Thanksgiving + Crawberry Pie

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While planning some upcoming travel recently, I had the shocking realization that Thanksgiving is, in fact, TOMORROW! And that there are only five weekends separating us from Christmas. Who plans these years, with January located directly next to November?? Anyway, I freaked out about that for a while, resisted the urge to take a stress nap, then decided to start planning what sides I am going to make for Thanksgiving dinner. If we have dinner here, we usually make Ina’s herb-roasted turkey breast (which is still enough to feed a small army and forces me to get creative with the leftovers). We also always have sweet potatoes of some kind, stuffing, and green bean casserole (did you know the creator of the green bean casserole died this year? Her name was Dorcas Reilly, she was 92). We probably won’t go all out this year. Is an all-carb Thanksgiving dinner a thing? Trick question. It is, and we’re having one! Oh, and pie. We will definitely have pie. I’m planning a sweet potato pecan with a gingersnap crust. It might be too adventurous, though. We’ll see.

Before I really get into my Thanksgiving planning, I’m doing a little procrasti-blogging, which leads me to today’s recipe: crawberry pie. Let me explain. Occasionally, we have Friendsgiving, often with our friends David and Quinn. When we do, one of my favorite parts of the dinner is Quinn’s family’s crawberry pie. If you are unfamiliar with crawberries, that’s OK. It’s actually just cranberries, written in Quinn’s grandmother’s hand, and mistaken for “crawberry”. Quinn was nice enough to give me the recipe, which she found out along the way was not her grandmother’s recipe, as she thought, but a recipe from one of her mom’s coworkers, who gave it to her grandmother and it became her specialty at family dinners after that. Funny how family recipes work sometimes. I suppose there are more than a few of our “grandma’s famous” bouncing around out there that are actually clipped from a magazine, or originate from other families. There’s beauty in that. (I was hoping to share a photo of the recipe in her grandma’s handwriting, but Quinn grew up in New Orleans and, unfortunately, the recipe didn’t survive Hurricane Katrina. Luckily, though, the recipe was preserved!)

How to describe this dessert? It’s basically a crustless pie, almost a cake, really. The top is not really a crumble, as it’s sweeter. However, it’s a little more dense than a cake. It’s hard to explain, but it’s in a class all its own, and it’s delicious.

Crawberry Pie

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Crawberry Pie
Makes 1 nine-inch pie.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
3/4 cup melted butter
Cranberries, enough to cover bottom of pie pan
1/4-1/2 cup of sugar

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs well.

Gradually beat in one cup of sugar. Then, beat in the flour and melted butter.

Grease the bottom of a pie pan, and add enough cranberries to cover the bottom.

Sprinkle the additional 1/2 cup of sugar over the top of the cranberries.

Pour the batter over the top of the sugared cranberries.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top of the pie is just golden.

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If you’re a cranberry fan like me, I think you’ll like this. The cranberries rise up through the batter as it bakes, distributing just the right amount of tartness throughout the sweet pastry. It’s a very simple-to-make (and probably welcome) addition to your Thanksgiving table. I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think. Then I can pass all your kind words on to Quinn and her family!

Thanks so much for sharing, Quinn!

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Chocolate Beet Cake with Cream Cheese Beet Frosting 

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Happy November! I hope you all had a great first week and have had time to adjust to the fact that we are less than two months away from a NEW YEAR! Whoa. We are spending our time delaying pinning down travel plans for the holidays and watching Hallmark Christmas movies. (We like to yell life advice at the characters, like, “HE SHOULDN’T WANT YOU TO GIVE UP THE JOB YOU LIKE IN THE CITY IF HE REALLY LOVES YOU!”) Anyway.

As soon as it turned chilly, I started cooking up a storm, and now our fridge is now full of deliciously cozy leftovers. I’ve reached an age (and the time of year) where I cook at home almost every day because I just don’t want to go outside. Our dinner sides often consist of whatever vegetables I can roast together with some salt, pepper, and oil without giving them much thought. In fall, that vegetable increasingly becomes beets. We have them around the house constantly this time of year, which made me start hunting for new recipes. Then I realized, why not dessert??

This recipe for chocolate beet cake with beet cream cheese glaze comes to you because 1) I LOVE beets (tbh, it’s hard to believe there aren’t several more beet recipes on this blog) and 2) because it’s been really dreary here lately and I needed a pop of color (provided by the bright, naturally beet-colored cream cheese glaze).

The thought of pairing beets and chocolate might seem strange, but it shouldn’t. During the World Wars, when sugar and butter were rationed, home cooks would often add beets or beet juice to their chocolate cakes for both their color and to help keep the cake moist.

And, you may not think of beets as a sweet vegetable, but they actually contain a high amount of sugar. It wasn’t until the mid-1700’s that German chemist Andrea Margraff discovered that sucrose could be derived from beetroot. Initially, this discovery was nothing more than an interesting realization, but a few years after Margraff’s death, and almost fifty years after Margraff first made his discovery of sucrose in beets, one of his students, Franz Carl Achard, revived his studies. Achard began experimenting with sugar-producing plants on the grounds of his home, finding that sugar beets were the most efficient producers of sugar. More than 10 years after beginning his studies, Achard opened the first sugar beet processing plant in present-day Konary, Poland, under the patronage of Frederick William III of Prussia. Within 10 years of opening, the Napoleonic Wars had started, and the plant was destroyed during the fighting, though by this point other factories had begun springing up. The sugar beet sugar industry surged during the war, particularly in Germany, because Napoleon established a blockade that prevented Caribbean cane sugar from reaching Europe and, in 1813, banned the import of sugar all together. This ban ensured that factories producing sugar from sugar beets continued to pop up. The success of Achard in deriving sugar from beets so worried British sugar merchants that they offered him money to say that his experiments had failed, but he refused. Today, most of the sugar we consume comes from sugar cane, but a surprising 30% of the world’s sugar still comes from sugar beets.

Which brings us to this chocolate beet cake–in this case, not made with the sweetest beet, the sugar beet, but just regular old purple beets you find in the grocery store.

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Chocolate Beet Cake with Cream Cheese Beet Frosting
This recipe is inspired by Joy the Baker’s Beet Cake, and my recipe for malted chocolate cake. I used a 10-inch bundt pan, but this is about 6 cups of batter, so two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans could be used instead, though you will need to adjust your cooking time.

Ingredients:
For cake:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the bundt pan
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups shredded beets (about 2-3 large beets)

For glaze:
4 oz cream cheese, very soft
1/3 cup milk
6 tbsp powdered sugar

Instructions: 

For cake:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Thoroughly wash beets (without peeling them), coat them in olive or vegetable oil, and wrap them in foil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about an hour or until you can easily pierce them through with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool completely. Once cooled, cut off the ends, peel with a knife or vegetable peeler. Shred them on a box grater. Set aside.

Turn oven down to 350 degrees.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, baking soda and powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and vegetable oil.

Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture and use a spoon to stir together until no flour streaks remain.

Add the boiling water and stir until completely combined. Add the shredded beets, reserving about 1/4 cup for glaze, and stir until combined.

Coat a 10-inch bundt pan with vegetable oil or butter, and dust with cocoa powder.

Add the batter evenly to the bundt pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Begin checking at 35 minutes by inserting a toothpick or thin knife. If it comes out clean, it’s done.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then, trace the edges of the pan with a butter knife and invert onto the wire rack to cool completely.

For glaze:
In a small saucepan, add 1/4 cup shredded beets to milk. Heat, stirring occasionally, removing from heat when the milk begins to steam. Strain the shredded beet from the mixture. Allow to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, combine the softened cream cheese with powdered sugar. Beat with a mixer until smooth. Beat in 1 tbsp of the beet-milk until you reach the desired consistency.

Pour evenly over the top of the cooled cake.

Serve and enjoy!

Chocolate Beet Cake

I like a tender cake. Tender and moist. Probably because I grew up on cakes made from boxes (I love them still), with everything perfectly measured and timed for the home baker. This cake gives me both of those things. And it makes me wonder why everyone isn’t putting beets into their baked goods. Please let me know if you have other beet-in-dessert recipes. I’m dying to try them!

Oma’s Cabbage Rolls

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I’m extremely excited to welcome Maggie Hennessy to the blog today. If you often read about the Chicago food scene, you may already know her, or at least her words. She is a certified chef, freelance food writer and, since last summer, the restaurant and bars critic for Time Out Chicago, one of a very small number of female food critics in the city. Luckily for me, Maggie agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about what food means to her, and to share one of her favorite family recipes.

For Maggie, food is a bond, a point of contention, and the subject of some of her favorite memories. Her mother prioritized her children’s diet, spending hours shopping for and preparing their meals. “I remember her saying ‘food is love’ every day,” she told me.

Her mother’s mother–her Oma–was a German immigrant who smuggled seeds for German mache lettuce to America in her socks, and grew and preserved her own comestibles–the definition of old-world cooking, who was nevertheless “thrilled when she got her first microwave.” Maggie sees food as an expression of love, but recognizes it also as a reminder of the traditionally narrow role of women. That’s why “making raspberry jam in the suffocating summer heat with my grandmother was almost terrifying–with pots slamming and fruit splattering, so we knew the true labor involved.”

The time and energy that both her mother and grandmother sacrificed to make sure their families were fed had a profound effect on Maggie. “Coming from a first-generation German mom who stayed home to raise her kids instead of pursuing a full-time painting career, whose mother came to the States during World War II, grew her own food and did all the cooking–food has this duality as an expression of love complicated by a burdensome sense of the ‘role’ of women first and foremost as caretakers,” Maggie told me. “It makes me appreciate that they fed us in spite of and because of this–and it connects me to them in a way I couldn’t possibly understand as a kid. That they did the best they could with their situation.”

Maggie’s older sister Madeline has also shaped Maggie’s relationship with food. Her mother’s excellent and healthy cooking led Maggie and her sister to a sort of rebellion, indulging in sweet cereals at sleepovers and “breakfast Cokes” on the way to middle school, and later, “mid-afternoon cheese fry and banana shake runs” when her sister could drive. Maggie’s sister went on to a career of non-profit grant-writing, with a great concern for social issues, which has put them on seemingly opposite sides of the food world. “You try bringing up the trendiness of bone broth over a couple drinks with someone who spends her days fighting tooth and nail to get sick, chronically homeless people into housing.” Their lifelong dialog has been fruitful for both. Maggie is “still smitten with the notion of food as a unifier—a source of joy and an expression of love,” she says. “But I’ve also developed a healthy skepticism about its pretension, which I owe in large part to my sister.”

This life with food led Maggie to a career in food, by a roundabout way. She moved with her family from Boston to the suburbs of Chicago when she was seven, and studied journalism in college. “After graduation and about 35 newspaper job applications that went mostly unanswered, I finally got a job as a financial journalist. I hated the work, but was too afraid to take the plunge and quit. So instead, I’d research culinary schools on my lunch break and fantasize about leaving to pursue a dazzling career in food writing.”

However, like many young professionals in 2008, Maggie was affected by the recession: “Two years later, my whole team got laid off.” Seeing this as an opportunity, Maggie took her meager savings and went to culinary school. “For one year, I spent my nights trekking to Kendall College in that tragically unflattering chef’s uniform to make crepes, sear lamb chops, weave challah bread, roll fresh pasta, and make blood sausage from scratch.” 

Still, she wasn’t sure how to transition from culinary school into food writing. But she found that the “chef-instructors were accommodating, letting me observe student dinner service and tirelessly document and photograph every moment of class. That year taught me wondrous things, too, like the magic of making consomme, the secret to Roman marinara (anchovies!), and the sound a perfectly baked baguette makes” 

Once she finished her courses, she was able to find work in business-to-business food journalism. She told me, “I worked at a series of trade publications covering every aspect of fine-dining and fast-casual restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, and packaged food and beverage. I was desperate to maintain some connection to food, even if it meant covering high-volume bakery equipment or GMO labeling.”

But eventually she decided it wasn’t enough. With the support of her “husband / soulmate / best friend Sean,” she took the plunge to become a full-time freelance food and drink writer.

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Though she credits her mother and sister with shaping her ideas about food, her earliest experience came from her grandmother. “My grandma grew up in a little town in Germany not far from Frankfurt, in a family of poor farmers,” Maggie told me. “She married my grandpa, who was Croatian and a watchmaker, during World War II. They moved to Fairfield, Connecticut, where her sister lived, and had three children. My grandparents were very religious. Oma worked in retail and was a wonderful seamstress. She used to make these incredible retro dresses and coats for our Barbie dolls.”

Maggie tells me that her Oma “maintained a massive backyard garden, cooked and baked everything from scratch and made preserves out of what she couldn’t use up.” Even though she died of cancer at the young age of 64, when Maggie was only five, she and her story left a strong impression. Maggie dreamily recalls “the smell of newspapers in the kitchen, where my grandfather would sit reading and muttering about corrupt politics while he slathered thick pats of butter on his poppy seed bagel; hunting for deliciously grainy lumps in Oma’s famous cream of wheat laced with sugar and heavy cream; the tinny scraping sound of fork on metal as my grandmother whisked oil, lemon and green onion together to make her now-famous ‘Oma dressing,’ which my mom, sister and I still make almost daily to this day; the taste of syrupy raspberry-filled milk chocolate bars, which Oma always presented us with the moment we arrived.”

The recipe that Maggie decided to share is for her grandmother’s cabbage rolls. When I asked Maggie why she decided to share this recipe in particular, she told me a few reasons. “One, because as I’ve gotten older cooking has increasingly become a meditative pursuit in the sense that it requires us to truly live in the moment. The first part of the recipe fulfills this–with plenty of chopping, par-cooking, mixing, stuffing and assembling. Each step is simple, but you have to be present,” she said. “The second reason I shared this recipe is exactly the opposite of the first–and equally why I love it so much. Stuffed cabbage rolls are one of the most forgiving dishes you’ll ever make; I’m not kidding. Even if a few cabbage leaves rip, or you overfill them, or forget to add the sauerkraut till the very end, or the bottom of the pot burns a little, this dish always turns out delicious. There’s something to be said for submerging a bunch of stuff in liquid in a pot, leaving it alone over low heat, then it comes out the other side as a flavorful, fulfilling and coherent meal.”

Maggie clarified that she had never had these rolls from her grandmother’s kitchen, but only ever had them made by her mother. “We usually visited my grandparents in summertime, and stuffed cabbage rolls–filled with bacon, beef and rice and slow-braised in tomatoes and sauerkraut–are total winter food.” As Maggie was telling me this story, she said something striking: “I’m so glad she never made them for me.” It’s the sign of a true family recipe when it has life beyond the first person to make it. These are Oma’s cabbage rolls when Maggie’s mother makes them, and they are still Oma’s when Maggie makes them today.

These rolls define the type of food that Maggie always comes back to, “warming, hearty and comforting one-pot meals, heavy on vegetables and never without starch.” As I’ve often been told in previous posts (and as I’ve done myself with my family recipes), Maggie has adapted her grandmother’s recipe to her own taste, “upping the tomato because I’m an unapologetic sauce lover and seasoning every layer because being a chef turns that into a compulsory act. Adapting it filled me with endless joy, because I deem that the real mark of recipe mastery. “

I also like to think they’re the perfect expression of the type of woman my grandmother was–resourceful, labor-intensive, warm and tidy, with a slight bite.” 

Cabbage Rolls

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Oma’s Cabbage Rolls
Makes about 12 rolls

Ingredients:
1/2 cup white rice
Salt, as needed
1 large head cabbage
3-4 strips bacon, diced 1/4 inch
1 tsp butter
1 medium yellow onion
Pepper, to taste
2 pounds 85% lean ground beef
2 eggs
1 pound sauerkraut
1 14-oz can tomato sauce
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
14 oz water

Instructions:

Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the rice, and cook for about 10 minutes, until cooked about halfway through (it will cook the rest of the way inside the cabbage rolls). Drain off any excess water and dump the rice into a large bowl.

While the rice is cooking, heat a large pot two-thirds full of salted water until boiling. Carefully add the whole head of cabbage and boil for 5 minutes. Remove, and immediately plunge into a large bowl of ice water for 30 seconds, turning constantly, to stop the cooking process. Set on paper towels to drain.

Place diced bacon in a cold skillet with a large pat of butter. Turn the heat up to medium, and slowly render the bacon until slightly brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onion and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Saute until the onion is softened and slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and bacon to the rice mixture. Then add the ground beef, eggs, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Puncture the yolks, and mix everything together until evenly incorporated.

To assemble the cabbage rolls, pull one cabbage leaf off at a time and place it on a cutting board with the inside facing up and the root end closest to you.

Place a few tablespoons of the beef mixture in the center of the leaf. Fold each side in toward the center so they’re overlapping. (Don’t worry if there are a few rips in the cabbage leaves. Everything will come together when it cooks.)

Roll forward and away from you, tucking in the sides as you go like you’re rolling up a burrito. Set the rolls seam-side down on a sheet tray, and repeat until you’ve used up all the filling. If there is only a little cabbage left, chop it up finely and toss it in the pot with the cabbage rolls. Otherwise, seal the rest in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

Place a 5-quart Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot on the stove. Cover the bottom with a layer of sauerkraut (and extra chopped cabbage if you have it), then a layer of cabbage rolls. Season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Repeat this process until all the cabbage rolls are nestled inside the pot.

Pour the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes over everything. Fill the 14-ounce tomato sauce can with water and pour that over the rolls as well. Top with a little more sauerkraut and season again with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat on medium, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low (the pot should be lightly bubbling), cover the pot and cook the cabbage rolls for 2 hours, until the meat is cooked through and the cabbage leaves are tender.

To serve, place 2 rolls in a shallow bowl or on a plate. Top with a few ladles of the sauerkraut tomato sauce. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Stuffed cabbage rolls freeze beautifully. Place the cooked cabbage rolls and a few spoonfuls of sauce in airtight containers in the freezer up to 3 months. The day you’re ready to eat them, put them in the fridge 8 hours ahead to thaw, then reheat them gently over medium low on the stove.

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When I had coffee with Maggie to discuss this post, I had just made the cabbage rolls the day before. I told her I was skeptical before I made them, because I don’t count myself as a lover of cabbage or sauerkraut. But then I ate one. And then my husband and I ate every last one of them. Seriously, they’re that good. Cozy comfort food at its finest.

If you are interested in learning more about Maggie and her work, you can catch up with her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her personal website. She also recently co-authored a cookbook with Mitch Einhorn (of Twisted Spoke) that she hopes will be published later this year.

In addition, Maggie recently wrote a piece for Cherrybombe, that is not so much about food, as it is about muting other people’s negativity and overcoming feelings of inadequacy and inexperience to become a food critic. You should definitely read it. If you’re a woman in almost any occupation, but particularly a nontraditional one, this article will strike a chord with you.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and your grandmother’s recipe, Maggie!

Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Cream Buns)

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Happy Mardi Gras!

If we were still living in New Orleans, this day would have looked much different. I still can’t believe that Chicago hasn’t discovered Mardi Gras: 1) a huge party, 2) costumes, 3) parades, 4) drinking! We like all of those things! I mean, I guess the parade part is the biggest hindrance. We got a foot of snow here in Chicago last week. Most of the cars on my street are still buried. No parades or floats here. And I almost miss getting hit in the head with beads–almost. Because I would always, always, once a year, get hit in the head with beads. For me, it was a Mardi Gras tradition.

Anyway, the snow has kept us indoors for the most part and it has us both going stir-crazy. But the good part of being snowed in is the baking! I never feel like baking more than when it’s cold and snowy outside. And, since it’s Mardi Gras, I thought I would celebrate with the baked goods of the season!

Last year, I made King Cake Paczkis, with moderate success. This year, I took my inspiration from the Swedes and made semlor: Cardamom-scented buns, filled with sweetened almond paste and whipped cream.

Semlor are eaten in Sweden (and throughout Scandinavia) to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras), known to the Swedes as Fettisdagen, or “fat day”, the last day before Lent. Like king cake and paczskis, the dish was originally created as a way to use up fats and sugar in the house, before the fasting that accompanies Lent. However, you can now find the buns on bakery shelves from January through Easter. It’s estimated that 20 million semlor (the plural of semla) are eaten in Sweden every year. Semlor are sometimes eaten in a bowl of hot milk, which is known as “hetvägg” or “hot wall.” And, though this might be rumor, it is even said that the Swedish king, Adolph Frederick, died in 1771 of digestion problems after eating, in addition to many other things, 14 semlor!

I tried to make these semlor several times. I used a few different recipes from around the internet. My friend Rasmus said that the most important part was that each semla should be light and airy, rather than bread-like and hard. And my first two tries did come out more like bread. Then I thought of the lightest and airiest rolls that I ever made: A Cozy Kitchen’s Everything Cloverleaf Rolls! Even though these rolls aren’t meant to be dessert, I used the base of that recipe to create the bun for the semlor. The result was super soft semlor buns, obviously a little sweeter and spiced with cardamom, ready to be filled with almond paste and cream! Semlor

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Semlor
Makes 8-10 buns.

Ingredients:
For buns:
5 tbsp sugar
3 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115-120 degrees
1 egg yolk, beaten
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened, plus another 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour, plus another 1/2 cup for kneading
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp-1 tbsp vegetable oil for oiling the bowl
For filling:
3/4 cup almond paste, sweetened
1/3 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream

Confectioner’s sugar, optional, for sprinkling over the top

Instructions:

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, yeast, and warm milk. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes to activate.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup of flour, the salt, and the cardamom.

Stir the beaten egg and melted butter into the yeast mixture. Add the flour mixture and stir until completely combined, then add an additional cup of flour and stir until combined, then add one half a cup of flour and stir.

Lightly flour a surface and scrape the dough out onto the flour. Knead the remaining half cup of flour into the dough, for about 5 minutes.

Oil a large bowl with vegetable oil and add the dough, turning over in the oil to coat.

Cover with dishtowel and place in a warm area for an hour and a half, until double in size.

Divide the dough into 8-10 balls and place at least 1-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise for another 30 to 60 minutes. The dough should double in size again.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush the top of the buns with a little cream, or a beaten egg, before baking for 15-20 minutes, until slightly golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool.

As the buns are cooling, whip the remaining whipping cream with 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Mix 3/4 cup of almond paste with 1/4 cup whole milk.

Cut a tiny cone shape in the top of each bun. Fill the space with about 2 tbsp of the almond mixture, then top with whipped cream. Place the lid of the bun back on top of the whipped cream and dust with powdered sugar.

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With their little powdered sugar party hats, they look a lot like every single round, snow-covered surface in Chicago right now, and they were a big hit in this house. I don’t know where to acquire a semla in the city of Chicago. There is stiff competition with paczkis and king cake here. I assume the old Swedish Bakery used to make them, but, alas, the Swedish Bakery is no more. If you find them, please let me know!

Spicy Hermit Cookie Bars

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How is everyone settling into 2018? The beginning of the year is hectic, but every year I forget that because of the lazy dream that is the end of December. For some, the holidays are chaotic, but for me, they’re slow. The end of my year, every year, is just eating, drinking, and going to Christmas parties, where you bring gifts of wine that you bought based solely on how much you like the label. But then January shows up and all the holiday decorations come down, everyone is eating Whole30, it’s freezing, and I’m expected to go outside? Of my house?!

The only good thing about January is that I switch from holiday movies back onto my regularly scheduled program of foreign ghost movies. (We watched a really terrifying Iranian one on Netflix the other day called Under the Shadow. Whoa.) I only recognize two seasons: Christmas and Halloween.

But let’s get to the matter at hand here: Cookies. My favorite cookie (excluding my Christmas go-to, the Chocolate Crinkle) is oatmeal raisin. Some might say I have bad taste in cookies. Some might even say that the humble oatmeal raisin is barely a cookie. But I won’t die on this hill–I’m not even a huge fan of cookies in general. Cake? Pie? Yes. Cookies… eh, sometimes. I know this might be dangerous to admit online, for the whole world to see. I have the same fear when I tell people I don’t really like wine (except for the labels). People stare at me like I’ve never even seen those “Rosé All Day” t-shirts.

I tried a new kind of cookie this week that might seem old-fashioned, too savory, and to have too many raisins. But it’s a winner. The Spicy Hermit cookie.

Very similar to a chewy gingerbread, recipes for the spicy hermit cookie was first printed as far back as the 1870’s, showing up in Midwestern newspapers. The earliest mentions of the cookie in the Northeast show up around 1896 in Buffalo, New York. Even though the recipe made it into Midwestern newspapers first, this particular recipe likely has its origins with the English-Scottish colonists in New England, as it is very similar to English plumb cakes and gingerbread recipes from Medieval times, which use molasses as an ingredient (instead of honey, a traditional ingredient in German gingerbread).

Where the name of the cookie comes from is also a mystery. It may have been chosen to describe the cookie’s lumpy, brown appearance, like a hermit’s robe. Another possibility for the name comes from the idea that these cookies would keep longer than others, because of their high fat and sugar content, and could be stored away, like hermits. In some recipes, the cookies are referred to as Harwich Hermits, which suggests they may have been created, or at least popularized, in Harwich, Massachusetts. In the cookbook, 250 Treasured Country Desserts, it’s said that because of their ability to keep for long periods, sailors on the New England coast would take the cookies out to sea with them.

There are thousands of recipes for hermit cookies. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crisp. Sometimes they are made as a drop cookie (in the 50’s and 60’s they seemed to be a popular addition to children’s packed lunches), and sometimes as a bar. For this post, I made them into bars, because why should round cookies get to have all the fun? And also, it was a test to see if I like cookies better if they’re in bar form. Spoiler: I do.

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Spicy Hermit Cookie Bars
Makes approximately 16 bars. This recipe is a variation of Ina Garten’s, changing the ingredients slightly, and using this article about the science of cookies to tweak the recipe for a more cake-like bar.

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and browned
1/4 cup dark molasses
2/3 cup golden raisins, minced
1/2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For glaze:
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3-4 tbsp heavy cream

Instructions:

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and salt.

In a pan, melt the butter until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. You will know it’s done when it begins to smell nutty, and stops popping. Allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the egg and egg white. Beat briefly until scrambled. Add in half of the brown sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add the remaining brown sugar and beat until smooth and light brown in appearance. Stir in the molasses.

Pour the browned butter into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Next add the egg and molasses mixture, and the raisins and orange zest. Stir until combined. The mixture will be quite craggy and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but overnight is best.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two small, or one large, cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Pour the dough out onto a floured surface. Shape into a disc, cut it in half, and roll each half into a log about one foot in length.

Place each log on the cookie sheet, at least three inches apart.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 18-20 minutes, turning the pan about halfway through.

Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the glaze. To make glaze, stir together the confectioner’s sugar and the heavy cream until smooth. Drizzle the mixture back and forth over the still-warm bars.

Allow to cool completely, cut into 1 1/2-inch bars, and enjoy!

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A soft and chewy cookie bar, spiced with ginger, clove and nutmeg, rich with molasses–and of course, studded with raisins–is my kind of cookie. You might like it too, even if you prefer to drink your grapes instead of bake with them.

Parker House Rolls

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Yesterday was the first day of winter, the longest day of the year. But I’m so ready, because that means today it will start getting a little lighter a little earlier, and 4:30pm will start to feel less like midnight. I am unexpectedly back in Indiana this week, because my poor mama fell and broke her wrist! And even though I didn’t plan on coming home for Christmas, it’s nice to be home around the holidays, even if it’s for an unfortunate reason. AND! With Christmas approaching, I’m obviously thinking a lot about food. For some people, the holiday means presents. For me, it means food.

Awhile back, Alex sent me an article that says the favorite Thanksgiving side dish of the Midwest is rolls and biscuits. Biscuits, maybe, but rolls?! Is this who we are? Judging from the amount of carbs I consumed as a child, it must be. I mean, I love bread. As a kid, I would ask my mom for a loaf of Italian bread from the store to eat in front of the TV: A LOAF of bread. Rolls, though? Idk. We always had crescent rolls at holiday dinners when I was growing up. They’re…OK. I remember biting into one once when I was little, thinking it would be buttery like a croissant. I was mistaken. So, anyway, long story short, I’m leery of rolls. I’ve been burned before.

I also realized that the only non-sweet rolls I’ve ever made were A Cozy Kitchen’s Everything Cloverleaf Rolls for a Friendsgiving a few years back. We couldn’t stop eating them. This year, though, I wanted to try a much older recipe. This holiday season, I offer you a recipe for very traditional Parker House rolls.

Parker House rolls were created in the 1880’s at the Parker House Hotel in Boston. The original hotel no longer exists, but it is located where the Omni Parker House sits now. The Parker House was famous in its own right, hosting both the famous and the infamous: In the 1860’s, Charles Dickens lived at the Parker House, and recited A Christmas Carol (how timely!) there, for the first time in Boston, 150 years ago in 1867. Two years earlier, John Wilkes Booth stayed in the hotel eight days before he assassinated President Lincoln, while visiting his brother, an actor who was performing in a play in Boston. And, Parker House rolls are not the only enduring recipe to come out of the Hotel’s kitchen. The Parker House is also said to be where the Boston Cream Pie, the official state dessert of Massachusetts, was created.

A traditional Parker House roll is unique because of its fold. Usually oval in shape and then folded over, most origin stories credit the fold to when an angry baker threw the unfinished rolls into the oven. The rolls became a staple on tables all over the country after the recipe was featured in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook, the first cookbook to include standardized measurement.

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Parker House Rolls
Makes about 2 dozen rolls. This recipe is a variation of Yossy Arefi’s recipe on Food52.

Ingredients:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, very soft
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup warm water (about 120 degrees)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted (for greasing pan and brushing on top of the rolls)
Flaky sea salt, to taste

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour, salt, and softened butter. Beat with a hand mixer or wooden spoon until it just begins to come together.

In a smaller bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water. Whisk briefly and allow to sit for about five minutes.

In a two-cup measuring cup, or small bowl, beat together the milk and egg.

To the flour mixture, add the milk and egg mixture and then the yeast mixture. Then, add 1/2 cup of flour to the mixture, incorporating the flour fully into the mixture, and repeat this 1/2 cup at a time until you reach 4 1/2 cups of flour total. Transfer the dough to a large, greased bowl. (The dough will be quite sticky!) Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

Once it has risen, remove and uncover the dough and punch it down. Then divide the dough into four equal pieces.

On a well-floured surface, take 1/4 of the dough and roll out into a 18′ X 5″ rectangle. Take a butter knife and make a line lengthwise down the dough, not cutting all the way through. Fold the dough over on top of itself, at the crease. Make five cuts, creating six 3-inch rolls from the dough. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and brush it inside two large rectangular pans, or cast iron skillets. Lay each individual roll into the dish. Continue with the other three sections of dough. Cover and allow to rise another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoon of butter, brush the top of the rolls with melted butter, and bake for about 30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.

Remove from oven, brush with more melted butter, sprinkle with sea salt, and serve warm.

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Consider this a solid for my Midwestern folks out there who love their rolls. And—you’re going to either hate or love me for pointing this out—these rolls are perfectly crafted to help you mop every bit of butter from your butter knife. (Butter mopping is an important thing to consider here in the Midwest.) Super soft, slightly sweet, and very light, with a slightly crisp exterior, Parker House rolls are a great addition to your holiday table. Or… like… any morning, smeared with butter and jam or honey. Plus, if you bring homemade rolls to any dinner, you look like a champion. You get bonus points if they’re still warm when you sit down to eat.

So, this is probably my last post of the year, unless I get to baking again and feel like there’s something I really need to share. If you don’t hear from me until next year, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all! I wish you lots of cookie eating and mulled wine drinking for the rest of the year. Catch you in 2018!

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

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All the signs of the holidays are here: Last Friday, we walked over to the local hardware store and picked out our Christmas tree, as we have done for the last four years. And the next morning we woke up to a beautiful snow-covered city. For the record, this is Phase 1 of winter, where I say I love snow, and I talk about how magical the city is when it snows. One month from now, though, I will be downtown, standing on the sidewalk too close to the street, and get annihilated by gray slushy splash from a large truck. Or I’ll step off the sidewalk into what appears to be a shallow snow pile that is actually knee-deep, and have cold, wet feet for the rest of the day. Phase 2 of winter is called, “Snow in the city is a disgusting dirty mess.” Welcome to Chicago.

After the tree and the snow, the third sign of the holidays is all the baking. Pies, cookies, breads, you name it. When it’s cold outside, one of my favorite things in the world is waking up early, making myself some coffee, and baking while I’m still in my robe. A dream of mine is to one day make a gingerbread house from scratch. (Last year, Alex and I got the bright idea to make a gingerbread house, so we bought little decorations, like gumdrops and tiny rock-shaped candy-covered chocolates. Then we realized that making a complete gingerbread house from scratch cannot be done in the hour that we wanted to devote to it, so we just ate the candy decorations while we watched It’s a Wonderful Life and Barbershop. That’s a true story.)

Anyway, while I’m in the mood to bake I’ve been trying out some new recipes that I found throughout the year and put aside until, you know, I felt like it. One of those recipes was persimmon pudding.

I had my first persimmon well after I left Indiana for college. And, even when I had it, I figured it was some exotic fruit that I would never have seen on the produce shelves at Kroger. So didn’t I feel like a dope when I found out that the persimmon is native to the eastern United States, and grows wild Indiana (mostly southern Indiana, but still!), among other places. In fact, persimmons are kind of a big deal in southern Indiana, with a Persimmon Festival held every year in early fall in Mitchell, Indiana, for the last 71 years.

The word persimmon comes from the Powhatan language, and means “dry fruit”. Tasty, huh? Before they ripen, persimmons have a high number of tannins, like a very dry red wine, but about 1000 times worse. If you bite into an unripe persimmon, dry fruit is exactly what comes to mind. All of a sudden it feels like you have a mouth full of bitter gauze. It’s not great. I read somewhere that a ripe Hachiya should feel to the fingers like a full water balloon. And, as revolting as that analogy is, it is correct. If you let them ripen fully, you have a sweet and juicy fruit, the perfect base for this pudding.

I found references to persimmon pudding in Indiana as early as the 1890’s. In one paper from Richmond, there is a reference to using native Indiana persimmons in “one of those good old North Carolina persimmon puddings.” So perhaps persimmon pudding, famous in Indiana, is actually a dish that traveled through North Carolina, before making its way to Indiana, similar to the Hoosier sugar cream pie I made earlier this year.

And, when I say pudding, I’m not talking about Snack Packs. What I mean is the typical English pudding style, which is often steamed or baked, and results in something between a custard and a cake. These dishes used to be extremely popular in the Eastern United States. In fact, last year, I made Indian pudding, a recipe from colonial times, which is a similar texture to this pudding but is made with cornmeal and is less sweet. This dessert has just the right amount of sweetness, along with the cinnamon and nutmeg, to make you think, “Oh, yeah, that’s the taste of the holidays right there.”

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

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Indiana Persimmon Pudding
This recipe is a slight variation on this recipe, the winner at the 2014 Persimmon Festival in Mitchell, Indiana. Makes 4-6 servings.

Ingredients: 
1 cup persimmon, processed and strained (about 2-3 medium-large Hachiya persimmons)
3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp butter: 1 tbsp for greasing the dish, 2 tbsp for the mixture, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease at least a one quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

In a small bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.

Take skin off of persimmons, roughly chop and blend in a food processor for about 10 seconds until smooth. Pour the processed persimmon through a mesh strainer and discard the pulp. Measure out one cup of the strained persimmon into a separate bowl.

Add the buttermilk to the persimmon and stir together.

In a separate bowl, using a mixer, cream together the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, with the sugar, until smooth. Stir this mixture into the persimmon-buttermilk mixture with a wooden spoon.

Sift the flour mixture into the persimmon mixture using a wooden spoon and stir to thoroughly combine. No flour streaks should remain, but the mixture will not be completely smooth, and there will be some lumps.

Pour into the greased baking dish and bake for 70-80 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at the 70-minute mark by sticking a knife in the center and closer to the edges. Once the knife comes out clean in each area, it’s done.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy!

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Yes, this recipe takes a while to bake. Low and slow, beebs. But it takes almost no time to throw together. And when it’s done, you have a rich, warmly spiced pudding, with a caramelized exterior. It’s admittedly not much to look at, but it is delicious and is the definition of comfort food. And, as most things are, it’s best served warm, with ice cream or whipped cream on the side. Let me know what you think if you decide to whip up a batch!