slice and bake brown sugar cookies

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It’s Thanksgiving! And that means it’s officially Christmastime!

Right?

Oh, it means something about giving thanks? Hmm. That’s cool too.

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Still, once the feast is over, it’s all about Christmas. I used to try to hold off thinking about, hearing, and seeing anything Christmas-related until Thanksgiving, but you can imagine how successful that strategy was. These days, I’m more in the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ mindset. I didn’t play carols or put up my tree, but I did smile over cute decorations.

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What better way to kick off the Christmas season than cookies? One of my favorite Christmas cookies, in fact, and I think I finally figured out exactly why I like them so much.

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The dough is pretty typical for cookies, with butter, sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla, flour, and leavening. But, it uses twice as much brown sugar as white sugar, which…you guys! It’s chocolate chip cookie dough, without the chocolate! Nothing against chocolate, but that’s pretty much my perfect cookie.

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Plus, they’re so pretty. It takes a bit of effort to get them into the different shapes, but once they’re formed, you just throw the logs of dough in the freezer, then bake however many you want whenever you want.

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These cookies are delicious, they’re not hard to make, they look impressive, and their timing is completely flexible. In other words, they’re perfect. There can be no better way to shift into the Christmas season.

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One year ago: Multigrain Pancakes

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Slice and Bake Brown Sugar Cookies

Makes about 8 dozen

The only slightly difficult part of this recipe is rolling out the dough to an exact size. The best method I found was to initially roll it out to about twice the desired size, then trim the edges to a shape 1 inch smaller in each direction than you eventually want. Place the trimmings on the cut rectangle, cover with wax paper, and roll out to your final desired size (see photos above).

Update 12/22/2011: I like these cookies even better with a ½ cup less flour (3½ cups total).  The dough is stickier, and there’s no way you’d be able to roll it out to the right size, but I’ve decided that simply pressing it to the right size is easier anyway.

4 cups (19.2 ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, preferably room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (7 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
½ ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Break the eggs into a small measuring cup, whisk them lightly, and mix in the vanilla.

2. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, then add the salt and both sugars. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, gradually add the egg mixture. Once the eggs have been added, scrape the sides of the bowl once, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Divide the dough into three equal portions.

3. For the striped cookies: Divide the first portion of dough into three more equally sized parts. Color one third red, another green, and leave the last one white. Between sheets of wax paper, roll each portion out to a 3-by-9-inch rectangle. Freeze the rectangles for about 10 minutes, until they’re firm enough to cut and stack. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise to form two 1½-by-9-inch rectangles. Stack the rectangles of dough, alternating colors, to form a block of dough with stripes. Trim the edges if desired. Wrap in wax paper and freeze for at least four hours, or up to 4 weeks.

4. For the checkerboard cookies: Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on half power for about 30 seconds. Stir, then repeat the heating and stirring until fully melted, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Divide one portion of dough into two equally sized parts. Mix the chocolate into one half and leave the other plain. Roll each portion into a 9-by-3-inch rectangle. Freeze the rectangles for about 10 minutes, until they’re firm enough to cut and stack. Cut each rectangle into eight 9-by-3/8-inch strips. On a sheet of wax paper, lay four strips next to each other, alternating colors. Press the strips together gently to remove any gaps. Lay another four strips on top of the first layer, alternating colors between layers. Repeat twice more, until there are four layers of four strips each. Trim the edges if desired. Wrap in wax paper and freeze for at least four hours, or up to 4 weeks.

5. For the spiral cookies: Divide the last portion of dough into two equally sized parts. Color one half red and the other green. Between sheets of waxed paper, roll each portion of dough into an 8-by-8-inch square. Without chilling the dough, stack the squares, then tightly roll them together to form a spiral. Wrap the dough in wax paper and freeze for at least fours hours, or up to 4 weeks.

6. When ready to bake, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Slice the frozen logs into cookies about 1/8-inch thick. Lay the cookies on the prepared pan, about ½-inch apart. Bake for 7-10 minutes, just until the tops no longer look wet. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks. Serve at room temperature. Stored in an airtight container, the cookies will be good for at least a week.

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chicken empanadas

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Dave got yelled at over these empanadas. I’m not much of a yeller normally; I’m more of a silent treatment and glower type of person. But there was no time for that; action needed to be taken immediately.

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It’s all because I made the filling a couple of days before I planned to form and bake the empanadas. The filling isn’t the most simple thing to make. There’s all kinds of chopping, browning, simmering, and meat shredding. And I was a little short on chicken, so I didn’t end up with as much filling as I’d hoped.

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That night, Dave needed to heat something up for himself for dinner, so I told him there was some extra brown rice with black beans in the fridge. I walked away for a few minutes, and when I came back, he had dumped my precious empanada filling onto a plate, microwaved it, and was scooping it up with a fork.

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Hey, guess what there is none of in this filling? 1) Brown rice. 2) Black beans.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “This is good!”  That’s when I yelled, because I just needed him to stop eating it right away.

And then he was so apologetic and I felt like a jerk. He kept saying, “It really was tasty!” as if that was supposed to make me feel better about it.  Yes. I know it’s tasty.  I spent some good time making sure it was.

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And what can you do to make something so delicious even better? Wrap it in pastry and bake it until it’s browned and flaky and crisp. Oh wow, these are good. And apparently that’s true whether they’re wrapped in pastry and baked or just dumped onto a plate and microwaved.

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One year ago: Comparison of 2 chocolate cake recipes
Two years ago: Cream cheese chocolate chip cookies (and my very first blog entry)

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Chicken Empanadas (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and epicurious)

Makes about 18 empanadas

I didn’t actually measure anything in the filling. I had to leave the olives out because Dave hates them.

As I formed each empanada, I put it in the freezer while I worked with the rest. That way the dough didn’t get too soft and it baked up flaky.

After forming the empanadas, I baked about half of them immediately. I froze the rest for a couple of months, then baked them straight from the freezer. They were perfect.

Dough:
4½ cups (21.6 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs
⅔ cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Filling:
3 whole chicken legs, including thighs (2 to 2¼ pounds total)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, halved lengthwise, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
⅓ cup (1½ ounces) finely diced Spanish chorizo
½ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (not hot)
¼ cup chopped pitted green olives
¼ cup golden raisins
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Egg wash:
1 egg
water
salt

1. For the dough: Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl; blend in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together the egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add it to the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. The mixture will look shaggy. Turn out the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather it together, kneading gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring the dough together. Form the dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. For the filling: Pat the chicken dry and season it with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then add the chicken, skin-side down. Cook it without moving for about 3 minutes, until dark golden brown, then turn it and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.

3. Add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves to the skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the olives, raisins, wine, and broth and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any juices accumulated on the plate, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, turning the chicken once, until the chicken is tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.

4. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate. The sauce remaining in the skillet should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it isn’t, briskly simmer until it’s slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and coarsely chop the meat. Stir the chicken back into the sauce. Discard the bay leaves and season the filling with salt and pepper. Let the filling cool for 30 minutes, uncovered.

5. To form and bake the empanadas: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking pan with a parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and from each into a disc. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).

6. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto the center of each round of dough and fold the dough in half, enclosing the filling. Press the edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or the tines of a fork. Transfer the empanada to the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining dough. You might have extra dough.

7. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash, then bake one sheet at a time until the empanadas are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let them cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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carne adovada

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A carne adovada comparison post is a very bad idea because:

1. I don’t love cooking with meat, with the constant hand-washing and being careful not to contaminate cooked meat tools with raw meat tools.

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2. My limited counter space makes working with large roasts difficult.

3. The oven was on for four hours – in July.

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4. One of the recipes includes the warning “Don’t breathe the fumes!”

5. Another warning, this time from my sister: “My coworker said to be careful because red chile can give some people the runs if they aren’t used to eating it.”

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6. Carne adovada is red. Deep, dark red, and yes, of course it stains.

7. Who, outside of New Mexico, has even heard of carne adovada?

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Oh, and then, the outcome?

8. Dave thought all three recipes tasted the same anyway.

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Carne adovada is pork marinated in red chile sauce, then slow roasted. It isn’t something that I’ve eaten a lot of; my dad made it once when I was young and it was crazy ridiculously painfully spicy, and I’ve pretty much been scared of it since. Of course now I realize that the level of spiciness will vary with the heat of the chiles.

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Unable, as usual, to decide on a recipe, I decided to compare a few. The meat in all recipes is marinated and cooked using the same method and cooking time; the difference is in the red chile sauce. At its most simple, the red chiles are soaked in hot water to rehydrate them, then blended with onions, garlic, and salt. Jen’s method is only slightly more complicated, with the added step of toasting the dried chiles before soaking them.

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Kate’s recipe is a little more complicated – and uses far, far more red chiles. It’s similar but significantly more fussy, with a soak followed by a simmer instead of just a soak, and then the blended ingredients need to be pushed through a sieve, a step I find tedious in most recipes that call for it.

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I let the meat marinate for about 24 hours, but if you can swing longer, up to 2 full days, I really think that’s the way to go. The more red chile flavor, the better.

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After finding enough properly-sized baking pans, jigsawing the pans into the oven, roasting the meat for hours, letting it cool slightly, and shredding all three pans of meat while trying to keep straight which was which so I could identify the photos, Dave and I decided that they were very, very similar.

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Dave would say identical. I would say that they’re oh-so-slightly different, but equally good. Kate’s recipe, which used so much more chiles, was spiciest. The recipe that did not require toasting the chiles tasted lighter and fresher, while the recipe with toasted chiles had a deeper flavor.

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My favorite was probably the simplest recipe; I liked that fresh flavor. Plus, if they all taste essentially the same, I might as well make the easiest, right? I guess a comparison was necessary, just so I know that, in this case, simple works just fine.

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Update: I thought I should add that neither of us had any, ah, digestive issues after eating the red chile, despite the concerns of my sister and her coworker.

One year ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

Serving suggestions: Burritos, stuffed sopaipillas (shown in the top photo), quesadillas, tacos, breakfast burritos.  You can also add potatoes to the mixture before cooking, and then serve the potatoes and meat as a main dish with beans and rice as sides.

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Carne Adovada
(adapted from Simply Simpatico, by the Junior League of Albuquerque)

16-18 dried red chile pods
hot water
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of thick layer of fat and sliced ½-inch thick

1. Remove stems and seeds from the chile pods. Place the pods in a large bowl or pot and pour in enough hot water to cover them. Soak for 1 hour. Strain, reserving the soaking liquid.

2. Place the chiles, garlic, and salt in a blender and add enough soaking liquid to just cover. Making sure there’s about two inches of headspace, blend until the skins disappear and the mixture is smooth, 2-3 minutes. Pour the sauce over meat, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24-28 hours.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Place the meat and chile sauce marinade in a baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake the carne adovada until the meat is falling apart tender, about 4 hours. (You can also cook the carne adovada in a crockpot on low heat for 7-9 hours.) When the meat is done, shred it or cut it into 1-inch pieces. Serve.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Carne Adovado
(adapted from Jen at Use Real Butter, who adapted it from Sante Fe Recipe)

16 dried red chile pods
1 tablespoon salt
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
5 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of thick layer of fat and sliced ½-inch thick

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325ºF. Remove the stems from the chile pods; place the pods in a pan and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chiles are lightly roasted. Leave the oven door open, and don’t breathe the fumes! Shake the seeds out of the pods and discard them.

2. Place the chiles in a medium bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for 30 minutes. Drain the water, reserving about 2 cups. Place the chiles in a food processor or blender; add the salt, garlic, and oregano. Cover the mixture with the reserved chile water, and blend or process for 2 minutes or until the skins disappear.

3. Pour the sauce over meat, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24-28 hours.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Place the meat and chile sauce marinade in a baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake the carne adovada until the meat is falling apart tender, about 4 hours. (You can also cook the carne adovada in a crockpot on low heat for 7-9 hours.) When the meat is done, shred it or cut it into 1-inch pieces. Serve.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Carne Adovada
(adapted from Kate in the Kitchen , who adapted it from Sante Fe Hot and Spicy Recipes)

12 ounces dried red chile peppers
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves fresh garlic, smashed with skins removed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of thick layer of fat and sliced ½-inch thick
4 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 sticks cinnamon

1. De-stem and de-seed chile peppers; place in a large stock pot and cover with hot water. Soak for 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Strain, reserving liquid. Allow to cool slightly, then process solids in batches in a food processor using reserve liquid for proper consistency. Strain through a wire sieve, pressing on the solids to extract the liquids.

3. Pour the sauce over meat, add the cinnamon and red pepper flakes, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24-28 hours.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the cinnamon stick. Place the meat and chile sauce marinade in a baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake the carne adovada until the meat is falling apart tender, about 4 hours. (You can also cook the carne adovada in a crockpot on low heat for 7-9 hours.) When the meat is done, shred it or cut it into 1-inch pieces. Serve.

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sugar-topped molasses spice cookies

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A story:

I was trying to decide where to go to graduate school, visiting schools and meeting with potential advisors. One of those advisors had me over for dinner at his house with his family. His wife said she’d recently made molasses taffy, and I blurted out, “It doesn’t taste like molasses, right? That would be disgusting!” Yes, she said, clearly taken aback, it tastes like molasses.

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Oh, god, it still makes me cringe. Shut up, Bridget.

It’s not my fault! I didn’t know much about molasses back then, and in fact had only recently bought my first jar – of blackstrap molasses, because I didn’t know there were different types. No wonder I thought all molasses tasted bad.

Now I know better. Molasses = gingerbread = good.

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These cookies are even more molassey than gingerbread, which I don’t mind at all these days. And you know what? I ate a piece of that molasses taffy, way back when, and it wasn’t all bad either. I must have come up with something appropriately polite to say, because four years later, that advisor gave me a degree.

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Pamela has the recipe posted for Tuesdays with Dorie. I liked the texture and shape of the cookies better when they were baked at 375ºF for 8-10 minutes instead of 350ºF for 12-14 minutes.

One year ago: Rice Pudding

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vegetarian lasagna

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This is, for me, perfect lasagna. You can’t go wrong with most combinations of pasta + sauce + cheese, but this one has just the right balance of light and rich, cheese and tomatoes, pasta and sauce, vegetables and…well, not meat, because there is none.

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But don’t worry, it isn’t vegetable lasagna. It’s vegetarian lasagna. It’s a fine line.

It isn’t that I don’t like meat in my lasagna; I just don’t know that it’s really necessary for me. On the other hand, I definitely do not like large chunks of vegetables in my lasagna – no layers of eggplant or zucchini or peppers.

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What I’ve done here is use minced mushrooms to mimic the texture and somewhat even the flavor of ground meat in the tomato sauce. The sauce has so much flavor that you’ll never miss the meat. Other than that, it’s a pretty traditional lasagna. I’ve replaced the ricotta with béchamel sauce, just because I like it that way.

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It’s also, as far as lasagna goes, not terribly indulgent. I use 2% milk in the béchamel and skim mozzarella, although you can certainly use something richer if you prefer. I like to make my own spinach pasta, because if you can add a bag of spinach to the lasagna without it affecting the final flavor or texture, why not? And with mushrooms replacing meat, plus plenty of homemade tomato sauce, there is certainly no shortage of vegetables.

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It’s just…perfect. Perfectly flavored, a perfect balance of richness. It’s full of vegetables, but they’re not overbearing. It’s a lot of work, yes, but I usually have fun making lasagna. And for a big pan of what is, for me, perfect lasagna? It’s absolutely worth it.

One year ago: Stuffed Sandwich Rolls

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Vegetarian Lasagna

Serves 8

The recipe looks more complicated than it needs to because of the homemade pasta. You can save yourself a lot of time (skip steps 1 through 4) by buying fresh pasta sheets instead of making and rolling out the spinach pasta. Or you can use a box of no-boil lasagna noodles, soaking them in hot water for 5 minutes before layering the lasagna.

Utilize your food processor! For the parmesan, mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, onion, and tomatoes (in that order).

You can make the whole lasagna ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight. Or you can freeze the whole lasagna. Let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight. To bake the lasagna straight from the refrigerator, just place it in the cold oven, then turn the oven onto 375ºF to bake the lasagna. The lasagna will warm up as the oven heats.

You can also make the pasta dough and both sauces a day in advance and then assemble the layers right before baking.

If you keep fresh basil around, definitely mince up a few leaves and add them to the cooked tomato sauce. You may also want to sprinkle some on top of the lasagna when it comes out of the oven.

Spinach pasta:
5 ounces baby spinach, washed
1 egg
¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus (a lot) more for dusting

Tomato sauce:
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped fine (reserve ½ cup of the onions for the béchamel)
4 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces mushrooms, minced
¼ cup wine (optional; red or white is fine)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained and pureed
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained and pureed
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Béchamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup finely diced onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
½ cup grated parmesan cheese (1 ounce)

Assembly:
nonstick spray
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. For the pasta: Place the spinach in a 12-inch skillet and add a few tablespoons of water (or if the spinach is wet from being washed, just add the wet spinach to the skillet). Turn the heat to high until the water boils, then reduce the heat and stir the spinach until it just wilts, about 1 minute. Remove the spinach from the pan (don’t wash the skillet) and place it on a clean dishtowel. Pat and squeeze the spinach until it’s very dry, then finely mince it.

2. Add the flour to a wide bowl or pie plate, then make a well in the center of the flour. Lightly beat the egg, then add it to the well with the chopped spinach. Stir the flour, egg, and spinach together until thoroughly mixed, then started kneading. Knead, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from being sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Don’t be concerned if you need to add quite a bit of extra flour; the dough should be malleable but not at all sticky.

3. Divide the dough into 3 balls. Work with one ball of dough at a time and leave the others covered with a damp dishtowel (you can use the same one you used for drying the spinach). Flatten the dough slightly, then roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope, then roll it through the pasta roller again, feeding it with one of the open sides first. If at any point the dough is sticky, brush it with flour. Repeat the folding into thirds and rolling a few times. Without folding, run the pasta through the widest setting once more. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinner setting and roll the dough through the machine. Continue to gradually thin the dough until the third-to-last setting. Brush it with flour if the dough starts to stick at all. If the strip of dough becomes too long to handle, cut it into two shorter strips and work with each strip separately. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough, laying the sheets of pasta on dishtowels.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add 1 tablespoon salt and reduce the heat until the water is at a lively simmer instead of a vigorous boil. Cut the strips of dough into 8-inch lengths. One by one, dip each rectangle of dough in the water, leave it for about 10 seconds, then remove it and rinse it under running water. Lay the strips of dough on dishtowels.

5. For the tomato sauce: Place the dried porcini in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then turn the burner off.

6. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the same large skillet the spinach was cooked in. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions just brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking and occasionally stirring until the mushrooms start to brown. First they’ll release a bunch of liquid, but then that will evaporate and they’ll brown. Once they do, pour in the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine almost completely evaporates, then add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Carefully lift the porcini from their soaking liquid with a fork; mince them and add them to the sauce. Simmer the sauce over medium heat until thick, about 15 minutes.

7. For the béchamel: Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, add the onions and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the flour and stir continuously for 1 minute. Stirring constantly, gradually pour in the milk and reserved porcini liquid (pouring carefully so as to leave any grit behind in the small saucepan). Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a light boil, stirring very frequently. Once the sauce starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for 10 minutes, stirring in occasionally. Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, and parmesan.

8. Assembly: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375ºF. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan, then add a layer of noodles. Spread ¼ of the béchamel on the noodles, followed by ¼ of the cheese, and ¼ of the tomato sauce. Repeat the layering (noodles, béchamel, cheese, tomato sauce) twice more, then finish by adding a layer of noodles, then the last of the béchamel, the last of the tomato sauce, and the last of the mozzarella.

9. Spray a large sheet of aluminum foil with nonstick spray, then use it to cover the lasagna. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, until the lasagna is bubbling around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and let the lasagna set for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

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croissants 2 (martha stewart)

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Hey, remember, uh, a long time ago? When I said I was going to do a series on croissants? Whatever happened to that anyway? I certainly didn’t stop making croissants. I just stopped talking about it. I suck!

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Part of the problem was that these, the second batch of croissants I made, were just so bad. And it was all my fault. Well, mostly my fault; really I blame the yeast.

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This is one of the only recipes I’ve made that calls for fresh yeast. I know you can substitute instant yeast, but my grocery store sells the fresh stuff, and I was curious to try it.

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It ended up being probably the worst bread I’ve ever made. Maybe my fresh yeast wasn’t so fresh? Clearly something went very, very wrong. These croissants were dense dense dense, without any trace of flakiness.  My only other attempt at bread made with fresh yeast was a failure as well.

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Definitely not a success, and it’s hard to fairly judge the recipe when so much of what went wrong was my fault. Still, I learned things: 1) No more fresh yeast for me. 2) I like Martha’s method for shaping the crescents, where she stretches the wider part of the triangle a bit so that the center of each croissant isn’t so thick. 3) And the obvious: if the rolls don’t look like they’ve risen, they probably haven’t, and it might be best not to bake them yet, even if it’s already been over twice as long as the recipe recommends.

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I should really try this recipe again using the type of yeast I’m more familiar with, because I’m sure this attempt didn’t do it justice. When I do, I’ll be sure to update with a continuation of my experiments with croissants. And this time I’ll try not to wait six months.

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One year ago: Asian Peanut Dip

Printer Friendly Recipe
Croissants (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes 2 dozen

If using dry yeast instead of fresh, heat the milk to about 100ºF, then stir in the yeast to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes, and proceed with the recipe. The dough can be made ahead through all of the turns and frozen for up to three months; before using, defrost the dough in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours. After baking, croissants are best eaten within six hours.

2 cups cold milk
2 tablespoons honey
1½ pounds (about 4 ½ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
4 ounces (1 scant cup) unbleached pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1½ ounces fresh yeast, crumbled
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons salt
1¼ pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Make the dough package: Pour the milk and honey into a 1-quart liquid measuring cup, and stir to combine; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together 1 pound 6 ounces (about 4¼ cups) bread flour, the pastry flour, sugar, yeast, and salt; stir to combine. Add milk mixture, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface; gently knead to form a smooth ball, about 45 seconds. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Make the butter package: Lay the butter sticks side by side on a piece of plastic wrap, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 ounces (about ¼ cup) flour. Pound with a rolling pin until flour is incorporated, and roll into an 8-inch square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Remove dough package from the refrigerator; place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to a 16-by-10-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you. Remove butter package from the refrigerator; place on the bottom half of the dough; fold the top half of the dough over the butter, and pinch the edges to seal.

5. Roll out the dough to a 20-by-10 rectangle about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you; keep the corners as square as possible. Remove any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Starting at the far end, fold the rectangle in thirds, as you would a business letter. This completes the first of three turns. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Repeat rolling and folding as above two more times, starting with the flap opening on the right, as if it were a book, and refrigerate at least 1 hour between turns. To help you remember how many turns have been completed, mark the dough after each: Make one mark for the first turn, two for the second, and three for the third. After the third, wrap dough in plastic, and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

7. Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 30-by-16-inch rectangle. (If the dough becomes too elastic, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.) Using a pizza wheel or pastry cutter, cut the dough in half lengthwise to form two 30-by-8-inch rectangles. Stack one piece of dough on top of the other, lining up the edges. Using the pizza wheel, cut dough into triangles, each with a 4-inch base (you will have scraps of dough at both ends). Cut a 1-inch slit in the center of the base of each triangle. Place triangles in a single layer on a clean work surface.

8. To shape croissants, stretch the two lower points of each triangle to enlarge the slit slightly. Fold the inner corners formed by the slit toward the outer sides of the triangles, and press down to seal. Using your fingertips, roll the base of each triangle up and away from you, stretching the dough slightly outward as you roll; the tip should be tucked under the croissant. Pull the two ends toward you to form a crescent. Transfer the crescents to two parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart (12 on each sheet). Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until very spongy and doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 400ºF, with the racks in the upper and lower thirds. Lightly brush crescents with the beaten egg. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the croissants are puffed and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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glazed lemon cookies

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Earlier in the summer, I got it in my head that I could bake all I wanted as long as I just sent the treats away. Brilliant! All the swirling butter and sugar in the mixer without any of the calories! I don’t have a PhD for nothing, people.

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So I put out a note on Facebook – essentially “Hey! Who wants treats!” – got a whole bunch of responses, and spent the next day baking.

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The weakness in my strategy was that it’s almost never the actual baked dessert that I overeat. It’s the dough, always the dough.

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Plus, I know everyone jokes about “Oh, I have to eat one, right? Just to make sure they’re good? <wink wink>.” The thing is, you do have to eat one to make sure they’re good! What if you forgot the salt and doubled the baking powder or, I don’t know, some other easily overlooked lame-brained maneuver? And you send out eight packages, all over the country, to friends and family you haven’t seen in ages, all filled with lackluster messed up “treats”?

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Anyway, so after spending all day shopping, baking, packaging, eating lots of dough and (at least) one of each treat, I decided I should make myself go for a run.

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Uh, it wasn’t the best run ever. It was one of those runs where puking doesn’t seem too far off. Weird that sugar and butter aren’t very good fuel for exercise. Bummer.

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So I’ve mostly given up on the “I’ll just send everything away!” idea. Which is a shame, because now it’s going to be that much harder to find a reason to make these perfect lemon cookies. Sweet but tangy, super soft and tender, topped with a flavorful powdered sugar glaze that dries on top and snaps just a bit when you bite through it, these are cookies that I can’t resist in dough or baked form.

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One year ago: Wheatmeal Shortbread Cookies

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Glazed Lemon Cookies (from Cooks Illustrated)

Cookies:
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 2 lemons
1¾ cup (8.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze:
1 tablespoon cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1. For the cookies: In a food processor, process the granulated sugar and lemon zest until the sugar looks damp and the zest is thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt; pulse to combine, about ten 1-second pulses. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients; pulse until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. In a measuring cup or small bowl, beat together the lemon juice, egg yolk, and vanilla with a fork to combine. With the machine running, add the juice mixture in a slow, steady stream (the process should take about 10 seconds); continue processing until the dough begins to form a ball, 10 to 15 seconds longer.

2. Turn the dough and any dry bits onto a clean work surface; working quickly, gently knead to ensure that no dry bits remain and the dough is homogeneous. Roll the dough into a cylinder approximately 10 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Center the dough on a piece of parchment. Fold the paper over the dough. Grasp one end of the parchment. With the other hand, use a bench scraper to firmly press the parchment against the dough to form a uniform cylinder. Roll the parchment and twist the ends together to form a tight seal. Chill the dough until firm and cold, about 45 minutes in the freezer or 2 hours in the refrigerator. (The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.)

3. Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions; heat the oven to 375 degrees.

4. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Remove the dough log from its wrapper and, using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the dough into rounds 3/8 inch thick; place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake until the centers of the cookies just begin to color and the edges are golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets about 5 minutes; using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before glazing.

5. For the glaze: Whisk the cream cheese and lemon juice in a medium nonreactive bowl until no lumps remain. Add the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until smooth.

6. To glaze the cookies: When the cookies have cooled, spoon a scant teaspoon of glaze onto each cookie and spread evenly with the back of the spoon. Let the cookies stand on a wire rack until the glaze is set and dry, about 1 hour. The cookies are best eaten the day they are glazed.

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pumpkin scones

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Oh, did you want to see something besides scones? I’m sorry, it turns out that the ol’ crumblycookie has become all scones, all the time.

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No, just kidding. This is the last scone recipe. I just wanted to get through them in one fell swoop, which is what’s kind of fun about NaBloPoMo.

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Like most of us, I love pumpkin. The thing is though, that you can’t just add pumpkin into whatever your favorite baking recipe is, because it changes the texture quite a bit. It adds a moist, cakey…I want to say gummy texture, but that sounds negative, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it also isn’t what you want in scones.

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So even though I have two great basic scone recipes, I didn’t even consider just adding pumpkin into one of them and seeing what happens. (Although now I’m curious.) So I had to start my search for recipes from scratch, and I settled on this Joy of Baking recipe because the picture shows tall scones with flaky layers.

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And I nailed it! I can’t imagine a better pumpkin scone. This has everything I want in a scone – the texture walks the line between tender and flaky, it’s sweet but not too much, and the pumpkin and spices are noticeable but not overwhelming. Yet another perfect scone recipe.

One year ago: Gratin Dauphinois

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Pumpkin Scones
(adapted just a bit from Joy of Baking)

Makes 8 scones

I left out the nuts and raisins, just because I wanted a smooth texture this time. And instead of using the egg wash and turbinado sugar for sprinkling, I brushed the scones with milk and sprinkled them with a mixture of about 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. It gave the scones a really nice thin crisp layer after baking.

I’ve also tweaked the order in which the ingredients are added to the dough, because I’m full of myself and I think I know better than the professionals. Or something.

2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
⅓ cup (50 grams) raisins
¼ cup (30 grams) toasted and chopped pecans (optional)
⅓ – ½ cup buttermilk
⅓ cup (72 grams) light or dark brown sugar
½ cup fresh or canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Egg Wash:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk or cream
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling the tops of the scones (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC) and place rack in middle of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins and pecans, if using. In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, sugar, pumpkin puree and vanilla, and then add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Mix just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix the dough.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough gently four or five times and then pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 1½ inches (3.75 cm) thick. Cut this circle in half, then cut each half into 4 pie-shaped wedges (triangles). Place the scones on the baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash and sprinkle a little Turbinado sugar on top, if desired.

4. Place the baking sheet inside another baking sheet to prevent the bottoms of the scones from over browning. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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buttermilk scones

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Having a great, seemingly perfect recipe for something isn’t enough to stop me from trying new recipes. There’s always something to learn, you know? Even though one of the first biscotti recipes I ever made is still the best, I’ve made many many more recipes and I’ve learned some little biscotti tricks along the way. But I still haven’t found a better biscotti recipe.

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The cranberry scones were one of the first scone recipes I ever made, and certainly the first to knock my socks off. Of course, cranberries aren’t in season year-round anyway, but I successfully adapted the recipe for rhubarb, and I’m sure I could have used most other fruits.

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But instead, I kept trying new recipes, including this one. And this time…well, I won’t say this recipe is better, but it is definitely as good. Aargh, don’t tell me I need to do a scone comparison!

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I suppose it’s okay to have two perfect scone recipes, right? And one probably isn’t better than the other anyway. One thing I’ve found from recipe comparisons is that once you have great dependable recipes, it all comes down to personal preference.

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Well, my personal preference is for whatever gets me a delicious treat on a Saturday morning. This certainly qualifies. And so does this.

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One year ago: Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake

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Buttermilk Scones (adapted just slightly from Tartine, by Elisabeth Pruett and Chad Robertson)

The measurements are weird because this is half of the recipe in Tartine’s cookbook. But geez, who needs 5 cups of flour worth of scones? I’ve also made them slightly smaller – 8 scones for this half-recipe instead of 6, because 6 would have been huge. (Each scone would have 3 tablespoons of butter in it!)

Zante currants are just standard dried currants.

I skip the melted butter and just use milk on top of the unbaked scones.

6 tablespoons zante currants (1.75 ounces) or 3 ounces fresh berries
2¼ cups + 2 tablespoons (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons butter, very cold
¾ cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
large crystal sugar or granulated sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. To make the dough, first combine the currants with warm water to cover in a small bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes until the currants are plumped. Drain well. If you’re using berries instead of currants, put them in the freezer.

3. While the currants are plumping (or the berries are freezing), whisk the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl if making by hand, or into the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix with a rubber spatula. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes and scatter the cubes over the dry ingredients. If you are using a mixer, pulse on and off so that you don’t break down the butter too much. You want to end up with a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.

4. Add the buttermilk all at once along with the lemon zest and currants. (If you’re using berries, don’t add them yet.) Mix gently with a rubber spatula by hand or on low speed if using the mixer. Add the berries and continue to mix just until you have a dough that holds together. Be careful not to mash the berries into the dough, or you will color it with their juice. If the mixture seems dry, add a little more buttermilk. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.

5. Dust your work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 9 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 1½ inches thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle with the sugar. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough into 8 triangles. Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet.

6. Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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cranberry orange scones

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This recipe changed the whole shape of my last year. Before making these great scones, I’d spend a large part of both weekend mornings cooking, usually something sweet one day and something savory the other. It made for a nice breakfast category here, but it wasn’t the best way to relax on the weekend.

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Not anymore. I still often cook something one morning, but on the other, it’s all about scones. I make the dough early in the week and freeze it, then on a lazy weekend morning, I just have to bake them, make coffee (or, more often, wait for Dave to), and sit down to flip through a cookbook. It’s become one of my favorite times of the week.

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These pictures? They’re from when I made the scones last winter, but it was way past cranberry season, so I’ve been holding onto this blog entry for months and months.

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It’s time. Cranberries are showing up in stores, and there is no better way to enjoy them. These are so tender, have just the right sweetness, and make for a stress-free weekend breakfast, even with guests. Even after a year of making scones, these are still one of my favorites.

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One year ago: Warm Chickpea and Butternut Squash Salad

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Cranberry Orange Scones (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

The recipe originally calls for (Meyer) lemon zest, but orange – or tangerine, which I’ve also used – is such a great partner for cranberry that I couldn’t resist using it instead. I also like increasing the cranberries a bit (already reflected in the recipe).

I’ve baked this recipe at high altitude (at least 5000 feet) with good results. They weren’t quite as pretty, but the taste and texture weren’t affected.

I always flash-freeze scones, then bake them straight from the freezer, adding a couple extra minutes to the baking time.

Makes 8 scones

1½ tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar plus 3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1½ cups fresh cranberries, chopped coarse (I usually do this in the food processor)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. In a small bowl, toss together fresh cranberries and 3 tablespoons sugar. In another small bowl, lightly beat the egg and yolk, then stir in cream.

3. In a food processor, pulse the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and zest until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl. (You can also just smoosh the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers instead of using a food processor.) Stir the cranberries into the flour mixture. Then gently fold the egg mixture into the flour until just combined.

4. On a well-floured surface with floured hands, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter). With a 2-inch round cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour, cut out as many rounds as possible, rerolling the scraps as necessary. (Or cut the circle into wedges, which is my standard method.) Arrange the scones about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool about 10 minutes, then serve.

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