Friday, December 20, 2013

Cranberry Crostini with Goat Cheese and Brie

As we approach Christmas day, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite recipes I've made in a while. Though I made these crostini for Thanksgiving, the sauce smelled just like Christmas! I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate Thanksgiving and look forward to putting up Christmas decorations the next day.

These crostini are wonderfully simple to make, but look and taste fancy. I think the blend of spices was pretty much perfect. No single flavor took over the dish, but instead created a symphony of sweet, spiced, tart, rich, creamy, and crunchy.

I made some of mine with goat cheese and some with Brie, and I can't decide which I liked better. If doing small, two-bite bread slices from a skinny baguette, you're probably good either way. If doing larger slices from a fatter loaf, Brie might be a bit rich.

This recipe is very portable and easy to make ahead. Toast the bread slices and, once they're cool, store in a large zip bag until ready to serve. The cranberry sauce can be made days in advance and stored in the fridge. Just warm it up a bit in the microwave right before serving. I traveled with all my components separate, and let people assemble their own crostini. That way each person could choose which cheese(s) they wanted, the bread didn't get soggy from sitting too long, and any leftovers were easy to take home.

Speaking of leftovers, they do well on crackers, leftover turkey, leftover dinner rolls, and pretty much anything else you can think of. One of my friends says the cranberry sauce is good on pancakes, and I may or may not have made french toast topped with leftover cheeses and cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Crostini with Goat Cheese and(or) Brie

Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 8 servings

1 baguette or small loaf of artisan whole grain bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices
Olive oil
12-oz. bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice (or equal parts cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg)
Zest of 1/2 an orange
10 oz. (total) goat cheese, Brie, ricotta, or cream cheese, or some combination thereof - at room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil, and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet or two. Lightly sprinkle with salt. Toast the bread in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden on both sides, turning them halfway. Set aside to cool, and turn off the oven.

Rinse the cranberries and throw out any bad ones; set aside. In a saucepan, whisk together the honey, water, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Bring to a gentle boil over medium to medium-high heat, whisking often. Add the cranberries and cook, stirring frequently, until cranberries have popped and the sauce is the consistency you like. The longer you cook it, the more saucy and less chunky it will get. Beware that the cranberries may try to attack you while they're popping. Remove from heat and stir in the orange zest.

To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with cheese, then top with cranberry sauce.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Bourbon Glaze

I'm not going to write much about these because a) the recipe is really long with several notes at the end, and b) I think the title speaks for itself. But I will say this: these cinnamon rolls took a boatload of time, and they were worth EVERY second. They turned out sweet, gooey, super soft, and basically the same thing as happiness on a plate.

One quick matter of business before we get to the recipe. I opted to mix and knead the dough in my bread maker. So the dough-making directions below are taken almost word-for-word from The Pioneer Woman, and I cannot personally vouch for how the process works. This was a little too much dough for my bread machine (most of its recipes call for 3 cups flour, and this recipe has 4-1/2) so it overflowed a bit but thankfully didn't make too big a mess. If you go the bread machine route, make sure your machine can handle this much volume, or cut the recipe in half.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Bourbon Glaze

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman 
Glaze adapted from my Pumpkin Monkey Bread recipe
Yield: 24 rolls

1-1/2 cups milk (I used 2%; original recipe was for whole milk)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
1 cup pumpkin puree
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 cup additional all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Additional flour for kneading and rolling

3/4 cup butter, melted, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
8 oz. cream cheese, very soft (I used reduced fat)
1 cup finely chopped pecans

6 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. brown sugar (I used dark)
2 Tbsp. rum or bourbon

Make the dough:* In a large saucepan, combine milk, vegetable oil, and sugar. Heat until hot but not boiling; remove from the stove and allow it to cool until it's warm to the touch but not too hot. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the liquid and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin puree.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Sprinkle it into the saucepan and stir until it just comes together. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

After an hour, the mixture should be very puffy and at least doubled in size. Whisk together the additional 1/2 cup flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the dough until fully combined.

Roll out the dough: Dust your countertop and hands with flour. Turn dough out onto the counter and form into a rectangle. If it's too sticky, work in additional flour until it's handleable, but don't work in too much extra flour.** Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough into a large rectangle, roughly 30 inches wide by 10 inches deep.

Add the fillings: Melt 3/4 cup butter and set aside to cool slightly. In a small bowl, combine sugar and filling spices. Dot the dough with globs of softened cream cheese, then use a dull butter knife (or the back of a spoon) to carefully spread it.*** It will not spread perfectly; that's okay. Pour about 1/4 cup of the melted butter over the dough and cream cheese, and use your fingers to spread it around evenly. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the surface of the dough, followed by the pecans. Pour the remaining butter into two 9 x 13 x 2 inch pans, and swirl it around so it evenly coats the pans.

Roll, cut, and bake: For a more manageable rolling process, cut the dough in half, so you're left with two rectangles that are 15 inches wide by 10 inches deep. Starting at the top, roll each rectangle toward you into a large log, rolling as tightly as possible as you go. I frequently had to use a floured rubber spatula with a sharp edge to gently loosen the dough from the counter. End the rolling process the with seam down on the counter.

Use a sharp (floured) knife or dental floss to cut each of the two logs into 12 rolls (I find it's helpful to make hash marks before cutting). Nestle the rolls into the buttered pans. Cover each pan with a damp towel (one that's okay if it gets stained) and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 20 minutes. (Tip: Heat oven to 200, turn OFF, and place rolls in the warmed oven to rise.)

If rolls are rising in the oven, remove them. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges, rotating the pans halfway through. Mine took exactly 20 minutes.

Make the glaze: Combine butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, and bourbon in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 3-5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and browned, butter is nice and foamy, and some of the alcohol has cooked out. Drizzle glaze evenly over the cinnamon rolls. Let them cool for a few minutes before serving.

*Alternatively, if you have a bread machine that's big enough, put all dough ingredients into a bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Use the dough cycle to make the dough, knead it, and let it rise.

**At this point Ree said the dough should be really sticky, and you should work in just enough flour so you can handle the dough. At this point, mine was more like batter than dough, so I ended up working in at least another cup of flour before I could actually handle the dough. Perhaps I mis-measured the flour initially, or maybe the bread machine method made for a wetter dough.

***On all the fillings, leave a 1/2 inch edge along the bottom of the rectangle with no filling. This will help it seal better when you roll everything up.