Monday, December 16, 2013

OMG a Recipe: Ho-Ho-Holiday Gift Emergency? Don't Panic, Have a Cheese Cracker

I'm interrupting my Germany/France posts for a couple of weeks because I realized, holy crap, it's the holidays! And I'm sure you've been like me, doing all the frenzied last-minute buying, baking, wrapping of gifts. Or maybe not. Maybe you, too, are only now realizing, Holy Crap It's the Holidays, and that you do not want to commit the same gift sin as last year's Chia Pet/Pajama Jean debacle that everyone has vowed silence over, never to be spoken of again. Ever. So, why not give a gift that's not only tasty, easy on one's schedule, but you can say it was homemade? Because no one's going to believe you knitted those Pajama Jeans, you big ol' liar.

Bust out the baker's twine, it's the holiday season, bitches - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I spent a recent weekend in Super Baking Mode. I made three different kinds of treats, some sweet and some savory, just to change things up since everyone's in sugarplum fairy mode with the holiday treats. I always try and make something for the holidays, whether it's some crazy-crafty thing or something edible. At this point, all our friends and family have all the stuff/crap/junk they need, so I stick mostly to edibles. And for the most part, I go with tested recipes or ones where I feel comfortable won't be a total hot mess. I learned my lesson years ago trying to make homemade marshmallows for the first time -- just don't do it. Unless you've done it before, you have a recipe that you know is a can't-fail home-run hit, don't play Dr. Frankenstein with edible gifts because we all know how that monster turned out.

Log cookies are a baker's best friend for the holidays - Photo by Wasabi Prime
That being said, I did try a couple of new recipes, but ones that weren't reinventing any wheels, just simple variations on other things I've made before. My baked gift equation is usually something like this: two easy things in  lieu of one difficult/more labor intensive recipe. Consider it the gift of sanity you give yourself when you're doubling up on recipes and realize how much stuff you're going to be making. I found a recipe for some lovely Parmesan crisps in the Fresh publication that Darigold puts out a few times a year. Pretty food photos, tons of recipes, and all with butter, butter, butter. What's not to love?

Homemade cheese crisps - fast, easy and so tasty! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The Parmesan crisps and the Cranberry Goat Cheese Pepper crisps were the two recipes that caught my eye for their savory flavors, and the fact that they are log cookies, which are a savior for holiday bulk baking. Mix dough, roll into even logs, wrap, chill, then slice and bake. Done. No fussing with cookie cutters, no icing since these are savories, and you can get quite a few crisps from a single dough log, so you can bake off a double batch in about two rounds in the oven. I recommend doing a test-bake of just a few initial slices before loading a pan with dough slices. It's a good way to test the bake time -- every oven is different, and do the test with three different slice thicknesses, to see what yields a preferable result. Too thin and they become too brittle; too thick and it throws off bake time. And testing the dough itself for how much they'll rise/creep is a good thing; these didn't expand much, if at all, but when trying a new dough, you want to be sure, instead of filling a whole sheet and ruining them.

Cranberry Goat Cheese Crisps - sweet and savory, a perfect couple - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Between the two recipes, the cheese crisps were the clear winner, not that the cranberry-chevre crisps aren't tasty, I sure liked them.  Despite looking like ham-colored logs before being baked, the cranberry-chevre crisps are a lovely combination of ingredients, and a refreshing change from sugary-pepperminty madness. However, I think goat cheese has such a distinct flavor, and maybe some people may not "get" the tart-savoriness of the cookie, expecting something sweeter. It's more of a snack than dessert. But if you give someone a cute package labeled "herbed cheese crisps," they've at least had a Cheese-It cracker before, so their palate won't be looking like they're trying to figure out the Tokyo subway system. We're at the midway point of the holidays and there's not much time -- go for the sure thing if you're baking your gifts this year.

Gingerbread - can't go wrong with a classic - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The "sweet" to go with the savory options was a classic: Gingerbread. I personalized it this year by using the pretty stork-themed cookie press we got when we were in a little Alsatian town, in northern France -- typically used for springerle cookies, a more anise-flavored treat, I wanted to stick with gingerbread. Again, it's a more widely-familiar flavor and if anyone's weirded out by cranberry goat cheese cookies, the gingerbread will help them find their cookie calm.

Gingerbread inspired by Alsatian storks. And no, we're not expecting a baby, they just like storks - Photos by Wasabi Prime
At the risk of making everyone think I'm pregs -- I'm not -- the stork gingerbread cookies felt like a nice way of sharing our trip with loved ones. And I used a gingerbread recipe that yields tasty, but not overpowering cookies, since you always wind up with gingerbread scraps when you're making decorative-shaped cookies. I really like this recipe from Epicurious, originally published via Bon Appetit for a basic gingerbread -- it's easy to make the dough a day or two in advance, it's easy to work with, and it yields a dough that holds its shape nicely, not too crispy or doughy, just that perfect in-the-middle flavor and consistency for gingerbread. I doubled the recipe and I was able to roll out all the dough, press and cut the cookies, and have everything baked off in under two hours. Kaboom -- how you like me now, Santa? Along with stacks of easily-wrappable, pretty gingerbread cookies, I also wound up with a nice plastic bag of extra baked gingerbread scraps, which we've been snacking on, and I'm already planning on using that for a future holiday dessert. Nothing goes to waste!

Don't forget to make the cookies look pretty! - Photos by  Wasabi Prime
You want relatively quick-to-make baked goods so that you save time for packaging these lovely handmade goods. It's got to look like a gift, right? I like clear cellophane bags, which you can usually buy in bulk online. I don't fuss with the printed stuff, since you never know what you'll use these for. And I like smaller bags -- the larger the container, the more you have to fill, and I'd rather give a wide variety of treats instead of inundating the recipient with one thing. Bakers twine, the crafter's best friend, is a simple and easy way to tie up your bag of goodies. Make hand-written paper tags describing what the item is, and it's done. Simple, easy, and with a personal touch.

The bottom line is:  you don't have to get complicated with your holiday handmade goodies. And sometimes just switching things up by making a savory instead of a sweet, can make your gift a memorable one. I definitely recommend this cheese crisp recipe -- I changed it up a little on my end; I added some turmeric to give it a bright, yellow hue, and instead of Parmesan, I used Pecorino Romano, because that's just what I had, and it still turned out great.

Cheese Crisps (one batch makes about 2 dozen crackers)
(Adapted from Darigold Fresh magazine)

1 cup flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cubed/chilled
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or other hard cheese like Pecorino Romano
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until mixture is crumbly and starts to clump together, like a pie dough crust. Lightly dust hands with flour and remove dough from processor. Pack mixture into a ball and place onto a large sheet of wax paper to start shaping into a log about 10 inches long. Can be circular or square-shaped. Wrap securely, twisting ends of paper to seal, double-wrap with plastic wrap to ensure it stays moist. Refrigerate 4-12 hours or overnight. 

To bake - preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicone sheets. Using a thin-bladed knife, slice log into 1/2 inch rounds and arrange 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes or until edges are set. Remove to wire racks to cool.


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