Apricot Butter Cookies

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!

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Apricot Butter Cookies
SERVINGS
32cookies
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
cookies
COOK TIME
30mins
PREP TIME
10mins
READY IN
1 1/2hr

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Form the dough into a log, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hr. Divide the log into 4 pieces.
  4. 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.
  5. Spread the apricot puree in the canals.
  6. Bake the cookie sticks in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 min. until the edges are slightly golden.
  7. Transfer to a rack and let them cool.
  8. 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.
  9. If desired, transfer the glaze to a squeeze bottle or piping bag and drizzle the icing over the cookies.
  10. Cut the rectangles diagonally into 1" strips.
  11. The cookies will keep in the freezer or in an airtight container for 1 week.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

Old Fashioned Slow-Cooker Apple Butter

Christmas wouldn’t be “Christmas” without at least a sprinkling of homemade food gifts. However I was not too excited when a sister suggested our making apple butter as one of our gifts to give this year. That is, not until I came down into the convent kitchen early one morning and sampled a “Trial Run” of butter which had been making itself in our slow cooker all night while we had all been fast asleep.

As I ate my last bite of hot buttered toast topped with this delectable wonder I was convinced that this was the perfect “homemade” gift for us to give this Christmas. My only concern being would there be enough left by Christmas eve to give away to others?

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Old Fashioned Slow-Cooker Apple Butter
SERVINGS
4pints
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
pints
COOK TIME
12hours (or overnight)
PREP TIME
30mins
READY IN
12 1/2hrs

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Place the apples in a slow cooker. In a separate bowl mix sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg cloves and salt. Combine with apples and mix well.
  2. Cook in slow cooker on low for 10 hours stirring occasionally. The apple mixture will become thick and dark brown.
  3. Uncover and add vanilla. Continue cooking uncovered on low for 2 hours.
  4. Remove from slow cooker and blend using an immersion blender, food processor or a countertop blender and puree the apple butter until completely smooth.
  5. Transfer the mixture into containers or your choice.
  6. Top your favorite toasted bread or muffin with fresh apple butter and enjoy with a steaming mug of tea or coffee for a simple morning treat!

NOTE: This can be frozen or stored up to 2 weeks covered in the
refrigerator.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Years ago, we were asked by the local Episcopal church to help them with their annual Devonshire Tea, a lovely traditional English tea served every summer in the church gardens.

The lady who for many years had been responsible for them, met with me to discuss the details. The simple menu consisted of three items: biscuits, coddled cream, and strawberry preserves. Her main concern was the size and shape of the biscuits. To ensure their correctness, she carefully sketched them on a page from her personal notebook and gave the page to me.

The biscuits’ size and shape were of utmost importance! She was certain I would make the cream perfectly, and as far as the preserves were concerned, any I chose would be fine. My choice was a vibrant colored fresh strawberry jam sometimes referred to as “freezer jam”, although none I’ve ever made stayed around long enough to reach the
freezer!

Perfect for the occasion, it met with great applause and added a most beautiful touch to this splendid event.

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Strawberry Freezer Jam
SERVINGS
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
COOK TIME
5mins
PREP TIME
10mins
READY IN
25mins (plus 24 hr setting time)

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Combine crushed strawberries with sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. While the strawberries sit, dissolve the pectin into the water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat and add the salt and lemon juice to the saucepan.
  4. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries and allow to stand for 3 minutes.
  5. Pour jam into containers and let set overnight or for 24 hours.

Enjoy with coddled cream and biscuits or as an ice cream topping, in a milkshake, or on toast...the possibilities are endless!

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mango Puree

Birthdays are joyous occasions, and with so many Sisters in the Convent, there are bound to be several birthday celebrations each month. This is especially true with what we refer to as “big birthdays”, birthdays that mark a new decade in the life of a sister. Over the weekend, we celebrated the 70th birthday of one of our sisters with a beautiful dinner for all. The meal ended with one of our most favorite desserts: Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta. While not a traditional birthday cake, this was no less festive as it also featured a delicious mango puree.

Dense, creamy and with minimal ingredients you most likely already have in your kitchen, this is a great way to mark special occasions this summer. Served chilled with fresh berries, this may well become a favorite with you and your guests!

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Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mango Puree
SERVINGS
6-8servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
15mins, plus chilling time (overnight/6hours)
PREP TIME
15mins
READY IN
30mins, plus chilling time

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Place the cream in a saucepan and scrape out the seeds of the vanilla bean with a knife, adding the seeds to the cream.
  2. Add the sugar and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. In a separate bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let stand until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the gelatin mixture into the cream and vanilla bean mixture and stir until dissolved.
  5. Add the yogurt and stir to thoroughly incorporate.
  6. Pour evenly into six to eight ramekin and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for 6 hours or overnight for the panna cotta to set.
  7. As this is chilling, prepare the mango puree by combining the fruit, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a blender or food processor. Chill in a bowl until panna cotta is ready to serve.

To Serve
Note: There are several ways to serve this dessert. As shown, we chose to chill the panna cotta at an angle and serve in a clear water goblet for a pleasing visual effect. For the more ambitious, panna cotta can be served inverted on a plate, similar to flan. Below are two methods of serving this dessert--both are equally impressive!

Inverted Method

  1. Once the panna cotta has set, place each ramekin in warm water--the water should be halfway up the sides of the ramekin.
  2. Once this has been in the water bath 1-2 minutes, put your serving plate on top of the ramekin and invert the panna cotta onto the plate.
  3. Spoon the puree over the top and garnish with fruit and fresh mint as desired.

Angled Method

  1. Before making the panna cotta, prepare the glasses you will be serving in, tilting them securely at an angle on a tray. An egg carton works well for this.
  2. When pouring panna cotta mixture, use a funnel and gently fill the tilted glasses to the desired height.
  3. Carefully transfer the tray into the refrigerator, taking care not to bump or jostle the tray, as this will leave a milky residue on the side of the glass.
  4. When fully set (6 hours or overnight) stand the glasses upright and pipe in the mango puree. Piping helps control the puree and keep it from smearing on the glass.
  5. Garnish with fruit or mint and serve.

Classic Bread Pudding

Atop the microwave in the Convent kitchen sits a woven wicker bread basket that collects all kinds of interesting mixed bread goods. From soft white leftover sandwich bread to crunchy crusts of Italian loaves. Each time I pass the overflowing basket I think of all the ways bread could be used: stuffing for a nice chicken or pork roast, croutons for a great Caesar salad, or baked into a nice golden cheese strata. But the one idea that keeps presenting itself is old-fashioned Bread Pudding. Whether it’s spiked with Bourbon the way Thomas Jefferson liked it or simply seasoned with a touch of vanilla as I myself prefer it. It is almost always welcomed by anyone to whom it is offered!

 

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Classic Bread Pudding
SERVINGS
8servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
45mins
PREP TIME
15mins
READY IN
1hr

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Heat milk and butter over medium heat until butter is melted and milk is hot.
  3. Mix eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a separate bowl and stir in bread cubes and raisins.
  4. Stir in milk and butter mixture and pour into an ungreased pan.
  5. Cover with foil and bake 40 to 45 minute or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream!

Cran-Apple Compote with Meringue and Caramel Sauce

I had just finished my evening rituals with Gratsie (my Maine Coon cat) and was about to leave the family room when our guest cook sister entered the room waving her camera at me with a look in her eye that told me she was pleased with something she wanted to show me…

With one innovative idea she had succeeded in transforming our popular summer tart into a Fall/Winter version using apples and cranberries laced with caramel sauce, replacing the usual summer strawberries, peaches and nectarines.

A graceful (and delicious) transition from one season to another with an amazing result! We both smiled as the cat swished her tail, and we all went to bed purring.

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Cran-Apple Compote with Meringue and Caramel Sauce
SERVINGS
4servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
2hrs
PREP TIME
35mins
READY IN
2 hrs35 mins

Ingredients

Instructions

Meringue
  1. Separate one egg at a time into a small bowl, letting the white fall into the bowl and discarding the yolk. If there’s any trace of yolk in the white, discard the white and start over. If it’s yolk-free, transfer to a clean medium mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs.
  2. Add cream of tartar to the whites and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
  3. Slowly add sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar has been added. Continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy. Add vanilla and beat for 30 seconds more.
  4. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place a small amount of the meringue under each corner of the paper to secure it to the pan.
  6. Fill a 1-quart sealable plastic bag (or pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip) with the meringue. Seal the bag almost completely, leaving a small opening for air to escape from the top as you squeeze.
  7. Snip off one corner of the bag with scissors, making a 3/4-inch-wide opening. Fold the top of the bag over a few times, then gently push the meringue down to the snipped corner.
  8. Working with the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet, pipe the meringue into 2-inch-diameter tarts, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart.
  9. Bake the tarts until dry and crisp throughout, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let the tarts cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
Apple-Cranberry Compote
  1. Peel and chop the apples of your choice. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning and set aside. For this recipe, we used Golden Delicious.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter and add the chopped apples on medium heat.
  3. Add the sugar and seasonings to the apples and cook until fork-tender. Keep an eye on the apples and sugar, reduce heat if needed. The sugar should melt into a consistency similar to syrup. Turn the heat down if sugar starts to caramelize.
  4. Add the whole cranberries and cook a few minutes more until the cranberries start to burst. If you prefer, cook a bit longer to cook the cranberries a little more, adding sugar as necessary, depending on how tart the berries are.
  5. Remove from heat, set aside and arrange the meringues on a plate or serving platter.
  6. Gently heat the caramel sauce and spoon into the center of the meringue, tumbling the Cran-Apple compote on top. Drizzle with extra caramel sauce if desired.
  7. Serve at room-temperature and pair this tangy-sweet seasonal dessert with a steaming cup of tea, coffee or pressed cider!

Serve with your favorite Caramel Sauce!