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Sour Cherry Thumbprints for Valentine’s Day

When I was a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day. Not for it’s romantic implications, but for the simple fact that it was an excuse to take a trip to the craft store for heart-shaped doilies, glitter, and card stock. I would spent weeks making pretty cards for my friends and classmates.

It’s been years since I did anything particularly crafty for Valentine’s Day, but earlier this morning, I started feeling the itch to make something in honor of the holiday.

A couple weeks ago, the folks from Foodstirs* sent me few of their baking and frosting mixes and they’ve been sitting next to my desk, waiting for me to feel inspired to bake.

And so in between wrapping my husband’s birthday presents (he was a Valentine’s baby!) and slicing the last of my Meyer lemons for the dehydrator, I made some cookies.

I have long been of the opinion that you can incorporate jam into nearly any cookie. Thin roll-outs? Turn them into jam sandwiches. Crumbly oatmeal cookie? Grab a baking dish and turn it into a jam-filled bar. And when you decide to make sugar cookies on a whim and have an open jar of sour cherry jam in the fridge? Turn ’em into thumbprints.

I used a tablespoon cookie scoop to portion out the dough and then used a wet fingertip to make them impressions (sometimes I use a melon baller for this task, but this dough was a little sticky for the task).

The tart jam is a tasty contrast to the sweet cookies and they look perfectly appropriate for the day.

*They offer baking kits featuring organic and non-GMO ingredients that can be ordered individually or you can subscribe to a monthly delivery. And for the Buffy fans among you, it also happens to be owned by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

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Jammy Oatmeal Pecan Bar Cookies

I’m at my sister’s house in Austin for the holiday. I’ve done a bunch of cooking and baking since I’ve been here and one of the break-out hits was this pan of oatmeal pecan bar cookies. The recipe is based on one that my friend and former intern Olivia turned me on to. It started life as a thumbprint and I’ve translated it to work as 13 x 9 inch bar.

These not-too-sweet cookies are a good afternoon snack and the presence of nuts and oatmeal makes them even feel appropriate for breakfast. We’ve slowly been chiseling away at the pan, taking a sliver or two when the mood strikes.

May your holidays be merry!

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Babka for Now, Sticky Buns for Later + OXO Glass Bakeware

Use this sweet, yeasted dough to make a batch of apricot walnut babka for now, and a batch of sticky buns that can be par-baked and popped into the freezer for another day. It’s perfect do-ahead baking for the upcoming holiday.

Back in November, I got an email from OXO looking for bloggers to participate in a campaign designed to feature their sturdy glass bakeware. The idea was to create something that could be made ahead, frozen, and then either baked off or reheated later. Their glassware is particularly good for these fridge or freezer to oven situations, because it’s made from sturdy resistant borosilicate glass.

They sent out a Glass 9″ Pie Plate, a Glass 1.6 Qt Loaf Baking Dish, one SteeL Pie Server, a nifty Double Pastry Wheel, and 1″ Pastry Brush. I spent a little time pondering what I might make that would fit the assignment, make good use of these tools, and would also allow for a liberal application of jam.

What I came up with was a single dough that allowed me to both have a relatively immediate treat, as well as one to freeze and finish baking on another day. I’m calling this concept babka for now, sticky buns for later. Because who wouldn’t want that?

I started by searching out recipes for a sweet, yeast-risen dough. After a bit of internet searching and book scanning, I found what I was looking for in Tammy Donroe Inman’s fabulous book Wintersweet (it’s a favorite of mine for holiday baking).

I made Tammy’s dough the day before I wanted to bake. After its first rise, I punched it down, tucked it into a glass storage container, and popped it into the fridge (a handy trick any time you need to make yeasted doughs work for your schedule). The next day, I divided it up into two balls and began to turn one into babka. I opted for a filling of apricot jam and toasted walnuts.

Once the dough was rolled out into a large rectangle (about 18 x 12 inches), I brushed it with melted butter, spread out a half pint of apricot jam, and sprinkled the whole things with those toasted and chopped walnuts.

As far as I can tell, the thing that makes a babka a babka is that it’s a slightly sweet, buttery, yeasted dought that’s filled, rolled, sliced and twisted. And so that’s what I did. Starting with the short side, I carefully rolled until I had a fat tube of filled dough. Then, taking a sharp knife, I cut the roll down the middle, taking care to leave the top inch (or so) intact.

After slicing the dough, I took a deep, steadying breath, firmly grasped the two ends and twisted them outward in opposite directions. There was some filling loss, but not enough to be particularly worrisome.

Once sliced and twisted, it was simply a matter of nestling the dough in the loaf pan and letting it rise in a warm place before baking.

While the babka took its time rising, I turned my attention to that second ball of dough. Much like the babka, it needed to be rolled out into a generous rectangle. I brushed the dough with melted butter. However, instead of applying jam, I dusted the dough with cinnamon and sugar (using OXO’s tea ball to ensure even distribution) and used the rest of the walnuts.

I rolled up the dough (starting with the long side, rather than the short one) and sliced it into rounds. I set them into the pie plate and let them rise (at this point, the babka was ready for the oven, since I actually ate dinner in between working with the two sets of dough).

When the babka was done (it should be around 200 degrees F inside when finished. If the exposed jam seems to be getting too done, perch a sheet of foil on top of the pan) and the sticky buns had risen, I popped that pan into the oven. However, instead of cooking them to completion like the babka, I only baked them for 12 minutes. This is just long enough to get a little color and set their shape. Once they are cool, pop the pan into a big ziptop bag and nestle it into the freezer.

The night before you want to eat your sticky buns (perhaps when the babka is all gone?), pull the pan out of the freezer and make room for it in the fridge so that they can defrost slowly. The next morning, heat the oven to 350 degrees and slide in your pan of sticky buns. They’ll only need a quick 15 minutes in the oven and they’ll be ready to eat.

Brush the finished sticky buns with a little melted butter to help them stay soft, and then drizzle them with a little glaze made from powdered sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and a dusting of cinnamon.

As we head into the frenzy of this week, wouldn’t it be nice to have a loaf of babka on the counter and a pan of sticky buns ready to go in the freezer?

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Salted Maple Walnut Granola

This salted maple walnut granola is perfect for gift giving and holiday brunch buffets. Pair it with a jar of homemade jam for your favorite people.

Every year, I try to make something to supplement the holiday gifts of jam that I give to my friends, family and neighbors. Sometimes I make shortbread cookies. Other times, I roll out cracker dough and use a wavy pie cutter to slice them into diamond shapes. Occasionally, I work up a giant batch of my dad’s pancake mix and package it in ziptop bags the way he always did when I was a kid.

This year, I made a giant batch of spiced and salted granola to pair up with the jams and fruit butters I’m sharing this year. Made with walnuts because I bought a giant bag at Costco (so many of my recipe development choices are spurred by what I happened to have in excess), it is nutty, crunchy, and perfect for topping bowls of yogurt and preserves.

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Kabocha Squash Quick Bread

finished-kabocha-squash-bread

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I went a little crazy buying squash. After two trips to farmers market and a dash through Reading Terminal Market, there were three small butternuts, two acorns, and a kabocha squash on my dining room table.

kabocha-squash

My sister is a master of squash-centric quick breads in my family and the kabocha squash seemed to cry out for that destiny. Rather than cast about the internet for a recipe, I used the bones of Raina’s regular approach to build my version. I made a few tweaks, including changing up the flours and sweetened my bread with coconut sugar (since writing Naturally Sweet, it’s a regular player in my kitchen).

squash-puree-in-measuring-cup

I also didn’t have quite enough squash to fill out the two cup measure and so topped it off with a few tablespoons of honey sweetened pear vanilla jam. It worked gorgeously and I highly recommend that approach any time you need just a bit more squash or applesauce for a baked good.

avocado-oil

The other change I made was to use avocado oil. I confess, this bottle of CalPure was recently sent to me for review, and while I don’t plan on offering a full-on review here, I will say that it’s a gorgeous oil. Thick, deeply green, and very rich, it went beautifully with the squash and made for an incredibly moist loaf.

greased-mini-loaf-pans

I divided the batter between four small vintage Pyrex loaf pans. I love these for quick breads because they give me one loaf to keep and three to share with friends and neighbors. Particularly this time of year, I like to have something around for spur of the moment gifting.

kabocha-squash-batter

A couple days ago, I mentioned that I’d started a FB group for this site. Lots of you have come over to join up and the conversations and connections that are happening are totally delightful. Please do check it out!

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Odds and Ends Banana Bread

brown-bananas

I think we can all agree that this has been the most divisive election cycles in recent memory. I don’t typically talk about politics here because my goal is always to foster a sense of community and connection that transcends party affiliations, religious convictions, and ideological differences. I firmly believe that creating spaces where diverse people can connect around shared interests is one of the ways that we can foster peace and hope in the world.

banana-bread-in-loaf-pan

But my candidate lost and her defeat has left me seeking solace in friends and homemade food. Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend, took a walk, and made a big pot of chicken soup for dinner that Scott and I ate in our pajamas while watching The Crown on Netflix.

sliced-banana-bread

Today, I made some banana bread. The goal here was to salvage three aging bananas, use up a bit of almond meal I had kicking around, and to fill the apartment with warmth and fragrance. May we burst our bubbles of isolation, break bread together, and remember that more unites us than divides us.

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