pumpkin cranberry bread

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this fall felt so long and warm, i thought that winter would never really come to california. when the cold finally began to hit, it came as a bright surprise, a delicious reason to hunt for boot and socks and layers of long sleeves. for a mug of afternoon tea and slice of buttered toast.

you look like you could use a piece of toast too. and not just any piece of toast will do to drive away the now lingering chill in the air.

particularly if your work furnace, like mine, emits any number of lovely knocking sounds but not much actual heat.

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this isn't your typical pumpkin bread, dense and spicy. it's an airy yeast bread. the cranberries burst in your mouth with a tart contrast to the lightly sweet, faintly pumpkin bread and crunchy toasty walnuts.

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this is the perfect antidote to the post-holiday season food slump, offering comfort without excess.  it may not be quite as virtuous as salad with grilled chicken, but it's a far cry from a platter of christmas fudge.  

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i am so sadly off track with tuesdays with dorie. you don't want to know how long these photos have languished in my camera. but find out by going to tuesdays with dorie or this bountiful backyard to find the recipe and lots of blog coverage. 

christmas cookies

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so, i made you some really adorable and yummy cookies for this holiday season. packaged them up in sweet little boxes with tissue paper and ribbons. and then proceeded to take many, many horrible photos of them.  

you are welcome!

i've been struggling to get into the holiday spirit this year. too many cocktails, not enough general cheer.

too many packages gone missing in the brown ups truck in the sky.

Christmas, it's on.

my gifts for my sisters-in-law may not arrive until february, but i had a pretty solid cookie strategy.

my go-to sugar cookie recipe is a cut above due to the addition of an aggressive amount of citrus zest.

i upgraded my oatmeal chocolate chip recipe with some cranberries for color and tang.

several of our nation's dairy farmers are having a fine christmas thanks to the brown-buttery deliciousness of rosemary walnut shortbread.

and because it isn't christmas without some powdered ginger and sparkle, i added dorie greenspan's speculoos buttons into the mix, but mine aren't nearly as cute as those gracing the cover of bon appetit.

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extreme walnut close up. please just be grateful it isn't blurry.

these shortbread cookies will melt in your mouth. did i mention the butter? they left darling little grease spots on the tissue paper. 

allow me to warn you about the speculoos buttons, however. it will be nearly impossible to tell when the little buggers are done since they are such a warm lovely brown color to start. so you must remain vigilant about over baking them, which will turn them into tiny spiced hockey pucks. you will lose a tooth. you have been warned.

but aren't their sparkly edges nice?

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believe it or not, this was one of the better photos. in my next life, my kitchen will be nothing but windows. WINDOWS I SAY.

ahem.

for those of you who know my sommelier, you will enjoy the image of him on the couch on a saturday night, watching a dreadful movie involving horses and the end of my respect for steven spielberg, delicately frosting reindeer antlers with a squeeze tube of royal icing.

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i think we generally ended up with a nice mix of frosted cookies that looked nearly professional, but just charmingly off key so as to seem legitimately homemade. 

towards the end of the rather nice bottle of twomey 2008 napa valley merlot, the cookies looked a lot closer to what you might expect out of a kindergartner with some fine motor skills challenges.

those cookies ended up at the bottom of the box. just slightly out of frame. 

not that you would even be able to tell much about the quality of our handiwork, based on my mad skills with a camera. so, with that, i will leave you with this gem and some links to cookies that you should revisit in march perhaps, when the gray sky and several months of pretend-dieting leave you in the need for something sweet.

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does the filter make it seem like it was supposed to be fuzzy? good. let's go with that. it was quite the pretentious little display of cookies anyway.

 

cranberry orange muffins

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sometimes change is hard. sometimes change is really really hard. sometimes you're the one who gets to jump off the cliff, sometimes life gives you a nudge. or a shove.

finding a new favorite muffin recipe is not hard change. for close to ten years, i'd been a pretty strong proponent of a gem of a muffin recipe. really tender from sour cream, a sweet but not too sweet base that let pretty much any mix-in shine.

but i've been won away. by browned butter. and the best crumble topping. and you know how i feel about crumble.

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my new muffin base is from the joy the baker cookbook. which you should buy if you love to bake. she has some real gems in there.

luckily, the power of the internets will also bring you the original recipe for free, over on shutterbean.

i've made the original blueberry version with much success here. but it is fall. i had some leftover cranberries. i wanted that tart burst of flavor, and a hit of wintery citrus. 

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let's be honest, i wanted to try out a new cranberry technique from cooks illustrated. because cranberries, like change, can be hard to manage. they can be too puckery, too bitter. they need a bit of care, especially if you are using fresh berries, not to overwhelm a bite, to leave you with the right balance of tart and sweet and juicy.

the solution is to roughly chop them and let them sit for a minute with a sprinkle of salt to draw out the bitter and a bit of powdered sugar to tame the sour.

if only solving life's imbalances were so easy!

the result is a true cranberry flavor, evenly distributed through your muffin. a bit of nutty depth from the browned butter. bright orangey citrus. and that crumble. picture perfect. 

First day of work, breakfast of champions

 

Orange Cranberry Muffins

Adapted from Joy the Baker's Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins.  Makes about 12 muffins.

Muffins:

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt, plus a bit more
  • 1 orange worth of zest

Crumble Topping:

  • 3 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Dash of salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and put liners into your muffin tin – this recipe will make around a dozen regular muffins. 

To brown the butter, melt it in a pot on the stove and then let it keep going until the white foam mostly goes away and the butter becomes a warm brown color with little black specks. Just keep a good eye on it because it will turn from brown to burned pretty quickly. It will smell nutty and fantastic once it's done, and then you need to take it off the heat and pour into a heat-safe bowl to keep it from continuing to cook.

Roughly chop your cranberries and place in a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and powdered sugar, stir and leave to sit on counter while you get your batter together.

In a medium bowl, whisk your milk, eggs and vanilla.  Add the butter when it is a little cool, but hasn't hardened. Whisk to mix.  

In a larger bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Zest your orange and add that in. Add butter mixture, and gently stir just intil batter comes together. Add cranberries and fold gently to combine. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.

To make the crumble, combine all ingredients in a bowl and use your fingers to smush together. Don't worry about fully working butter into the dry ingredients, you want it crumbly!  Sprinkle a healthy serving of crumble over the muffins – it makes plenty!

Bake for 18-20 minutes until the edges start to turn golden and when you insert a skewer into the center, it comes out clean.

Delicious warm with salted butter, but they will keep for a couple of days in a tupperware container. They're so good, you think that they'll get gobbled up. But as someone who has sat at the bottom of the cliff with that tupperware container, I know you'll thank your lucky stars.