Month: December 2015

Almond Date Pinwheels

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Pinwheels are a classic winter cookie, in my mind- like thumbprints, gingerbread men, and cucidati- they usher in the Christmas season! This recipe was truly a shot in the dark when William and I created it. We had some extra dough while making cucidati this season, so we decided to put it to good use.

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These cookies are made with dates, almonds, and figs. We added no spices considering the impromptu nature of the experiment, and it actually turned out amazing! However, I think if you want to make it fancier or give it a more complex flavor, you could add similar spices: allspice, cloves, and even orange extract.

These are much easier to construct than the cucidati and that is convenient, but you will still need a food processor and large workspace to create the pinwheels.

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This recipe was basically made up on the fly, but it turned out so well, I thought I’d share it.

Ingredients

1/2 recipe cucidati dough
~1 ounce dried dates
2 ounces dried, mission figs
3/4 cup simple syrup
1 cup sliced almonds

We Sliced and de-stemmed about 10 dried dates, and 1-2 ounces of dried, mission figs. Then, we boiled them in the simple syrup and let them sit for half an hour. We then combined the sweetened date-fig mixture in a blender with 1 cup of sliced almonds.

Finally, we spread the mixture onto a long, flattened square of excess dough.

We rolled the dough up and sealed it with a bit of water. We then sliced it into little pinwheels with a sharp knife, and finally cooked it following the same process as with the cucidati.

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Slice carefully with your sharpest knife, and lay them onto parchment paper. Some of the date filling may squeeze out on one side if your knife is a bit dull. To keep your pinwheels pretty, lay them down on the parchment paper with the messy side down.

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Enjoy!

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Cucidati (Sicilian Fig Cookies)

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During the winter, right around Christmas, it’s a tradition amongst many Sicilian families to get together and make certain types of cookies. Perhaps my favorite of the cookies are the cucidati. These tiny cookies, jammed packed with flavor, always remind me of Christmastime. However, for such a small cookie the amount of effort involved in constructing them is very high. The prep process for these little guys is not something you can do casually in an hour or so for a late-night snack. It makes for a great afternoon activity and the more people you have, the more fun it can be- it’s the one time our idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” seems to be untrue on a very literal level!

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Cucidati are crescent-shaped cookies made with a light, white dough and filled with a spiced, fig-nut filling. In our family, we love to use the flavors of clove and allspice with a hint of orange extract. We also use pecans to add the nuttiness. Many families use walnuts, but I’m convinced that the south rubbed off on us and we switched to the less bitter, and less expensive pecan in many dishes! Some people also use dates in the mixture- I prefer 100% mission figs for the filling.

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Every family has their own recipe for cucidati. In my family there are two different methods for making these delicious cookies. I decided to blend the two and create my own recipe. This is partially due to necessity, most family recipes for cucidati make 100-200 cookies… which I do not need in my two-person household. This recipe makes about 50 cookies, with some extra dough to play around with. First-time cucidati makers will hopefully find this recipe useful because of the extra dough, it can be difficult to get the cookies looking pretty the first few times around. With this recipe though- you should be sure to be a little stingy with the filling. If you’re not prepared to be careful about doling out the filling- make double the filling recipe.

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We ended up making an impromptu date-almond jam and made pinwheels with our excess dough. I will post that recipe later! (It’s here, it’s here! 🙂

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A few additional notes: you’ll want a very large work space for these cookies, especially when constructing them. You’ll need a rolling pin as well as a sharp knife for cutting the characteristic slits in the top of the cookie. When I get together with my aunt, grandmother, great-aunt, cousins, and mother, we use a pack of razor blades. However, this most recent time making them I just used my pocket knife and it worked out fine! You will also need a food processor to make the filling.

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As with many Sicilian family recipes, it is assumed that you’ve had someone teach you how to make it so you know how the dish should progress in its look and feel. With the filling here, that’s a big part of it. I give a recipe for simple syrup to help break down and sweeten the figs- do not use all of the simple syrup, you will NOT need all of it. I will repeat this throughout the recipe, as a reminder.

Enjoy the cookies- and the experience of making them! 🙂

Cucidati- Sicilian Fig Cookies
makes 50-60 cookies with extra dough

for the dough
4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup crisco
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
3/4 tsp vanilla

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for the filling
simple syrup (made with 3/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water) You will not use all of this syrup!
6oz dried mission figs
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 tsp each cloves and allspice
3 tsp orange extract

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for the icing (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
~2 tablespoons milk

First, make your dough. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt).

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Cube the crisco and mix it into the dry ingredients by hand until combined. The mixture will be crumbly.

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Add in the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, and vanilla). Fold until it comes together in a ball. Let it rest in a cool place for half an hour.

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During these 30 minutes, you can make the filling! First, you will want to make a simple syrup. I use a recipe for a large amount of simple syrup, just in case. Plus, it’s useful for all sorts of other things like jams and fancy cocktails! Stir the sugar with a cup of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved (almost or just to boiling/simmering usually). Let this cool down. You can store it in the fridge in an airtight container. Remember, you will not be using all of this simple syrup for the cucidati recipe.

De-stem and quarter the dried figs.
Chop the pecans in half.

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Combine the two in a food processor until it forms a very loose paste or crumble. You might need to stir it a bit in between pulses to jostle the figs around, they are very sticky.

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In a bowl, combine the fig-pecan mixture with the spices and orange extract. Mix together.

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Next, add to your filling the simple syrup. You will probably be adding only around ¼ cup, but it takes a little bit of practice to get the consistency right. Add the simple syrup a tablespoon or two at a time until you’ve got a fairly sticky paste that keeps together and could be spread. You do not want to add too much, otherwise it will leak out of the cookies. It should be about the consistency of a cheese spread (or a little thicker).

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Now comes the construction. First, create your workspace. Lay down a large sheet of parchment paper and set up a small bowl of water, a pizza cutter, and your pocket knife/sharpest, smallest knife. Flour the surface of the parchment paper. Roll out half of the dough and trim the edges to form a large square.

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Cut the square into 2″ strips using the pizza cutter.

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Taking one strip at a time, flatten it out and shape a thin line of filling down the center.

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Fold one side of the dough over the filling. Lightly wet it with water. Fold the other side on top and press down to create a seal.

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Flip the roll “seal-side down” onto your floured surface. Using your kitchen knife, cut the log into 2-3″ pieces.

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Finally, take your sharpest, smallest knife and cut 3 small slits in the top of the dough. You want to slice through the top layer of dough only.

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Shape the cookie into a crescent and place it on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

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Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes on the bottom rack and 5-7 minutes on the top rack. When each batch is finished, take them out and allow them to cool completely. The filling will be very hot.

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If you like, you can then create a light glaze by mixing 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar with about 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the glaze over the cooled cookies. It hardens very quickly, so that you can enjoy your fig treats soon!

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Bourbon Pumpkin Pie with Maple Whipped Cream

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Thanksgiving 2015 was many things for me– for us (I’m getting more used to saying that now). It was my first Thanksgiving as a part of an engaged couple. This year, thinking about all of our family back in Alabama, Thanksgiving was especially difficult. I will admit that there were times when all of this cooking felt decidedly pointless. I had many thoughts: why am I doing all of this for just the two of us? who really cares? what are we doing? this is so much work and effort for a celebration with only two people.

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It was a real struggle. There were times when I almost quit cooking entirely, and I came close to calling off the meal.

However, we kept cooking and ended up having a good time and making a great meal!

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For us, any great cooking adventure starts with an equally fabulous bottle of wine. We found a great bottle of red and opening it up as the rosemary-sage rolls were headed into the oven was a calming moment for me. Everything seemed to be coming together, and it began feeling much more like the cozy Thanksgivings I know and love!

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There are a few dishes that I will always associate with Thanksgiving. I usually don’t eat them outside the context of the holiday and Thanksgiving just wouldn’t feel right without these sides. A vegetarian, sage dressing is one of those dishes. Green bean casserole with crispy onions on top perfectly pretends to be the vegetable of the table. We had all of these things ready to go into the oven and complete our meal, when I decided that candied, gelatinous cranberry and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes were not dessert-y enough.

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So, we decided to make a pie, because, why not? Pies are chill, right? And, as if we didn’t have enough to handle in our tiny kitchen, I had the bright idea to try a brand new kind of pie with special decorations on top. I’m not even a pie expert, but I suppose the wine had me feeling overzealous.

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The above pie is the result of our adventure in Thanksgiving baking. While the filling did overrun the edges a bit, it is an absolutely delicious dessert and I highly recommend it. However, we spent an inordinate amount of time hand-making those tiny decorations. The acorn is mine and the holly leaves are William’s creation.

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Let me just say- it is 100% not worth your precious Thanksgiving day to sit around building decorations to make your pumpkin pie look more like fall. Pumpkin itself is the essence of fall, and when you’re left with a tiny hunk of plain pâte brisée, you won’t care that it looks like an acorn, just that it isn’t nearly as good without the delicious bourbon-pumpkin filling!

Bourbon Pumpkin Pie

makes 1, 9″ pie

Ingredients

for the crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons salted butter
~5 tablespoons ice water

for the filling
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons bourbon (your favorite- we used Bulleit, but Knobb Creek would work well too)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1 /2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground clove

for maple whipped cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons maple syrup

9″ pie pan and pie weights (or dried rice/beans)

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Begin by making your crust. Combine the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor until it looks almost like butter flour or dry cheese curds.

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You will need to shift the dough around in your food processor to let it come together. Add in a few tablespoons of ice water. Pulse the food processor. Continue adding a bit of water and pulsing just until the dough forms a ball. Wrap it in parchment paper and chill it in the refrigerator for about an hour.

After the dough has chilled, carefully roll it out onto a floured surface. Flatten the dough into your pie pan and trim the edges. You can also crimp the edges, but I didn’t spend too much time on this. Prick the crust with a fork and put it in the refrigerator to chill for another half hour. All of this chilling time is very important to keep the butter solidified and it helps make for a flakier crust.

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After the crust has chilled again, place tin foil over it and fill it with pie weights. Bake it at 375°F for 20 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for 5 more minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine all of the filling components in a large bowl.

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Let the crust cool to room temperature, then carefully pour the filling into the crust. You will have extra filling, be careful not to overfill the crust like I did! Bake at 325°F for an hour.

While the pie is baking, make the whipped cream. In a food processor, combine cold whipping cream and maple syrup. Beat together until stiff peaks form.

Cut the pie and serve immediately!

This pie is particularly good with the cold whipped cream spread on top of it!