I recently read an article in our local paper, the Citizen-Times, about an Asheville blogger. Ashley English writes the blog “Small Measure” and is also the author of the “Homemade Living” series of books. She was asked why people should go to the bother of baking at home when there are so many wonderful bakeries here in Asheville. Her answer was my inspiration for this blog, Christmas Cookies: Love in a Basket.
English answered that yes, there are many wonderful bakeries in Western North Carolina with a wide range of delicious fresh baked goods which can, and should, be enjoyed. But bakeries cook for the public and therefore cook for the general palate. Home cooks can adapt their recipes to fit the tastes and preference of their diners. Add a little more chocolate for the chocoholic. Remove the nuts for those who don’t like them. Increase a spice. Make the cookies larger or smaller, sweeter or less so. As long as you don’t mess with the fundamental chemistry of the recipe there is a lot of room in which to maneuver. (In case you are wondering, this type of thing goes on backstage in our kitchen at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast all the time!)
Baking for the holidays just feels right. Your house smells of cinnamon, sugar and butter. And it’s a task that requires little expense, no tape and no wrapping paper! You don’t have to make a wide range of goods. If you can come up with even one great recipe that will be good enough. After all your recipient will also benefit from the gift of your time and thoughtfulness. Even if you are not the best of bakers, you take a package mix and dress it up. Try adding crushed peppermint candy to brownie mix!
Here at our Asheville Bed and Breakfast, I am about to dive into a marathon of baking. Not only do we love to provide seasonal treats to our guests but every year I put together plates of cookies for family and friends. I will be baking and freezing all week so that I will have cookies and bars ready when needed. Here is an easy recipe for you along with some suggested variations but you should try letting out your inner cook and experiment with abandon. At the worst you will have a good laugh and then throw the batch out!
CRANBERRY PISTACHIO BISCOTTI
Biscotti are one of those cookies which are transformed when made at home. Most people think of them as the hard, almost stale cookie found at high-end coffee shops which demand dunking in order to be eaten. These biscotti are a different animal altogether. Here is the original recipe, variations follow at the end.
¼ cup olive oil 1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup sugar ¼ tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla 1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp almond extract ½ cup dried cranberries
2 eggs 1 ½ cup shelled pistachio nuts
Preheat oven to 300F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl mix together sugar and olive oil until well blended. Mix in vanilla and almond extract, then beat in the eggs. In a separate bowl combine the flour, salt and baking powder then gradually stir dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts. Dough will be thick and sticky.
Divide the dough in half (wet your hands with cold water to make dough easier to work with). Form two logs about 12” x 2” and place on cookie sheet.
Bake 35 minutes in preheated oven (logs should be light brown). Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Lower oven temp to 275F.
Cut logs on a diagonal into ¾” thick slices, Lay on sides on the parchment sheets. Bake five minutes, turn biscotti over and bake five minutes more. Cool
Here are some thoughts: We have a local shop which sells flavor infused olive oils. One of these could be used to amp up the flavors. Blood Orange immediately comes to mind but there are other possibilities as well. Add chocolate chips to the recipe, remove the nuts and add chips, try toffee chips with chopped hazelnut (you might need to take out the almond extract). And please, if you come up with a winner–share it with me!