It’s a chilly, dreary, rainy day here in San Francisco (the California way of ushering in winter).
I’m getting more pregnant by the minute (now firmly in my third trimester, and by the looks of yesterday’s ultrasound, all is good with Sir Baby, thank you).
I have also been hit with some ungodly cold-ish virus that I know I caught from Little C, who was sick earlier this week (so dirty, little kids, I tell ya).
I’ve just dropped my precious offspring off at school for the last time this year, and am now back in bed, surrounded by pillows and tissues and hot water, which seems to be the only freaking thing with which they let sick pregnant people medicate other than the occasional Tylenol, which is a liar and a complete joke when what I really need is, like, 12 DayQuil capsules and a nebulizer full of Xanax to quell my holiday to-do list anxiety.
But! Despite all this doom and gloom and wahhhh, my life is so harrrrd…, yesterday was glorious. Glorious, I say! We were a fine-tuned baking operation, me and Little C, cranking out cookies, brownies, and an extra special holiday confection to add to the tins of goodies we assembled for her teachers. These Candy Cane Nougat Bites are sweet, minty, melt-in-your-mouth pillows of heaven and I encourage you to try making them as your One Last Thing to do before Christmas, which I’m sure you don’t have enough of already, right?
While I hesitate to call it an all-out phobia, I will say that my, um, reticent nature towards baking with yeast has been well-documented in the past. I know I’m not the only one out there who suffers from this fear, and let’s face it–yeast is a funny thing. I mean, it’s ALIVE, for cry-yi. Unpredictable, with a mind of its own! And how do you choose the right type of yeast? What if you only have active dry and the recipe calls for instant? How can you really know for sure if the dough has doubled? The world could explode with such Oprah-esque Life Questions.
Well. Recently I’ve tried to tackle that fear for good, experimenting with different breads, rolls, even cakes that use yeast as their puffing (and flavor) agent. I’ve been inching closer to becoming One With the Yeast. Baby steps.
Let’s get down to it, friends. What are your Cookie Tin Contenders this year? Are you sticking to the classics? Going on on a limb with all new recipes? A little mix of both? For me, it’s about the third category, excitedly baking up those treats that make their appearance just once per year, and adding a few new selections for sport (read: satisfy rabid Pregnant Lady Cravings).
The other night I had my last scheduled book event for the year at the fabulous Omnivore Books here in San Francisco, and got to talking to a friend and fellow blogger about an old recipe from this site’s archives that she’d riffed on in the most delightful way (tahini was involved–genius!). Fast forward to 10 a.m. the next morning, and clearly, something baked and peanut buttery was in order (it doesn’t take much suggestion to get me set on an idea, food-related or otherwise, in my delicate condition).
Just bizarre enough of a word to require an exclamation point, wouldn’t you say? Like, Eureka! Or Xanadu! (Maybe I’m going solo on always having to say Xanadu nice and loud, but that is neither here nor there.) So what exactly is speculoos (or speculaas) about, anyway? If you’ve been following the food-related internets, you’ve probably seen store-bought versions of speculoos raved about often, whether it be in spread or biscuit form, and some might argue that it’s the best reason for flying certain commercial airlines.
But to me, speculoos have always been one of the most craveworthy cookies out there: buttery, crisp, and perfectly spiced (but not overpoweringly so) for the holidays with hits of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. And as it turns out, making your own is dead simple and even better than the factory-made kind. Plus, they sort of cry out to be decorated in a jaunty, Pinterest-y type way, and really, isn’t that what the holidays are all about? (I kid.) (Sort of.)
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!
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