Spiced Pear Butter

January 23, 2012

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I saw this recipe on recently on Pinterest, and coincidentally, I had just bought a bag of Anjou pears (my favorite!) so I thought I’d try it.  The original recipe was for double the quantities listed below. It just so happened that my bag of pears was exactly half the weight called for.  The recipe also said it made way more than it did for me – not sure how I ended up with a smaller quantity of finished product.  It said the yield was 4 cups, so I recommend having on hand 4 sterilized half-pint jars and lids just in case.

I can testify that this is delicious on English muffins and sour dough toast.  I have a hunch it would be also great with pancakes, biscuits and scones.  The original post recommended stirring it into oatmeal – that sounds good too!

These quantities yielded about 2 1/2 cups of pear butter for me

3 1/2 pounds pears, preferably Anjou or Bartlett

1/4 cup water, a little less if the pears are extra juicy

Zest and juice of 1 small lemon, Meyer if available

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 teaspoon cardamom

1/3 teaspoon nutmeg

Peel, core and dice the pears.  Put in a stainless steel saucepan with the water, lemon zest and juice.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  Let cool.  Puree the pears with a hand-held blender, keeping some of the texture.  Do not liquefy.  (Alternatively you can use a food processor with a metal blade.  Just be careful not to over process.)  This step can be done up to 1 day ahead of time.

Add the sugar, vanilla and spices to the pear puree.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer at a medium bubble, uncovered, until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally.  This took me about 45 minutes.  This will vary depending on how “liquidy” the puree is to start.

While the pear butter is cooking, prepare the jars.  Pour boiling water into half-pint mason jars.  Place lids and screw rings in a saucepan and simmer until ready to use.  When the pear butter is to the consistency where it holds together in a spoon, spoon the hot pear butter into the jars (emptied of the water).  Tamp the pear butter down and add a little more to fill the jar.  Dry the lids and rings with a paper towel. Place the lids on and tighten with the rings.  To seal, turn the jar upside down immediately and leave to cool.  Refrigerate when cooled.

Advertisements

Spritz Cookies

December 24, 2011

Spritz maker

Margaux says…

A very fond Christmas memory for me is helping my Granny make spritz cookies. She is the one who taught me to bake when I was very young…we baked cookies pretty often, and she let me do a lot of the work. But spritz was my favorite! I loved twisting the top of the spritz-maker, squeezing out dough in cute little shapes. She let me pick the shapes, and most of them turned out being either too fat or too skinny. But the point was that she let ME do it, and I felt so proud! And then we got to decorate them with colored sugars and silver baubles, making them into perfect little Christmas treats.

I actually didn’t much like eating spritz cookies when I was a kid (I was more of a thumbprint cookie lover); I didn’t get a full appreciation for them until I was an adult.  But now they’re one of my favorites…little butter-citrus bites that are the perfect size.  I always make citrus-flavored (because that’s what Granny always made), but you can do all sorts of variations on them, which I will give instructions for below.  I got these recipes out of last year’s Martha Stewart Living December issue…it is very similar to, if not the same as Granny’s.

Lemony Spritz Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt until fully combined, about one minute. Add flour, and beat on low speed until just combined (do not overbeat). If tinting the dough, divide it into separate bowls and mix in the food dyes. Just make sure you’re not overworking the dough so that it doesn’t make tough cookies.

If you want to make vanilla cookies:
Replace citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp pure vanilla extract.

If you want to make chocolate cookies:
Replace 1/3 cup flour with 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, and citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp vanilla extract.

If you want to make spice cookies: (I think I’m going to try this next year-sounds good!)
Add 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, and 1/3 tsp freshly ground pepper when you add the flour mixture. Replace citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp vanilla.

To bake the cookies:

Knead dough briefly to soften. Fill a cookie press with dough and fit with disk to make shapes (Mirro made a great cookie press, you can find lots of them on Ebay). Squeeze cookies directly onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional). Bake at 350 degrees until firm, 12-14 minutes. Let cool completely on cooling rack before glazing (also optional…last year I glazed because I had time, this year I didn’t. I think they’re just as good without glaze. Granny never glazed. 🙂 ).

Vanilla and Citrus Glazes

For citrus glaze:
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp citrus juice
3 tsp finely grated citrus zest
3 tbsp light corn syrup

For vanilla glaze:
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Dip tops of cookies in glaze, decorate with sanding sugars or small candies while glaze is still wet. Let set on wire rack.

Thumbprint Cookies

December 15, 2011

Margaux says…

One of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes has always been thumbprints. It’s a family tradition on my mom’s side, and these are one of my aunt Gigi’s specialties. My grandma and my aunt Judy always filled them with jam, but aunt Gigi made them seriously sweet and decadent with the buttercream filling-my favorite! Aunt Gigi’s also always look perfect, unlike mine, because no matter how hard I try I can never get them all to look exactly the same. These look especially sad, too, because they are the survivors of my husband’s work Christmas party (I unfortunately wasn’t able to photo before the party).

There are two ingredients in these that I NEVER use in baking: salted butter and margarine. EEK! But, I promise, it’s much better this way. I tried to make them with all butter once, and they fell into flat little pancakes and didn’t have the little thumbprint in the middle at all. And if you don’t use salted butter, you should increase the salt probably, maybe even double it. The saltiness of these cookies are what makes them so good!!

Thumbprint Cookies

makes about 3 dozen cookies-I double this recipe; they’re small cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup margarine, softened (is it already soft?  I guess I don’t know.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg white, slightly beaten
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment (easier cleanup!).

Mix butter, margarine, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla with mixer until fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together salt and flour. Add to butter mixture and mix in until just fully incorporated.

Roll 1 tsp dough into balls (I actually use a melon baller, which I think is a little more than a teaspoon). Dip in egg whites, then roll in nuts. Place 1″ apart on cookie sheet. Bake about 5 minutes, then take out of oven and make “thumbprints” (I use the end of a wooden spoon handle to make more perfect divets). Bake another 5 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack and cool completely. You may need to re-“divet” them again when they come out of the oven.

Some helpful tips:
Dealing with the egg whites is messy and sticky. It is highly recommended to first make all your balls and put them in the egg whites. Then roll them in the nuts. I also recommend not dumping all the nuts in a bowl and the rolling the balls in them…just have a little bit of the nuts in a bowl at a time. Otherwise, as you are going, the nuts will get stickier and clumpier from the egg whites. Adding fresh nuts as you go along will alleviate that situation.

Buttercream frosting (for the filling)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla (or 1/4 tsp almond, depending on your preference)
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tbsp milk
food dye

Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add vanilla and salt, and beat until fully mixed. Add powdered sugar and mix for about 30 seconds on low, and then another 30 seconds on medium speed. Add 4 tbsp milk and mix on medium-high for about a minute. Add more milk if needed. Divide, if desired, and dye each half a different color. Using a pastry bag fitted with star tip, fill each cookie with frosting. Let sit for a couple hours on rack to allow frosting to set, then set in containers in one layer (I prefer tins because Tupperware is too air tight and will make the cookies go soft, and the frosting will be too gooey. If you use a Tupperware, keep one corner of the lid ajar so that air can get in the container.) After sitting overnight, you should be able to stack up cookies in a container, putting a piece of wax paper or parchment in between each layer. Cookies will keep up to one week.