Apple Cinnamon Caramel, Goat Cheese, and a Cocktail

Every so often, my friend Tenaya and I get together and build a cheese board. She brings the cheeses and I come bearing preserves and other treats. A few weeks ago, we had a little mid-afternoon party for two in which we paired a log of downy goat cheese with apple cinnamon caramel, cranberry caramel, and crunchy caramel popcorn.

The cranberry caramel is essentially a version of this strawberry caramel I made for Simple Bites many moons ago (8 ounces of cranberries cooked with 1 1/2 cups of water, and then pureed until very smooth). The only change I made was to cook the caramelizing sugar to 285F rather than 250F (for a deeper caramel flavor).

I made a batch of this oven toasted caramel corn to go along with the cheese and preserves. In our minds, this array would be a fun spread for New Year’s Eve, and that’s the perfect night for a sweet, crunchy treat.

Tenaya and her brother Andre have had two cocktail-centric books come out this year (The New Cocktail Hour and Turner Classic Movies: Movie Night Menus) and so she whirred up a creamy, nutmeg flecked cocktail. Make sure to check out Tenaya’s post about our board.

However you celebrate the arrival of the New Year, I hope it’s a very happy turn of the year!

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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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Links: Linzer Cookies, Dorie’s Jammers, and Winners

This weekend was all about finishing up gift shopping, making a bit of candy for sharing, and finally getting the tree decorated (it’s been up for about a week, and just had a few lonely ornaments hanging about for all that time). I fly away to Austin on Tuesday for some merry making with my family. Now, links!

Time for some winners! You’ll find the EcoJarz winners in the widget below. The winner of Wusthof giveaway I hosted a couple weeks ago is #98/Louise.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Gift Guide 2016: Stocking Stuffers

We’re in the final stretch before Christmas and the start of Hanukkah. Thus far in my series of short gift guides, I’ve featured a couple upgrades for the canner who has it all, things I give to my favorite coffee lovers, and lovely things for your favorite home cook. In this, the final gift guide, we’re talking stocking stuffers. These are all relatively small, useful, affordable items that I reach for all the time.

1. AnySharp Pro – This is a small, powerful knife blade sharpener that suctions to your countertop and makes quick work of your knives and scissors. It doesn’t entirely replace occasionally professional sharpening, but it’s a huge help on busy cooking days.

2. Cuppow – The classic Cuppow is perfect for any jar lover looking to expand the utility of their jar stash. Pair one with a skinny glass straw for a waste-free way to drink more water.

3. GIR Wine Stoppers – These low-profile silicone wine stoppers make a leak-proof seal on all manner of bottles and look good doing it.

4. GIR Scraper – The best tool for easing sticky bread doughs and batters out of mixing bowls. I use mine nearly every time I bake.

5. The Ringer – Made from stainless steel chainmail, this scrubber is designed to remove tough bits of food from cast iron while leaving your seasoning intact.

6. Bürstenhaus Redecker Bottle Brush – I have used a lot of bottle brushes in my day, but this the best one ever. You can tell I use it a lot, because when I grabbed it for this picture, it hadn’t had time to dry between uses.

7. ThermoPop – The best little instant read thermometer money can buy.

8. Blossom Trivet – Good for canning and for protecting your surfaces from hot dishes.

9. Caramel Pot – Years ago, a PR firm sent me this little pot from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s cookware line. I use it all the time. It’s great for caramel sauces, but is also magical for homemade bechamel and cheese sauces.

10. Stuff Every Cook Should Know – Written by my friend and Local Mouthful co-host Joy Manning, this little book is packed with useful tips and information for home cooks of all skillsets.

And that wraps up my gift guide series for another year. May your holiday celebrations be joyous!

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Holiday Berry Jam for Gift Giving

This holiday berry jam combines frozen strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries with fresh cranberries. The result is a bright, flavorful jam that works beautifully for holiday gift bags and baskets.

Four jars of holiday berry jam.

No matter how much jam making I do during the summer season, I almost always find myself a little short on the desirable jams come gift giving time. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have mountains of preserves. But many of them were experimental batches that just don’t work for neighbors and Scott’s coworkers.

Fruit for holiday berry jam.

This year, instead of relying only on pears and apples to make up the shortfall, I headed for the freezer section at the grocery store. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to make giftable jam exclusively with frozen fruit, because I find it almost always ends up with a softer set and a slightly dull flavor.

Ingredients for holiday berry jam in a pot.

But last week, the solution came to me in a flash. Cranberries. Combine frozen berries with a small portion of cranberries and you get perfect jam every time. The cranberries provide both ample pectin and welcome acidity to ensure that the jam sets and tastes terrific. Holiday berry jam is born!

Finished holiday berry jam in the pot.

I made this jam with 24 ounces of raspberries, 12 ounces of strawberries, 12 ounces of blueberries, and 8 ounces of cranberries. You can easily change up the frozen fruit, but maintain the basic ratio of three pounds frozen berries to 8 ounces of cranberries.

Holiday berry jam in an open jar.

The yield on this sucker was just a little bit more than 6 cups. I canned it in four 12 ounce jelly jars because those were the easiest jars to put my hands on. You could also do six half pints or even a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars. Make it work for you.

Oh, and one last thing. If you have an Aldi near you, know that it’s an excellent spot to pick up your frozen fruit. Their prices are awesome and they often have organic options.

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