cherry rhubarb crisp

cherry rhubarb crispLet’s discuss some big events, shall we? My high school graduation, this blog’s not 1st, not 2nd, but 3rd! birthday… and throwing-in of the towel by the hard drive that houses oh, thousands on thousands on thousands of photos. In my defense, they’re not all mine, but you better believe there are many blurry, unfocused, repeat shots of food. Didn’t you know you always wanted 15 near-identical shots of blurry muffins? Yes, you’re welcome, family.
pretty rhubarb pile of cherries
sweetening the fruitadd butter topping crisp is ready to be bakedBut the reason I bring this up is just to say that you were supposed to have this tantalizing cherry rhubarb crisp in front of your eyes about a week ago, but the hard drive up and quit. How rude. After some boring file transfers to an external drive (thanks Dad), you get crisp at last.
cherry rhubarb crisp cherry rhubarb crisp, close-up And a delightful crisp this is. I hacked Mark Bittman’s recipe for straight-up rhubarb crisp, primarily because I just didn’t have enough rhubarb, instead adding fresh cherries. I’m so glad I fiddled, because this crisp is just on point. The crisp topping itself is bountiful (great news if you’re like me and try to inconspicuously pick the tasty toppings off food) and perfectly crisp-y and crunchy atop the pretty reddish-pink fruit. Notes of lemon, cinnamon, and ginger round it out but don’t take over the poor fruit. If you like cherries, if you like rhubarb, if you like crisps, if you like eating, make this.
little bowl, all for me overhead close-up

Cherry Rhubarb Crisp 
heavily adapted from Mark Bittman’s Rhubarb Crisp via the New York Times

The major change I made was to swap cherries for half of the rhubarb, which created a delightful balance of texture and complemented the rhubarb quite well.  Other changes included swapping ground ginger (which plays so nicely with rhubarb) for half of the cinnamon, adding more salt, increasing the amount of lemon zest, adding 2 tablespoons more sugar (you could omit if desired), and adding cornstarch to the fruit to thicken it up a bit. Feel free to fiddle with this recipe, I certainly did.

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped

1 1/4 pound rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 pound cherries, pitted (about 3 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Heat oven to 375° F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking or gratin dish with a softened butter.

In a medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Toss in the cubes of butter, and work the butter in with your fingertips or a pastry blender until it resembles peas and just begins to clump together roughly.  Add oats and pecans and mix in to combine.

Toss rhubarb and cherries with white sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish.

Crumble the topping over rhubarb and cherries and bake until the topping is deep golden and the fruit is tender and bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for as long as you can stand until devouring.

oatmeal nut chocolate chunk cookies

stack of cookies It’s been coming on for a while, spurred on by the daily grind of schoolwork, college apps, swimming, extracurriculars, sleep deprivation, etc. but I might have finally reached the point of providing empirical evidence that I’m losing my mind. The latest exhibit: I’ve been searching for this ragged around the edges, butter-stained recipe for these delightful oatmeal nut chocolate cookies the last hour-ish, and it is nowhere to be found. I’ve checked the usual suspects: my disheveled stack of the printed web recipes from the last oh, about 2 years; my mom’s binder of recipes that mine sometimes suspiciously end up in (theft?! …or maybe just cleaning up); and my disheveled corner of the office desk, all to no avail.
freshly bakedgolden brown edges oatmeal nut chocolate chunk cookies ‘Tis a shame, because these are too good to keep from you any longer. Taking a cue from adjectives for rocks and cliffs, I’d say craggy is a good way to describe these oatmeal, walnut (or peanut or any other nut, to your preference), and chocolate-chunk studded cookies. This may be the closest I’ve ever come to posting a gluten-free cookie recipe, since the structure comes from oatmeal (2 cups) and chopped nuts (2 cups) instead of our usual friend flour (here, it’s only 1/3 cup whole-wheat, although you could use all-purpose). As a result, the cookies are prone to spreading while baking to become light and thin, yet still chewy and hearty. There’s a hint of peanut butter, which you can accentuate using chopped peanuts too, although I opted for (or was forced to opt for, due to a lack of nut provisions) roughly chopped walnuts. To add to the texture, I used chopped  milk chocolate, which gets melty and gooey and messily perfect in the oven, and bittersweet chocolate chunks.
overhead stack I’ve procured the online, clean, sanitary version via Ms. Stewart, yet it unfortunately contains none of my messy penciled-in notes as on the dingy tangible copy. So I’ve tried to recall the exact substitutions I made–using the meager 1/2ish cup of peanuts and then chopped walnuts for the remainder, chopped milk chocolate, bittersweet chunks–and for now, that’s the most I can remember. Clearly, some spring cleaning is needed. When I find my mind the recipe, I’ll update what I have below if needed.
craggy and crumbly Update: The recipe was found! (Thanks, Mom.) I’ve noted the changes I discovered on the hard copy: I also increased the salt to 1 teaspoon, upped the vanilla to 2 teaspoons, and used an even mix of milk and bittersweet chocolate. 

Oatmeal Nut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart

I subbed walnuts for most of the peanuts and used chopped milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate chunks instead of semisweet chips.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups roughly chopped walnuts or  salted peanuts
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips*

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream sugars, butter, and peanut butter on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Resist the temptation to stop early- the lightness here makes for great texture in the cookie.) Mix in eggs and vanilla.

Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture, and mix until just combined. Stir in  the nuts and chocolate.

Drop balls of dough 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Storing: Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days. Or, freeze the dough and bake as needed, adding a couple minutes to the baking time.

*I used some milk chocolate as well, about 1 cup. Don’t use all milk chocolate, as the bittersweet/semisweet mix provides a good balance of sweetness.

cranberry shortbread

cranberry orange shortbread, overhead I know, I know. We’re in the doldrums of January (nearly February), not the festive holiday season. And this is the second consecutive not just cranberry but cranberry orange recipe I’m sharing. I am done with your cranberries and citrus, you say.
cranberry orange shortbread about to slice I disagree. Look, I know I seem like I’m on a crusade for the sake of this combo, and maybe I am a bit, because it’s one of my favorites. Plus, the fact that we’re in the midst of winter makes it even more necessary for a bright, cherry-tasting treat.
crumbly and jammyAs shortbread bars with a jammy fruit topping, this cranberry orange rendition is the wintry cousin of this strawberry shortbread. Here, buttery, crumbly, lightly sweetened shortbread is baked to a deep golden brown, topped with a quick cranberry jam, and then adorned with lacy strands of orange zest. Yes, we’re making the cranberry jam (if it can even be called that, more like a jammy topping), but don’t run: it’s low-maintence and can be cooked up while the shortbread is baking. The topping is only lightly sweetened, and the short cook time means that the cranberries retain their tartness and bite, which I love. The buttery shortbread juxtaposes nicely in texture and flavor with the jammy, tart topping. Christmas it may not be, but vibrant cranberries and curls of orange zest sure do brighten up a polar vortex.
festively arranged

Cranberry Shortbread
adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2012

The cranberry topping may seem like it’s not enough, but just keep spreading it out, working it over the shortbread to make it as even as possible. If you want, you can use 12 oz cranberries and then adjust the other ingredients (increasing sugar by 1 tablespoon and orange juice by 1/2 tablespoon should do it nicely).

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 10-ounce bag fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries
1/4 cup fresh orange or grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon grated orange or grapefruit zest, using a five-hole zester to create the pretty ribbons rather than a microplane

For the shortbread: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang on 2 opposite sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal with some larger bits scattered throughout.

Using your fingertips, press the shortbread dough evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan (using the bottom of a flat measuring cup also works well). Poke the dough all over with a fork.

Bake shortbread until cooked through and pale golden, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let it cool completely in the pan.

The shortbread can be made 3 days ahead. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

For the cranberry topping: Bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cups cranberries, and orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst and mixture is syrupy, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in remaining cranberries and cook until skins begin to split, about 3 minutes. Let cool.

The cranberry topping can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Spread cooled cranberry topping over cooled shortbread. Scatter orange zest over. Using paper overhang, lift shortbread from pan and transfer to a cutting board to slice the shortbread. I cut mine into 15 rectangles with 3 extra little slivers (“to make sure they’re edible”).

Storing: These bars do best the day they’re made so the textures are preserved. If you need to make them ahead of time, make and store the shortbread and topping separately. Any leftovers should be refrigerated.

cranberry orange baked french toast

cranberry orange baked french toast As I see it, the ideal Christmas morning (or holiday morning, as in New Year’s Day, as in tomorrow) breakfast should be festive tasting, not requiring too much effort, and do-ahead, if possible. (Although I certainly don’t regret the New Year’s Day I made glazed doughnuts for breakfast.) I’ve made this baked french toast several times before, as it is a perfect do-ahead, delicious crowd-pleaser. This time, I included a few twists: boosted its festive appeal by adding orange zest, almond extract, and nutmeg to the custard, making it reminiscent of eggnog; dotted the french toast with tart, jewel-like cranberries; and added wintry spices to the streusel. You’ll notice that baked french toast is suspiciously similar to bread pudding, so it tastes accordingly decadent.
behind the scenes of the chaos[Above, behind-the-scenes of the chaos. Please note the stray cranberries and disheveled background. Christmas morning at its finest.]
streusel-ed and ready to be baked Today is the last day of the year, which means that everyone gets sentimental and says that this year has had its ups and downs but has truly flown by. Which, I must say, is true. Goodbye 2013, and cheers to a great 2014.
that went fast Christmas morning breakfast

Cranberry Orange Baked French Toast
adapted from the Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon baked french toast

As I’ve said, this is an excellent do-ahead; in fact, you must refrigerate it a couple hours for the bread to soak up the custard mixture, so overnight is perfect. I scattered the cranberries on top in the morning, but you could just as easily scatter them in the pan with the bread cubes if you want them more evenly dispersed. However, with the sprinkling-on-top method, I liked that the cranberries stayed tart.

Makes 9 x 13 pan of french toast, around 8-12 servings

1 loaf French Bread, or another crusty bread*
6 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream (half-and-half also works)
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2-1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces fresh cranberries, roughly chopped

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2  cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed

Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with butter. Tear bread into chunks (or cut into cubes) and evenly distribute in the pan.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, orange zest, nutmeg, and salt. Pour evenly over the bread. Cover tightly and store in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Toss butter cubes into the dry ingredients and cut and rub them into the mixture until it starts clumping together and resembling streusel. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

When you’re ready to bake the french toast, preheat oven to 350° F. Remove french toast from the fridge and sprinkle chopped cranberries and the crumb mixture over the top. Bake for around 1 hour or until browned on the top and set in the middle.

*The bread is best if stale, as it’s better able absorb the custard mixture. If your bread is fresh, as mine was, stale by popping it in a low oven for a few minutes.

spiced pumpkin bread

spiced pumpkin bread with pecan streusel These pumpkin muffins/loaves are quick and simple, absolutely delicious, and… nothing new. The recipe is nearly identical in two of my favorite baking books (Pastry Queen and Baked, save for the major difference of a pecan streusel topping on the former, chocolate chips in the latter). However, I read that duplicity not as a lack of originality but as a recognition that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This recipe just works. It’s a classic, laden with rich autumnal spices (the usual pumpkin accompaniments: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves). It even looks like autumn, wearing a beautiful orange tinge thanks to the pumpkin puree. Incredibly moist and tender, due to the use of oil instead of butter, a generous dose of sugar, and, of course, the pumpkin puree, it’s the ideal morning (or afternoon)  pick-me-up.
spices spices spiceseggs, different huesadd the pumpkin, bright orangeloaf ready to be streusel-edgenerous scattering of streuselAs I’ve said, the Baked cookbook version features chocolate chips, but shockingly I withheld and used Rather’s streusel instead. Decide the bread’s fate as you will. I left the muffins plain but topped the loaf with a halved batch of streusel. The muffins disappeared quickly, but the loaf is stashed away in the freezer, waiting to be pulled out to liven up a dim, chilly morning.
muffins, coolingspiced pumpkin muffinsin loaf form with pecan streuselspiced pumpkin bread

Spiced Pumpkin Quickbread (Muffins or Loaves)
adapted from the Pastry Queen and Baked

Makes 24 muffins or 2 loaves

1 1/2 cups pecan halves*
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 toasted pecan pieces (reserved from above)

To make the bread: Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet until golden brown and aromatic, 7 to 9 minutes. Let cool, roughly chop, and separate out 1/2 cup for the streusel.

Grease two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans or 24 regular muffin cups (I used a combination: one loaf, 12 muffins) with butter and flour or cooking spray or, in the case of muffins, use liners.

Whisk together the oil and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin, water, and vanilla until combined.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, stirring until just combined. Stir in 1 cup pecan pieces. Evenly divide the batter among the loaf pans or muffin tins (muffin tins should be filled almost to the top).

To make the topping: Stir together the sugar, butter, cinnamon, and remaining 1/2 cup chopped pecans in a small bowl. Sprinkle the topping over the loaves or muffins.

Bake the loaves until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour, 15 minutes. Keep in mind that the topping will remain gooey, so be sure to test the cake itself for doneness. Bake muffins for about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Storing: Because these muffins are so moist, they’re great keepers, a few days in a airtight container at room temperature.

*Variation: Craving chocolate in the morning? (No judgments.) Swap the pecans for chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups), and omit the streusel. (Or make some really tasty bread with pecans, chocolate chips, and streusel…)