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Last-Minute Edible Gift Ideas via [huffingtonpost]

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From our friends at Food52.com, whose weekly recipe contests we’ve been featuring on HuffPost Food, comes this clever collection of recipes that can be whipped up in the waning days of Holiday gift-giving.

Salted Pumpkin Caramels

By cheese1227

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

Cheese1227’s caramels really evoke the essence of fall, and her approach is elegant not heavy-handed. The earthiness of pumpkin, softened with cream, permeates each chewy bite, followed by a whisper of spice, and the delicate crunch of fleur de sel is a clever detail, offsetting the sweetness of the candy. The toasted pepitas are addictive even on their own (make sure to save some for the bottom of the baking dish!); they give each of the finished caramels a beautifully lacquered, dusty green cap. – A&M

I recently made the fetching brown butter pumpkin layer cake featured on the cover of the latest issue of Fine Cooking. That batter just cried out to be sampled. It tasted as I imagined pumpkin caramels would. Seeing as serving raw cake batter is frowned upon these days, I had to come up with a safer alternative to this wonderful taste profile. – cheese1227

Makes 64, 1-inch caramels
  • 2/3 cup unsalted pepitos
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup good maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in chunks
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
  1. Dry toast the pepitos in a skillet until they start to pop.
  2. Line the bottom and the sides of an 8-in square glass pan with parchment. Butter the parchment on the sides of the pan. Evenly spread out the toasted pepitos on the bottom of the pan, on top of the parchment.
  3. In a saucepan, combine heavy cream, pumpkin puree and spices. Get this mixture quite warm, but not boiling. Set aside.
  4. In a second heavy bottomed pan, with sides at least 4 inches high, combine the sugar, both syrups and water. Stir until the sugars are melted, Then let it boil until it reaches 244 degrees (the soft ball point on a candy thermometer). Then very carefully add the cream and pumpkin mixture, and slowly bring this mixture to 240 degrees as registered on a on a candy thermometer. This can take awhile — like 30 minutes — but don’t leave the kitchen, watch it carefully and stir it more frequently once it hits 230 degrees to keep it from burning at the bottom of the pan.
  5. As soon as it reaches the 240, pull it off the heat and stir in the butter and lemon juice. Stir vigorously so that butter is fully incorporated.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let cool 30 minutes and sprinkle the salt over the top. Let the caramels fully set (at least 2 hours) before using a hot knife to cut them into 1-inch squares and wrapping them individually in waxed paper.

Secret Cookies

By Veronica, posted about 1 year ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

This recipe has truly been kept a “Secret” for 30 years but now is the time to release it. It was given to me by an elderly lady who had been given it by an even more elderly Swedish lady. The proviso: “After I’m ‘gone’, you may give out the recipe.” The same proviso was given to me…so, here it is. Be sure to use salted butter!

Makes About 80 cookies
  • 3/4 pounds salted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • Red, green or multi-colored sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Add the yolks and vanilla, mixing well. Add the flour and combine thoroughly.
  2. Use mounded teaspoonfuls and make balls of dough with your hands. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, then flatten the dough with the bottom of a patterned glass dipped in colored sugar (don’t mix the red and green!).
  3. Bake for about 10 minutes (watch carefully as they burn easily), until the cookies are lightly golden just around the edges. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a minute or two and then gently transfer to baking racks to cool — they’re fragile.

Cocoa Pear Crisps

By Rivka

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

These pear crisps aren’t the most obvious “Open House Dish,” until you taste them, and then all becomes clear: you don’t want to be eating big baked dishes at an open house. You want somewhat light, intensely flavored food that can be eaten out of hand. The flavor of these delicous pears, which are seasoned with cocoa and spices, concentrates as they bake, and you end up with a chip that’s warped and brown, like a fossilized pear. Don’t bake them too long — you want crisp edges and slightly chewy centers. Then pile them into a bowl, and make sure you tell your guests they’re edible! They’ll love you forever. – A&M

I developed these pear chips for an iron chef competition a couple years back. The secret ingredient was cocoa, my fridge was near-empty save for a couple of pears, and I had an hour. I used galangal, which is a bit spicy like ginger, but also delightfully fruity. The result was unexpectedly delicious, the perfect thing to have out on a table during an open house. – Rivka

Makes about 60 crisps
  • 3 very firm pears
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons powdered galangal, optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (if not using galangal, increase this to 1 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  1. Preheat oven to 275°F. Halve each pear and use a melon baller to scoop out the core (including the stem).
  2. Set a mandoline to the 1/8-inch setting, and slice each pear half into about 10 very thin slices. Occasionally, the 1/8-inch setting will cause the pears to mush or crumble. In this case, the 1/4-inch setting will work, though the crisps will need an extra 15 minutes or so in the oven.
  3. Mix sugar and spices in small bowl. Place pear slices on rack set over baking sheet. Alternatively, place slices on silpat-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with spiced sugar. Bake until almost dry, about 1 hour, turning the slices over and the sheets around half way through to ensure even baking. Cool on rack or sheet. Store airtight up to 2 days.

Gin Fruit

By amanda

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Most years, in early December, my mother starts making a jar of gin fruit for the holidays. Her recipe is mindlessly simple — layer your favorite dried fruits with some spices, cover with booze. Then all there is to do is wait a week. I think it’s ok to sneak a few tastes before then, don’t you? My mother pointed out that you may need to replenish the gin after a day or two, as the fruit soaks up the alcohol. And the fruit is best consumed within a few weeks, before the fruit’s sugars begin turning the booze to syrup. I’d suggest passing it alongside a cheese course, spooning it over ice cream or cake (with some of the macerating liquid!), or adding it toward the end of cooking roast pork.

Serves about 1 quart
  • 1 cup dried figs
  • 1 cup plump prunes
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 teaspoons raw sugar
  • 8 cloves
  • 8 long strips clementine peel
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • About 375 ml gin
  1. In a large bowl, combine the dried fruit.
  2. To a lidded 1-quart glass jar, add 1/4 of the fruit. Add 1/4 of the sugar, cloves and clementine peel. Repeat 3 more times. Push the cinnamon stick into the center of the fruit. Pour over enough gin to just cover the fruit. Seal the jar with a lid. Let sit for a week before eating, replenishing the gin as needed.

Chocolate Swirl Cinnamon Marshmallows

By notlazy.rustic.

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

If you’ve never made marshmallows you should try these — we had a ball with this recipe! You pour hot sugar syrup into gelatin and then let the mixer work its magic, whipping up the marshmallow until it fluffs and gets bouncy. Once the marshmallow is shaped and set, you snip it into whatever size or shape marshmallows you want. For a child’s treat, notlazy.rustic.’s marshmallows have an adult touch — they’re scented with chocolate and cinnamon, and not too much of either. You’ll probably eat all of them plain, but you might also try dropping a few into hot chocolate. – A&M

I fell in love with making homemade marshmallows a couple years ago. It took only one batch to realize how easy they are to make and that most people are very surprised to learn marshmallows can be made at home (one of many reasons I like giving them as gifts). After finding a no-fail recipe in Gourmet, I’ve felt much more comfortable tweaking elements to create my own. These are perfect for the winter – a vanilla-infused marshmallow that’s been swirled with chocolate and sealed in a cinnamon-cocoa powder coat. For the chocolate, I like to go dark (here, I used a bar with 75% cacao to offset the sweetness of the rest of the square). – notlazy.rustic.

Serves 1 9×9 square

chocolate swirl marshmallow:

  • 2.5 ounces dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • 3 packets (.25 ounces each) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 large pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

cocoa powder-cinnamon coating:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Lightly grease a 9×9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray or oil; set aside.
  2. In mini food processor, chop chocolate 45 seconds, or until the chocolate is the size of tiny pebbles; you could also use a knife or spice grinder for this. Set aside.
  3. Place 1/2 cup water in bowl of electric mixer; sprinkle gelatin over water, distributing well. Let stand while you prepare the syrup.
  4. In medium saucepot, combine remaining water, sugar, corn syrup and salt; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to medium; bring to a boil without stirring. Add candy thermometer; cook, without stirring, but brushing down sides with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until the mixture registers 240˚F (soft-ball stage). Let sit 1 minute.
  5. Turn electric mixer on, on low speed. Carefully pour hot sugar mixture in a stream into mixer bowl; once the mixture is incorporated, gradually increase speed to high. Beat 12-14 minutes, or until mixture is opaque and very thick. Turn mixer off. Add vanilla extract; beat 30 seconds. Add chopped chocolate and beat 15-20 seconds more, or until just melted and swirled through, but not completely combined.
  6. Immediately transfer marshmallow to the greased pan (use a greased spatula to transfer any that sticks to the bowl). Lightly wet your hands and smooth top of marshmallow. Set aside, uncovered, until firm (about 2 hours).
  7. Meanwhile, in bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder and ground cinnamon.
  8. Using scissors dipped in confectioners’ sugar mixture, cut marshmallow into squares, tossing in powder and dusting off excess as you go. (They will be incredibly sticky, but as soon as you toss them in the sugar-cocoa powder mixture, they will be easy to package.) Package in an airtight box or plastic gift bag that is tied very well.

Oaxacan Cinnamon Chocolate Macaroons

By robinbeth, posted 9 months ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

If Laduree had a location in Mexico, this would be their signature treat. Perfectly crisp and airy, with just the right amount of lift, robinbeth’s macaroons are gently spiced with cinnamon and tinted the lightest shade of brown with just a touch of cocoa powder. The rich, sweet ganache, made of melted Mexican chocolate, butter and a dash of cream, echoes the spice of the cookies and the sugar crystals crunch pleasantly between your teeth. Intimidated by French-style macarons? This is the perfect recipe for your first attempt. – A&M

In the Mexican city of Oaxaca, almonds are ground into a rough paste with cacao, cinnamon, and sugar and hardened into thin fingers of chocolate. The distinctive mixture is used in the city’s famous mole sauces and melted into rich hot chocolate which the Oaxacans drink more regularly than coffee. The warm, spicy smell of toasted cacao, cinnamon and almonds fills the city, as crowded storefront grinders are endlessly turning and the mercado stalls are crowded with vendors selling secret family recipes. The Oaxacan trio of cinnamon, chocolate, and almonds is so lovely, that I was inspired to make macaroons with the same flavors. Put on a Lila Downs album, and enjoy these delicious cookies with a cup of Oaxacan hot chocolate or a glass of Mezcal, the region’s smoky alcohol made from roasted agave hearts.

Serves 40 1.5 inch cookies or 20 sandwiches

Macaroon Ingredients:

  • 100 grams egg whites (about 3 eggs, left at room temperature for 24 hours)
  • 50 grams granulated sugar
  • 125 grams almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill, made from ground blanched almonds)
  • 175 grams confectioners sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoons cocoa powder or raw cacao
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch cream of tartar

Ganache Ingredients:

  • 150 grams Mexican chocolate (can be found in most supermarkets, gourmet shops, or ordered online)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Measure egg whites and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours in a covered bowl. Aging the whites helps them thin and will create a better textured macaroon.
  2. Line two cookie pans with parchment paper and trace 1.5 inch circles on the paper, keeping the circles about one inch apart. Preheat your oven to 300 F.
  3. Pulse the almond flour, confectioners sugar, cinnamon and cocoa in a food processor until it is a finely mixed powder. Sift into a large bowl.
  4. Put egg whites in stainless steel bowl and beat on low with a hand mixer until frothy. Add salt and cream of tartar, and slowly mix in the granulated sugar. Once the sugar is all incorporated, increase mixer speed to medium and beat until meringue forms stiff peaks. The meringue should look glossy and remain in place when the bowl is tipped on its side.
  5. Using a silicone spatula, fold the almond and sugar mixture into the egg whites one-third at a time. You do not have to be gentle, instead use brisk strokes to fold the mixture together completely, this will help reduce the air in the meringue and keep the macaroons from being too puffy.
  6. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag or a ziplock. If using a ziplock, cut off a 1/4 inch tip from the corner. Pipe the mixture in a spiral to fill each 1.5 inch circle on the parchment paper. Allow the unbaked cookies to sit out for 30 minutes, until the cookies have a matte texture and are no longer sticky.
  7. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool and then peel very gently off the parchment paper.
  8. Make ganache while the cookies cool. Melt chocolate in double boiler. Whisk in heavy cream and butter and stir mixture over gently boiling water until it is smooth and shiny.
  9. When the cookies and filling are cool, spread or pipe the ganache on the flat side of one macaroon and create a sandwich with a second one.
  10. Eat.

White Chocolate Snowflakes

By merrill, posted 11 months ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

When I was young, my mother made lots of different kinds of cookies in the weeks leading up to Christmas. These “snowflakes” (which technically aren’t really cookies, but no matter) were among my favorites because they were simple enough that my sister and I could actually help my mother make them. We often filled tins with these to take to our teachers before school let out for Christmas vacation. I’ve never been a huge fan of the bland sweetness of white chocolate, but when it’s combined with something salty — like pretzels, or the salted peanuts in these snowflakes — I can be swayed. Really, these snowflakes are just Rice Krispies treats for grownups. Of course, if you don’t like white chocolate, or Rice Krispies, you can experiment with milk or dark chocolate or use different types of cereal (I think Cheerios would be pretty good). Best of all, the snowflakes take all of 15 minutes to make, leaving you with plenty of time to write cards or wrap presents or do whatever else you don’t have enough time to do.

Makes about 40 snowflakes
  • 1 pound white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1 cup salted roasted peanuts
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Stir in the Rice Krispies and the peanuts, coating the dry ingredients evenly in the chocolate.
  2. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of the mixture in little mounds onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment (no need to space them apart too much as you won’t be baking them, so they won’t spread). Refrigerate uncovered until the chocolate hardens, at least 30 minutes, before eating. Once they’ve hardened, store the snowflakes in the refrigerator in a sealed container so the chocolate doesn’t melt.

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Chewy Sugar Cookies #2

By mrslarkin, posted 8 months ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

Mrslarkin’s classic sugar cookie makes use of three sugars: granulated, light brown and turbinado. The granulated gives the cookie a foundation of sweetness, the light brown adds caramel notes and the turbinado’s in there for a little snap. They’re crisp and buttery on the edges and chewy through the center. Perfect for dunking and ice cream sandwiches, we think! Note, if baking them on a dark, non-stick baking sheet, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees (this is a good general rule for all baking). – A&M

One of the things I like best about this sugar cookie is that it’s not tooth-achingly sweet. It’s got a nice proportion of crunch-to-chew. And it’s so sparkly from the turbinado sugar! The inspiration behind this cookie came from the New York Times’ chocolate chip cookie recipe, printed March 1, 2000, one of the best chewy cookies I’ve ever tasted. – mrslarkin

Serves about 2 dozen
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (I use King Arthur)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup turbinado, or course sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 large sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. Cream butter and sugars for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl. Continue beating for another minute. Scrape bowl again.
  3. Add vanilla. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.
  4. Add egg. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.
  5. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Beat 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl and beat for another minute.
  6. Place course sugar in small, shallow bowl. Using a small cookie/ice cream scoop (mine is 1 ½“ in diameter), scoop balls of dough and drop a few at a time in the course sugar and gently roll around. Place balls of dough on parchment, leaving about 1 ½“ space around each. My pans fit 12 cookies very comfortably.
  7. Do not press the balls down. This will ensure a chewy middle.
  8. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, turning and reversing pans midway through baking. Resist the urge to bake your cookies longer, or they won’t be chewy. The tops don’t get much color, but the bottoms will be nicely golden.
  9. Place pans on cooling racks. When cool, store cookies in air-tight containers.

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Figgy Pudding Butter Cookies

By Helenthenanny, posted about 1 year ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

Like mince pies in cookie form, these delicate biscuits melt in your mouth, leaving a hit of sweet figs and a whisper of brandy on your tongue. Helenthenanny’s rich, sophisticated cookies are not only delicious to eat but also lovely to look at, drizzled as they are with a spiced brandy glaze. Make sure to squeeze as much liquid as possible from the softened figs, and do not be alarmed if the dough seems wet before you chill it — it will firm up in the fridge. – A&M

My little invention smells and tastes just like the holidays! I got this idea from the traditional ingredients in figgy pudding. These little butter cookies are studded with chunks of soft fig, orange zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg, AND they get a generous drizzle of brandy-sugar glaze. The aroma from making these delicious cookies fills your house with holiday cheer, and the buttery goodness will fill your belly too!

Serves 3 dozen small cookies

For the Cookies:

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (from one orange)
  • 8-10 large dried Turkish or Caliymirna Figs (the light brown ones)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cups (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups Confectioners sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the Brandy-Sugar Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cup Confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  1. Sift together flour, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl and set it aside.
  2. Dice figs into small chunks and put them in a saucepan with the milk. Heat on low, stirring occasionally for about 15.
  3. Put 1 1/2 sicks of softened butter in the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on med-high until the butter is fluffy, about two minutes.
  4. Sift 3/4 cup of confectioners sugar into the fluffy butter and mix until smooth.
  5. Add in one egg and reduce speed to low.
  6. Add in flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  7. Strain the figs from the milk. Add them, along with the orange zest, to the dough. Fold in until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  8. After the dough has cooled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet, spaced one inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
  9. While the cookies are baking, combine all the ingredients for the Brandy-Sugar Glaze in a saucepan on med-low heat, and stir often, until the sauce comes together. After the cookies have cooled, use a fork to drizzle the warm glaze on them.
  10. Please enjoy and have the happiest of holidays!

Mom’s Flapjacks

By Londonfoodieny

Photo: Melanie.Einzig

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

Probably not the sort of flapjacks you have in mind, these are what all granola bars aspire to be. Chewy, crispy and rich with butter, these oatmeal squares (or wedges, like ours) are made with golden syrup (the British answer to maple syrup, only milder), rolled oats, and a variety of seeds (pumpkin, sesame and sunflower). Londonfoodieny’s flapjacks couldn’t be easier to throw together (melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup, stir in the dry ingredients, spread in a pan and bake), but the rewards are great. Because of all the butter and sugar, the edges of the flapjacks crisp to a lovely golden brown, and if you cook them properly, the centers remain slightly chewy. We used a non-stick pan — otherwise, make sure to use parchment, or you’ll be scraping out the hardened sugar for days. – A&M

Serves 9-20 depending on greediness
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • heaped 1/3 cups golden syrup
  • 4 1/4 cups 1 minute oats
  • 1 heaping tablespoon flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 handfuls pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • scant 1/4 cups sesame seeds
  1. Heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. If you have a fan or convection oven reduce the temperature and cooking time but ideally turn the fan off. Line a 20 x 30 cm baking tin with greaseproof paper (parchment paper)
  2. In a large pan, heat together the butter, sugar and golden syrup over a gentle heat, stirring until the butter has melted. Tip in the flour, oats, salt and seeds and stir to combine.
  3. Tip your pan and spread evenly without pressing down too hard. Bake in the oven for roughly 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden (they will be slightly darker at the edges). Cut them, whilst still in the pan, straight from the oven and then leave to cool and set in the pan.

Ruggelach

By deensiebat, posted about 1 year ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

If you’ve ever made pizza, you can make rugelach, because all rugelach is, really, is dough rolled into a circle and spread with toppings. Pizza gets baked at this point whereas rugelach gets sliced and rolled into croissant-like shaped before going into the oven. Deensiebat’s rugelach is a cinch because you can make the soft, pliant dough in a food processor, then it’s just a matter of rolling it out, spreading it with apricot jam, walnuts and cinnamon sugar, and forming slices into crescents. The rugelach comes out tender and not too sweet, and while baking, some of the apricot juices seep out and caramelize on the parchment paper, giving the finished rugelach a candied edge. – A&M

Came from my New-York-born-but-Yiddish-inflected grandma, which I adapted.

Serves 64 small cookies

Dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 pound cold butter, cut in Tbsp-sized cubes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling:

  • 1 1/3 cup apricot jam
  • 1 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon-sugar (1/4 cup sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon)
  1. In a bowl or a food processor, mix together the flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add the butter, and pulse in the food processor or cut with a pastry cutter (or two knives) until it is reduced to bits that are about half the size of a pea. If using a food processor, dump the contents into a bowl at this point. Stir the vanilla into the sour cream. Using a spoon, and then your hands when needed, knead the sour cream and vanilla into the flour mixture until it is well incorporated, and the dough holds together when you squeeze it. Stop as soon as this is possible — do not over-mix. Shape the dough into four chubby disks, cover with plastic and allow to relax in the refrigerator for at least one hour (overnight is fine too).
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Take a disk of dough out of the refrigerator, and place on a floured countertop or pastry mat. Roll out to a 12″ circle, trimming off the ends if needed. This dough is much softer than a traditional pastry crust, so you shouldn’t need to let it warm up before rolling. Spread 1/3 cup apricot jam over the round of dough, and sprinkle with 1/3 cup nuts and 1 Tbsp cinnamon-sugar. Taking a chef’s knife or pizza cutter, divide the dough evenly into 16 wedges. Starting from the wide base of each wedge, roll towards the center to form a crescent. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone liner, making sure that the tip of the crescent is pinned underneath to prevent the cookie from unrolling. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust is just beginning to color, about 30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool, being careful of the hot jam. Best enjoyed the day they are made (any leftovers are best kept in the freezer).

Tipsy Maple Corn

By thirschfeld

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

We were initially seduced by “tipsy” in the title, but once we tried thirschfeld’s recipe, we fell in love with much more than the Jack-Daniels-infused syrup. There are the peanuts (we used dry roasted) and the tiny dots of pancetta — neither of which stoops to merely accessorizing the corn. The nuts give the treat heft, the pancetta salt and richness. The most important step is the oven-crisping. Be careful not to burn the edges and don’t worry if the popcorn isn’t totally crisp when you take it out of the oven — it will continue to firm up as it cools. We loved this as a Halloween treat, but it would be just as delicious paired with a good movie. – A&M

Cracker Jacks were invented to be served at the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago. Since then there have been about as many variations as boxes sold. Not one to let that stop me I jumped right in and came up with my own version. The pancetta is key for the right salty sweet combo so make sure you add all of it. And do you see what we have to deal with around here during our photo shoots. The drive by grab and go while I am looking through the view finder. – thirschfeld

Makes 2 quarts
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons bacon grease, or non flavored vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/3 cup Jack Daniels
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup peanuts
  • 3 pieces pancetta, baked until crispy and minced
  1. Place the bacon grease in a 3 quart dutch oven with a lid. Add the kernels and place the covered pot over high heat. Once the popping begins, gently shake the pot to keep the kernels from burning. Once it is done remove the lid and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another small pot add the Jack Daniels and heat it to burn off the alcohol and reduce it by half. Add the syrup and butter and heat until the butter is melted. Season with fresh ground pepper to taste.
  3. Place the popcorn, peanuts and the pancetta into a large mixing bowl. You want to sprinkle a little of the syrup over the corn a little at a time. You want to stir as you do this. Take your time otherwise the corn will saturate with syrup and collapse and just be gooey.
  4. Once it is coated put it on a sheet tray and spread it out. Then place it in the oven and back in for 20 to 40 minutes. Sometimes it takes longer to crisp that others so just check it and stir it around about every ten minutes.

Candied Ginger Sables

By food52

Photo: food52

This recipe was a finalist in one of our test rounds. The category was for “Favorite Holiday Cookie” and the recipe was created by our friend Teresa Parker. These rich little biscuits make for a festive twist on the classic French rendition of shortbread (sablé means “sandy” in French and refers to the crumbly texture). Brown sugar lends a mellow caramel quality, and we love the chewy morsels of candied ginger that creep up on you with a fiesty little kick towards the end of each bite. Teresa thought to simplify — and modernize — the original recipe for cut-out cookies, which came from Gourmet (June, 1992), by shaping the dough into a log and slicing it into neat discs. It may seem like a minor alteration, but it dramatically decreases the time from mixer to mouth!

Makes about 60 cookies
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups finely chopped candied ginger
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  1. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the ground ginger and salt. Add these to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until the ingredients are just combined. Add the candied ginger and beat for a few more seconds to incorporate.
  2. Divide the dough in half and gently roll into two slim cylinders of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the cylinders tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F. At this point, if the cylinders have slumped or flattened at all, re-roll them a bit to make them perfectly round. Cut the dough into 1/4-inch slices and arrange them an inch apart on baking sheets (use parchment paper if your baking sheets are dark). Bake the cookies until they are light golden around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets and then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar.

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Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries

By TheRunawaySpoon, posted 23 days ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

These delicate, crumbly little thumbprints are the perfect combination of sweet and savory, as their names suggests — they’re like a great cheese plate all wrapped into one crunchy little morsel. TheRunawaySpoon’s simple food processor dough yields tender, buttery coins flecked with blue cheese and black pepper. A good quality fig jam is crucial here; if you can’t find it, quince or pear jam would also work well. – A&M

If you are like me, you always offer to bring something when invited to someone’s house. I mean the offer, I always love an opportunity to cook for people, but sometimes it’s hard to come up with a quick idea on the fly. And when it’s one of those roaming parties – not a seated affair – choosing a dish that doesn’t have to be kept hot or cold or require and special equipment adds to the challenge. I tend to fall back on the same recipes, but I recently wanted to add one to my repertoire – after all, it gets to be the same people at parties, right? These little Fig and Blue Cheese bites are easy but very elegant, and the surprising tart and tangy with sweet combination is a real treat. – TheRunawaySpoon

Makes about 3 dozen
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • Ground black pepper
  • Fig preserves, about 3 Tablespoons
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the flour, butter, blue cheese and a few grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball.
  3. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to pull the dough together. Roll out to 1/8 inch thick with a floured rolling pin. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter and transfer the rounds to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Using the back or a round half-teaspoon measure or your knuckle, make an indention in the top of each dough round. Spoon about ¼ teaspoon of fig preserves into each indention, using your finger to push the preserves as best as possible into the indentions.
  5. Bake the savories for 10 – 14 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom.
  6. Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, the remove to a wire rack to cool.
  7. You’ll find fig preserves at the grocery – it may be shelved with the “fancy” jams and jellies. You can make these a day ahead and keep them in two layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container.

Gingered Cranberry Fig Chutney

By Oui, Chef

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

This chutney is perfect for those looking for something zippy and less sweet than a typical cranberry sauce. It combines the elements of a great chutney (mustard seeds, spices, vinegar, sugar) with other carefully selected ingredients (among them cranberries, dried figs, fresh ginger, red pepper flakes, fresh thyme and toasted hazelnuts); the result is a sophisticated, jewel-toned “cranberry sauce” with just the right ratio of sour to sweet that’s just as well-suited to roast pork or beef as it is to Thanksgiving turkey. Be careful not to cook the chutney for too long — you want it luscious and thick, not sticky. – A&M

I’ve never been much of a fan of straight-up cranberry sauce, in fact, the jellied kind makes me want to gag. I much prefer a condiment like this, that is more than just cranberries and a lot of sugar. This chutney gets it’s sweetness not just from sugar, but from raisins, some OJ and dried black mission figs. The cider vinegar and lemon juice lend a sparkling acid note, and the ginger and red pepper flakes bring heat. I finished it with some chopped, toasted hazelnuts to add an earthy crunch, and some freshly minced thyme for a hint of herbal complexity. I love the way it turned out, I’ll definitely reserve a spot for it on my Thanksgiving table.

Serves 6-8
  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, skinless, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 8 dried black mission figs, cut into eighths
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely minced
  1. Add all the ingredients, with the exception of the chopped hazelnuts and fresh thyme, to a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to bring the mix to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occassionally, until the chutney thickens some. Remove from the heat, stir in the nuts and fresh thyme and let cool slightly before serving.

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Salted Almonds

By lauren, posted about 1 year ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

This is more a concept than a prototypical recipe — which is one of the reasons we like it so much. By adding a mere suspicion of sugar to her recipe for roasted salted almonds, Lauren has come up with an unusual variation on a traditional technique. Similar recipes usually call for no sugar at all, or for a larger amount of brown sugar, but this strikes a balance. The amount of sugar is just enough to soften the saltiness without actually making the nuts taste sweet. We couldn’t stop eating them, and we’re pretty sure you won’t be able to either. Try the same technique with peanuts, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts — whatever you have on hand. – A&M

Perfect at cocktail hour, along with a stiff drink

Serves 6 to 8
  • 1 pound whole almonds, shelled
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the almonds in the olive oil, salt, and sugar until well coated. Bake for ten minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Chocolate Bark

By wanderash, posted about 1 year ago

Photo: Sarah Shatz

Amanda & Merrill’s Notes:

Neither of us had ever made chocolate bark before we tried this recipe, and wanderash’s version happens to be a great introduction. Waves of smooth dark chocolate are spiced with smoky ancho, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper, and studded with dried cherries, cashews and pistachios. The finished product looks lovely, packs easily and takes a total of about 20 minutes to put together. We think it makes a great holiday gift. – A&M

This is a tasty treat to spice up your fiesta or light up a lucky recipients tired holiday palate. I often make this easy dessert when I have friends coming for dinner who love wine. I know that we will sit at the table well after the meal is over and continue talking and drinking for hours. I serve this on one plate and put it in the middle of the table. It is a casual dessert, so easy to make and great with a good cabernet. I first wrapped this up a few years ago while thinking of an edible present that would not be tossed aside amongst the mountains of Christmas sugar. With so many sweets out there this subtle spicy and salty chocolate makes a great gift. Use good chocolate when making this; it will make all of the difference. And of course feel free to substitute your favorite nuts and fruits.

Serves about 3 gifts
  • 1 large ancho chili
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 2″ cinnamon stick
  • 2/3 cups pistachio
  • 2/3 cups cashews, very lightly crushed
  • 12 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • kosher salt, or sea salt
  1. To make the spice mix, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place first 5 ingredients on a baking sheet and place in oven. Toast until fragrant or about 10 min.
  2. Remove steams and majority of seeds from the anchos. Place all spices in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and pulverize. You may need to grind spices in batches.
  3. Toast the nuts by placing them on the baking sheet and put in the oven. Check after 10 minutes. When done, remove from oven and let cool.
  4. Place ¾ of the chocolate in a bowl and slowly melt the chocolate, either in the microwave checking and stirring it every 25 seconds or over a double broiler on the stovetop.
  5. When all of the chocolate is melted, take it off of the heat and add in the remaining chocolate, stir until it is completely melted.
  6. Add one to two teaspoons of the spice mix. Add one at a time and taste; add more if you want it to be spicier. I like a subtle spice flavor, it keeps those eating it wondering what the secret spice could be.
  7. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Spread out the nuts and cherries, reserving a few of the nuts to decorate the top.
  8. Sprinkle salt over the nuts and cherries.
  9. Pour the chocolate onto the pan, covering the nuts and cherries in an even layer. Add remaining nuts to the top of chocolate and press them into the chocolate.
  10. Put in fridge and allow to cool for 45 min. Break into pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge.
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