Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Edible Holiday Gifts

holiday treats

I love my friends and family dearly, but braving crowded shops to hunt for gifts for them is pretty low on my list of desires this time of year. What I love to do instead is hunker down in the kitchen to stir hot, bubbling caramel on the stove, roll out gingerbread guys and gals, mix and bake cookies, and then wrap it all up to give as gifts. There is joy in the making and joy in the giving of homemade holiday treats, which is a lot more than I can say about a trip to the mall.

holiday treats-1-5

holiday treats-2

I send some of my treats across the country to my family and a lot of it goes to work with P, but I love having little bags of treats all packed up and ready to go for when an unexpected visitor pops by or I meet a friend for coffee around the holidays. It's a simple, inexpensive way to show people that I am thinking about them during this season that seems to get more and more hectic every year.

holiday treats-4

You can see a few of my favorite ways to pack treats for the holidays in these photos. I like to keep it really simple and gravitate towards unbleached parchment paper, Weck jars, glassine bags, natural twine (from the hardware store), little bits of nature, and baker's twine to wrap my treats. I've owned the spool of baker's twine pictured in these for 5 years and it never seems to get any smaller.

Edible Holiday Gift Recipes

You can find my favorite Gingerbread Cookie Recipe (for ornaments and eating) in the new holiday issue of Foodiecrush Magazine, out today!

Apple Cider Caramels, pictured in the top photo are straight from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, but I cooked mine to 250º instead of 252º which the recipe suggests because I wanted them to be a bit soft. Oh, and make a double batch. You won't regret it.

Nibby Brownies (a family favorite)
Squash Harvest Loaf
Spicy Caramel Cashew Corn
Apple Butter

And a few more from the photos

Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies
adapted from Alice Medrich
yield 48-55 cookies
These aren't really a classic holiday cookie, but it has become my own tradition to make them every December. The unusual combination of buckwheat and cacao nibs makes them special enough for gift giving.
1 ¼ cups (5.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (3 ounces) buckwheat flour
½ lb unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cacao nibs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours.
2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt until smooth and creamy but not fluffy, about 1 minute. Add in the cacao nibs and vanilla, and beat to incorporate. Add the flours and beat on low speed until just incorporated. The mixture will seem very dry, but the dough will eventually come together. The dough is very thick so sometimes I use my hands for the last bit of mixing so my mixer doesn't have to work so hard
3. Form the dough into a long (about 12'')  log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap well and refrigerate at least two hours, or overnight.
4. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
5. Using a thin, sharp knife, carefully cut the dough into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place slices on the prepared baking sheets, spacing each cookie about 1 ½ inches apart.
6. Bake until cookies just begin to color around the edges, about 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the sheet pans halfway through the cooking time. Transfer to wire racks, and cool the cookies on the baking sheets (or slide the parchment onto the rack to free up the pans). Cool completely before eating or storing. Repeat with remaining dough. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 month. They also freeze really well.

Candied Citrus Peel
This method works for most citrus fruit and is simple as can be. I used yuzu peels above, but oranges, grapefruit, lemons or meyer lemons would work as well.

Citrus Fruit (4 oranges, 6 lemons, or 3 grapefruit)
4 cups water
4 cups plus 1/2 cup sugar

1. Using a paring knife, make 6 slits along curve from top to bottom of each citrus fruit, cutting through peel but not into fruit. Using your fingers, gently remove peel. Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Using a paring knife, remove excess white pith from each strip and discard.
2. Place strips in a large saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain
3. Bring 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Add the boiled of citruspeel to the boiling syrup, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until strips are translucent, about 20-40 minutes. Remove from heat, and let strips cool in syrup. Reserve the syrup for another use (cocktails).
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a wire rack placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Let the strips dry for a few hours then roll strips remaining sugar. Arrange in a single layer on a wire rack, and let dry for at least 8 hours.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lebni Tart with Persimmon and Pomegranate

labne tart with persimmon and pomegranate

Next up in my unofficial holiday "Parade of Tarts" is this jeweled beauty. The base, hiding underneath all of that fruit, is made from lebni (sometimes spelled labneh) which a yogurt cheese used often in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It's a lot like sour cream with some oomph, but the great thing is that it's tartness makes the finished filling like a nice, light cheesecake. The topping of sweet persimmon slices and crunchy pomegranate arils scattered on top like jewels makes it perfect for any holiday table.

A note on de-seeding a pomegranate: We eat a lot of pomegranates in my family over the holidays and my dad used to be in charge of de-seeding them. His technique was to cut the pomegranates in half and just bang the hell out them with a wooden spoon until all of the seeds fell out, which works just fine, but also makes the kitchen look like a crime scene. So, now I prefer this underwater method which is just a bit tidier.

Lebni Tart with Persimmon and Pomegranate

Sweet Tart Dough
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold, cubed butter
1 egg yolk

1. In the bowl of a food processor or with a pastry blender, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the yolk and pulse until the mixture begins to clump a bit.
2. Lightly butter your tart pan or pans and gently press the crumbly dough into the pan. Make sure to evenly coat the bottom and the sides while being careful to not compact the dough too much. You may have a bit of extra dough, save it just in case you have to repair any cracks later on. Freeze the tart shell(s) for 30min.
3. Preheat your oven to 375º and bake the tart shell on a baking sheet (no need for pie weights) until it is lightly golden, repair any cracks that may have formed with your leftover dough. While the shell is baking, prepare the filling.

Lebni Filling
adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert
Alice cautions that the order in which the ingredients are mixed really makes a big difference in the smoothness of the finished tart, so follow these directions exactly or I'll tell Alice!

3 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups labneh (kefir cheese)

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, salt and vanilla. Then, whisk in the cheese.

To Bake

Turn the oven down to 300º

Pour the filling mixture into the warm tart shell and return to the oven to bake until the filling is set, but jiggles slightly in the center, about 15-20 minutes. Take care not to over bake the filling, as it will ruin the smooth texture of the filling.

To Garnish

Cool the tart completely then top with 4 peeled (a y shaped peeler is great for this task) and sliced fuyu persimmons (the short, chubby ones) and the arils from one pomegranate (about a cup's worth). Serve immediately. This tart is exceptionally good without the fruit, so if you can't find persimmons and pomegranates, don't let that stop you!

labne tart with persimmon and pomegranate