Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

Friends, I just can’t accept the fact that it’s the middle of December.  I just. can. not.  How is it that there are fewer than two weeks until Christmas?  Where has the month gone?  I need for time to just slow down. Take a breather. Relax.

Seriously.

For one thing, it just doesn’t feel like December.  It was 65 degrees outside today.  There I was, out in the garden, picking collards and broccoli and lettuce.  Relishing the warmth. Feeling slightly off kilter because it IS December, after all, and my garden is still offering up all sorts of goodies.

December.  Last year it snowed on Christmas.

I’m kind of torn.  I love the fact that the kids can still play outside in the afternoons, but I miss having a fire every night in the fireplace.  I love the lovely greens still coming out of the garden, but I would also love it if it snowed one day soon.  I want the best of both worlds.  I guess I just need to learn to be thankful for what I’ve got.

I had a meeting the other morning at the school where I used to work.  I was supposed to be there at 8 a.m., but Atlanta traffic had other plans for me.  As I was sitting there, surrounded by every commuter in the metropolitan area, I praised the fact that my new job is three miles from my house.  I used to drive 50 miles round-trip.  Every day.  Now it’s ten at the most – and that’s because I have to drop the little one off at day-care beforehand.  I know I’m thankful for that.

Because it was an 8 o’clock meeting, I wanted to provide some goodies that we could munch while we chatted.  I had recently dried a bunch of cranberries in my dehydrator, and candied some orange zest using honey in place of the granulated sugar.  I love the combination of orange and cranberry, so I decided to bake a variation on this crumb cake I made last year, but making muffins instead.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins
adapted from the Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 35-45 minutes
yields: 1 9-inch square cake
Ingredients
For the topping:
1/2 cup sucanat (or firmly packed dark brown sugar))
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
generous pinch of salt
For the batter:
2 cups freshly ground flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup plus honey granules (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
4 large pieces candied orange peel, chopped

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, reconstituted in 1/2-cup of  apple cider

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and butter.  Pulse the it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set the mixture aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the reconstituted cranberries, along with the liquid, and the candied zest to the food processor.  Process until the berries and zest are chopped
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, co tmbinehe sour cream, half and half, eggs,  and oil
  6. Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture and stir just to combine.  Fold in the cranberry mixture.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

What’s nice about these is that the muffins themselves are not too sweet (the tart cranberries take care of that), so the sweet streusel topping really contrasts nicely with them.  The original recipe called for using fresh cranberries that have been chopped in the food processor, but I think the dried ones work equally as well.  I definitely like the addition of the candied zest.  They were a big hit with my kids, and with my fellow meeting attendees.  I think they would also be a delightful addition to your holiday breakfast or brunch table, if you do that sort of thing.

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Holiday gift ideas: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I’ve long been intimidated by decorating sugar cookies – always wanting mine to look like this, but being so scared of failure that I haven’t even tried….

…until I saw this tutorial over at PW Cooks.  They made it look so fun and easy, I just had to try it.  It took me most of a cold and blustery Sunday and my kitchen was covered in powdered sugar and various shades of royal icing by the end of it all, but I conquered my fear of sugar cookie cutouts decorated with royal icing.

While mine don’t look quite as good as theirs, I think for a first timer I did pretty well.  And after the first dozen or so, it wasn’t even that tedious or painful.  It actually may have even been fun after a while.  Or maybe that was just the delirium talking.  No, I think it was actually enjoyable.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I contemplate decorating the other half (I got ambitious and made a double batch).

Also, this is probably not the kind of decorating you want to do with your kindergartner.  It’s messy.  And takes a steady hand and a modicum of patience.  And unless you want your cabinets glued together with royal icing,you might want to save this ’til the kids are a little older.

I’ve also been trying for years to make a successful whole-wheat sugar cookie.  One that wasn’t overpowered by the flavor of the flour, had a tender crumb, and wasn’t too dark.  I think this year I finally succeeded.

 

Whole-wheat Sugar Cookies
prep time: 15 minutes
rest time: 2 hours
bake time: 7-9 minutes
yields 6 dozen cookies
Ingredients
1 1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated natural cane sugar
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups white whole-wheat flour, sifted
  1. Beat butter in the bowl of your electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds
  2. Add sugar, agave nectar and baking powder; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined
  4. Reduce speed to low and slowly add in the flour until it is all combined.
  5. Divide the dough into four parts; chill for 2 hours in the fridge, or 45 minutes in the freezer (if you’re impatient like I am).
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1/4 of the dough at a time to 1/8-inch thickness.
  7. Cut out with your favorite holiday-shaped cookie cutters
  8. Place cutouts on cookie sheets lined with silpat liners
  9. Bake at 375F for 7-9 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very light brown.
  10. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.
 Royal Icing
prep time: 5 minutes
yields: enough icing for 4-5 dozen cookies
Ingredients
4 tablespoons meringue powder
1/2 cup water
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon clear extract (flavor of your choice)
  1. Combine meringue powder and water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
  2. Beat on high until foamy
  3. Sift the powdered sugar and add slowly with the mixer on low speed
  4. Add the extract (I used a combination of vanilla and orange)
  5. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form – icing should be glossy
At this point, the icing is the perfect consistency for piping.  It was at this point that I divided the icing into five parts, leaving a little more than 1/5 of it as is for piping purposes. The other four parts I divided equally among four bowls and thinned with just a tiny bit of water to flooding consistency (when you hold your mixing implement – spatula or spoon – above the bowl, the icing should flow back into the bowl and disappear into the mix within 2-3 seconds).

 

I colored three of the bowls with liquid food coloring – red, green and blue – adding as much as was needed to reach the color desired.  If the food coloring thinned the mix to much, I added a bit of the piping icing to the mix to thicken it back up.  Once the desired color and consistency was reached, I transferred the flooding icing to squeeze bottles to make application extra easy.  The piping icing I put in a zip-top bag (or piping bag) fitted with a fine plain tip.
I then proceeded to pipe and flood to my heart’s content.  For a full tutorial on flooding technique and various answers to frequently asked questions, you can go here or here, since they do a much better job of explaining it than I ever could.
The cookies themselves were tender and slightly chewy, and they held their shape well during baking. They weren’t nearly as sweet as traditional sugar cookies made with refined sugar can be – they had a subtle sweetness with an underlying floral note (I think this comes from the agave nectar).  Given that royal icing is about as sweet as you can get, though, the lack of sweetness in the cookies was good thing.

If you’re like me and have ever been intimidated by the thought of trying to decorate sugar cookies, I recommend you try this technique.  I was much easier than I thought it would be, and once I got the hang of it, it didn’t really take that long.

And, if you’re still just a simple sprinkles and dragees kind of person, this cookie recipe is a good base for that as well.  You could easily change up the extract you use, subbing orange, lemon, coconut, almond, or whatever you prefer for the vanilla I used.

Enjoy!