Sunday, December 14, 2014

Swedish Ribbon Cookies

It’s time for Christmas cookies.  Truly, this is one of my favorite cooking moments of the year.  Long before I went to cooking school….or began cooking professionally….I made Christmas cookies.  Not just any cookies, but small, labor-intensive, carefully molded and formed cookies.  My love for them has not diminished over the years.  No matter how busy I am cooking and baking professionally, I always try to carve out time for baking at least one or two old favorites.   I have shared many of these special cookies here on my blog…and will continue to do so every holiday season for as long as I continue to maintain a blog.  This year I want to share my recipe for Swedish Ribbon Cookies.

Swedish Ribbon Cookies were not something I grew up making.  I had never even heard of them until well past my college years.  They were in fact the result of a search for a bar cookie that occasionally showed up on the dessert table in the dining hall of my Minnesota college.  The bars had the rather odd name of “scar bars”.  They were hefty, almond-scented slabs—somewhat like a cross between a sugar cookie and shortbread—topped with streaks (“scars”) of raspberry jam and drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze.  Their flavor was addictive and I always wanted the recipe.  It never occurred to me to ask. 

When I moved out on my own and began to cook and bake in earnest, I ran across a recipe for Swedish Jelly Slices in Maida Heatter’s  Book of Great Desserts.  As I looked at the recipe I realized I was looking at a variation of my beloved dining hall cookie.  It made sense to me that the cookies I had loved in college would have Swedish roots (many of the traditional baked goods in Minnesota are of Scandinavian origin).  Furthermore, everything about the recipethe simplicity of the ingredients…the almond-scented dough… the jam-filled grooves on the surface of the cookies….and the powdered sugar glazetold me that even though these weren’t “the” cookies…they were probably the “original” from which the food service-appropriate pan cookies had been derived. 

Once I had a better working title for my cookies (I’ve never located a recipe for something called “scar bars”) I began searching for other recipes.  I found that the cookies go by many—similar—names:  the aforementioned Swedish Jelly Slices, Swedish/Scandinavian Ribbon Cookies, Scandinavian Raspberry Ribbons….etc.  Recently, I ran across a recipe in Fine Cooking for this cookie going by the name “Raspberry Diamonds”.  No matter the name, the cookies are all pretty much the same: Butter, sugar, egg yolk, almond extract, flour and salt are made into a malleable dough that is formed into ropes or flat bars that are filled with a bit of jam before being baked and then sliced at an angle to form petite little diamond-shaped cookies.  Occasionally you will find a recipe that includes some lemon zest…and sometimes the dough is flavored with vanilla instead of almond…but the recipes really are all quite similar.  I believe that my recipe is a combination of several that I found.  It has been so long, I am unable to cite the exact source…I only know that I have multiple printouts of very similar recipes, all stashed in among the pages of Maida Heatter’s book.

You have probably noticed that my cookies are filled with apricot instead of raspberry jam.  I used to make them with raspberry, but I discovered years ago that while this gives a festive, Christmas-y color, the red color of the jam bleeds into the powdered sugar glaze when stored for longer than a day.  This is not the end of the world, but I don’t find it to be terribly attractive…and Christmas cookies should be beautiful, after all…  Since apricot jam doesn’t have this problem (at least, if it does, the color is so pale it isn’t discernible)…and since it is a sufficiently traditional option…I began making them with apricot jam several years ago.  You can of course make yours with raspberry jam…just be warned you will end up with a marbled pink and white glaze after a day or so. 

One of the things I love about these cookies is how easy it is to produce beautiful, uniform, neat and precise cookies.  I have given detailed instructions for how to get these results in the recipe, but I want to point out a couple of things here.  First, don’t make these cookies too big.  These aren’t the scar bars of my college dining hall days….these cookies should be dainty and petite.  If you make the logs too large (fat), you will be tempted to use too much jam and the cookies will tend to want to break in half.  Secondly, even if you are careful to make the logs nice and small, you might still be tempted to use too much jam.  Notice that the recipe only calls for a quarter cup….this is less than a tablespoon per log.  The cookies shouldn’t be gooey with jam….they should have just enough to give a tart, fruity accent to the tender, almond-y cookie.  If you remember that you are laying a ribbon—not a river—of jam, you should be fine. 

Hopefully I will have time to post more recipes for Christmas cookies or candies this year.  But if it happens that I don’t, I have posted many favorites—old and new—over the past few years.  I hope you will take a moment to have a look.  The variety is great, so there is probably something there to please almost every style of holiday sweet tooth.  Happy Baking.

Swedish Ribbon Cookies

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. almond extract
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (10 oz.)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. strained jam—Apricot, Raspberry, Lingonberry, etc.
1 c. powdered sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 to 2 t. water

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy—don’t over-cream or the cookies will spread too much.  Beat in the egg yolk and the almond extract.  Stir in the flour and salt and mix until blended. 

Divide the dough into 5 pieces.  Roll each piece into a log that is about 12 inches long and a scant 1-inch in diameter.  

Place the logs 2 inches apart on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet (these cookies bake best on insulated cookie sheets).  

With the side of your little finger, make a narrow, shallow trench down the length of each log, leaving a little space at the ends so that the trench is closed at both ends.  Do not make the trench too deep or the cookies will not hold together after they are baked and sliced. 

Bake the logs in a 350° oven for 10 to 12 minutes—they should be just set and not have a wet/raw look to them.  

While the logs bake, place the jam in a small zip-lock bag and seal.  Remove the cookies from the oven.  Cut a corner off of the zip-lock bag and pipe a thin (about ¼ inch wide) strip of jam down the length of each trench.  

Return to the oven and bake until the logs are firm to the touch and golden brown at the edges and the jam is bubbly—another 7 to 10 minutes.  

Cool the cookies on the sheet for 5 minutes.  Using a long offset spatula, transfer the logs to a cutting board.  While the cookies are still warm, cut at a 45° angle into 1-inch lengths. 

Finish cooling on wire racks.  

Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice.  Add enough water to obtain a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle or pipe the glaze over the cooled cookies.  After the glaze has set up, wrap the cookies air tight between layers of waxed or parchment paper.  Makes 5 dozen cookies.

  • A standard sized insulated baking sheet (14” by 16”) will hold all five logs at once. 
  • When you slice the cookies, use a thin, sharp knife and wipe the blade in between each cut with a damp paper towel. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Brandied Apple, Raisin & Date Slab Pie…a modern twist on a traditional favorite

I mentioned in my last post that Mincemeat Pie was the traditional dessert at my family’s Holiday table. My siblings and I grew up eating—and enjoying—this old-world dessert that seems to be a bit of a stretch for the modern American palate. One of my brothers has been on a mission to convert friends and co-workers to the love of mincemeat. He has even gone so far as to learn how to make it so he could take a mincemeat pie as his contribution to his holiday office party. I don’t think he has too many takers, but since the mincemeat I taught him to make is pretty fine, those who can be induced to sample it usually like it.

I think it's wonderful that he tries. A well-made mincemeat pie is delicious.  I don’t know if mincemeat is in danger of anything like extinction, but I almost never hear people talking about it when the discussion turns to classic and favorite holiday foods. So, a few years ago when I was gathering recipes for a holiday baking class, I decided that I wanted to include a mincemeat-style pie…or tart…in the slate of recipes. But since I didn’t want to discourage people from attending the class, I decided I would make a “beginner’s” mincemeat….something that anyone who loves apples, dried fruit and spices would love…and call it something else…. The Brandied Apple, Raisin & Date filling in the pie I’m posting today is the recipe I came up with for that class. 

The brandied apple filling in this pie isn’t really all that different from the mincemeat I make for my family. The mincemeat I grew up eating did in fact include beef suet (I’m pretty sure I have never had mincemeat that actually included chunks of beef), but the mincemeat I make today doesn’t have any. Mince pies—like a lot of foods—have morphed over time. They were originally a savory meat pie that included sugar—along with wine and spirits—as a preserving agent. I think some people still add beef suet…for texture and richness….but I don’t think the pie needs to be any richer. And, I think that the texture I get from the addition of Medjool dates (which dissolve nicely into the filling) is just right. 

I suppose that the main difference between my brandied apple filling and my mincemeat filling is balance of ingredients. Mincemeat has a high proportion of dried fruit. The brandied apple filling has twice the volume of apples as dried fruit. The flavor profile of my apple filling is also different….it is decidedly apple-y (besides apples, I include cider in the mix). Mincemeat has a pronounced orange-citrus flavor, mainly derived from the presence of candied peel. I love the citrus flavor, but unless someone is making their own candied peel, mincemeat that includes it should be avoided. The candied peel commonly available for sale in the States is simply awful (no wonder no one likes fruitcake). 

The final update I gave to my pie was to make a large turnover instead of a traditional pie. My purpose in doing this for my class was twofold. It gave me the opportunity to teach a different style of pie. But more importantly, it provided a way for anyone new to a mincemeat-style filling to taste it in a more palatable filling-to-crust ratio. A traditionally shaped and filled pie has a much greater proportion of filling.

I loved this way of serving the brandied apple filling so much that I have begun to make my mincemeat pies in this same turnover style. The large turnover is versatile and super easy to make—I’m certain you can fill a slab pie with any kind of thick, compote-like, cooked fruit filling that you like. Best of all it is easy to slice neatly in any size your guests prefer….allowing for elegant service to those with lighter appetites…or those who want “just a sliver” so they can sample more than one kind of pie.

Brandied Apple, Raisin & Date Slab Pie

3 cups peeled & diced (1/2-inch) sweet/tart apples—Jonagold, Braeburn or Jonathan
1/2 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. golden brown sugar
1/2 c. dark raisins
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. pitted, chopped Medjool dates
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
a pinch of mace
1 1/2 T. Brandy
1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
1 egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water to make egg wash
Turbinado or coarse decorative sugar

Place the first ten ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the apples are tender and the liquid has thickened—about 30 to 45 minutes. Let the apple-raisin mixture cool. Add the brandy. Chill. You should have 2 2/3 to 3 cups filling. The filling is best if made a day or two ahead to allow the flavors to blend.

To build the pie, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm up for a moment or two. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle that is about 1/8-inch thick and is at least 12-inches by 15-inches. 

Brush off the excess flour and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill for at least 30 minutes. 

Slide the parchment with the pastry off onto the counter and trim the pastry to an 11-inch by 14-inch rectangle. Turn the dough so that the long side runs parallel to the edge of the counter. 

Spread the apple-raisin filling evenly over the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border. 

Brush the border with the egg wash. Fold the top half of the dough over the filling, pressing firmly along the edges to seal. Press around the edge with a fork to secure the seal, being careful not to press so hard that the fork pierces the dough.

Brush the turnover with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Cut 5 equally spaced 2-inch vents in the top of the turnover. 

Slide a baking sheet under the parchment and place on the lowest rack in a pre-heated 400° oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and continue to bake until the pie is golden brown and fully cooked on the bottom—another 30 to 35 minutes.

Transfer the pie to a rack to allow it to cool completely. To serve, cut with a serrated knife. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 8. 

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200g)
1/2 t. salt
11 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (150g)
1/4 to 1/3 c. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle 1/4 c. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Form the finished dough into a thick rectangle. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Season of Simple Delights, a Pecan Pie, and a Post Holiday Turkey Soup

For a variety of reasons, the number gathered at my Thanksgiving table this year was quite small.  This was a first for me.  My extended family isn’t huge….but the small gathering was still unprecedented.  Heading into the day, I was a bit bummed about this.  But in the end, it turned out to be a lovely, unusually peaceful day.  It was, in fact, a year of many delightful “firsts”. 

One of the gifts that came as a result of our small number was my first opportunity to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner on my grandmother’s “turkey” dinner plates.  I don’t know how many plates were in the original set, but only three have made it to my generation.   There were probably never very many…even as a child, we never ate off of them when we gathered for the large celebrations in her home.  But I heard her refer to them…and I know they were special to her.  Using them for our Thanksgiving meal this year was a pleasure. 

Another first of the day was pecan pie.  I know this is a staple on many family tables, but it never appeared on ours.  My family is quite attached to their tradition of pumpkin and mincemeat pies, so this is what we always have.  There is nothing wrong with either of these pies…mincemeat pie is in fact a personal holiday favorite….but there are other holiday pies in the universe and I have always wanted to branch out a bit.  This year was the perfect opportunity.

The pie that I made was a bit unusual, and because of that I thought it worth sharing here.  Heading into Thanksgiving morning, I fully intended to make my friend Nancy’s version of pecan pie (the one she teaches in our joint class).  But for some reason on Thanksgiving morning, I was flipping through Rose Beranbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible and I noticed that she used Golden Syrup in her pecan pie instead of the more traditional Karo Syrup.

For those unfamiliar with Golden Syrup, it is a British staple.  It is a cane syrup rather than a corn syrup and it has a unique—I think it’s a bit caramel-y, but some say buttery—and delicious taste.  Karo’s corn syrup by comparison is relatively flavorless.  Since I always keep a jar of Lyle’s on hand in case I happen to be in the mood for gingerbread, I decided that while I was doing different, I should really be different and substitute Lyle’s Golden Syrup in the recipe.  It is an inspired substitution….  the pie was delicious.

On a technical note, because Lyle’s has a higher saturation of sugar than Karo syrup, I decided to use just a bit less.  The resulting pie was firmer than usual, but I liked it this way…it sliced beautifully.  If you prefer the softer set of a traditional pecan pie, just add a couple tablespoons of water (or Bourbon….or brandy…) to the egg-sugar-syrup mixture.  The easiest way to do this would be to place two tablespoons of water in a one cup glass measure and then add Lyle’s syrup to make 1 cup.

Finally, because our meal was smaller than usual, the mountain of dishes after the feast was also comparatively small.  So after the meal, I experienced another first.  I made turkey broth.  I know this is probably a shock to hear since I am a chef.  But I have just never bothered.  There is so much else to do during the clean up…and I have never been terribly motivated to do that one more thing.  But this year, as I looked around the kitchen, I noticed that the stove wasn’t covered in used pots and pans….and the stock pot had not been used for other things….  It was an easy thing to drop the turkey carcass into a pot and let it simmer away while I cleaned up the kitchen. 

And I was so glad I did.  On Saturday night we had a simple turkey soup with vegetables and rice.  I’m not sure I have ever used Thanksgiving leftovers for soup.  We always have sandwiches…tetrazzini and other casseroles…salads…etc. etc.   Thus, one more unexpected first.  And as we sat down last night to enjoy our turkey soup, I realized why it is such a traditional and fine use of leftover turkey (and broth).  After a couple of days of rich holiday foods, the comparatively austere soup was truly soothing.  I will definitely be adding soup to my rotation of uses for leftover turkey. 

You can probably put anything you like in a “leftover turkey soup”…but it will be better if you adopt a less-is-more mentality (your soup probably doesn't need stuffing...or a big mish-mosh of left over cooked vegetables).  I started with a basic onion, carrot, celery and thyme base and added cubed sweet potatoes, shredded Brussels sprouts (both left on hand from purchasing too much ahead of the big meal), Basmati rice and turkey.  The Basmati rice was a wonderful addition, subtly perfuming the soup with its unique aroma and flavor.  But if you don’t keep it on hand, regular long grain rice …or orzo pasta…or farro… would be fine.

As I mentioned at the first, I had a very nice Thanksgiving.  Delightful moments...big and small...added up to a pretty special day.  It is so unfortunate that at this holiday time of the year, it is so easy to be disappointed.   I confess I have been guilty of this.  But this year, since I had no expectations for this particular holiday, I found that there were so many things to enjoy.  I’m not a person who makes personal lists…resolutions at New Year’s…things I’m thankful for at Thanksgiving….but if I were, this year at the top of the list of things I’m thankful for would be that I had the rare opportunity to open my eyes and see the delights that are there….rather than being disappointed about the expected things that are not.  And from this vantage point, the list of things for which I am grateful becomes very long indeed. 

Pecan Pie

One 9-inch pie crust, chilled
175 grams roughly chopped pecans (1 1/2 c.)
3 eggs
200 grams brown sugar (1 cup)
300 grams Lyle’s Golden Syrup (7 fl. oz./1 cup minus 2 T.)
2 oz. (4 T.) melted unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Scatter the pecans over the bottom of the pie crust.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, golden syrup, butter, vanilla and salt. Pour into the pie shell.

Place pie in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.  Carefully tent the pie with foil, to prevent over browning.  Continue to bake until the pie is set—another 30 minutes or so.  It will still be a bit jiggly, but a knife inserted in the center should come out moist but not liquid.  Cool 4 to 6 hours before slicing.  Use a sharp serrated knife to get the cleanest, most precise slices.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

Note: If you like, place two tablespoons of water in your measuring cup, then add Lyle's syrup to make 1 cup.  This will give you a cup of syrup that has roughly the same sugar saturation as Karo syrup.  The pie is delicious and slices beautifully as written, but if you are trying to mimic the texture of a corn syrup based pie, the added water will get you closer to it.  

Basic Pie Dough:

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
3/8 t. salt
5 1/2 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (77g)
3 T. chilled vegetable shortening (36g)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished.  Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound.  Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps.  Continue until all of the dough is flat.  Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do.  Wrap in plastic wrap, pressing the dough into a thick disk.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out a bottom crust, let the disk of dough warm up for a moment or two.  Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set it aside.  Flour the work surface and the rolling pin.  Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward.  After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness.  Using a lid or an upside-down bowl, trim the dough to form a 13-inch circle.   Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half.  Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared pie plate.  Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it.  Fold the extra dough under along the rim of the pan so that it is double in thickness.  Crimp the edge. Chill the pie shell for at least 1/2 hour before filling.

Printable Recipe

“Leftover” Turkey & Rice Soup

2 1/2 to 3 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion (about 5 oz.), cut in 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice (2/3 cup)
1 small celery stick, cut in 1/4-inch dice (1/3 cup)
1/2 T. minced fresh thyme
1 1/5 c. diced (1/3- to 1/2-inch) sweet potato
3 1/2 to 4 cups Turkey broth (or more if you prefer a soup with a greater proportion of broth)
3 T. Basmati rice
3 to 4 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced (1 cup sliced)
1 cup diced cooked turkey

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Add the onion, carrot, celery and thyme along with a pinch of salt and sweat until very soft (about 15 minutes).  Add the sweet potato and cook until hot and beginning to sizzle in the butter.  

Add the stock and bring to a boil.   Taste and season with salt.  Add the rice, return to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for five minutes.  Add the sprouts, return to a simmer and cook until the sweet potatoes, rice and sprouts are tender—another 10 minutes or so.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Remove from the heat, stir in the turkey and cover and let sit for five minutes to warm the turkey through.

Makes a generous quart of soup.

  • Turkey broth can be made simply by placing the roast turkey carcass in a stock pot, covering by an inch with cold water and gently simmering until flavorful...two or three hours.  You may of course add onions, carrot, celery, etc. as for a traditional stock if you like.  
  • Don't boil the soup after you add the will make the turkey hard and chewy...particularly if you are using white meat. 
  • Recipe is easily multiplied.

Printable Recipe

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rounding out the Thanksgiving Spread with Sweet Potato Biscuits and Roasted Cranberry Relish

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday.  How could it be otherwise?  It is all about food…and the table…and gratitude for both.   The sheer volume of Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes that I have posted to my blog is the proof of my love.  I have not yet posted a recipe for turkey, but if you are looking for ways to fill out your Thanksgiving menu, you will find many ideas right here….appetizers, desserts, vegetable side dishes…as well as pumpkin baked goods of all kinds. 

Sadly, right up until yesterday I thought I wasn’t going to find the time…or even the material…to post anything new for this year.  Returning from my idyllic vacation to the beginning of what is known as “the busy season” in the food service industry felt a bit like being plunged into a cold swimming pool without benefit of having tried the water with my toe beforehand.  I knew I was going to be busy…but I wasn’t quite ready for it.  From the moment I unpacked I have scarcely been able to catch my breath.  But just as suddenly as it started, I have hit a momentary lull…and even discovered that it is in my power to add a couple of more Thanksgiving recipes to those collected here.

During the past week I taught two Thanksgiving themed classes.  On Thursday I taught the third incarnation of a class all about ways to use winter squash and sweet potatoes.  Although not specifically about Thanksgiving recipes, these two ingredients are such traditional elements of the Thanksgiving spread that almost any of the things I teach in this class would be at home on a Thanksgiving table. 

In these classes I always talk about roasting and puréeing squash and sweet potatoes…and ways of using the results.  Happily for me, I roasted too much sweet potato and returned home with just enough to make a small batch of sweet potato biscuits to go with a salad for dinner the next evening.

Since I teach these biscuits in the first version of this class—and I am now on version three—it has been a while since I made them.  And they are so delicious.  As we enjoyed them, I realized they would make a good Thanksgiving recipe for my blog.  If you are a southerner, these biscuits are probably already in your repertoire….and probably make up part of your Thanksgiving menu.  But if you are not, or you have never made or tasted sweet potato biscuits, you should give them a try.  They are easy to make (can even be frozen in their raw form and baked from frozen) and are a great way to keep the traditional sweet potato element on the Thanksgiving table.

When you make the dough for these biscuits, you will be tempted to add too much liquid.  As I explain in my post for pumpkin scones, the flour doesn’t absorb the liquid from the vegetable purée as quickly and readily as it absorbs milk (or cream…or buttermilk).  Start with about a third cup of the milk and then if the dry looking crumbles of dough won’t adhere when pressed together, go ahead and add a bit more milk.  The final mixture will not look like a traditional, cohesive, soft biscuit dough…so don’t be alarmed.  As long as it can be pressed together, you are on the right track.  

The other class I taught this week was a Thanksgiving Favorites class with my friend (and chef) Nancy.  My contribution to the class included my grandmother’s dinner rolls as well as two recipes that have already made an appearance here (Sweet Potato & Mushroom Gratin and Pumpkin Pot de Crème).  One of the recipes that Nancy brings to the class is a wonderful—and different—recipe for roasted cranberry sauce.  I have never made it for my family because my family is pretty attached to their style of cranberry sauce, but every time we teach this class together, I love getting to sample it afterwards, and I am always struck by the brilliance of the method. 

Instead of simmering the cranberries in a sugar syrup, they are simply tossed with the sugar and a few aromatic seasonings, spread on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet and then roasted until they begin to burst and bubble.  The roasting process—as well as the fact that the recipe doesn’t have nearly as much added liquid as most recipes—results in a sauce with a rich and concentrated cranberry flavor. 

The original recipe was flavored with julienne strips of orange zest and jalapeño, whole cardamom pods and cloves, as well as a cinnamon stick.  After roasting, the sauce is finished with port and orange juice.  Nancy has substituted ground cloves and ground cardamom for the whole spices in her version of the sauce.  It is just too tedious to root around in the sauce to find the whole spices and remove them.  The cinnamon stick is of course quite easy to find…but I suppose you could replace it with ground cinnamon if you prefer.

After class this week, I decided I wanted to try this method with a different set of flavors…a more traditional, chutney-like mix of spices.  In addition to the clove, cinnamon and cardamom, I added some yellow mustard seeds.  I also added julienne fresh ginger and shallots and omitted the jalapeño.  I was very pleased with the result: complex and spicy…a perfect little exclamation point for the Thanksgiving menu.

I should emphasize that I didn’t change the cranberry sauce recipe because I didn’t like the original…I do like it…a lot.  Rather, I was so enamored with the method that I wanted to try it with other flavors.  Either version would make a delicious addition to your Thanksgiving festivities….  Or, you could come up with your own preferred mix of aromatic additions.   

I sampled my finished relish with cheese and digestives for an afternoon snack.  It was very good.  So good in fact, that if you prefer, instead of including it on the table to accompany your turkey, you could make it a part of a cheese and relish tray with which to greet your hungry guests. 

I do hope that I will have some time to squeeze in another post before the holiday.  But if I do not, I want to take the time now to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.  May you find yourself at a table laden with delicious food and surrounded by those you love (and who love you) best.

Spiced Roasted Cranberry Relish with Orange & Ginger

1 orange
12 oz. fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/8 t. ground cardamom
1/8 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. yellow mustard seed
1 or 2 sticks cinnamon
1 medium shallot (about 1 oz.), peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise (about 1/4 c.)
a 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger (about 1 oz.), peeled and cut in a fine julienne (about 1/4 c.)
1 to 1 1⁄2 T. port

Heat oven to 450°.  Using a peeler, remove peel from the orange, taking off as little of the white pith as possible. Cut peel into a very thin julienne about 1 1⁄2" long.  Squeeze juice from the orange; strain and reserve.

In a bowl, combine peel, cranberries, sugar, olive oil, salt, cardamom, cloves, mustard seed, cinnamon, shallot and ginger. 

Toss and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment or foil.  

Spread the mixture out into an even layer and transfer the pan to the oven and roast until cranberries begin to burst and release their juices, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Scrape the cranberry mixture to a bowl; stir in the port and a quarter cup of the reserved orange juice.  Let sit for at least 1 hour so that the flavors meld. Remove and discard cinnamon stick before serving.  The relish may be served at room temperature or chilled.

Makes about 2 cups

(Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine, October 2008)

 Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 c. roasted sweet potato purée (240 grams), chilled
2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour (300 grams)
4 t. baking powder
2 T. Sugar
1 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
8 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
6 to 8 T. milk

Preheat oven to 425°.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cayenne.  Using your fingers, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry mixture.  Combine until mixture resembles a coarse meal.

Whisk together 6 T of the milk and the sweet potato.  Using a fork or rubber spatula, combine the liquid with the dry ingredients until the mixture is homogenous.  It will look a bit dry, but if when you squeeze some of it together, it adheres, you have added enough liquid.  If necessary add the remaining 2 T. milk. 

Turn out the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface.  Press the dough together and give it a gentle knead or two to bring it together into a soft dough.  Press the dough out into a 3/4- to 1-inch thick disc.  

Using a 2- to 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Press the scraps of dough together to cut out more rounds.   Brush the tops with melted butter 

and bake in the top third of the oven until the biscuits are  golden brown and springy to the touch,  about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 12 to 20 biscuits, depending on the size cutter you choose to use.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'oeuvres Handbook, by Martha Stewart)

Note:  You will need about a pound of sweet potatoes to produce 1 cup of purée.  Roast the sweet potatoes in a 400° oven.  Prick the sweet potatoes in several spots with a fork or paring knife and transfer to a baking sheet.  Bake until easily pierced with the tip of a knife, about 40 to 60 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, cut open the sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh.  Purée in the food processor, or press the flesh through a sieve or mesh strainer.