rosy poached pear and pistachio tart

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I’m not really good with pears. I don’t know much about them, so I never buy them. And, of course, because I never buy them, I don’t learn much about them. Which types are best for baking and for eating? When are they in season? How do I know when they’re ripe? How long do they take to ripen after you buy them?

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Due to my lack of pear knowledge, I was a little worried about how my tart would come out. I should have looked up what kind of pear to use, plus I forgot to buy mine early so it would have time to ripen before I needed to make the tart.

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It probably would have been a little better if my pear had been softer, but, as it was, this was a pretty darn good tart. I mean, the pear is cooked in wine for over half an hour – how could that be bad? Plus, pastry cream is just delicious, although pistachio pastry cream resembles split pea soup a little too closely for my comfort. Good thing it’s covered by that beautiful purple poached pear!

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Lauren chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie and she has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Linzer Sablés

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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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all-in-one holiday bundt cake

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When I did my bake-and-send extravaganza last summer, I unintentionally left a few key people out. Namely, our moms, both mine and Dave’s. Oops.

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I did, however, send a box of cookies to my mother-in-law’s sister. Who, of course, called my mother-in-law, mentioned the cookies, and then…I was in trouble. Well, not in trouble, because my mother-in-law is too nice for that, but not not in trouble either.

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So I finally made up for it recently by sending a box of fall-themed treats – molasses cookies, pumpkin biscotti, and this cake. Phew. No longer in the daughter-in-law doghouse.

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This is not a simple cake – we’re talking pumpkin, cranberries, apples, nuts, spices. I thought it smelled a lot like apple cake, but when I was eating it, the flavor of the cranberries stood out the most. It was a good cake – tasty and moist. I enjoyed it, and I hope my mother-in-law did too.

Now perhaps I should consider sending her a thank you note for the birthday present she sent me in August?

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Britin chose this cake for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she will have the recipe posted.  I substituted chestnuts for the pecans.

One year ago: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

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cranberry nut dessert

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Sometimes I’m too full of myself for my own good. When I saw this on Jen’s site, I noted that she called it ‘cranberry dessert.’ But, in my hubris, I figured, what the hell, it looks like a cake. I’ll call it a cake and serve it as a cake.

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In retrospect, though, the vague title ‘dessert’ is probably more appropriate. Or maybe cranberry clafoutis? Except with more butter. Cobbler doesn’t quite work because the breading isn’t biscuits.

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Even looking at the photos now, it looks like a cake. The recipe is mixed like a quick bread, so that’s cake-like.

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But somehow, when I was eating it, it seemed more like a fruit dessert, maybe because the ratio of fruit to batter is so high. It was fantastic on its own, but it did cry out for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Next time I won’t deny it.

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One year ago: Lime Meltaways

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Cranberry Nut Dessert (rewritten from Use Real Butter)

Most nuts would work here, but I used lightly toasted almonds and it seemed like a perfect match.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup chopped nuts
2 eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
½ teaspoon almond extract

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a pie pan with spray oil.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, cranberries, and nuts. In another bowl, whisk the eggs until broken up, then whisk in the butter and almond extract. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

3. Spread the batter in the prepared pan; bake for 40 minutes or a until toothpick inserted near the center of the pan comes out clean or with a few crumbs hanging onto it. Let the dessert cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

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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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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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chocolate caramel chestnut cake

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My dessert rich-o-meter has chocolate chip cookies right near the middle, with cheesecake at one end and, I don’t know, maybe angel food cake on the other. Although I almost never eat angel food cake. Regular layer cakes tend to be slightly on the less rich side of cookies, until you add frosting of course, and then I figure it’s about the same. So if you disregard the less-rich-than-cookies side of the richometer (pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, for maximum obnoxiousness), that means desserts just span from cookies – pretty darn bad for you – to cheesecake – just about 100% fat.

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The last few Tuesdays with Dorie recipes have definitely been on the cheesecake end of the spectrum. (Of course, nothing is as bad as the lemon cream tart and peanut butter torte, which are off the charts!) At first I thought this cake was similar to a basic cake, but then it has this chocolate-butter filling, and a chocolate-cream glaze, and two sticks of butter in the cake itself. Whoa doggie.

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So we have leetle leetle servings, one quarter of the size Dorie recommends. This isn’t my favorite type of cake – I tend to like more classic flavors and textures – but it’s certainly good, with the earthy chestnuts and bittersweet chocolate. Dorie expounds on the virtues of the ganache filling, made by melting chocolate with hot caramel instead of hot cream, and I agree that it lends some extra complexity to the cake.

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Katya has the full recipe posted. I substituted Nutella for the chestnut cream and decreased the butter in the cake by 2 tablespoons. I also found that refrigerating the ganache filling overnight seemed unnecessary, turning the spreadable mixture into a hard-as-butter (which it mostly is) chunk. I had to wait an hour or so to let it warm up before I could use it on the cake.

One year ago: Rugelach, one of my favorite Dorie Greenspan recipes ever

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dried fruit compote

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As food blogging becomes more popular and more established, companies will start to take advantage of that to draw attention to their products. At some point, it seems that most food bloggers will have to ask themselves what their policy toward accepting free stuff for review is.

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Michael from Bella Viva Orchards offered me a box of dried fruit, and I was particularly charmed by the disarming honesty with which it was offered: “Perhaps, if you enjoy our fruit, you may want to use it in one of your recipes in your blog, which could be very helpful to us.” Very diplomatic.

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He offered to let me choose the fruit, but I was so overwhelmed by Bella Viva’s huge selection that I let him pick. The fruit arrived soon afterward, packaged beautifully. I received unsweetened pineapple, raisins, mixed fruit, and orange slices. The pineapple, I just snacked on, and it was delicious. I’ve never understood why most dried pineapple is candied – isn’t pineapple sweet enough on its own? I also snacked my way through most of the bag of raisins. I didn’t think I liked raisins, but they became a perfect late afternoon snack for me.

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I thought a compote would be nice for the mixed fruit. This recipe starts with white wine, which is mixed with warm spices and simmered until it’s slightly reduced. Then the fruit is added, along with water, and the mixture is simmered until it’s syrupy and the fruit is softened. The recipe calls for a mixture of apricots and plums, but I wanted to use as much of a variety as possible. My mixed fruit package contains apples, plums, nectarines, peaches, pears and apricots, and I threw in some of the raisins too.

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Always looking for an excuse to have wine for breakfast (even wine that’s been cooked for 35 minutes, I suppose), I served the compote with French toast. It was great! Sweet and spiced, but still with a nice tartness from the fruit. It isn’t the most seasonal recipe right now, but come winter, this will be a handy topping to have around.

I don’t know that I’ll continue to accept products for review, but I definitely enjoyed it this time. My experience with Bella Viva Orchards was very positive, from the customer service to the quality of the fruit. I even have my very own coupon code! If you order something from Bella Viva’s website, enter “cookie” as the coupon code to save 10%.

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One year ago: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic – best chicken ever

Dried Fruit Compote in Spiced Syrup (adapted slightly from Food and Wine)

Makes 10 servings

1½ cups dry white wine
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
1¼ pounds (20 ounces) mixed dried fruit, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
2 cups cold water
1½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, combine the white wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the dried fruits, water and vanilla extract and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the fruit is plump and the liquid is slightly syrupy, about 25 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick and cloves. (The fruit compote can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

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fresh ginger and chocolate gingerbread

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Ah, my sad little gingerbread photos. I had some issues with a tiny step in this recipe that I normally would have just ignored. “Butter the pan.” Pshaw, who butters their pans these days? Nonstick spray, baby!

Since I needed 7⅓ tablespoons of butter for the portion of the recipe that I was making, I figured I would just use the other ⅔ tablespoon to butter the pan. (I used an 8-inch square pan for ⅔ of the recipe.) Then when it came time to remove the cake from the pan, I got stubborn when it stuck. The damn cake would be coming out of the pan!

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Um, yeah, that was dumb. It came out, all right, or about half of it did. The other half, the bottom half, was holding on tight to the pan. I quickly shoveled the broken cake pieces back into the pan and they melded together nicely. If I had been able to resist tasting the cake (through a forkful dug out of the middle), no one would have been the wiser.

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Fortunately, the taste of the cake made up for the troubles. Dave and I both really like gingerbread, and although I had my doubts about combining it with chocolate, in the end I thought it was a good match. I enjoyed the chunks of chocolate in the cake, even though they all sank to the bottom. The bittersweet chocolate glaze was great too. My cake was a little dry, but it’s entirely possible that I overbaked it by a few minutes. Still, next time I’ll use twelve tablespoons of butter instead of eleven (for a full recipe). And I most certainly won’t use butter to grease the pan.

Heather, who chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted.

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cranberry orange muffins

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Didn’t I just make muffins? And wasn’t I talking about how I was still on pumpkin? While it’s true that I haven’t moved past pumpkin, I’m definitely excited about cranberries too. Especially cranberry and orange together.

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Seven or eight years ago, I went through a health nut phase where I pretty much eschewed white flour. (You can imagine that that lasted for, like, a week.) I at least substituted half whole wheat flour in most recipes, especially quick breads. I’ve apparently reached a complete turnaround. This recipe calls for 100% whole wheat flour, and I came very close to substituting half of that with white flour.

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But I stuck to the recipe, and I am so glad I did. These muffins rocked, even though I didn’t have quite the right amount of egg (long story), I used traditional instead of quick-cooking oats, and I skipped the glaze. I’m not a huge fan of glaze on muffins – they don’t take to freezing as well, plus it seems too cupcake-like. I also changed the order that the ingredients were added, just like I did with the pumpkin muffins. I added the sugar with the wet ingredients and the zest with the dry ingredients.

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The muffins were nice and light, not at all heavy from the whole wheat flour. The orange flavor was pronounced, which I liked, and the bits of cranberry were perfectly tart and even juicy. All that using 100% whole wheat flour. 2001-me would have been so proud.

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Cranberry Orange Muffins (adapted from King Arthur Flour)

I used traditional oats and didn’t notice any problems, but I could see how quick-cooking oats would incorporate into the dough better. I skipped the nuts because I didn’t have any. I used butter instead of oil. I also skipped the glaze.

Makes 12 muffins

1½ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup quick-cooking rolled oats
¼ cup buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange zest (finely grated orange peel)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
2 large eggs
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup melted butter or vegetable oil

Glaze
2 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

2. Whisk flour, oats, milk powder, baking powder, and orange zest in a large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk egg until broken up. Add sugar and whisk until combined. Whisk in butter (or oil) and milk.

3. Add cranberries and nuts, if using, to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add milk mixture and fold with rubber spatula until batter comes together. Do not overmix.

4. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack.

5. If using glaze: In a small saucepan or the microwave, stir together the glaze ingredients. Bring just to a boil, to dissolve the sugar. Dip the tops of the warm muffins into the glaze.

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