Tonight, our Convent was humming with Christmas cheer as we readied our home for Christmas. Some wrapped presents to send to families, other Sisters spent time catching up with old friends as they penned their lovely cards. In the kitchen, we turned on Bing Crosby and poured over old fashioned family recipes as we pondered which cookies we would make this year. The royal icing was prepared and crispy butter cookies were being decorated with sprinkles covering every surface. I remembered a cookie that I hadn’t baked in years and a favorite to be sure. In fact, you won’t find this anywhere else on the internet, at least I couldn’t. Cut from an old magazine, pressed onto an index card and covered in plastic, this shows how treasured this recipe is. Sometimes baking can restore wonderful memories of times past and other times it just puts a smile on your face, honey in your belly and much joy for the adventures ahead. I love Christmas. The beauty, the magic and most of all the precious gift that is awaiting us in the form of a little baby on Christmas morning.
May the season of light be yours this year. Blessed Christmas!
- To make the filling: In a small saucepan, combine the apricots, sugar and water and simmer for 15-18 min. or until the liquid is reduced by half and add the rum or brandy. Let the mixture cool slightly and in a food processor or blender, puree it.
- Make the shortbread cookie dough. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate standing mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and the egg, beating the mixture until it is well combined. Slowly, add the flour mixture in stages and mix until just combined, but don't over mix or your shortbread will be tough.
- Form the dough into a log, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hr. Divide the log into 4 pieces.
- Working with one piece of dough at a time, place the dough in plastic wrap and roll into an 8 inch long rope - place on a parchment covered sheet pan and make a canal down the center with your finger so the log becomes a 8 x 2" rectangle with a channel in the middle.
- Spread the apricot puree in the canals.
- Bake the cookie sticks in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 min. until the edges are slightly golden.
- Transfer to a rack and let them cool.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients and add just enough water to make a thick but pour-able icing - you want it to be on the thick side.
- If desired, transfer the glaze to a squeeze bottle or piping bag and drizzle the icing over the cookies.
- Cut the rectangles diagonally into 1" strips.
- The cookies will keep in the freezer or in an airtight container for 1 week.
Merry Christmas from our home to yours!
When I was a child, there was a peacock that used to strut through the back yard of my great-grandmother’s house. He would time his performance perfectly; as soon as all of us were gathered at the window, he would throw his head back, arch his feathers into a magnificent fan, and do a little pirouette as graceful as a king. It is like this with figs — they must be showcased.
I can’t pass up a fresh fig in a grocery store, especially when I’m doing holiday baking. Our local grocer had a nice selection of figs this past week, and I thought they would make a handsome and tasty dessert for a holiday luncheon we were preparing. Flamboyant as they are with their velvety exterior and intricate, seed-filled interior, they beg to be shown off.
The marriage of figs, mascarpone, and walnuts makes a fabulous winter dessert, and I would recommend this one for any dinner party. You can make the tart shells ahead and freeze them. When you are ready to use them, fill them while still frozen, and they will thaw in time for dessert. Since fresh figs are one of the most perishable fruits, they should be purchased only a day or two in advance of your meal. Look for figs that have a rich, deep color, and are plump and tender, but not mushy.
Fresh Fig, Walnut and Mascarpone Tart
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy for 3 minutes, using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, scraping down the sides and bottom occasionally. Add the flour and mix on low speed until fully incorporated, about one minute (don’t over mix). Add the egg yolk and continue to mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about 30 seconds.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour (or up to 4 days).
- Remove from refrigerator and let soften until pliable. Flour your work surface so dough does not stick, and sprinkle the top of dough with a little flour. Roll out dough, starting in middle and rolling outward, to a 1/4 inch thick disk or rectangle, depending on your tart pan.
- Don’t worry if dough tears or crumbles, it’s easily pressed together in the tart pan. Lift over the rolling pin and place in tart pan with removable bottom. Patch holes or tears by pressing dough with fingers. Press dough into sides, corners and bottom. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the tart pin for a clean even edge. Refrigerate 30 minutes -this is important.
- Bake at 350 for 30 -35 minutes, positioned in the center of the oven, until golden. Be sure to keep a careful eye so that it doesn’t over cook. If using individual tart pans, these will take about 12 min. to bake. Let cool before filling.
- While these are baking, spread your walnuts onto a sheet pan and toast in the oven – once you smell them, remove them, they will be done!
- Put the jam in a microwaveable bowl, and heat in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds until the jam is of a more spreadable consistency. Add the brandy, a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Spread this over the bottom of the tart shell (s) but not up the sides. Let cool.
- In a stand mixer with the beater attachment, whisk together the mascarpone, whipping cream, vanilla, powdered sugar and salt until soft peaks form. Be careful, especially if you are using an electric mixer, because the mixture will thicken very quickly.
- Spread this mixture over the fig jam leaving about 1/4 “ of space of the jam showing on the edges, so not completely covering the jam base.
- Decorate the top w/ some toasted walnuts mounded in the center, a couple of quartered figs and right before serving, drizzle with some light honey.
If making ahead, have your components ready but don’t assemble until close to serving time.
This Sunday after church the sisters, along with some invited guests, enjoyed a sumptuous southern breakfast, the perfect holiday treat especially for those who have southern roots.
The menu was extensive……..baked ham, grits, sausage, bacon, buttermilk biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, sticky buns and more than anyone could sample at one sitting. My favorite of all the dishes was a fabulous fruit platter consisting of a combination of roasted fresh and dried fruits and nuts that had been coated with a rich glaze of brown sugar, butter and Calvados.
This winter fruit and nut combination was “Out of this world”…and not only for a southern breakfast, but as a wonderful accompaniment to any number of other meals, especially at this time of year.
Fabulous Roasted Fruit Platter
- Cut fruit to desired size and shape. Spread out on sheet pan and brush with a little oil and cover with foil and roast about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until softened.
- Uncover and sprinkle with nuts and generously brush with glaze. Return to oven uncovered at 50 degrees higher and cook until nice and golden.
- Sprinkle with pecan and walnut halves and serve.
- To make glaze melt butter and brown sugar together until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Add cider, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Calvados and simmer till thick enough to spread.
If dried fruit needs softening soak in warm cider to reconstitute before roasting.
We used firm pears and apples, and pineapple for fresh fruit, along
with dried figs and apricots. Craisins could also be an interesting addition.
Who doesn’t love chocolate cake? I know I do. And I have to confess that I am very happy with a box cake mix. I have made scratch cakes and there are some that are great. But if you are in a hurry, a box chocolate cake mix does just fine. Especially if you dress it up with a homemade frosting. We recently were asked to make some desserts for a party and a chocolate cake was requested. I remembered a fudge frosting I had found in a Bon Appetitseveral years ago. Really simple but oh so delicious. So we baked up a fudge chocolate cake in three layers and spread this on it — everyone loved it!
- Bring cream, brandy and butter to simmer in a large heavy saucepan whisking until butter melts.
- Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth.
- Add sour cream and whisk to blend.
- Refrigerate frosting until thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.