Category: dried fruit

And to all a good night!

Welp, today is Christmas Eve.

That came super quick, didn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, it’s here now. And on Christmas Eve I have a few family traditions: making the last of my Christmas Day treats (usually more fudge), pre-cooking whatever has to be done for Christmas Day (if anything), wrapping up any last minute gifts, and a eating a dinner made up of a variety of appetizers while drinking cocktails & watching A Christmas Carol; more specifically, the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim (the best version, in my humble opinion). Sometimes there’s a big, gigantic tin of assorted flavor popcorn thrown in there as well. That’s been the tradition in my house for as long as I can remember. When Jay came into the family, we had to work around his schedule as well as everyone else’s, which wasn’t really an issue until he became a cop. Then that kind of really threw a monkey wrench into things. And I don’t say that negatively; I say it meaning sometimes the Christmas Eve traditions end up being on Christmas Day, while the Christmas Day dinner ends up on Christmas Eve. Or sometimes, the big family Christmas dinner is pushed forward to the 26th or 27th. But that’s totally fine with me. I’m adaptable. I like having multiple celebrations, anyway… it’s fun to spread out the awesomeness for a few days!

(Pardon these photos… the lighting was poor & I was kind of rushing. I hope you get the gist of it, and can enjoy them anyway)

I had to make cupcakes for Christmas, that’s obvious. So I baked up those delicious Stollen-inspired cupcakes, courtesy of the Food Network magazine.

A Stollen is a fruit cake containing dried fruit and covered with sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar. The cake is usually made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices. Stollen is a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season, when called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen.

Stollen is a bread-like fruitcake made with yeast, water and flour, and usually with zest added to the dough. Candied orange peel and candied citrus peel (Zitronat),[1] raisins and almonds, and different spices such as cardamom and cinnamon are added. Other ingredients, such as milk, sugar, butter, salt, rum, eggs,[2] vanilla,[3] other dried fruits and nuts and marzipan may also be added to the Stollen dough. Except for the fruit added, the dough is quite low in sugar. The finished cake is sprinkled with icing sugar. The traditional weight of a Stollen is around 4.4 pounds (2 kg), but smaller sizes are now available.

The Dresden Stollen (originally Striezel), a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit, was first mentioned in an official document in 1474,[4] and the most famous Stollen is still the Dresdner Stollen,[5] sold, amongst other places, at the local Christmas market, Striezelmarkt. Dresden Stollen is produced in the city of Dresden and distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II the Strong. This “official” Stollen is produced by only 150 Dresden bakers.

-Wikipedia

So of course, these cupcakes aren’t genuine Stollen. They’re just inspired by it, and because I have this weird thing where my cupcakes have to have frosting, I added a vanilla whipped cream-ish frosting. I swear, making these cupcakes with no frosting almost killed me. I absolutely HAD to frost them! However, if you aren’t as opposed to frosting-less cupcakes, you can leave it at the confectioner’s sugar, or make a simple icing with heavy cream, rum & confectioner’s sugar to drizzle on top.

Also, that tablecloth in the photos was handmade by my mother when she was 10 years old. It’s red felt, with a little white fringed edge, and cut out green felt trees decorated with glitter, beads, sequins, & paillettes. That tablecloth plus my grandmother’s “spaghetti ware” Santas, the retro-y Meri Meri Merry & Bright Christmas cupcake kit I had & the stollen-inspired cupcakes (stollen always seems like an old fashioned dessert/bread to me), really made it feel like a vintage Christmas.

STOLLEN-INSPIRED CUPCAKES (adapted from the Food Network magazine, Dec. 2012)

Makes about 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of a mix of citron, dried currants, dried cranberries & raisins, or whatever you like (optional)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup marzipan, room temperature & softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted (for topping)
  • confectioner’s sugar (for dusting)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the softened butter with the marzipan and sugar until fluffy. Then beat in the 2 eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla & almond extract.
  3. Slowly beat in the flour mixture and 1/3 cup milk in alternating batches. Divide among 12 prepared muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full, and bake 20-25 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and set aside for five minutes. Brush with melted butter while still warm, but not hot, and dust with confectioner’s sugar. When 100% cooled, then frost.

WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING (adapted from The Food Pusher)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
  • 2 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream (regular or heavy, I used heavy)
  • pinch salt
  • 5 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

  1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl to soften.
  2. Scald 2 tablespoon of the cream; pour over gelatin, stirring till dissolved.
  3. Refrigerate until consistency of unbeaten egg white. (This takes about 10-15 minutes.) Then, with a whisk, beat until smooth.In a stand mixer with a whip attachment, or with a hand beater, whip remaining cream, salt and sugar; whip in the smoothed gelatin mixture, stopping to scrape the bowl twice.
  4. This recipe stands up well, even in warm weather. Keep leftover frosting and any product topped with it in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

I’ll avoid any overly sappy holiday messages… all I will say is that this Christmas we all have so much to be thankful for. After the Newtown, CT shooting I’m sure we all had a little wakeup call about that. I know all the parents that I know certainly did, and me too. I may not be a parent- but life is short, and you should appreciate what you have while you have it. You just never know what may come tomorrow. So be thankful for your family & friends & pets, tell them you love them every chance you get & don’t let fear get the best of you. I had to remind myself that after being in NYC during the 9/11 attacks- when it was time to get back on that train, it was kind of hard to do. Fear of what could happen should never take away from your life, or interfere with you living. And I know there are some parents who might feel a form of survivor’s guilt; why did their child live? How did they get to be so lucky when others were so terribly devastatingly ruined by this? I don’t know why or how, but I do know that you should just be thankful & not let that guilt or those questions take one minute of time away from you enjoying your family as much as possible. I don’t have the answers. And I don’t really have anything to say that can solve this, provide comfort, or take pain away from anyone. I do know that sweets make people happy. And when I make people happy, it gives me solace that my one little tiny act of baking a cake or pressing “publish”  can maybe help make someone smile in an otherwise shitty situation. So in that vein, I’m continuing to light up my little section of the web with deliciousness (& hopefully a few laughs). Food can sometimes give the comfort words themselves can’t.

I’ll leave it at that and I’ll just get right to the point…

Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night.

Cheery lil’ cherry Christmas muffins.

;

It never fails; every holiday season, I try to come up with different pretty little muffins and things that can go from breakfast to lunch to “snack time.” Whether it’s breads or loaf cakes or muffins or rolls, I like to have things on hand that can be grabbed at any time of day, whenever anyone pops in or decides they want one with a cup of coffee or tea… or a glass of milk. Because this is the time of year when people are always coming by, stopping in, etc. and you’ve gotta have something on hand to give these wandering wassailers, whether they’re coming morning, noon or night.

;

Cupcakes don’t always go with breakfast. And they’ve also got a shorter table-life than muffins. Muffins last forever, it seems. And in the new issue of the Food Network magazine, there’s a buttload of inspiration in the form of a booklet with 50 muffin recipes! So I guess I’m not alone in my idea that muffins make great snacks for last-minute guests, eh?

A lot of the recipes sounded amazing, but the ones I really liked I had bigger plans for. So I gathered up some things I had in my cupboards- dried Bing cherries & white chocolate chips, namely- and threw ‘em into my favorite muffin recipe base. If I had had some pistachios, I’d have thrown them in there too. Pistachio goes well with both cherry & white chocolate. Oh- and cranberries would work just fine instead of cherries- both fresh and dried. The tartness of both cherries & cranberries work because of the sweetness of the white chocolate.

;

WHITE CHOCOLATE CHERRY MUFFINS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons set aside
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter — melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs – beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios (optional, I didn’t have any)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. and grease up 12 muffin cups or put liners in them (I prefer liners because it’s less messy that way).
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, stir together milk, eggs, cooled butter, and vanilla until blended. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add milk mixture and stir just to combine. Stir in cherries, then white chocolate chips. DON’T OVERMIX THE BATTER.
  3. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling them almost to the top; top each muffin with a sprinkling of sugar from reserved 2 tablespoons. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.
  4. Remove muffin tin to wire rack; cool 5 minutes and remove from tins to finish cooling. Serve with whatever you like, whenever you like.

;

The cool thing about the white chocolate chips in this case is that they don’t melt like semisweet or milk chocolate chips would. They stay whole, as do the cherries, so you taste each of them separately & get the texture too. That’s why the addition of unsalted shelled pistachios would be great! Not only would it make the muffins Christmas colors, but the texture of the three separate things would be awesome. Chewy cherries, thick white chocolate and crunchy-ish pistachios.

And they go great with milk & pretty paper straws, too.

Table runner custom-made for me by Yoyo of topstitch.org/topstitch.artfire.com

;

Snackle Mouth part 2: frozen yogurt parfaits.


Remember my Snackle Mouth post from a few days ago?

I was so excited to use it to bake something, and I did (coffee cake), and it was glorious. But if I’m being 100% honest- that wasn’t my first idea.


See my first idea was to make some homemade frozen yogurt and top it with some Snackle Mouth granola nut clusters and some homemade conserves I made. You might remember them, one is cherry, cranberry, dark chocolate & almond and one is fig, plum and walnut. Kind of like “build your own ice cream sundae” time except more like “build your own healthier version of an ice cream sundae by using frozen yogurt” time. It’s also reminiscent of those famous fast food fruit/nut yogurt parfaits, except much healthier & homemade, obviously.


I wanted to do that because the Snackle Mouth arrived on a really hot day, and it was way too hot for me to face an oven. So I figured I’d use it to make yogurt parfaits. But then the weather changed, it got very cool and rainy, perfect baking weather. And so I decided to make the coffee cake first. However, it soon got pretty damn warm again, and frozen yogurt parfaits were back on the menu.

First things first… the fro-yo. I used a tried and true David Lebovitz recipe I’ve made before in my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment. It’s easy, delicious, and quick. Then, once that was made & ready, I put it in some Ball jars, alternating with some Snackle Mouth granola, and topped it off with some conserves. It was pretty awesome. We loved it. The most popular combination? The yogurt topped with the double C dark chocolate almond conserves and the peanut cranberry Snackle Mouth. Needless to say it was a success.


FROZEN YOGURT

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (24 ounces) strained yogurt (see below) or Greek-style yogurt *
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Directions:

  1. Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla (if using). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  2. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (for mine, it’s just 20-30 minutes in the bowl being mixed by the “dasher”). For a firmer set, freeze for 20-30 minutes before serving.
  3. If you aren’t using Greek yogurt, you have to strain regular plain yogurt. To make 1 cup of strained yogurt, line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. then scrape 16 ounces or 2 cups of plain whole-milk yogurt into the cheesecloth. Gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours. For the above recipe you’ll need to start with and strain 6 cups of yogurt.

I used Greek-style yogurt, I didn’t feel like going through the pain of straining regular yogurt. I also opted to use the vanilla, but that’s 100% optional. You can also add fresh fruits to the yogurt itself, if you wish, or add some jam or preserves or even lemon curd to it as it’s being mixed. I’m sure you could experiment by making all kinds of different flavored fro-yo if you want. And you can also use the granola with fresh fruit instead of conserves or preserved fruit.

...

The coolest thing about making yogurt parfaits in a jar is that if you don’t finish it, you can put the lid on and pop it in the freezer, and it’ll keep it’s fresh taste. Is there no end to how cool Mason jars are? Methinks not. I even used them to store the granola once I opened the packages so it would stay fresh.

Again, I tell you: go get yourself some Snackle Mouth. It isn’t available in stores (yet!) but you can get it at Abe’s Market.


OH! And Cupcake Rehab now is now print friendly! You asked for it, you got it. Directly below this, you’ll see a little printer icon and the words “Print Friendly.” Click on those and you’ll be brought to a printer friendly version of this post. Perfect for printing the recipes! There are plenty of options, i.e. print with photos or without, and it’s very easy to use, so get on it. Print out your favorite recipes from Cupcake Rehab with a few clicks! Now you can share this on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Pinterest and you can print it, too. Do I give you options or what?

My new favorite thing: Snackle Mouth!

A few weeks ago, my friend & fellow blogger Xenia told me about Snackle Mouth. I had seen the pictures of it on her blog, and read her reviews of it, and I was intrigued. First off, I loved the packaging. Coolest granola packaging ever, for sure. And anytime you have bacon in anything, you win me over. So the fact they make a Bacon Maple granola? Insane. In a good way.

Snackle Mouth is a brand spankin’ new company:

Snackle Mouth® was given wings by one of the Founder’s, John Raptis. “Rapits” (his call name by virtue of the fact that there are 3 guys named “John” in the business) was really the main man. As a reformed real estate developer, he crafted a healthy, tasty, and simple granola nut snack with a high degree of clumpability. We define clumpability like so: a phenomenal flavor cluster, embodying superior taste, and made from the most simple natural and organic ingredients on the planet.

Raptis hit the lab to produce a snack with those basic snack components in mind. From his own kitchen he watched his son and friends constantly forage for food and he developed a recipe to make a snack that Moms would approve of for their children, thus, Snackle Mouth® was born.

So they may be new, but they’re pretty awesome, and they’ve got a lot going for them:

  • Combine All Natural and Organic Ingredients
  • Mix in the Best Nuts We Could Find
  • NO Refined Sugar, NO Trans-Fats, Low Glycemic
  • Cool new name, Snackle Mouth®
  • Most Fun Package Design on the Planet
  • End Result, Great Tasting Granola Nut Clusters

They’re made with naturally yummy things like fruit juice, organic dried fruit & nuts, brown rice syrup, oat bran and organic blue agave. So when James from Snackle Mouth offered to send me these goodies… you can imagine how excited I was. And am. I received a box with three varieties: the almond pecan maple, the almond berry and the peanut cranberry. See, I wasn’t lying about the awesome packaging.

After sampling each kind, I knew what I’d do first. It was really warm and kind of sticky out, so I decided to wait for a slightly cooler day to make something really awesome. In the meantime, I continued sampling.

But really… I wanted more than to just snack on it. I wanted a unique Snackle Mouth creation. So on a slightly cooler, much more overcast day, I came up with this.


And this, my friends is the pièce de résistance: a granola nut coffee cake- it’s the same principle as a coffee cake with a streusel crumb on top, except in my version there’s no streusel, just granola nut clusters. To be precise, Snackle Mouth Almond Pecan Maple granola nut clusters. Genius, right? I thought so. Except it was a little too dark. The inside stayed very moist and delicious, but the granola got a bit too caramelized. Which might have been a nice effect, especially had I been using the Bacon Maple granola. But I wasn’t, and I wanted something a little lighter and more… summery?

And it was good, trust me. Like I said, the first time the top did get a little dark, meaning the granola got a little dark too, but it didn’t deter anyone from eating it. It was still quite delicious nonetheless, and it was all gobbled up (pretty damn fast actually). But I went back to the drawing board, being the perfectionist that I am, & I came up with a revamped & better version. And that version used Almond Berry Snackle Mouth as the topping, and a cup of fresh blueberries were added into the batter before baking. It paired excellently with the berry variety of Snackle Mouth, since it’s made with blueberry juice. I made that for my father for Father’s Day (he’s a blueberry freak) and talk about a huge hit! He seriously loved it. On this one, I also smashed the granola with a hammer before using it for the topping. It came out much better, since it was in smaller pieces, obviously. You live, you learn. I had never made a coffee cake with a granola nut topping before!

So the first version was just an experiment. But the second version? Ohhh, the second version… it came out fantastical.

And now you get to reap the benefits of my trials & tribulations. Here’s the recipe for the best coffee cake ever.

BLUEBERRY COFFEE CAKE WITH ALMOND BERRY SNACKLE MOUTH GRANOLA NUT “STREUSEL”

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (or the berry of your choice)
  • 1 box Almond Berry Snackle Mouth granola nut clusters (or the flavor of your choice)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300° F and grease an 8″-inch square baking pan. Smash the granola with a hammer until it breaks into slightly smaller pieces. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add egg, and beat until combined. Add vanilla extract to the milk in a glass measuring cup and alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the creamed butter mixture three times, starting with and ending with the flour.
  3. Mix the berries in gently, until thoroughly combined.
  4. Spread batter into prepared baking pan. Smooth it as evenly as possible, tapping the pan on the counter a few times if necessary. Sprinkle the granola on top, until the cake is pretty well covered.
  5. Bake 50-70 minutes (depending on your oven and what kind of pan you use: glass or metal), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool. Serve while slightly warm or at room temperature.


Perfection. My mother pronounced it the best coffee cake she ever had, and said it reminded her of one she used to eat as a child.

If you’re more health-conscious, try it using whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour). You could also use an agave sweetener instead of sugar, or applesauce instead of the egg. There’s tons of room to mess around with this recipe. Not to mention that if you use the Peanut Cranberry Snackle Mouth, you can use a cup of fresh cranberries in the batter, and it’d be absolutely amazing. 100% adaptable to any combination. The cake is baked at a lower temperature in a very slow oven to keep the granola in good shape; it’ll start to burn long before the cake is done, otherwise. And burnt granola isn’t what you want. If you aren’t using the granola, if you’re using regular streusel or making it plain, you could bake it at 350° F for 35-40 minutes with no problem. And I have to say, this is a really unique way to do a streusel without the hassle of making a streusel. Especially if you’re like me & your streusel-making is hit or miss. It’s fail proof and delicious, and it travels well. Great for picnics or to bring somewhere for a party or cook-out.

It’s very moist, with a perfect crumb… but it’s also a very dense cake; so just be aware that if you think you can eat that big slice, you probably can’t.

Trust me. I could barely get through one normal sized slice!


This isn’t the last you’ll see of Snackle Mouth around here. That’s all I’m sayin’… just keep your eyes peeled, if you catch my drift.

Thank you, Snackle Mouth, for letting me play with your food! Now everybody go buy some. You won’t be sorry. And of course, let’s not forget social media! Follow @SnackleMouth on Twitter and become a Snackle Mouth fan on Facebook, too!

Hot cross muffins, hot cross muffins, one ha’ penny, two ha’ penny…

My grandma loved hot cross buns. LOVED them. Every spring, she had to have her hot cross buns for Easter. It was tradition, yes, but more so she just really enjoyed them. However I never really knew the full meaning behind them until I decided to make a batch in her honor this year. Thanks Wikipedia!

A hot cross bun, or cross-bun,[1] is a sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced bun made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits,[2] marked with a cross on the top. The cross can be made in a variety of ways including: of pastry; flour and water mixture; rice paper; icing; two intersecting cuts. They are traditionally eaten on Good Friday but in the UK they are now sold all year round.[3]

In many historically Christian countries, buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion. They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term “hot cross bun” was not until 1733;[1] it is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon);[4] “Eostre” is probably the origin of the name “Easter”.[1] Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier.[5]

According to cookery writer Elizabeth David, Protestant English monarchs saw the buns as a dangerous hold-over of Catholic belief in England, being baked from the dough used in making the communion wafer. Protestant England attempted to ban the sale of the buns by bakers but they were too popular, and instead Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them, but only at Easter and Christmas.

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.[6]

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time. Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.[6]

Amazing. As a self-admitted total history nerd, the part about Elizabeth I blew my mind! It also cemented my desire to make my own hot cross buns. But see, my idea was to translate them into a muffin type of deal. Not really, since they’re really just hot cross buns, except baked in buttered paper in muffin tins. But they resemble muffins more than buns this way. I got the idea from the panettone I made for Christmas which was both much talked about and much devoured. Is that proper grammar? Doesn’t sound like it. But you get the idea. Either way, hot cross buns are incredibly similar to panettones in terms of the dough & ingredients, so there wasn’t really much difference in making them.

HOT CROSS BUNS (adapted slightly from Ree Drummond/Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (additional) flour
  • ½ teaspoon (heaping) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • spices: cardamom, nutmeg, allspice (optional)
  • ½ cup golden raisins
Glaze:
  • 1 whole egg white
  • splash of milk

;

Icing:
  • 1 whole egg white
  • powdered sugar
  • splash of milk

Directions:

  1. Combine 2 cups milk, canola oil, and ½ cup sugar in a saucepan. Stir and heat until very warm but not boiling. Turn off the heat and allow to cool until mixture is still warm, but not hot–about 30 minutes. Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Add 4 cups of flour and stir to combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover with a towel and set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, cut large squarish circles out of brown paper bags. Melt two tablespoons butter and brush each one with some butter. Line muffin tins with them and press down, making them fit.
  3. Add ½ cup flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir till combined. Combine ¼ cup sugar with cinnamon and whatever other spices you want to use. Lightly flour surface. Press to slightly flatten dough. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Sprinkle on about a third of the raisins. Then fold the dough over on itself and flatten again so the dough is “plain” again. Repeat the sugar/raisin process, then fold the dough again. Repeat a third time until all the raisins are used. (You won’t use all the sugar/cinnamon mixture.)
  4. Pinch off ping pong or golf ball-size bunches of dough. With floured hands, quickly roll it into a ball, then turn the edges under themselves slightly. Place each ball in the buttered paper. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes, an hour-plus is better. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. Make glaze: mix 1 egg white with a splash of milk. Brush onto each roll. Bake for 20 minutes, give or take, or until tops of buns have turned nice and golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
  6. Make the icing: Mix 1 egg white with enough powdered sugar for icing to be very thick. Splash in milk as needed for consistency. Add icing to a small Ziploc bag or disposable pastry bag and snip the corner. Make icing crosses on each roll, making sure they’re completely cooled first.

I halved the above recipe and ended up with 14 total: 6 in the buttered-brown-paper-muffin version, without raisins, and 8 in an 8″-inch cake pan with raisins. As soon as the dough was made, I split it in half after adding the cinnamon mix and just added raisins to one lump and left them out of the other one. Makes sense, right?

These are the original buns that were baked in a pan & contain raisins

If you’re making the full batch, you could easily use brownie pans instead of a round cake pan, if you’re not into the buttered paper idea. You also don’t have to use golden raisins, or even raisins at all. Dried currants work too, as does citron if you’re into that. I’m definitely not. I’m sure any kind of small dried fruit would do the trick. And if you’d really like to, I’m sure little mini chocolate chips would taste delicious too. And if you’re really adventurous, why not soak the raisins in a bit of liquor first?

I have to say these were much easier than I anticipated. I made them while watching a few episodes of Shameless & before I knew it they were ready to eat. Best hot cross bun muffins ever!

Preserving: traditions… and some fruits, nuts & tea.

I’ve heard a lot recently about keeping traditions alive, especially after someone has passed away. For me it’s important. Vital, even. And that’s been something that has always been important in my family. The year my great-grandfather Tom died in late November (my grandmother’s father), her & my grandpa put up a Christmas tree. A smaller one, but still. The year her mother Mary passed away right before Halloween, her brother still passed out candy at the house because it was his mother’s favorite holiday. To not do these things would feel wrong to us. However, everyone grieves differently. For us it’s important to continue with the things those people loved to do… we’d feel sadder & lonelier without them. To each his own. But for me, that’s how our ancestors & family members are kept alive. Making their recipes, using their decorations, etc. Doing the things they used to do & love. Preserving the traditions. My grandma loved Christmas, to not celebrate it would be wrong.

Speaking of preserving…. in the last few days before Christmas, I thought I’d throw in three more ideas for seasonally appropriate jams/conserves/jellies. Perfect for gift-giving, as additions to the Christmas dinner/after-dinner spread, or for a Christmas Day brunch. All three are different, yet totally Christmas-y. And in case you’re wondering…

Conserves are made with dried fruits and nuts and are cooked. They have a very thick and chunky texture. Conserves work very well as a spread and as a condiment for meats and cheeses.

Jam is a thick mixture of fruit, pectin, and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has an organic shape, yet is still thick enough that it spreads easily and can form a blob. In addition to being a spread, jams are also good for fillings.

Jelly is made from sugar, pectin, acid, and fruit juice and is a clear spread that is firm enough to hold its shape. Jellies can also be made from ingredients other than fruit, such as herbs, tea, wine, liqueurs, flowers, and vegetables.

– source: TheKitchn

Does that clear up the confusion? So anyway, like I said, three recipes. Yes. I said THREE. Three whole recipes today. I must be crazy, right? Three recipes for three different types of jarred up, old timey, homestyle holiday fare. I guess you could say this post is a trifecta of awesomeness. Or a triple threat. Whatever it is- it rocks.

Those are regular size cupcake liners used as lid covers!

First up is the conserve; made with dried figs, dried plums & walnuts. The recipe was sent to me by my friend Chrisie who found it in an old cookbook of her grandma’s. I used whole dried Black Mission figs & Plum Amazins’ diced dried plums myself- the original recipe calls for two types of dried figs. I had the plums & figured why the hell not. My mother is a big fig person, so these were made specifically as a gift for her. I’m giving you the original recipe in it’s entirety, with any modifications I did in parentheses.

FIG (& PLUM) & WALNUT CONSERVE

Makes roughly 8 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed dried black figs
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup packed dried California figs, or any medium light brown figs (I substituted Plum Amazin dried plums)
  • 1 medium orange, both the juice & the fruit (I used just the juice from a small orange, since I used slightly more figs than called for, I didn’t think I needed extra pulp or fruit)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar (I used half light brown, half dark brown)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white wine (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, chopped (I didn’t toast them, I just tossed them in and let them cook with the fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage (I used cardamom instead, only ½ teaspoon)

Directions:

  1. Snip the stems off the figlets and place in a large bowl along with the boiling water for 30 minutes. Slice the California figs in half (if using the Plum Amazin’s there’s no need to do that, they’re already diced) and place in a large pan along with the figlets and fig water.
  2. Cut the orange in half; juice half and dice the remaining half, including rind, into small pieces. Add the orange juice to the pan. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except the walnuts and sage (or, like I used, cardamom). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the walnuts and sage and cook for an additional 10 minutes (I let it cook down longer, so it was a much thicker consistency). Spoon the fig and walnuts into clean, hot jars, pressing down.
  3. Ladle the juice over the fruit, leaving ½”-inch headroom. Wipe the rims clean and seal. Invert the jars for 10 minutes. Restore to an upright position and cool. Check the seals, label and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

Since it’s an old recipe, and it relies on the inversion method, you might want to add in about 15 minutes processing time in a water bath canner. Unless you’re not anal about these things. I know the USDA would say otherwise, but this recipe is old & I doubt anyone died from it. Still & all I’d hate to be responsible for anyone croaking from preserves.

And next… the big ol’ boozehound of the crew: vanilla-brandy chestnut jam. This smelled so good cooking on the stove, it took everything in my power to not eat it. Seriously. As it was cooking, I wanted to just eat it right out of the pot. Then once the brandy was added… well, forget it. It seems like this is a pretty insane jam. Very rich, very dessert-like.

VANILLA-BRANDY CHESTNUT JAM

Makes about 8 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¾ lbs. peeled chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cups light brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy (depending on taste)

Directions:

  1. Put peeled chestnuts and vanilla bean (or extract) in large sauce pan and just cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil; simmer until chestnuts are tender (about 30 min.). Remove and set aside vanilla bean. Drain chestnuts, reserving cooking liquid.
  2. Put chestnuts, sugar, and about 5 tablespoons cooking liquid in heavy pan. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean to pan. Heat mixture gently, stirring & gently “smooshing” the chestnuts (don’t worry if they remain in little chunks), until sugar is dissolved, then raise heat and boil until mixture is thick. Remove and discard vanilla bean (if used); stir in brandy.
  3. Ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, seal, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother jam, without chunks, then purée the chestnuts before step 2. I like jams to have chunks of fruit (in this case nuts) in ‘em, so I left the pieces of chestnut. And I’ll be honest here & say I bought pre-peeled chestnuts. I could not sit there & do that until my fingers bled… that’s dedication. I just like to reap the benefits. Plus, I scaled it back to make just 4 4-oz. jars, so for that small amount of chestnuts it’s kinda silly to go through all that. But certainly do as you wish.

And finally… last but not least… Gingerbread spice jelly! Made from TEA. Who’da thunk it? This is a fantastic idea, one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” type of deals. As soon as I saw this in Taste of Home magazine, I ripped it out & circled it.

GINGERBREAD SPICE JELLY (courtesy of Robin Nagel from Taste of Home magazine, December 2011)

Makes 5 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 18 individual gingerbread spice tea bags (I used Celestial Seasonings’ Gingerbread Spice tea because it’s the only one I know of!)
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 pouches (3 oz. each) liquid fruit pectin

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from the heat; add tea bags. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Discard tea bags. Stir in the sugar, apple juice and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat; skim off foam. Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot jars, leaving ¼”-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner (adjust that for your altitude). Let cool on a tea towel for 12 hours. Check seal. (Recipe author says jelly may take up to 2 weeks to fully set- mine set as soon as it cooled)

Since these are all wrapped up & ready to be given as gifts, I can’t tell you how any of them taste yet. But I’m sure they’re both amazing. From what I saw & smelled, I think the fig conserves would be excellent on a cracker with a piece of cheese (maybe even on a sour cream pound cake), and the chestnut jam would probably be awesome with a piece of pound cake or over vanilla ice cream. Now the jelly… hmm… I’d say on warm toast with a cup of tea. But I also kinda wanna say that it’d be great in thumbprint cookies.

Speaking of wrapped up- if you want to do this with your preserves as an easy way of jazzing ‘em up, wait until after the 12-24 hours are up and you’re sure they’re cooled & sealed. Then just unscrew the band, place a cupcake liner on the top & screw the band back on. Totally simple! And after seeing all the amazing entries in Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest, you might have been inspired to start pimpin’ your jars… but you just didn’t know where to start! Well this is an easy way. Then you can just tie a ribbon on it, put a label on & you’re done. Although I happen to think the homemade labels & little penguin stickers on my Gingerbread jelly are mighty cute, too (they’re from the scrapbooking section of Michael’s). Be creative. Take it from a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *wink* The best thing about giving jars of treats like these as gifts is that unlike cake, cupcakes, cookies or bread, there’s no expiration date. Well there is, but it’s so far in the future no one has to feel the need to eat it all in one week!

Maybe Santa would like a jar of one of these instead of the usual cookies this year?