to give it that extra holiday feel.

Cut it into small pieces. Because you'll want to eat several. And you will eat several, whether they're large or small.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Day Two: Dad's Famous Toffee

Dad's Famous Toffee wasn't made by my dad, but it was made by A dad. My grandpa to be exact. Every year, he'd clear off the kitchen counter and cook tray after tray of toffee. I remember my grandma doing most of the cooking, so it was always a treat to have something grandpa made.

Christmas Eve at Grandpa and Grandma Tobin's was always a highlight of my year. The house would be overflowing with people (my grandparents had seven children!). After a bit, we'd hear sleigh bells and footsteps, and Santa would make his way downstairs with presents for all the kids. When Santa left, we'd break open the Christmas pinata my relatives from Arizona sent, and we'd scramble for the candy inside. We'd sing Christmas carols around the piano.

Dad's famous toffee was always out on the table. Toffee wasn't my go-to dessert as a kid, but I've grown to love it as an adult, particularly this version I've doctored up with a little chocolate.

If you're looking for an easy Christmas gift to share with your friends or co-workers, this toffee will definitely do the trick. And if you're carrying around any extra holiday stress, whacking the bottom of the pan repeatedly will help relieve it.