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It’s time for the holiday baking to dominate your kitchen! I hope you had a talk with your oven about all the overtime it is going to be accumulating over the next month. Which means you need to be sure that you fill it with plenty of delicious treats for compensation.
Last year through a holiday cookie swap, I received a batch of white chocolate cherry shortbread cookies. They were the best shortbread I had ever tasted, so when I found a recipe using cranberries it was instantly added to my list of things to make. The cranberries add just a little bit of tartness to the overall sweetness of these shortbread cookies. And the added moisture made them super soft as well! Who knew shortbread could be so sweet, flavorful, and soft?
You may be able to use up any leftover homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving in these cookies. I haven’t tried it myself, but it sounds good to me.
WHITE CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Makes 3 dozen
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, finely chopped*
2-1/4 cups + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
12 oz. white chocolate baking bars (such as Ghirardelli), finely chopped, divided*
1 tsp almond extract
2 drops red food coloring
2 tsp shortening
Red sanding sugar
* I used a small food processor to finely chop the cranberries and white chocolate
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour and sugar. Add the butter and toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas.
- Stir in chopped cranberries and 4 ounces of the chopped white chocolate. Stir in almond extract and food coloring. The mixture will be crumbly. Knead mixture until it begins to stick together. Using a tablespoon, mold dough into a 1 inch ball. With your hand or the bottom of a glass cup, flatten balls into a 1-1/2-inch round and place on prepared baking sheet.
- Bake, one baking sheet at a time, in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until centers are set. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
- in a small saucepan over low heat, combine remaining 8 ounces white chocolate and the shortening. Cook and stir until melted. Dip half of each cookie into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Roll dipped edge or half in sanding sugar. Place cookies on waxed paper until chocolate is set.
Source: Sweet Pea’s Kitchen
A beautifully poached pear in red wine is at once simple and a culinary work-of-art. Dressed up with a fragrantly spiced, ruby-red reduction sauce and freshly whipped cream, it dazzles the eyes while blithely dancing over one’s taste buds.
At first glance you might think it a shi-shi, labor-intensive dish best enjoyed at a restaurant. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when you know the secrets to success—and that it’s the ultimate make-ahead dish.
Let’s start with the pear itself. With so many choices available in the markets, know that firmer pears such as sweet and juicy Bosc, Concord and D’Anjou, hold their shapes well when heated. Bartletts (red and yellow), Comice and Starkrimson, while tasty, are best saved for eating fresh.
And the thing most recipes don’t tell you: size matters. Select small to medium-sized pears comfortably eaten in one sitting. There is nothing worse than wowing everyone at your table with these beauties, only to have them moaning and complaining that it’s too much to enjoy.
As you sort through all the produce bins, notice that most pears are rock hard and inedible. That’s because they are typically picked before their prime to better withstand the rigors of shipping. Don’t be nervous about buying hard pears; you can let them soften on your kitchen counter with excellent results.
Make sure your pear is nicely ripened before poaching: Apply gentle pressure to the neck and bulbous portions. Both should be of equal firmness, yielding just slightly to pressure. Do not wait for the fruit to soften significantly or change color—these are signs that it is overripe. If you don’t plan to poach the pears immediately, extend their shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator 3–5 days.
Back in the kitchen, poaching pears is super easy when you know these tips.
1. Choose a fragrant, supple vanilla bean. Avoid the dry twig like ones unless they are your only option. Need help with vanilla beans? Print out my illustrated, step-by-step instructions on How To Split and Scrape a Vanilla Bean.
2. Collect the spices and orange zest. Never zested oranges before? Not to worry. Print out my illustrated and How To Zest Citrus.
3. Cut a small slice from the bottom of the pear before poaching to give it a stable base. Then watch it stand tall on the plate, with no “whoops” at your table.
4. Bobbing pears can lead to uneven cooking. Laying a piece of parchment paper over the pears as they cook keeps them in their place. Either purchase packaged pre-cut circles or, cut one slightly smaller than the diameter of the poaching pot.
5. Keep pears from overcooking by removing them from the hot poaching liquid as soon as a toothpick inserted glides through easily. Mushy pears taste fine, but ding easily and make a less-than-pretty presentation.
6. You can save time on the day of a special event by poaching the pears one to two days in advance, then refrigerating them in their liquid. To prevent overcooking, remove the pears from the pot as soon as they’re tender, then allow the syrup and fruit to cool separately. Return the pears to the cooled liquid, cover and refrigerate. Know that varieties like Bosc and Anjou keep as long as four to five days, but lose some of their lovely spiciness.
7. When it comes to accompaniments, don’t let the idea of a reduction sauce put you off. The recipe offered here is not temperamental, won’t break and adds a sophisticated flavor to the finished dessert. You don’t need much. I start with one half cup of poaching liquid for each pear. Reduced to a quarter cup, it provides just enough goodness to spoon a small pool into a pretty serving bowl and drizzle the remainder over the pear.
8. You may be tempted to use chocolate sauce on this pear: don’t. Know that I love chocolate sauce—the really good stuff made from best-quality chocolate and cream—but it’s not a great pairing here. The rich, spicy reduction sauce complements the pear well and sends your taste buds soaring. Chocolate muddies the experience, ultimately boring the palate.
9. …and now, a sinfully good little secret for using leftover poaching liquid: sorbet. Prepare an extra pear and place it in a blender with the liquid, then blitz until smooth. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Absolute heaven!
Recipe: Poached pears in red wine
|1||750m||bottle red wine|
|1||vanilla bean, split and scraped|
|¼||cup||freshly squeezed lemon juice**|
- Peel 4–6 pears, leaving the stem intact.
- Using a melon baller, scoop out the core of the pear from the bottom. Take off a small slice across the bottom so the pear will stand up when served.
- Combine red wine, water, sugar, vanilla seeds and bean, cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, lemon juice and orange zest in a spacious, non-reactive saucepan.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Adjust the heat to prevent boiling over.
- Place the pears on their sides in the poaching liquid. To keep them submerged, cut a circle of parchment paper just a little smaller than the diameter of the pan and place the circle on top of the pears.
- Bring the pears to a lively simmer; reduce the heat to a simmer. Poach the pears until tender, about 25 minutes. A cake tester or toothpick should glide through the pear. Do not overcook them or they can become mushy.
- Once poached, turn the pears so that they absorb the liquid evenly. Let them cool in the liquid until room temperature.
- Place the pears in a spacious bowl and cover with the liquid. Refrigerate overnight. Poached pears will keep 1–2 days in the refrigerator.
- When ready to assemble, remove the pears from the bowl and strain the poaching liquid into a bowl.
- To make a reduction sauce: Pour one-half cup of the poaching liquid for each pear into a saucepan over medium-high heat. (This would be 2 cups for 4 pears and 3 cups for 6 pears.) Adjust the heat as required. Cool to room temperature. Bring to a boil and continue cooking until reduced by half.
- To serve, spoon the sauce into a pretty bowl. Set the pear atop and drizzle more sauce down the sides. Add freshly whipped cream on the side, decorate with a flower or mint sprig and serve.
Preparation Time: approximately 40 minutes plus 24-48 maceration in the refrigerator.
Blueberries are one of my all time favorite foods. Juicy, sweet and colorful, the blueberry is a delicious fruit that lends itself to many culinary uses. I serve blueberries almost every day for my family. They’re great sprinkled on top of granola for breakfast, and a handful of blueberries thrown into a fresh fruit salad after lunch never goes amiss. I love to experiment by combining blueberries with other flavors when I’m cooking; and I have two particular recipe favorites that do just that, which I’m going to share with you today.
The first recipe is for blueberry ice cream — one of the best fresh fruit based ice cream flavors I’ve ever tasted. In my recipe, I use a scored vanilla pod infused into hot milk which makes a wonderful vanilla custard base. The combination of aromatic vanilla and the sweet blueberries is simply sumptuous, and the ice cream has a wonderful chunky texture. If you’re interested in whipping up your own batch, be sure to visit my blog for the recipe.
The second recipe is for sticky blueberry and lemon cake. Here I team up fresh blueberries with the contrasting, strong but refreshing flavor of fresh lemons. The sticky lemon topping adds a great, extra little kick. When the cake is ready to serve, you don’t actually see any icing on it. That’s the part I like about it — when you take a bite, you first smell the lemon, then savor a soft, sticky texture and then the blueberries come into the frame. Simply delicious!
Sticky Blueberry & Lemon Cake (Serves 10 to 12)
8 ounces (225g) butter + a little extra for greasing the baking tin
8 ounces (225g) golden caster sugar *
8 ounces (225g) self-rising flour
8 ounces (225g) fresh blueberries (washed and dried)
* Granulated sugar is okay if you whiz it in a blender for about 15 seconds to grind it down. Makes it easier to dissolve.
Sticky Topping Ingredients:
4 ounces (125g) golden caster sugar *
You will need an 8-inch round or square cake pan, greased with a little butter.
a) Beat the eggs in a bowl and place to one side.
b) Grate the lemon rind finely and place to one side.
c) Juice the lemon and place the juice to one side.
Step 2 – In a bowl, beat the sugar and butter together until soft and fluffy.
Step 3 – Slowly beat the eggs into the butter and sugar mix. I usually add a little of the flour whilst doing this to stop the mixture from curdling.
Step 4 – Beat in the lemon rind, then slowly fold in the rest of the flour, adding the lemon juice as you do so until the consistency of the cake mix drops from a spoon.
Step 6 – Pour the mix into the greased cake pan and scatter the last 1/4 of blueberries on the top.
Step 7 – Bake at 350°F for 1 hour, (it should be firm to the touch).
Step 8 – Just before the cake has finished baking, prepare the sticky topping by mixing together the sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. Ensure the sugar has dissolved.
Step 10 – Leave the cake to cool. When cold, remove it from the cake pan and cut into slices ready to serve.