Cherry Apricot Sweet Buns

a tray of glazed and sugared sweet buns

I started the holiday season believing I could stick to a semi-healthful diet through December. Sure, I would indulge now and again – a favorite cookie here, a slice of panettone there, but overall keeping a plant based, lean meat, whole grain diet through to 2019. Oh, chimerical intentions!

Now that I’m staring at the back of Christmas, I’m ready to renew (albeit temporarily) my commitment to healthy-ish eating except…my kitchen is stuffed with leftovers from an overindulgent holiday celebration – duck-fat roasted potatoes (mmm…), cartons of whipping cream, half-used packages of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate, no less than six types of cheese, and a freezer full of glazed, yeasted holiday breads like these cherry apricot sweet buns.

Maybe healthy eating can hold until February?


Cherry Apricot Sweet Buns

Fluffy, slightly sweet buns studded with mixed fruit.


Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup dried cherries, chopped
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ¼ cup dried figs, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 Tablespoons brandy
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Decorator or pearl sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar icing

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine cherries, apricots, figs, zest and brandy and set aside to allow flavors to meld.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and sugar until warm (105⁰ – 110⁰ F). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, cardamom, and nutmeg in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.
  3. Add the butter and vanilla to milk mixture (it should be foamy by now) and then mix into the flour to create a shaggy dough. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Knead dough using the dough hook until smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to proof in a warm spot until doubled in size, about one hour.
  5. Drain the fruit, if needed, and mix into dough. Divide the dough into 9 even pieces, roll into round balls, picking off any fruit on the outside that is exposed, and place the buns on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and proof again until risen, about one hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the buns with beaten egg and liberally sprinkled with decorator sugar. Bake for 17-22 minutes until buns are dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, drizzle with confectioner’s sugar icing.

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Recipe Favorites of 2018

2018 has reached its end, bestowing on me the obligatory occasion to count blessings and recall the preceding year. One of the (numerous) difficulties I grapple with as a food blogger is that once I’ve finalized a recipe and posted it, I forget about it…forever…even when its success merits remaking. So, as 2018 dwindles to its last few days, I’m looking back on the past twelve months and summoning up the best dishes from this year’s posts – the ones I ought to remember so I can make them again, soon – and often. Here are my top 5, in no particular order:

Viennese Whirls

Raspberry-Rose Viennese Whirls – As pretty as they are delicious, these delicate Raspberry-Rose Viennese Whirls are Love made edible.

a bowl of Spanish Chorizo and Kale Soup

Spanish Chorizo and Kale Soup – a winter soup with a spicy, smoky Spanish twist thanks to chorizo and smoked paprika. Loads of dark green kale pack this flavorful soup with plenty of healthy goodness.

Compost Cookies

Best Compost Cookies – All you favorite cookie flavors – plus some surprises like coffee grounds.  These were a huge hit at the office.

Moist Banana Cherry Muffins

Banana Cherry Muffins – These exceptionally moist and flavorful muffins were adapted from my favorite banana bread recipe. I’m going to whip up a batch of these this weekend!

A pink grapefruit tart with whipped cream and shaved white chocolate

Refreshing Pink Grapefruit Tart – Pink grapefruit transforms a dessert standard into a flavor combination that’s surprising, yet familiar. A press-in crust keeps the fuss-factor down.  Another big hit in the office – and with the neighbors.

Bacon Gruyère Gougères

Bacon, Gruyère cheese, and  crispy, light choux pastry. I fell in love with gougères in culinary school – I’ve gilded the lily with the addition of bacon.  Appetizers as glamorous as they are delicious.

Bacon and Cheese Puffs

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville

You may think of book clubs as a bunch of shy, mild-mannered, nerdy types – and that may be true…until someone starts stealing our schtick, then we get all gangster.

If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you might remember that I started a book club in January, meeting at a local downtown bar & restaurant. It’s been my pet project, and reasonably successful.

A few months ago, I noticed someone else launched a similarly-named book club that happened to meet just 325 feet from our location (coincidence?). While, at the time, I did feel slightly encroached upon, I also thought, “That’s okay. There’s plenty of readers to go around. Good luck to them.” We were meeting monthly on the second Tuesday; the newbies were meeting weekly on Wednesdays. There was enough dissimilarity between our two groups that new members wanting to join our club wouldn’t (I hoped) be confused.

Today I noticed that, starting next month, this copy-cat usurper club will start meeting monthly on the second Tuesday – at the exact same time as our group. So, not only did they copy our name and steal our location, now they are appropriating our dates and times, too. I’m quite surprised they haven’t pilfered our reading list as well. WTF?!

I’ve heard the idiom, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” a million times, but this is downright thievery. I am not flattered. I no longer wish them luck – I wish their ersatz book club a swift and immediate demise. In fact, next month, I’m suggesting a pre-book club brawl to my group. I’m confident we could take them down.

Speaking of imitation and idea-pilfering, the following is not my own, but a riff on a ubiquitous gougères recipe. Guilty as charged.


Bacon Gruyère Gougères (Cheese Puffs)

These are best served piping hot from the oven. If needed, reheat at 350˚ until warm and crisp.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 strips crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons chives, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk butter and salt to a boil. Add the sifted flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from the side of the pan and becomes a smooth ball. Continue stirring about two minutes to dry out dough.
  2. Transfer dough to the bowl of a mixer. Let cool a few minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the pepper, nutmeg, cheese, bacon, and chives.
  3. Transfer the dough into a piping bag and cut the tip to allow piping generous tablespoon-size mounds about 2” apart on the baking sheets (alternately, drop rounded spoonfuls onto sheets). With a wet finger, tap down any pointy “hats” on the dough. Sprinkle with additional cheese and bake 20-22 minutes until puffed, firm to the touch, and a rich golden brown (do not open oven before 20 minutes or they may deflate). Serve hot.

Homemade Vermouth

Sure, I’m familiar with vermouth…it’s that mixer in the green bottle pushed to the back of the liquor cabinet that plays a supporting role in martinis and manhattans. The alcohol that, along with Galliano, has a shelf life longer than Twinkies. The perpetual cocktail bridesmaid – never the bride.

How very wrong I’ve been.

Bottles of homemade vermouth
I discovered vermouth – real vermouth – a few months ago at Amar Santana’s Vaca restaurant. He’s managed to elevate this non-descript mixer into something sublime – it’s house-made, poured from the tap, served on the rocks and garnished with a thick slice of orange zest. And it tastes like…well…on my first sip, I proclaimed it tasted like, “Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one.” His version is redolent of warming spices – cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, slightly sweet with hints of vanilla, and tertiary notes of herb (sage? thyme?) and orange.

Thus began my quest to make my own vermouth at home. Vermouth, I’ve discovered, is aromatized, fortified wine; wine that has been infused with herbs and spices (aromatized) and has alcohol (in this case, Sherry) added to it (fortified). The sweet version of vermouth also has caramelized sugar added. My final version below is a world away from Vaca’s recipe ( I can aspire!), but still quite tasty; similar to higher-end bottled vermouth I’ve sampled in recent months – like an Amaro – a bit sweet, a bit bitter, and loaded with spices and herbs.

The first thing you’ll notice is there’s a daunting list of ingredients. But don’t be deterred, the actual hands-on time is about 30 minutes total once you have your supplies. My recommendation is to order your herbs and spices online from a reputable retailer (I bought mine from Monterey Bay Spice Company) and the remaining ingredients can be purchased from a well-stocked grocery store.


Homemade Vermouth Recipe

  • Servings: about 4 cups
  • Print

The perfect aperitivo – a bit sweet, a bit bitter and loaded with spices and herbs. Play with the proportions to highlight your favorite spice.


Ingredients

  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon wormwood
  • ½ teaspoon chamomile flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Entire zest of an orange, peeled using a potato peeler
  • 2 strips of zest from a lemon, peeled using a potato peeler
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • Scraped seeds from ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 bottle light white wine such as Pinot Grigio (I use Tesoro della Regina)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup sweet Sherry (I use Osborn Cream Sherry)

Directions

  1. Crush cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, juniper berries, and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Scrape them into a medium stock pot. Add wormwood, chamomile, sage, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla seeds. Pour white wine over ingredients, bring to boil, remove from heat, cover with lid and let steep for 24 hours.
  2. In a small pan, make a caramel by combining sugar with 2 Tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until caramel is dark golden. Carefully add sherry to caramel – the caramel will bubble and splash. If the addition of Sherry causes the caramel to harden, return to stove to re-melt the caramel.
  3. Strain and squeeze the wine mixture well through a coffee filter or two layers of cheese cloth. Add the Sherry mixture and stir to combine. Serve on the rocks with an orange zest.

Hazelnut Orange Cookies

Delicate, crumbly cookies with a wonderful snap, flavored with the unique combination of hazelnuts and orange – a perfect addition to a holiday cookie plate.

A stack of Hazelnut Orange cookies tied with a green ribbon

It was 1997 and the Barnes and Noble store at the nearby suburban strip mall had recently opened. I wasn’t a competent baker then; my sister was the baker. The book I chose was the Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook – plenty of recipes, plenty of photos. These hazelnut orange cookies were the first recipe I tried. I thought they were delicious at the time, with a delicate, crumbly texture and pretty appearance. I resurrected the recipe this year for our neighborhood Bunco cookie exchange and they are just as special as I remember them. This recipe makes a ton of cookies – about eight dozen, enough for the Bunco cookie exchange and a few dozen for the office, or just cut the recipe in half.


Hazelnut Orange Cookies

A delicate, crumbly cookie with a wonderful snap, flavored with hazelnuts and orange.


Ingredients

  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ (generous) teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Sugar
  • Hazelnut halves for garnish

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, powdered sugar, softened butter, oil, orange zest, vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until combined. Stir in finely chopped hazelnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oven to 375⁰ F. Shape dough into scant 1” balls (15 grams each) and roll in sugar. Place 2” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, top with a hazelnut half.
  3. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until barely golden around the edges. Cool for 1 minute; remove to racks and cool completely.