Monday, December 16, 2013

On the ninth day of Christmas, my oven gave to me: Gingerbread

This is another dessert to pair with the citrus curd from earlier this month - lots of people like gingerbread with a cream cheese frosting, which is also delicious, but somehow the citrus curd seems just a little less "dessert-y" to me. So I have no qualms about eating this gingerbread for breakfast.

Gingerbread is one of those things that just sounds like Christmas - but it can be a little polarizing. This is the not-so-sweet version, with lots of complex flavor from three kinds of ginger and a bunch of molasses.

I use this basic Old Fashioned Gingerbread recipe - but add a teaspoon of fresh ginger and about 1/4 cup minced, crystallized ginger and split it between 3 mini loaf pans. I package it up with a little jar of citrus curd and give it out as gifts.

For an extra decadent treat, on Christmas Eve I like to serve this with roasted pears, salted butterscotch and a little ice cream. It's the perfect Christmas Eve dessert.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On the eighth day of Christmas, my oven gave to me: Peppermint marshmallows

Marshmallows seem like something you wouldn't even be able to make at home if you wanted to - that texture's got to be all chemical and fancy equipment, right? Well actually, marshmallows are super easy! They take a little time to set up, but otherwise you need a stand mixer and a pot and just a couple ingredients.

I use Alton Brown's homemade marshmallow recipe as my base. For a 9x13 pan, I actually double the recipe so I can have big, fluffy marshmallows. I like them to be big enough that I just want 1 marshmallow per peppermint schnapps-spiked cup of hot cocoa.

Put down a good layer of cornstarch and powdered sugar in your pan, then heat your sugar syrup and get the gelatin ready in the stand mixer, adding 1-2 teaspoons of peppermint extract to the gelatin (1 teaspoon if you don't want it to be too strong, definitely do 2 if you're doing a double batch).

Once you've drizzled in the gelatin and it's gotten big and fluffy and marshmallow-y, drizzle some red food coloring over the top and fold it in. If you'd rather them be a uniform color instead of marbled, add the food coloring with the gelatin or while the mixture is whipping.

Let sit at least 4 hours, but ideally overnight. As I cut them, I toss them into a big bowl with cornstarch and powdered sugar. It takes a surprising amount of both to keep them from sitting.

Store these in an airtight container and they will last at least until Christmas, probably into January. I've never actually had them mold or anything, but they start to shrivel up after a while.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On the seventh day of Christmas, my oven gave to me: Gingerbread whoopie pies

I got a whoopie pie pan for our wedding last year, and I have so much fun busting it out to make little sandwich cookies. Chocolate with peanut butter in the middle is a favorite at our house, but of course, for Christmas we needed something special.

There's a really fabulous restaurant near my house, tucked into a strip mall, called Pomegranate. Their food is fantastic (the owner is a well known caterer in Seattle), but what I really go for are these molasses cookies with lemon-cream cheese filling from the take-away bakery. So these little whoopie pies are a nod to that treat.

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies with Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes about 5 dozen

1 C butter, room temperature, divided
3/4 C brown sugar
1 large egg
3 3/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C molasses
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 C plain, reduced fat yogurt
1/4 C fat free or 2% milk
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 t lemon zest
3 C powdered sugar
1-2 T milk, optional

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in egg.

Stir in 1 1/2 C flour just until combined, then mix in molasses. Stir in another 1 1/4 C flour, then mix in yogurt and milk. Add remaining 1 C flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and mix just until combined.

Bake in a whoopie pie pan for 8-10 minutes; cool on a wire rack.

To make filling, cream butter, cream cheese, vanilla and lemon until completely combined. Mix in powdered sugar, 1/2 C at a time; add a little milk if it's too thick.

Spread frosting onto flat sides of half of the whoopie pies, and sandwich with remaining unfrosted cookies.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On the sixth day of Christmas, my oven gave to me: Shortbread with citrus curd

I didn't think I was particularly into sandwich cookies, but two days in a row must mean something.

Anyway, this cookie comes from London - well, not really, but it's inspired by the trip we took to London this fall. We saw shortbread sandwiched with lemon curd at tons of specialty bakeries, and since shortbread and lemon curd are two of my favorite things anyway, this had my name all over it.

You can use whatever shortbread recipe you like here, or even buy shortbread. I use Ina Garten's recipe, but I cut out the cookies with a 2-inch round cutter.

Generally, I also dot the cookies with the tines of a fork and sprinkle on some sugar, but I was a little flustered this time and forgot.

It's super important that you let these chill before baking. I let them chill overnight, then rolled and cut them, then chilled them again before baking and still had more spreading than I would have liked. You also want to make sure to get the butter very evenly mixed or you can get some spots where extra butter melts all over and burns.

Using the small cutters will reduce your cooking time quite a bit - start checking around 15 minutes. You don't really want any color on these.

The thing that makes these Christmasy, to me at least, is to let them cool completely then fill with the citrus curd we made last week and sandwich the cookies together. Because these have citrus curd in them, you'll want to keep them in the fridge for a week or so or freeze.

Are you getting a start on your holiday baking? Have you made any of these yet? I've set out a couple cookie platters already this year, and I'm loving how nicely everything goes together.

Monday, December 9, 2013

On the fifth day of Christmas, my oven gave to me: Citrus Curd

I love lemon curd - so bright and sweet and tart. Mixing it up a little with some of the seasonal citrus overflowing in the grocery store makes for a more interesting version of this classic.

During December, I sandwich this between shortbread cookies (recipe on it's way), and give away little pots with mini loaves of gingerbread. The rest of the year, it's perfect on scones or toast or just with a spoon!

I use Ina Garten's recipe as my base. You can use whatever lemon curd recipe you like, but the method of creaming the butters, sugars and zest gives you a very smooth curd and helps keep the eggs from scrambling - no straining needed with this recipe.

Zest a grapefruit, an orange and a lemon in place of the three lemons called for in the recipe. I use lemon juice, then augment with the orange or grapefruit as needed to get to half a cup of juice.

This is a good place for a candy thermometer, but if you don't have one, you want to stir until the mixture comes together - it will start out dark yellow on the bottom with a lighter color on top - and until it's thick enough that you can run your finger across a spoon coated in it and the line will stay.

This makes enough for one big jar and three little jars - three to give away, plus much more than I need to make my shortbread sandwiches.