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    Matcha Almond Shortbread Trees

    Naturally green Matcha Almond Shortbread Trees are buttery and delicately flavored with green tea. They’re finished with a dark chocolate drizzle and a pinch of coarse sea salt.

    Shortbread – what’s not to love? It might be my favorite cookie of all time. The ingredients are so few, with butter being the star ingredient. Here it shares the spotlight with matcha green tea. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, then you know I was an earlier adopter/enthusiast of using matcha green tea in baked goods. It’s so beautiful, and the flavor pairs well with almond. I discovered this back in 2009, with my favorite Matcha-Almond Genoise Layer Cake.

    Matcha + Almond = ♥.
    This recipe is a riff on my favorite shortbread formula, which is from the Sprinkle Bakes book. A little of the AP flour is replaced with almond flour. Whip up this un-sticky naturally green dough until just combined. If you overwork the dough the cookies will be cardboard tough. Your restraint will be rewarded with tender, crumbly goodness.

    Roll the dough to the desired thickness. I rolled these cookies (pictured below) a little thinner than 1/2 inch. However, I also rolled some at 1/4 inch thickness, and they were wonderfully crumbly and so buttery tasting. There’s room for both in my cookie jar.

    Chill those trees! Shortbread will inevitably relax a little in the oven, but if you freeze the shapes first the edges will stay sharp.

    They come out of the oven looking almost the same as they went in. Except – the edges are ever-so-slightly golden. I am truly impressed by color and flavor imparted by the Suncore Foods matcha I recently tried for the first time. You can find it here for purchase.

    The flavor of these cookies are a little grown up. But altogether, the delicate green tea, dark chocolate, and sea salt create a nice balance of flavor.

    A kiss of salt.
    After the cookies are drizzled, sprinkled, and set, turn them over and tap off the excess salt. Nobody wants an over-salted cookie. But be careful! These cookies are require gentle handling. The almond flour in the recipe makes the texture of these cookies even shorter, which gives them a tender, delicate crumb.

    These Matcha Almond Shortbread Trees are so beautifully flavored and perfect for the gourmand or tea connoisseur in your life! I’ve formulated the recipe to impart delicate green tea flavor. Because, I’ve often tried recipes that use too much which can make confections too bitter. Along with the dark chocolate and sea salt garnishes, this cookie is a real treat!

    Matcha-Almond Shortbread Trees

    Heather Baird

    Naturally green Matcha Almond Shortbread Trees are buttery and delicately flavored with green tea. They’re finished with a dark chocolate drizzle and a pinch of coarse sea salt. I use and recommend Suncore Premium Midori Jade Matcha Supercolor Powder for the most intense green hue. See the blog post for shopping links.The yield will depend on the size cookie cutter you use and the thickness of the dough. You’ll average about 36 cookies with 3-inch cookies rolled to 1/4 inch thickness. My cookies were larger, at 4 inches and just shy of 1/2 inch thickness. My yield was about 26. Be careful when re-rolling cookie scraps. Don’t overwork the dough or the cookies will be tough instead of delicate and crumbly.

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    Prep Time 45 minsCook Time 15 mins50 minutes chill time 50 minsTotal Time 1 hr 50 mins

    Course DessertCuisine American

    Servings 36

    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric Matcha almond shortbread2 cups unsalted butter softened1/4 cup granulated sugar1 cup confectioners’ sugar2 tablespoons matcha tea powder sifted3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour1/2 cup almond flour1/2 teaspoon salt1 tablespoon almond extractToppings1/4 cup dark chocolate chips or semisweet chips melted1 teaspoon coarse grey sea salt or other coarse sea salt
    Instructions ShortbreadIn a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until incorporated. Add the sifted matcha tea powder. Mix again until well dispersed. Scrape down the bowl and mix again.In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, almond flour, and salt. Add half of the flour to the creamed mixture and mix until a dough forms. Add the almond extract; mix to incorporate. Then, add the remaining flour and mix again on low speed until a stiff dough forms.Gather the dough together with your hands and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two pieces. Using a floured rolling pin, roll each piece of dough until flattened to the desired thickness (slightly less than 1/2 inch for thick soft cookies, 1/4 inch for thin, crisper cookies with browned edges).Wrap the dough pieces in plastic film and place on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. The dough will firm quickly because of the high butter content.Remove dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and cut shapes from the dough. Transfer to parchment-lined cookie sheets and freeze the shapes on the cookie sheets for at least 10 minutes.Preheat the oven to 350°F.Bake until lightly golden around the edges: 7-10 minutes for small cookies, 12-15 minutes for medium cookies, 17-20 minutes for large or thick cookies.When cookies are lightly golden around the edges and fragrant, remove them from the oven and let cool on the pans completely. These are tender cookies, and they will break if you try to move them while still hot.ToppingsPlace the melted dark chocolate in a piping bag and cut a small opening in the tip. Pipe the chocolate onto the cooled cookies still on the parchment paper in the pans. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of coarse salt. Let stand until the chocolate sets, about 10 minutes, or refrigerate them to speed setting.Remove the cookies from the pans and tap off excess salt – do this gently, as these cookies are delicate. Place cookies in an airtight container, or plate them and cover with plastic wrap.
    NotesWhat to expect: This shortbread has mild matcha tea flavor. The matcha gives the dough an herby note that underlies the buttery flavor. It’s not overt, or bitter. The almond extract takes the edge off of the matcha’s grassy flavor, but it is mostly undetectable as a flavor. Almond flour makes the shortbread’s texture delicate and crumbly, just as good shortbread should be. 
    Be sure to sift the matcha tea powder before using. It can have a little static cling sometimes, and it will clump and ball together.
    You may not use the entire teaspoon of coarse salt as called for. Grey coarse sea salt (I like Celtic Sea Salt) has a mixture of large and small granules, which is nice on these cookies. Use the salt sparingly, and tap off the excess. To gauge your taste for the salt, test a pinch of salt on a cookie. Add more or less to taste for the remaining cookies. 

    Keyword all purpose flour, almond extract, almond flour, coarse sea salt, dark chocolate drizzle, matcha green tea

    You may also enjoy: LEGGI TUTTO

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    Chocolate Mocha Yule Log Cakes

    Nothing beats a beautiful and classic bake for the holidays, like these Chocolate Mocha Yule Log Cakes. This recipe makes two yule log cakes from one sheet of sponge; one to give, and one to keep.

    This is my first yule log cake of the year, but I love the tradition so much I may post a second one this month. It’s my absolute favorite bake for Christmas, and for me, it’s right up there with making a gingerbread house. Silky-smooth crème au beurre au café (coffee-flavored French buttercream) fills a classic chocolate Swiss roll in these Chocolate Mocha Yule Log Cakes, and both cakes are wrapped in chocolate marzipan ‘bark’.

    Swiss roll batter starts with well-whipped eggs. Beat them until they are pale, thick, and when the beater is lifted the batter forms a trail in the bowl. The mixture will deflate slightly when the other ingredients are added, but should still yield a thick yet pourable batter.

    Bake the sponge in a 15×11-inch jelly roll pan (or similar size). When done, immediately turn it out and cut it in half so that you have two 7.5 x11 inch pieces. Then roll each half up into a sugar-dusted tea towel starting at a short end and cool completely.

    Crème au beurre au café (French coffee buttercream).
    While you’re waiting for the sponges to cool, whip up a batch of coffee-flavored whole egg French buttercream. It’s a lot like regular French buttercream, but instead of using egg yolks, you use whole eggs. Get out the ol’ candy thermometer for this one. It’s an extra step but worth it, I promise. Because it’s so silky-smooth and luxurious!

    Unroll the sponge and let the most curved end stay curled. Pipe lines of buttercream onto the sponge, spread evenly and then roll it back up. Repeat this process with the second sponge.

    Wrap both of the swiss rolls , in a double thickness of waxed paper and then with plastic wrap. The waxed paper helps the cake keep its round shape, and the plastic wrap prevents it from drying out. Refrigerate until firm.

    While you wait for the cake to chill, knead some marzipan with unsweet cocoa powder. We’re going to make faux tree bark, and marzipan makes a tasty and beautiful covering.

    Tree bark impressions.
    First, you’ll need to acquire a tree bark silicone mold, which can be found here. It’s inexpensive and easy to store because it’s flat. Apply some unsweet cocoa powder to the mold to ‘dust’ it before pressing the marzipan. Gently roll the marzipan onto the mold and then turn it out. Trim away the plain edges.

    Drape the marzipan over the cake and and fit around the top and sides. It should adhere naturally. But if it seems too dry, brush the cake with a little water before applying the covering. Trim away any excess ‘bark’.

    You just can’t go wrong with the flavors of chocolate and coffee together! The silky coffee buttercream is a lovely contrast to the sponge texture. The marzipan tastes mostly of chocolate instead of almond, as the addition of unsweet cocoa will overtake the delicate almond flavor. And that’s preferred for this deeply chocolaty confection!

    I opted for a simple presentation without meringue mushrooms (but if you’d like to make some, see this post!). Instead, I used some cute red axe cupcake picks, purchased from Cranky Cakes Shop. Although they are currently out of stock, you can find some for purchase here instead. I think they’re so funny and cute. And they’re perfect with this woodsy cake.

    Chocolate Mocha Yule Log Cakes

    Heather Baird

    Nothing beats a beautiful and classic bake for the holidays, and Chocolate Mocha Yule Log Cakes tick both of those boxes. This recipe makes two yule log cakes from one sheet of sponge.For the textured ‘bark’ marzipan topping, you’ll need a silicone tree bark impression mat. See the blog post for shopping links. Or, if you’re not keen on purchasing an impression mat, crumpled aluminum foil will create a vague tree bark appearance if you lightly press it into the rolled marzipan.

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    Prep Time 40 minsCook Time 12 mins1 hour chill time 1 hrTotal Time 1 hr 52 mins

    Course DessertCuisine American

    Servings 12

    Equipment15×11 inch jelly roll pan, or similar sizeTree bark silicone impression matKitchen dedicated art brushAxe cupcake picks
    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric Swiss roll1/2 cup powdered sugar4 eggs3/4 cup granulated sugar1 tablespoon oil2 tablespoons buttermilk1 teaspoon vanilla extract3/4 cup all-purpose flour1/4 cup dark cocoa powder1 teaspoon baking powder1/2 teaspoon saltFrench coffee buttercream1 cup granulated sugar1/3 cup water2 large eggs1 1/2 cups unsalted butter softened3 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water1/4 teaspoon fine grain saltAssembly14 oz. marzipan1/4 cup unsweet dark cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
    Instructions Chocolate spongePreheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 15×11 inch jelly roll pan (or similar size) with flour-based baking spray. Alternatively butter the pan and line with parchment paper.Lay out two tea towels on a work surface. Sprinkle each tea towel with 1/4 cup powdered sugar and rub sugar into towel with your hands.Place eggs in large bowl; beat using electric mixer on high speed, 5 minutes with a timer set. The whipped eggs will become thick and lightened in color. With the mixer still running, slowly add sugar and oil, followed by buttermilk and vanilla.In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Slowly add to the liquid ingredients. Mix until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake 12-15 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back when pressed with fingers.Immediately turn the sponge sheet out onto one of the sugar-covered tea towels. If you used parchment paper to line the pan, remove it, then cut the sponge in half width-wise so that you have two 7.5 x 11 inch pieces. Roll each cake into a tea towel from a short side. Place the rolled cakes on a wire rack, seam-side down, and let cool completely.Make the French coffee buttercreamIn a small heavy saucepan set over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to cook until it registers 240°F on a candy thermometer.In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs until they are thick and pale, about 5 minutes on medium high speed. While mixer is running, add the sugar syrup in a thin stream, carefully tempering the syrup into the eggs without cooking them. Beat until the mixing bowl is cool. Change to the paddle attachment and add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. The mixture will deflate and look runny, then curdled. Keep adding butter and mixing. This buttercream goes through several ugly stages before it reaches fluffy consistency. When all the butter is added, add the espresso mixture and salt. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy.Transfer buttercream to a piping bag with 1/2-inch hole cut in the end of the bag.Gently unroll a cake, letting the end remain curled. Pipe lines of buttercream over top of cake; spread evenly. Roll the cake back up and wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining cake and the remaining buttercream. Refrigerate until the frosting is firm, about 1 hour.Conservatively trim both ends of the cakes away with a serrated knife so the swirl is visible.AssemblyKnead the marzipan and dark chocolate cocoa powder together until the marzipan is consistently dark brown in color. Dust the tree bark impression mat with cocoa powder using a small kitchen-dedicated art brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of the silicone mat.Roll out half of the marzipan on a lightly cocoa-powder dusted work surface. Place it on the impression mat and roll so that the marzipan takes on the tree bark impression; don’t roll too hard or the marzipan will tear.Turn the marzipan bark out of the mold and place on top of one of the cakes. Cover the top and sides of the cake entirely, but do not cover the bottom. Trim away excess marzipan. Repeat the process with the remaining cake. Cut cake into rounds and add little axe cupcake picks, if using, before serving.Serve cakes at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Return cakes to room temperature before serving.
    NotesWhat to expect:
    This chocolate sponge is light in texture and deeply chocolaty. It does a good job of holding the rich coffee buttercream and supports the covering of marzipan very well. It’s a wonderfully rich coffee break treat. 
    I chose to serve this cake as a grouping, with one whole yule log cake as the centerpiece, and the second cake I cut into rounds and decorated with the mini axe cupcake picks on plates for easy serving. However, ’tis the season to give. You may decide to keep a cake and give one away.

    Keyword chocolate sponge cake, coffee buttercream, instant espresso powder, marzipan

    You may also enjoy: LEGGI TUTTO

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    Milk Bread Gibassier

    A French bread from Provence, the  is flavored with anise, candied orange peel, and orange blossom water. We took this decorative holiday bread one step further, incorporating the milk bread method to create an extra-fluffy loaf. 3¼ to 3¾ cups (413 to 477 grams) bread flour, divided 1⅔ cups (334 grams) granulated sugar, divided 1 […] LEGGI TUTTO

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    White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Orange Chocolate Sauce

    White Chocolate Panna Cotta is a holiday host’s best kept secret. It’s a creamy, eggless custard that can be made ahead for convenience. Dark chocolate sauce dazzles as a topping with a shot of orange liqueur.

    Unlike last Christmas, I’m planning to do a little entertaining this year. Nothing too grand, but just a few more than my immediate family. Good holiday hosts know that even a small party can be stressful if you’re not well organized. That’s why I love recipes like this one. This white chocolate panna cotta comes together in minutes and looks elegant in stemware. You can make it a day (or two!) ahead and store it in the refrigerator until party time.

    Creamy components.
    Start by melting some white chocolate morsels with heavy cream in a saucepan. After it’s heated and consistently mixed, add in bloomed gelatin – that’s the lumpy-looking stuff in the bowl up there. Stir until melted then whisk in half-and-half (or whole milk, your choice!).

    Divvy the mixture up into stemware. I used some miniature martini glasses that hold exactly 1/3 cup and got 12 servings. Serve this amount for a small cocktail party or a dessert tasting. Or, if you’re hosting an intimate dinner, portion them into larger glasses for a heartier serving size.

    A simple sauce.
    Make the chocolate sauce with just three ingredients! Use an orange chocolate bar to impart more orange flavor, as I did. Or, if you can’t source one easily, use a regular dark chocolate bar.

    Add a splash of Triple Sec (or Cointreau) to liven things up! However, this can be an optional addition. Or switch up the flavor with your favorite liqueur.

    Top each glass with a little of the sauce. You won’t need much! Add just enough to contrast the creamy white chocolate custard.

    Garnish the glasses with candied orange peel. I used some Callebaut Crispearls, too. You can find them here. They are little dark chocolate beads with a tiny biscuit inside for crunch. I keep them on hand to use as a dessert garnish.

    These little White Chocolate Panna Cotta cups are decadent and so smooth. The creamy white chocolate custard perfectly contrasts the dark chocolate topping. The hit of orange gives them a bright citrusy note that tastes celebratory.
    If you’re looking for more panna cotta recipes, another of my other favorite seasonal panna cotta recipe is this Eggnog Panna Cotta with Spiked Cranberry Sauce. The recipe is so well-loved it’s usually my most popular blog post in December.

    White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Orange-Chocolate Sauce

    Heather Baird

    This white chocolate panna cotta is an elegant eggless custard topped with a quick orange-chocolate sauce. It can be made up to two days ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve in stemmed glasses or mold the panna cotta in ramekins. I served these in mini martini glasses, which yielded 12 small cocktail party-sized servings. However, if you’re hosting an intimate dinner, portion them into six 8 oz. glasses or ramekins.

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    Prep Time 10 minsCook Time 5 mins4 hours chill time 4 hrsTotal Time 4 hrs 15 mins

    Course DessertCuisine Italian

    Servings 6

    Equipment8 oz. glasses or ramekins (6), or 3 oz. mini dessert glasses (12)
    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric Panna cotta1/4 oz. powdered unflavored gelatin 1 envelope1 1/2 cups half and half or whole milk cold1 cup heavy whipping cream1/2 cup white chocolate morsels or 3 oz. white chocolate bar chopped1/4 cup sugarOrange-dark chocolate sauce and toppings3 oz. orange dark chocolate bar finely chopped3/4 cup heavy cream1 tablespoon orange liqueur2 tablespoons Callebaut Crispearls chocolate beads or other chocolate caviar12 pieces candied orange peel 2-3” lengths
    Instructions Panna cottaSprinkle the powdered gelatin over 1/4 cup of the half and half in a small bowl. Stir briefly and let stand 2 minutes. The mixture will be lumpy.Combine the heavy cream, white chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook while stirring until the chocolate is melted and the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.Remove from the heat and stir in the lumpy gelatin mixture into the hot mixture until dissolved. Stir in the remaining 1 1/4 cups half and half.Divide the mixture evenly between six 8 oz. stemmed glasses or ramekins. Or, portion them into smaller glasses for more servings (I used 2.6 oz mini martini glasses for a yield of 12). Cover and chill the glasses until set, about 4 hours or up to two days ahead of service.Orange-dark chocolate sauceIn a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate and cream on high power for 1 1/2 minutes until melted, stirring every 30 seconds between heating. When the mixture is smooth stir in the orange liqueur. Cool mixture until just warm but still pourable. Pour a little of the dark chocolate sauce on top of the set panna cotta. Serve extra sauce on the side in a small syrup pitcher.Garnish each glass with a few chocolate beads and a candied orange peel before serving.
    NotesWhat to expect: This white chocolate panna cotta is deceivingly light, but holds richness with its creamy ingredients and orange-infused chocolate syrup topping. It is soft set with a small wobble when turned out of a ramekin. 

    Look for white chocolate morsels that contain real cocoa butter, which will be listed in the ingredients. These will melt best and impart the best white chocolate flavor. Or, chop a 3 oz. white chocolate baking bar to use in this recipe.
    I used Theo 70% orange dark chocolate bar for the sauce, but an unflavored dark chocolate bar will work just fine.
    This recipe is easily scales up or down to serve as few as 6 people, or as many as 12. It’s a rich dessert, so even small servings pack a big punch. If hosting an intimate dinner, portion into 6 servings. Finger foods and cocktail party atmosphere call for smaller servings or even shot glass-sized portions.
    The panna cotta can be made up to two days ahead. You can also top the set panna cottas in glasses with chocolate sauce ahead, but do not garnish. The candied orange peel may weep. Wait to garnish an hour or two ahead of serving.
    If molding these into ramekins for a plated dessert, serve the chocolate sauce on the side, or drizzle just before serving.
    The chocolate sauce will be liquid and pourable just after it is mixed. If you pour the sauce over the set panna cotta and store in the refrigerator, the sauce will set slightly, yet not as firm as ganache.

    Keyword dark chocolate, half and half, heavy cream, orange chocolate sauce, orange liqueur, powdered gelatin, white chocolate

    You may also enjoy: LEGGI TUTTO

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    Baklava Fudge

    This Baklava Fudge recipe puts a new spin on a Greek classic. A ribbon of spiced honey-nut filling runs through this salty-sweet candy.

    Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in all things sweet and spiced. Like this baklava-inspired fudge. It is truly decadent with a creamy almond butter fudge base. A ribbon of salty-sweet spiced honey-nut filling runs throughout the candy.

    First, the honey-nut filling!
    Make the nut filling first, because it will need to cool. It’s made with toasted walnuts and roasted, salted pistachios. The formula is from my favorite baklava filling recipe. Honey syrup is boiled on the stovetop and poured over the ground nuts to give it true baklava flavor.

    The nut mixture needs to be paste-like to hold its form in the chilled candy. Add a little almond flour and stir until a paste forms. Set aside to cool.

    When the nut mixture is cool, begin cooking the fudge. It only takes three ingredients, and three minutes in the microwave. You’ll need sweetened condensed milk, natural almond butter (no salt or sugar added) and white almond bark or white chocolate. You can also melt the ingredients in a saucepan on the stovetop if you don’t have a microwave.

    Heat and stir the fudge to a smooth consistency, then pour half of it in a prepared 8×8 inch pan. Top with half of the nut paste. Spread it out as best as you can. You won’t get it totally even, but that’s alright!

    Work quickly!
    Top with the remaining fudge. This mixture sets quickly, so if it isn’t spreadable, microwave it for 30 seconds to 1 minute more.

    Swirl the remaining nut paste into the top of the fudge. This will look messy and your knife (or skewer) will leave trails, but keep going. When it’s well swirled, pick up and drop the pan several times on the countertop to even the surface. Most of those trails with disappear.

    I couldn’t resist a few more roasted pistachios sprinkled on top, and the extra bit of saltiness is ice. Let the fudge firm in the refrigerator. Lift it out by the parchment liner and slice into pieces.

    The salted nut mixture is such a nice foil for the sweet fudge candy. I can usually eat only a small piece of fudge and be done, because of its sweetness. But this one is a different story!

    I’ve always loved baklava and I continue to be inspired by its flavors (see this Baklava Pull-Apart Bread). I also make the original recipe quite often. Baklava Fudge is perfect for holiday gifts and such a nice addition to any candy tray. Enjoy!

    Baklava Fudge

    Heather Baird

    This Baklava Fudge recipe puts a new spin on a Greek classic. A ribbon of spiced honey-nut filling runs through this salty-sweet candy.
    This recipe uses sweetened condensed milk, which can be confused with evaporated milk. Be sure you get the right canned milk. Sweetened condensed milk is thick and sweet.

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    Prep Time 15 minsCook Time 3 mins2 hours chill time 2 hrsTotal Time 2 hrs 18 mins

    Course DessertCuisine American, Greek, Greek-Inspired

    Servings 32 pieces

    Equipment8×8 inch baking dish
    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric Cinnamon-honey syrup1/4 cup granulated sugar1/4 cup water1/4 cup honey I used wildflower honey1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamonNut mixture3 oz. walnut pieces raw3 oz. shelled whole pistachios roasted and salted1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt1 teaspoon cinnamon2 tablespoons almond flour plus 1-2 tablespoons more if neededFudge14 oz. sweetened condensed milk 1 can2/3 cup natural almond butter no salt and no sugar added16 oz. vanilla almond bark 1 package, broken into pieces2 tablespoons chopped pistachios roasted and salted for sprinkling on top
    Instructions SyrupStir together the sugar, water, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and let cook until reduced and syrupy, about 10-15 minutes, or until the yield is a little less than 1/3 cup of syrup. Remove the syrup from heat and stir in cinnamon. Set aside to let cool completely. Nut mixturePreheat oven to 350°F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 5-8 minutes in the oven. Let cool, then add them, along with the pistachios, to a food processor bowl and process in quick bursts until finely chopped. Transfer the nuts to a medium bowl and add the cooled syrup, the salt, and the cinnamon. Stir together.Add 2 tablespoons of the almond flour and stir well. The mixture should form a paste. If the mixture is still syrupy, stir in another 1-2 tablespoons of almond flour until a pasty consistency forms. See pictures in the blog post for visual of the correct consistency.FudgeLine 8-inch square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil that overhangs all four edges and spray it with cooking spray.Place the sweetened condensed milk, 2/3 cup almond butter and almond bark in a large microwavable bowl. Heat in the microwave uncovered on high (100% power) in 1-minute increments, stirring well between each heating. Allow the residual heat from the bowl to do most of the work melting the mixture. This will take about 3 minutes. Be careful; the bowl may get hot. Alternatively, you may heat this mixture together in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat. Immediately pour half of the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture in clumps on top and spread out as best as you can. Pour in the remaining fudge and top with remaining nuts mixture; swirl using a butter knife. Pick up and drop the pan twice or until the surface becomes level. Sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of chopped pistachios and transfer to the refrigerator. Let chill until set, about 2 hours.Lift the candy out of the pan by the overhanging foil; cut the candy slab into pieces with a large chef’s knife.The fudge may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
    NotesWhat to expect: Roasted, salted pistachios contribute the right amount of salt to balance this sweet confection. Natural almond butter with no salt or sugar added allows for the purest almond flavor. The honey syrup which coats the nuts gives this candy true baklava flavor.
    You can usually find natural almond butter with no salt or sugar added in the produce department, or in the bulk nuts section. Shelf-stable creamy almond butter can also be used in this recipe.

    Keyword almond butter, baklava filling, chopped pistachios, ground walnuts, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla almond bark

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    Eggnog Mascarpone Cheesecake

    This Eggnog Mascarpone Cheesecake celebrates the season with classic holiday flavors. Eggnog and ginger give this cheesecake cozy flavor, and it is decorated with a wintry scene made of classic gingerbread cookies.

    Happy December, sweet friends! For the past several years I’ve held a Christmas advent here on the blog, with new recipes each day leading up to the 24th. But this year I’m scaling things back a little to focus on family and to really be present in the season. I still have loads of new, original holiday recipes to post this month, just not 24 consecutive. And I’ll be linking my favorite recipes from Decembers past each day on social media. Be sure to check that out if you have holiday menus to fill, and especially if you’re making holiday cookie or candy trays!
    I’m kicking things off with the creamiest cheesecake, ever! Eggnog is such a traditional and beloved holiday flavor, it’s easy to go overboard with it as an ingredient when December arrives. I’m an eggnog lover, you see. This Eggnog Mascarpone Cheesecake has just a hint of eggnog flavor, so even those with eggnog ambivalence will love it, too.

    A two ingredient crust!
    Begin with just two ingredients for the crust: gingersnaps and butter. You could swap in a different kind of cookie crumb if you like, such as famous wafer crumbs or even shortbread crumbs. But I think the gingersnaps are especially good with the light eggnog flavored filling.
    Total disclosure. I call this cheesecake no-bake, but the crust needs a little time in the oven to set it. So it’s almost no-bake. Still. Not having to bake the filling for an hour or fiddle with a water bath makes it a breeze to put together.

    Next, mix up the no-bake creamy filling. It’s a simple mixture of sugar, cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, commercially prepared eggnog, and heavy cream (I told you it was creamy!). A little gelatin sets it to mousse-like consistency. Plan ahead because it needs at least 4 hours to chill.

    More is more!
    Unmold and decorate! If you’re not into making things so extra (guilty!) you could serve the cheesecake just out of the pan. I added swirls of whipped cream on top along with gingersnap crumbs. And, in true holiday fashion I created a wintry gingerbread cookie scene on top.

    Here’s one of my favorite gingerbread cookie recipes (link). I have a few, but that one holds a good, sturdy structure for construction. The mini gingerbread house cookie cutter I used is discontinued, but you can find a similar one right here. I love these one-cut wonders! One cutter stamps out all the shapes for one complete mini gingerbread house.

    I’ve been experimenting with stenciling cookies lately, and I really love how these turned out. It’s such a simple, pretty touch. I picked up the stencils for these cookies in the craft section at the dollar store for… well, just one dollar. You can’t beat that! I also have this set, which is made for cookie-stenciling. Stiff peak royal icing makes a great stencil medium.
    It’s snowing!
    Arrange the gingerbread pieces on top of, and around the edges of the cake just before serving. Even though the gingerbread cookies are sturdy, they will soften at the bottom over time, where cookie meets the cheesecake top.

    This is definitely not a thick, dense, New York cheesecake kind of affair. This cheesecake is so light and mousse-like. It might be the creamiest cheesecake I’ve ever eaten. The gingerbread cookies are a nice extra bit of ‘crust’ to enjoy with all that creaminess, but I could also see this cake served with a quick cranberry compote.

    Eggnog Mascarpone Cheesecake (No-Bake Filling)

    Heather Baird

    This Eggnog Mascarpone Cheesecake celebrates the season with classic holiday flavors. Eggnog and ginger make this cheesecake sparkle, and it’s decorated with a wintry scene made of classic gingerbread cookies. The gingerbread cookie recipe I used for the decors can be found linked in the blog post and in the notes of this recipe. To make the cheesecake exactly as I have, you’ll need a mini gingerbread house cookie cutter (linked in the blog post), a 3-inch Christmas tree cookie cutter, and a 1.5-inch star cookie cutter. See recipe notes for more.

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    Prep Time 35 minsCook Time 10 mins4 hours setting time 4 hrsTotal Time 4 hrs 45 mins

    Course DessertCuisine American

    Servings 12

    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric Cheesecake1 1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted16 oz. cream cheese at room temperature1 cup mascarpone cheese softened1 cup granulated sugar1 1/2 cups eggnog commercially prepared2 teaspoons ground nutmeg2 packages powdered unflavored gelatin .25 oz. each1/3 cup cold water1 cup heavy cream whipped to soft peaksTopping2/3 cup heavy cream2 tablespoons granulated sugar2 tablespoons gingersnap cookie crumbs1 mini gingerbread house2 gingerbread cookie trees24 mini gingerbread stars
    Instructions CheesecakePreheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray.Combine the chocolate cookie crumbs and melted butter together in a medium bowl. Mix well to coat the crumbs with the butter. Pour into the springform pan and press into the bottom and 1/2” up the sides of the pan. Bake for 7-10 minutes to set the crust. Cool completely on a wire rack.In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine the cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar. Beat well until creamy and consistent with no lumps. Pour in the eggnog and mix again. Add in the ground nutmeg. Let the mixer run on low speed while you prepare the gelatin mixture.In a small saucepan sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the cold water. Let stand until well absorbed, about 2 minutes. Place over medium-low heat and cook just until the gelatin liquefies. With the mixer still running, pour the gelatin in a thin stream into the cream cheese mixture. Fold in the soft peak whipped cream (this step may take some time, and if lumps remain, disperse them by lightly whipping the mixture with a whisk). Pour the batter into the cooled crust and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or overnight. To unmold, lightly run a knife’s point around the top edge of the cheesecake; loosen the springform collar and allow the cake to naturally pull away from the collar as you slowly loosen it from all sides of the cake. If the cake wants to stick a little, close the springform collar and wrap a towel that has been warmed with hot water around the collar to loosen. The collar should come away cleanly from the sides of the cheesecake when opened. Refrigerate while you make the whipped cream topping.ToppingIn a large mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar while beating. Whip to stiff peaks. Transfer the cream to a piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip. Pipe large swirls of whipped cream around the top edge of the cheesecake. Immediately sprinkle on gingersnap cookie crumbs.Just before serving, garnish the top of the cake with the gingerbread cookie house and trees (See recipe notes for more info). Place a mini star between each whipped cream swirl on top of the cake, and 12 around the bottom edge of the cake. Serve immediately.Store leftovers covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
    NotesWhat to expect:
    Mascarpone cheese is main flavor with light eggnog and nutmeg notes folowing. It’s ultra-creamy and wonderful plain or topped with gingerbread cookies. Add tart flavor with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, or top with your favorite cranberry compote.
    You can find the recipe for the gingerbread dough I used for the decorations linked right here.
    See the blog post for links to the mini gingerbread house cookie cutter. You’ll also need a 3″ Christmas tree cookie cutter, and a 1.5 inch star cookie cutter if you plan to make the decors exactly as I have.  Follow the instructions in this recipe (link) for mixing, rolling, and baking the shapes. 

    Keyword cream cheese, egnog, mascarpone cheese, nutmeg

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    Pinecone Cookies

    Make beautiful Pinecone Cookies for Christmas the (really) old fashioned way, with a carved wooden cookie mold. Gingerbread cookie dough casts beautifully and creates a realistic 3 dimensional effect.

    December is officially cookie season, and I’ve been gearing up for its arrival. I’ve been looking around for recipes with both style and substance; beauty and seasonal flavor. It was love at first sight with these Pinecone Cookies. I first spotted some in an advertisement for a wooden cookie mold. The 3-D effect drew me in, and I just had to order the mold to see if I could recreate them in my own kitchen. I was skeptical, and – full disclosure- there is a learning curve, but once you find your technique it’s easy.
    Needless to say, you’ll need to procure the pinecone mold for this recipe. I ordered the pinecone cookie mold from this Etsy seller, which shipped from outside the US to my home in Tennessee in about 7 days (which was quick!). If you ordered soon, you’d probably have it in time for Christmas, either for making cookies or for gifting the mold to your favorite baker. I loved making these cookies because the technique has such rich history. The origins of molding cookies in wood forms can be traced back to the ancient arts of wood carving and pottery, around 3000 BC. The practice has endured through the ages with cookies such as German Springerle and molded Scottish shortbread.

    Use a scale.
    Through trial and error I figured out how to make the job of hand molding loads of cookies a shorter task. First, figure out how much dough the mold will hold. Press dough bit by bit into the mold until it is full. Then remove it and weigh it on a digital scale. This will give you the weight to use for all of the cookies. This pinecone mold holds 2.50 oz. of my gingerbread dough. If you use a different dough recipe, or a different mold, the weight will vary.

    My molding method.
    Using the scale, portion off balls of dough and weigh them all so they are equal, such as my 2.50 oz. weight. Portioning the dough will make quicker work of molding all the cookies.
    I started out dusting the mold with cocoa powder. Then cinnamon. And then powdered sugar. Much as I tried, the dough would not come out of the mold. The method that worked best for me (and this particular molasses heavy dough) was to oil the mold with cooking spray. Spray the mold well between each dough pressing.

    Flatten a dough ball and press it into the cavity so that it overflows the edges of the pinecone design. Using a finger, push the overflowing edges back so you can see the edges of the pinecone shape. It should look like the picture above just before it is unmolded.

    Next, whack the mold on a work surface at the pinecone tip edge. And I mean really whack it hard. You may have to do this a few times before the dough starts to loosen. When the dough starts falling out, just let gravity do its thing and wait for it to relax out of the mold and onto the work surface.

    From there transfer the shaped dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet using a cookie spatula. Be careful not to stretch or distort the pinecones too much as you move them. It’s very easy to do so. Just use extra care.

    Perfectly puffed pinecone cookies!
    The cookies bake to a beautifully sculpted finish that’s slightly puffed. I experimented with bake times, because I wasn’t sure what texture they’d be with their fat middles and delicate edges. At 12 minutes they are soft baked, which is perfect to eat as the sandwich cookies I made. They’re more firm in the centers at 16 minutes, and very crisp around the edges.
    This gingerbread dough recipe is pretty ginger-forward, and even though it molds well I still found the cookies alone to be a little plain. So I whipped up a batch of pistachio buttercream and made them into sandwich cookies.

    Pistachio paste is a staple in the pastry chef kitchen, and it’s wonderful in buttercream. A little fine grain sea salt mixed in enhances the pistachio flavor and takes the edge off of the buttercream’s sweetness.

    Hold the pinecone cookies upright and sieve a little powdered sugar over the top. The protruding pinecone scales will catch just enough to make them look snowy.

    One assembled Pinecone Cookie sandwich is a generous serving! These would look so pretty individually packaged in cellphone bags. Then tied with festive ribbon and a sprig of rosemary. And I think that’s just how I’ll gift them this year.
    If you love pinecone-shaped sweets, check out these marzipan and almond pinecones I made years ago for The Etsy Journal (link). They could be a nice option if you’re not ready to invest in a carved pinecone cookie mold.
    Again, the pinecone mold I used can be found right here for purchase. It ships from Russia, but made it to my doorstep in about 7 days – which arrived more quickly than some of my recent domestic orders!

    Gingerbread Pinecone Cookies

    Heather Baird

    This cookie recipe requires a carved wooden pinecone cookie mold to create the realistic 3 dimensional effect. See the blog post for shopping links. The large batch gingerbread recipe is adapted from Wilton. It makes a sturdy gingerbread structure and molds well. One recipe yields 24 pinecone cookies (at 2.50 oz. each) or 12 sandwich cookies, assembled with the pistachio buttercream recipe provided.

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    Prep Time 1 hrCook Time 15 minsTotal Time 1 hr 15 mins

    Course DessertCuisine American

    Servings 24

    EquipmentCarved wood pinecone mold (see blog post for link)large closed star piping tipPiping bag
    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric Gingerbread5 cups all-purpose flour plus more to bring to consistency/kneading1 teaspoon baking soda1 teaspoon salt2 tablespoons ground ginger1 tablespoon ground cinnamon1 teaspoon ground nutmeg1 teaspoon ground cloves1 cup unsalted butter melted1 cup granulated sugar1 1/4 cups molasses unsulfured, such as Grandma’s brand2 eggs slightly beatenCooking spray to grease mold such as Pam brandPowdered sugar for dustingPistachio buttercream1 cup unsalted butter1/3 cup pistachio paste4 cups confectioners’ sugarMilk or cream to thin I like half and half1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt3 tablespoons ground pistachios for sprinkling
    Instructions CookiesIn a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, soda, salt and spices. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, sugar, molasses and eggs. Mix well. Add four cups of flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add in additional flour while mixing on low until a firm non-sticky dough forms. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.Oil the cookie mold with cooking spray. Press small pieces of cookie dough into the carved cavity until it is evenly filled. Remove the dough from the mold and weigh it on a scale (mine was 2.50 oz.). Using that weight, portion the remaining dough into balls that each weigh the same.Re-grease the mold. Flatten a dough ball and press it into the cavity so that it slightly overflows the edges of the pinecone design. Using a finger, push the overflowing edges back so you can see the edges of the pinecone shape. This ensures the dough gets pressed into the fine edges of the mold, which gives the finest edge when unmolded.Next, whack the mold on a work surface at the pinecone tip edge. And I mean really whack it hard. You may have to do this a few times before the dough starts to loosen. When the dough starts falling out, just let gravity do its thing and wait for it to relax out of the mold and onto the work surface.Transfer the cookie to a parchment-lined baking sheet using a cookie spatula. Be careful not to stretch or distort the pinecones too much as you move them. It’s very easy to do so. I used a large cookie spatula at the large end of the pinecone, with my free hand as under support to the pinecone tip. Gently lay the cookie onto the sheet without stretching or pulling it.Re-grease the mold and repeat the filling and unmolding process with the remaining pieces of dough. Chill molded cookies in the freezer on the pans for 10 minutes.Preheat oven to 375°F.Bake for 12 minutes for cookies with soft middles (best for sandwiches). For cookies that snap, bake for 16 minutes. (See recipe notes for more on bake times.) Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.Stand each cookie upright with one hand and sieve a little confectioners’ sugar on with the other. The protruding pinecone scales will catch the sugar and give the cookies a snowy effect.Pistachio ButtercreamIn the bowl of an electric mixer, place the butter and pistachio paste; beat until combined. Add powdered sugar. Beat on low speed until just combined.Add milk or cream a little at a time until the mixture thins (about 3-4 tablespoons, more or less depending on the cornstarch content in the powdered sugar). Add the salt and beat on high speed until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow-green in color. Cover the buttercream with a damp towel to prevent crusting. Transfer the buttercream to a large piping bag fitted with the closed star tip.AssemblePipe thick swirls of buttercream onto the flat side of one pinecone cookie. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Top with a second pinecone cookie.
    NotesWhat to expect:
    Beautiful ginger forward cookies with a 3D pinecone appearance. The pistachio buttercream is a wonderful addition with lightly salted nut flavor.
    Your first successful cookie may take some practice. Don’t give up! I tried 3 times before I found my preferred method. If the cooking spray method is not working for you, try dusting your mold with unsweet cocoa powder or cinnamon using a kitchen-dedicated art brush. I do feel that the oil method is best for this particular dough with molasses.
    Try not to overwork the dough. It’s easy to start kneading a ball of dough in your hand before you press it into the mold, but just try to flatten it. Over kneading the dough will result in tough, rubbery gingerbread cookies.
    Keep a watchful eye on the cookies as they bake. Carved wooden mold capacities can vary, so your cookies could be thinner or thicker than mine are. When cookies are fragrant and lightly browned around the edges, that’s a good sign that they are baked through.
    The wooden mold should come with care instructions. If it doesn’t, then here’s how to care for it. After you’re done using it, wash it under a stream of tap water and brush any dough out of the cavity (you could use a kitchen-dedicated toothbrush like I do for my silver). Dry thoroughly and rub it down with a little olive oil using a paper towel. Oil the wood lightly after each use to prevent the mold from drying out and cracking.

    Keyword ground ginger, molasses, pistachio buttercream, pistachio paste

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    Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding

    This rustic Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding is made with tangy sourdough and chock full of stretchy smoked mozzarella cheese. Hearty enough for a vegetarian main dish, or serve it as a side dish at your next holiday dinner.

    Bread pudding recipes are so easy to make and satisfying to eat. I have quite a few sweet ones in my repertoire, but this savory one is really special. It’s quite good on its own for a quick lunch with a side salad, but it really shines as a dinner party side dish. Thanksgiving is next week, and if you find the idea of making scratch-made dressing daunting, then I suggest this dish – not as a replacement – but as a worthy alternative.

    Leek love.
    Leeks are the unsung hero of this dish. The comically large oniony stalks break down easily and impart mild onion flavor. But you’ll need to clean them thoroughly! Their sheaths can hold some of the sandy soil they are grown in. Split one down the center with a large knife and clean each layer individually. Then give them the ol’ chop-chop.

    Smoked Mozzarella can be found at nearly any cheese counter at well-stocked grocery stores. Go for the block variety, and not the pre-shredded stuff in the bags. Because those shreds have stabilizers in them to prevent them melting during shipping. You’ll need 8 oz. of smoked mozzarella, grate half of it. Pull apart the remaining cheese with your fingers to create 1/2-inch pieces. Set the grated portion aside – it goes on top right before baking.

    Cut a loaf of sourdough to 1-inch cubes and toss in a large bowl. Mix up the custard with the smoked mozzarella bits and lots of eggs. (Better add an extra dozen to the grocery list!) The custard has a lovely buttermilk tang to match and enhance the sourdough flavor.

    You could make this in a single 10-inch cast iron skillet, or even a 13×9 inch casserole dish. But I decided to use these little individual 14 oz. cast iron skillets. (You could also use 14 oz. ramekins.) I had purchased them when my husband wanted individual skillet cookies for his birthday party a few years ago. They were perfect for this savory bread pudding, and the serving size is generous.

    Spoon the bread mixture into the mini skillets, and place them on a large baking sheet so they’re easy to transfer to the oven. They don’t take very long to bake in individual portions. Only 20-ish minutes. If you’re cooking this as one big dish, you’re looking at about 40-45 minutes bake time.

    Each little skillet holds layers of sourdough, pockets of smoked mozzarella, and mild sautéed leek. The buttermilk custard adds richness and another layer of tangy flavor. I can’t wait for you to try it!
    If you’re looking for something sweeter with holiday flair, check out my Panettone Baked French Toast. Which is the most Christmassy bread pudding ever!

    Smoked Mozzarella Bread Puddings

    This rustic, tangy sourdough bread pudding is a meal unto itself. It’s also a lovely side for a dinner party or special occasion dinner. This dish can be cooked as one large bread pudding in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a 13×9 inch baking dish. Increase the bake time to 40-45 minutes, or until well set in the center. See the recipe notes for variations with other ingredients.

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    Prep Time 35 minsCook Time 20 minsTotal Time 55 mins

    Course BreadCuisine American

    Servings 6

    Equipment14 oz. mini cast iron skillets (6)
    Ingredients US CustomaryMetric 2 cups chopped leek about 1/2 of a large leek2 tablespoons salted butter16 oz. loaf sourdough bread8 oz. block smoked mozzarella cheese2 1/2 cups buttermilk5 egg yolks2 whole eggs1 cup heavy cream1/2 teaspoon salt1/2 teaspoon pepperOlive oil for greasing cast iron skilletsChopped parsley for garnish optional
    Instructions Sauté sliced leek in butter in a skillet over medium heat until tender and slightly translucent. Set aside to cool, 10 minutes.Cube the sourdough loaf and place it in an extra-large mixing bowl. Set aside.Grate half of the mozzarella cheese; cover and set aside.Pull the remaining cheese apart with your fingers to 1/2-inch pieces (or cube the cheese with a sharp knife).In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg yolks, whole eggs, and heavy cream. Stir in the cooled leeks, 1/2 inch cheese pieces, salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the cubed bread and stir well until all the bread cubes are coated. Cover and let stand 20 minutes.Preheat the oven to 375°F.Brush mini cast iron skillets with olive oil. Spoon the bread pudding evenly into each skillet. Sprinkle each skillet with the reserved grated mozzarella cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted near the centers of the puddings comes out clean, or with a little stretchy cheese attached.Broil 2-3 minutes to brown the tops. Let cool slightly before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley, if using.
    NotesWhat to expect:
    This rustic bread pudding is deliciously rich and tangy with buttermilk custard and sourdough bread. It’s hearty enough to be a meal on its own, but it’s excellent as a side for roasts, fish. It feels special served in individual cast iron skillets at special occasion dinners. See blog posts for links to the skillets.
    Bake as one big dish of bread pudding.
    Coat a 10 inch cast iron skillet with olive oil, or spray a 13×9 casserole dish with cooking spray. Place all of the prepared bread pudding mixture into the dish and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the center is well set. Broil for 2 minutes to brown the top.
    Add this!
    Sauté one cup of fresh wild mushrooms with the leeks. This adds another layer of autumn flavor.
    Add chopped sundried tomatoes for another variation. Top each bread pudding with torn fresh basil.

    Keyword buttermilk, heavy cream, leeks, smoked mozzarella cheese

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