Now that we’ve all got our holiday baking pantry essentials assembled (right? RIGHT?), it’s go time. I always kind of like to ease into the holiday baking season with what I like to the call The Gateway Cookie. Something simple, easy on ingredients and time, totally craveworthy and guaranteed to blow minds so you get the push you need to crank out the next recipe. It’s a life philosophy, friends.
Sometimes I start with Heirloom Sugar Cookies, because they’re the quintessential holiday cookie of my youth and get me thinking of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special and Bing Crosby and just give me a general fa-la-la-la-la! sensation. But I’m tired this year, folks. I’m at the point in my pregnancy where I need to make decisions like, do I shave my legs or vacuum the living room? Because seriously, you’re not getting me to do both. So this year, The Gateway Cookie needed to be simple, but totally delicious. And it doesn’t get much easier than a bar cookie. No scooping, no rotating baking sheets. Also, chewy plus sweet-salty plus chocolate AND pecans? Come at me, bro.
Psst. Over here! Hi! Peeking out from behind the curtain of Thanksgiving weekend! Is it time yet? Can we all start baking like deranged, totally inspired people?
I seriously hope so. We’ve been holding out too long, my fellow kitchen elves. I have so many recipes clipped and bookmarked, it’s ’bout to get crazy up in here. Let’s do this!
To kick things off, I thought I’d pull out a video from the archives that has me rattling off my baking pantry essentials. It’s basically a top 10 list of a bare bones bakers’ arsenal that will allow you to make pretty much whatever, whenever with craveworthy results (minus leaveners like baking powder and soda–now’s a good time to buy fresh boxes of both). Here’s the rundown:
1. All-purpose flour. Obvi.
2. Granulated sugar. The cornerstone of many a great baking recipe.
3. Cornstarch. The baker’s magic ingredient. See video for evidence.
4. Eggs. Large, please.
5. Unsalted butter. So you can control the salt in recipes. Also, because salt is a preservative, unsalted butter is most often fresher than its salted counterpart.
6. Salt. Table salt is just fine, fine sea salt is great. Flaky, coarse salt (like Maldon) is divine for finishing and adding crunch.
7. Dark brown sugar. Same price as light brown, major flavor points.
8. Vietnamese cinnamon. You’ll never go back to plain old ground cinnamon. Trust.
9. Pure vanilla extract. I keep two varieties: one basic, all-purpose supermarket vanilla, one fancy for vanilla-forward recipes.
10. Instant espresso powder. Bumps up chocolate flavor, big time.
Okay, so there are biscuits, and then there are BISCUITS. Namely, these biscuits. Let’s call it a biscuit recipe that changed my mind about a few things. That major, these biscuits. And I’m managing to tell you all about them just in time for Thanksgiving side dishing. Glorious!
To be real, does the Internet really NEED another pumpkin pie recipe right about now? Hhrrmm. But that’s how good this particular pumpkin pie is, friends. I think it’s got tons of fun twists on the regular and is totally worth sharing. It’s my favorite kind of recipe, really–something that, quite literally, on the surface looks like every other pumpkin pie you’ve had in your life (I mean, just look at that picture up there–golden crust, burnt orange sea of spiced pumpkin custard, kitschy dollops of cream and all), but the process and ingredients are just different enough that it takes the final result to some level of pumpkin pie that makes it all brand new and has everyone asking how you made it. Instant baking cred! Now there’s something to be thankful for.
Say what? Yeah! Stabilized whipped cream. Kind of a weird-sounding thing, and yet a very good thing that I think might be part of my political platform, should I ever run for public office. That’s how much I believe in stabilized whipped cream. With prime pumpkin pie season and mile-long culinary to-do lists within our reach, there’s no better time to talk about it–a whipped cream that can actually be made days ahead of serving, and not only used in dollop form, but for piping and frosting over cakes as well. Glorious!
Know what’s super fun? The influx of emails, tweets, comments, and Facebook messages I’ve received from folks working through the recipes in Marshmallow Madness! in recent weeks–lots of sweet stories and photos of fluffy, puffy successes that warm the cockles of my heart. ‘Tis the season for homemade mallow making and gifting!
But I’ve also gotten some requests for a few marshmallow-making tips and troubleshooting help for the recipes, which I also happen to love. Happy to help. For those new to mallowing, it is most certainly wacky, leaving plenty of room for self-doubt and simple mistakes. But don’t freak out! It’s just sugar! Everything will be okay. Keep in mind that the following tips refer specifically to recipes and techniques in MM, but some will cross over into any homemade marshmallow recipe you might try.
How is it November already? HOW? This is all just bananas to me. Because in my feeble mind, it seems that just a couple months ago we were ringing in 2012, and then a few weeks after that my first cookbook was unleashed onto the world. Hours later, I discovered that we would be thrown into the newborn abyss once again. Somewhere in there my first baby turned four (four!!) and then a few blinks later I had a second cookbook come out. I’m sure it didn’t go exactly that way, but it sure feels like it. Turns out that time moving at warp speed isn’t exactly conducive to a massive case of pregnancy brain. Plus I’m, like, 23 weeks sober. Someone remind me what day it is. Eesh.
So! Here we are, inexplicably teetering on the edge of the holiday season. Do you know what you’re doing for gifts this year? Clearly, given the above paragraph, I do not. But even though we’re barreling towards a whole lotta fa-la-la-la-la!, now is the perfect time to crank out awesomely inexpensive, handmade holiday presents that seem all highfalutin, and are perfect for blowing minds and taking names. Seriously, you can crank out a dozen gifts or more in a matter of hours, suitable for giving to everyone from your mother to the mailman. And, like so many things in my life these days, it all starts with the genius of vanilla. Obvi.
To start, you’ll need to get yourself a bunch of vanilla beans, which I know can be pricey. But! I am kind of an expert at sourcing the best beans at the best prices by now, so can I just recommend Vanilla Saffron Imports (don’t let the sparse website and packaging dissuade you–this place is the real deal) and Beanilla? Some folks find good vanilla deals on Amazon as well. But the bottom line is that ordering online will save you tons of cash. No way around that. Buying vanilla beans at retail will make your wallet cry.
So now that you know how to get a bundle of well-priced, good-quality, fragrant vanilla beans in your hot little hands, let me pass on a few DIY gifty ideas from Pure Vanilla, as a little present from me to you:
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