last minute cookies; coconut spritz

img_0426If you are like 99% of the people I know, you are in a hurry and trying to get everything done; baking, cooking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping and more.  Even though I am still trying to get my house unpacked from the move, I am also trying to do some holiday baking because it just isn’t Christmas without a small truckload of cookies in the house!  The good news is, that I have found one of the quickest and easiest recipes to prepare.

Coconut Spritz cookies are easy to mix and just as easy to shape.  While the dough can be shaped with a cookie press, it can also be scooped out and pressed with a cookie stamp, a flat bottomed glass or even the palm of your hand.  However, if you have a cookie press, use it, it will save you some time and produce cookies that are consistent in size.  One note, this dough is a bit high in fat and on the soft side.  Like most Spritz recipes, you should press the dough directly onto a sheet pan that is not non-stick or lined with any kind of paper.  While this may go against all you know about cookie baking, if you try to use paper or a treated pan, the dough cannot stick as you press it out and you will spend your time fighting with the press.  Do not worry, after baking, you will be able to get them off the pans by simply letting them set for a minute and then lifting them with a thin spatula.

The coconut flavor mainly comes from the oil so be sure to use a virgin oil that has not been refined and stripped of the flavor.  This recipe also calls for finely shredded coconut and if you plan to use the press, it must be extremely fine.  Whether it is sweetened or not is hardly important but in this case, size absolutely matters! If you cannot find it at the grocery store, try a Latino market, that is where I found mine.

img_7278Coconut Spritz Cookies

makes about 72 pressed cookies

1 cup coconut oil, at room temperature-not melted

5.4 oz sugar (153 g, 3/4 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

10.75 oz unbleached all purpose flour (305 g, 2 1/4 cups)

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 oz extra fine shredded coconut (14 g, 1/4 cup)

3-4 tablespoons heavy cream

Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a mixing bowl, cream the coconut oil with the sugar, vanilla and salt until well blended but do not mix it too long-the oil may begin to melt.  Add the egg yolks and mix to combine, scrape the bowl well.  Stir in the flour and baking powder and then the coconut.  Mix until it comes together.  Add the heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that is soft and easy to shape.  You may not need all of it, and the more you add, the more the cookies spread in the oven.

Using the press, deposit the cookies onto the baking pans, leaving at least 1 inch between them.  Sprinkle the top of each cookie with a little coarse sugar.  Bake until golden around the edges, about 12 minutes.  Rotate the pans halfway through baking.  Let the hot cookies set for a minute then remove them from the pan with a thin, metal spatula and cool completely on a rack.  Store in an airtight container for about a week-if they last that long…

If not using a press, use a small portion scoop such as a #50 scoop.  Dip the top of each ball of dough into the coarse sugar and place onto a pan.  Flatten them slightly with a cookie stamp, the flat bottom of a glass or your hand.  Baking times will depend on the size of the scoop used, watch them closely and adjust the time as needed.

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three fruit marmalade, like sunshine in a jar

IMG_2432Winter has definitely arrived.  Frigid temperatures and dreary days are quite the norm and I am not thrilled.  Tasked with selling a house and packing to move 700 miles, I feel like I completely missed summer.  We arrived in our new home on the first official day of fall and I have been in a bit of a funk ever since.  Hard to believe but I truly missed the long days spent working out in the garden, shooing away insects, wiping the sweat off my face and nibbling on thick slices of freshly baked cake with friends…

Nothing has felt the same since we moved.  The stores are different and finding the ingredients I need is challenging and I often visit 3-4 stores just to buy most of what I seek.  Although, I can buy a bottle of pinot at 9am on a Sunday if I want because every grocery store in town sells wine.  But back at home, it sinks in, there is no garden full of cake nibbling friends here.  And then, before I even had a chance to blink, the holidays arrived and our girls came to visit.  Off to the stores I went in search of groceries to make it seem a little more like home for them as well as for us.

What most people do not realize is that citrus fruits come into peak season beginning in November.  Just walk into an Asian produce market and you will start to see the different varieties of fruits increase as the Chinese New Year approaches.  While this may seem like such a random thought to share, both of our girls were born in San Francisco and the city is home to the largest Chinese New Year Celebration in the world held outside of China each year.  Half a million people line the streets to watch the parade and it is an exciting experience.  The different fruits all have different meanings but the most important part, the stem with its leaves still attached which is a symbol of longevity and they are highly sought after for New Year Celebrations.

Years later, living in Tennessee, we missed this tradition and the ability to find a lot of the different fruits.  But over time, that slowly changed.  One thing that remained constant, our girls still love citrus fruits and a holiday season just isn’t right without a box of clementines on the counter.  While we do not have an Asian market close to our new home, clementines are so easy to find that I purchased a box on one of my trips to the store.  As always, there are a few that end up living on the counter for a while and this year was no exception.  The girls are not the only ones crazy for citrus fruits as my husband has a love for blood oranges.   On my last trip through Trader Joe’s I picked up a bag for him to snack on thus adding to the collection of fruit in the kitchen.  So that nothing would go to waste, I decided to try my hand at a batch of marmalade.

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Since there were a dozen or so blood oranges in the bag, I decided to sacrifice a few and combine them with the clementines and a container of kumquats that was lurking in the fridge.  Yes, kumquats; a story for another day…  Then I began looking for a recipe.  Have you ever looked at marmalade recipes?  They are time-consuming and somewhat labor intensive.  Peel, dice the rind, simmer, drain and so on.  For a few minutes, I thought maybe not this time.  My desire to make just a few jars of marmalade was waning; I did not want to waste the entire day on this.  Then I picked up a small book from my shelf; Well Preserved, a jam-making hymnal by Joan Hassol.

Suddenly, the intimidating process of making marmalade seemed so simple, so easy, so hard not to make!  The recipe has basically four steps; chop the fruit in a food processor, mix all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for 15 minutes, let it rest overnight and then simmer it again for 15 minutes.  Done.  Finished.  Finito.  No peeling, no slicing, no fuss.  Works for me!  Quickly, I cut 4 clementine and 4 blood oranges in half, removed the pits and cut them into chunks.  Then I cut the kumquats in half and pulled out the pits if they were large; this took about 10 minutes.  The food processor came out of the closet and I pulsed the fruit into a pulpy mess pretty quickly.  Sure, there were some large chunks but I didn’t give it a second thought.  Into the pot the fruit went a total of 4 cups of chopped fruit/juice with 3 1/2 cups of water, 8 cups of sugar and a box of pectin.   Once it had a gentle boil, I let it go for 15 minutes, turned it off and let it sit uncovered until it cooled.   Once it was cool, I covered it to keep it from collecting strays overnight.

The next afternoon, I brought it back to a gentle boil, let it go another 15 minutes and then put it into whatever jars I could find in the closet.  It was that simple, and honestly, I think I spent more time cleaning up than I did doing anything else.

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Of course, homemade marmalade demands good bread and this is some we picked up from the Smithfield Bakery Cafe in Smithfield, VA, home to genuine Smithfield hams…yadda yadda.  No ham was consumed on our visit, just some really good sandwiches and salads and a loaf of the Honey Almond Bread.  A quaint little place, Smithfield was well worth the ferry ride across the river.
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For the first time in a few days, the sunlight was streaming in through the kitchen windows and it made the bright orange marmalade glow.  Honestly, I expected more of a pink tint from the blood oranges but even so, I love the bright color.


IMG_2502Definitely sweet but so full of bright citrus flavor it really was like a little bit of sunshine to brighten my morning.

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My favorite thing about the recipe was the use of a food processor and the whole fruit.  The irregular sizes of the rind make it look more homemade.  Now that I have finally found what I consider to be a foolproof method, I plan to make marmalade again.  The original recipe calls for the use of pineapple, lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit but allows for the pineapple to be left out.  It is all based on the amount of chopped fruit; for every 4 cups of chopped fruit, add 8-10 cups of sugar and 3-4 cups of water along with 1 box of pectin.  The amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit and the water depends on how thick you want it.  My fruits were a bit sweet so I used 8 cups of sugar and 3 1/2 cups of water.

The book is available on sites like amazon however, it is also available on googlebooks and I was able to view the complete recipe without having to purchase it.  Before you chastise me for that, my copy of the actual book is sitting right here next to me as I type, I merely did a search to see if it was online and it is.  As a published author, I respectfully ask that you consider purchasing the book ($12.80 on amazon, $14.99 from the publisher) or borrowing it from a library.  
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