5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving

5 Things You Can Do Now for ThanksgivingI’m a little bit giddy about Thanksgiving this year, but not for reasons you might think. Yes, I’ll get to spend it in the company of friends, of people I love, and yes, there will be delicious things to nibble and drink, games to play, and fun to be had with some of my favorite faces. But this year, Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving as it really is, is the first time in five years that I’m not responsible for the meal – and I’m pretty thrilled about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook for my friends, to feed them delicious treats, to decorate my home and make it super inviting, but it’s a lot of work that starts weeks in advance. This year, I only have to bring two vegetable side dishes, my best beau, some board games…and that’s it! That’s all that is required of me! I’m so excited to spend time enjoying my friends and being very present in the moment, as opposed to running back and forth to the kitchen like I normally do when hosting. I’ll be the girl on the couch with her feet up and a glass of rosé in her manicured hand – and I can’t wait!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
But all of my years of hosting in the past have taught me a lot about how to have a beautiful Thanksgiving and what you can do days, even weeks, ahead in order to make the day itself less busy and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the 5 things you can do now for Thanksgiving!

1. Prepare your Lists
I’m no one if not someone who loves a list. And while it can get borderline neurotic any other time, if you’re hosting any big event or holiday gathering, organization is key. So get yourself situated early on by preparing your four main lists: guest list, menu, shopping list, and your day-of agenda.

  • Several weeks in advance, you should have a firm sense of who is attending the fête and what they’re bringing. Lock in folks on one item or another based on their strengths. Once you know that one person is responsible for wine and another for their famous pumpkin cheesecake, you’re well on your way to organizing your menu and filling in the gaps.
  • Having a menu in place early on should give you a sense of calm as the day gets closer because you know what’s ahead of you. Building in old reliables that you’re comfortable with executing and the rare new recipe or technique allows you the ability to foresee how to structure your time before and the day itself. You’ll know where you need to build in extra time for your first-time making a meringue-topped dessert for instance versus the mashed potatoes you whip up once a month, that feel like old hat.
  • Planning your menu in advance also allows you to buy responsibly. Thanksgiving – and all holidays – can be expensive for the person hosting. If you take time ahead of time to plan a potluck or to designate specific items or dishes to others, it can alleviate some of the financial strain. If you’re going it alone and intend on not asking your guests to bring anything, planning your menu in advance also gives you time to take stock of what you have already. You’ll know if you’re down to half a bag of confectioner’s sugar or have four pounds stacked up in the back of the pantry.
  • A little planning prevents overbuying as much as it helps you to not miss any key ingredients as you head to the store. Organize your shopping list based on the layout of the spot where you plan to do your shopping. You’ll move through your list faster this way and will be less likely to forget something integral. I always make sure to mark on my shopping list what I have a coupon for or what the sale/deal is so that I’m also certain I’m buying the specific item (the 10oz box versus the 12oz box) that is actually on sale.
  • A day-of agenda for executing the meal itself is where many folks would draw the line with list-making, but I promise you that it’s worth doing – especially if you’re new to planning or cooking a big meal for a crowd. Doing so will allow you to have a schedule to keep yourself to – one that has already considered that the stuffing can go in the oven at the same temperature as the sweet potatoes, but 20 minutes after. A day-of agenda also comes in handy once you’re ready to put all the food out to confirm you haven’t forgotten to warm something or put out the dinner rolls. Consider it a little blueprint to get you through the day.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
2. Ready your serveware, your place settings, and your tools
A week or two before the event is the time to make sure you have everything you need in terms of your tools prior to the event. Take down your platters from the tops of your cupboards, pull out your box of extra wine glasses, dig through your utensil drawer and find the baster and meat thermometer, sharpen your knives. The worst thing is a stressful day before the holiday when you’re scrambling around trying to finish cooking and prepping and you still have to gather together all of the serving pieces you’re going to need the next day. Be good to yourself and take the time to plan so that on the night before, you can order a pizza, maybe trim some veggies, and take it easy. I like to gather all of my plates together, wash anything that got a little dusty during the year in the back of the closet, and then wrap everything in a clean, spare table cloth and keep them on an empty closet shelf.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
3. Wash and press your linens
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for cloth napkins. Do Bear and I use them every day? No, of course not. Laundry isn’t free, nor is it in our apartment, and we’re not jerks. That said, though, I love a cloth napkin when I’m entertaining people, so the week before, I figure out what my table is going to look like and what table cloth and napkins I’m going to use. You know what you don’t want to be doing the night before Thanksgiving? Laundry. Two hours of work weeks ahead of time will save you last-minute annoyance and anguish closer to the holiday. Of course, if you’re thinking of using paper napkins for your event, I say there’s no shame in that. Easy clean-up where you can get it is totally respectable in the face of cooking a huge meal. If linens aren’t where you think your precious time needs to be spent, I get it! No shame!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
4. Plan your table decoration and layout
A beautiful table doesn’t have to be difficult, elaborate, or expensive. A simple bouquet of flowers separated into smaller, shorter bouquets with a few small tea light candles won’t put you back much and will make you and your guests feel truly special. Pinterest, of course, is a great source of inspiration, so I recommend browsing around in your very early planning stages and getting some ideas. Two things I like to keep in mind as I plan what I’ll have on my table: 1) It’s important for your guests to be able to see each other, so I tend to put together items that aren’t very tall. For Thanksgiving, think pumpkins, gourds, candles shaped like maple leaves, pine cones, etc. An arrangement that includes lower-profile items will be beautiful and won’t risk interfering with conversation. 2) Remember that you’re going to have other things on your table aside from your centerpiece. Be sure you allow room for everyone’s place setting, rogue drinks that make it to the table, extra serving dishes of sides if you’re not buffeting your meal, and elbows! Don’t sacrifice you or your guests’ comfort and ability to stretch out a bit for a really elaborate table design. The whole point of getting together is to enjoy your time together and that’s not possible if you’re getting pushed out by too many wicker turkeys.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
5. Look to make-ahead dishes
After my first two years of cooking Thanksgiving, it took me about two to three days to fully recover from the amount of work and stress it was – and I was still in my 20s then! But all of that changed as I started to plan better and learned from experience that there were several key parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time to save me such valuable time. The first? The gravy! Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had includes this incredible gravy from the one and only Ina Garten. For me, there’s no turkey without this gravy. But you know what? Making gravy in the final moments before your meal goes to the table is hella stressful. It is the worst! So what do I do? I make my gravy two weeks ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. On the morning of Thanksgiving, I thaw it and warm it on the stove (or gasp! In the microwave!) right before we dig in. Sometimes it needs a little whisk or a quick buzz with the immersion blender to bring it fully together, but that’s nothing. Making the gravy in advance is such a time-saver and the result is piping hot, which is never the case when you’re whisking gravy together at the last minute. I make the gravy with drippings from a chicken I roast for dinner a few weeks prior and you’d never know that it didn’t start with a turkey. Take this tip and run with it, seriously!
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
I also make my cranberry and clementine conserve weeks ahead of time and freeze it as well. For Thanksgiving prep, these containers are your best friends, allowing you to make several different pieces of your meal in advance, and strong enough to withstand the chill of your freezer for a few weeks. Last year, I even made my mashed potatoes a day or two prior (don’t freeze these – the texture will never be the same), smoothed them into a 9×13 pan, covered it tightly with foil, and about 40 minutes out from the meal, I put them oven covered and let them get nice and hot. They fluffed up beautifully as I added them to the serving bowl and there was no last minute mashing and whipping of potatoes either. If you plan a menu in advance, with the possibility of doing some of it ahead of time, you can really take a lot off your plate for the day-of, allowing you to do what you’re meant to: enjoy your friends and family and reflect on how to improve, or contribute more to, our various communities.

Whether you’re hosting your first big meal, bringing a pie, or staying home with take-out and Netflix, I wish you a wonderful, stress-free day of entertainment and one hell of a big piece of pumpkin pie. Enjoy, everyone!

Cider Donut Shortcakes

Cider Donut ShortcakesBear is many things, but a baker is not one of them. Not because he can’t manage a hand-blender or feels it might threaten his masculinity (gasp!), but because it requires patience to measure, to sift, to leaven. I stray from baking for long periods of time myself because of this need to be so precise with it. Ultimately, though, I find my way back, take a few deep breaths, run off my Italian impulsivity, and get back to leveling, weighing, and timing rises and bakes down to the minute.
Cider Donut ShortcakesThree years ago, Bear was trying to come up with a birthday cake idea for me, but was overtaken with nerves that his lack of patience would win out and he’d wind up with a failed dessert. I was serious when I said he could just buy a box of donuts, but he was suspicious of being let off the hook that easily. Creativity was quick to strike, though, and on my 32nd birthday, the strawberry donut shortcake was born – a fluffy, glazed donut split in half and filled with wine-macerated berries and homemade whipped cream. Is that Bear a catch, or what? It’s such a special, over-the-top treat, that I’ve requested it for birthdays 33 and 34, as well.
Cider Donut ShortcakesBut once a year seems so long to wait for a donut-turned-layered-cake dessert, doesn’t it? Who wants to wait for a whole rotation around the sun to gently saw through a pillowy donut and stuff it with cream and fruit? What of the many seasonal varieties of treats that could be made in such a similar fashion?

Cider Donut ShortcakesThat’s how we got here, folks, to Cider Donut Shortcakes – your newest, easiest Fall dessert to have on hand for any day of the week from September through November. Do you know how people squee for these? The excitement of the donut itself – cakey in texture, but crisp with its cinnamon and sugar sprinkle – surrounding a giant ball of vanilla ice cream that’s slowly melting beneath a syrup of sauteed apples with cinnamon and cardamom? Your loved ones will lose their minds – and you won’t have to measure anything more than a little sugar and a little spice to pull your apples together! Try these soon before cider donut season wraps up and let me know what other varieties these shortcakes might inspire in you – I’m all ears!

Cider Donut Shortcakes
Yields two apple cider donut shortcakes

Ingredients
2 cider donuts
1 pint of vanilla ice cream
2 granny smith apples, skinned & cored, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of apple cider (apple juice or water would work fine too)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
Pinch of salt

Directions
Slice the donuts in half from side-to-side and set aside. In a sauce pan, melt butter on medium-low while slicing apples. Allow to brown gently and when bubbles cover the surface of the butter, add in the brown sugar, apples, salt, and spices. Raise the heat to medium and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add in the apple cider and stir to combine, then allow to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, stirring only occasionally. The apples should become fairly soft, but not mushy, and the liquid should thicken into a syrupy consistency. It will become more dense as it cools. Remove from heat as you scoop two, rounded mounds of ice cream and place on the bottom half of the donut. Flatten the top just enough for it to hold some apples as you spoon them onto the top of each ice cream ball. Be liberal with both the apples and the syrup. Place the other donut half on top and serve immediately.

Victoria Sponge Cakes

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesLike a lot of people, Bear and I ditched cable a while back and, for the most part, have no complaints! Not having a huge bill is the greatest perk, of course, but so is discovering new shows. This can go either way and, if we’re being honest, at least 20% of what we queue up is for hate-watching; have you re-watched any early 90s cooking shows lately? Hilarious…and also a study in food trends. Ah, the days when the portobello mushroom was “exotic,” as I recently heard it referred to or how we watched an entire show dedicated to the “wonders” of basil. I die.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesRecently, our hunt for new shows of the cooking variety brought us to The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) series, which airs on PBS. Oh my god, you guys, we have lost the last three weeks to watching every single episode in all five of its seasons! It is so, so good! GBBO is a baking competition that follows 12 amateur home bakers through 10 weeks of challenges. Sounds familiar enough to U.S. cooking competition shows, yes? Well, that’s about where it stops. GBBO is wonderfully antithetical to anything you’ve  watched on the Food Network or Fox. It is believable, first and foremost, and the most impressive part about it is how genuinely invested the contests and judges are in the skills and in each other. There’s no “Welcome to the Thunderdome!” element to it, no sabotage, no surprise twist ingredient. It’s just an honest competition with lots of talent and two totally delightful co-hosts. I’m so sad we’ve watched, literally, all of it. Good thing Season 6 starts in just a few months! Eee!

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesAfter watching five seasons of GBBO though, you can imagine that there’s a strong impulse to bake alongside the contestants and try out the (new-to-this-American) confections. Season after season, it seemed as if each had a challenge where the bakers had to make classic Victoria sponge cakes (also called Victoria Sandwiches), a double-layer vanilla sponge cake filled with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream, and named for Queen Victoria herself. While I was tempted by more complex undertakings, such as brandy snaps and mille feuille, it was the simple Victoria sponge cake I most wanted to try.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesTraditionally, the batter for Victoria sponge cakes is evenly divided into two 8″ round cake pans, but with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I couldn’t resist using my heart-shaped muffin tin. I think I chose right! In tins such as mine, one batch made 24 mini cakes, which is perfect if dividing into small gifts, favors, or serving them alongside afternoon tea, as intended. Of course, these will taste just as delicious as a large two-layer cake in proper English tradition.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesAt any rate, I hope you’ll try these. The cake itself is so buttery and airy – just strong enough to cradle layers of sweet preserves and a very lightly sweetened whipped cream between its halves. Everyone always says that simple is better and, in this case particularly, it is absolutely the truth. I would take a perfect, tender Victoria sponge cake over something complex covered in salted caramel and spun something-or-other any day – they are so sublime! Happy Valentine’s Day, lovies! xoxo

Classic Victoria Sponge Cakes
Yields one 8-inch double-layer cake or 24 mini layer cakes; recipe only slightly altered from here.

Ingredients
4 eggs
1 cup of superfine sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for whipped cream
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup of butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons to butter tins
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of homemade strawberry or raspberry jam (or store-bought with visible pieces of fruit), approximately
1 cup of heavy cream
Powdered sugar for decorating

Directions
Preheat your oven to 355°F. Prepare your tins. If using two 8-inch round tins, cut a round of parchment for each. Butter the bottom of the tins lightly and then lay down the parchment rounds. use remaining butter to spread all over the top of parchment and all around the interior sides of the tin. You may wish to add a slight dusting of flour to these as well for easier removal. If using muffin tins, liberally butter each hole, as well as the area in between each section in case they bake up over their individual spot.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, 1 cup of sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder, vanilla extract and salt. Blend with a hand-mixer until just combined. Do not over-mix or your cakes may sink. Fill your tins evenly and gently smooth the tops with a butter knife or a cake spatula. If you are using muffin tins, each hole needs only to be filled about 1/3 of the way. Place cakes in the oven and gently shut the door. Two 8-inch rounds will take approximately 25 minutes, while those in muffin tins will take approximately 15-20 minutes. Cakes are done when they are lightly browned, pulling away from the sides of the tins, and spring back with a gentle touch.

Allow cakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes once removed from the oven. Next, transfer to a baking rack and allow to sit until they are cold. When ready to prepare your cakes, pour 1 cup of heavy cream and three tablespoons of superfine sugar into a medium bowl and blend with a hand-blender or a whisk until whipped peaks hold their shape. Under-mixing will cause the whipped cream to ooze out of the cakes once sandwiched and over-mixing will turn the cream to butter.

If you are baking the traditional 8-inch, two-layered Victoria sponge cake, place one layer upside down on a cake plate and spread as much, or as little, jam as you’d like on the top. Repeat with a layer of whipped cream. Affix the top cake layer top-side up and dust generously with powdered sugar. If you are using a muffin tin, slice each cake in half horizontally and fill as described above. Dust with powdered sugar. Store cakes in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeI love the overabundance of fruit and veggies in the summer. Not only because it means there are more options of what to make, but also because it’s a challenge to discover new recipes and create your own in using up what you have on hand. Some of my tastiest dishes have come out of staring into the deep abyss of the refrigerator, or at a dwindling fruit bowl, and thinking, “What am I going to make with these remnants?” or, shamefully/more realistically, “What should I make with all of this before it’s past its prime?” The latter is exactly what occurred a few weeks ago when I overbought on strawberries thinking I was making shortcake for a party and then changing my mind at the last minute. It’s not like it’s hard to just eat strawberries – they’re my favorite of all the berries – but they take a turn for the worse so quickly that having them around, without a plan, makes me fret. Those red beauties aren’t cheap! Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeSeeing them looking back at me from their front-and-center spot in the fridge made me start hunting around for flavors that pair well and before I knew it, I had limes and was on my way to a baked good of some sort. Inspired by all of the gorgeous strawberry buttercream-topped desserts I keep seeing online, I knew I wanted to make a cake, but didn’t have the energy or the ingredients to go in that direction. Instead, I thought a loaf cake of sorts would be just the ticket and with the added bonus of having some yogurt on hand, things quickly took shape. The yogurt and sour cream combo in this cake keeps the crumb super moist, but also lighter than if you used only sour cream. The tang of both plays well with the sweetness of the berries and mirrors the lime, which makes everything feel so fresh and summery. Because when I think “lime,” I almost always think of “coconut,” I substituted coconut oil for the vegetable oil and put some unsweetened flakes in the batter too; the result was subtle, allowing the strawberries and lime to shine, but present enough that it gave the cake a bit of a tropical feel.

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeServed with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, ice cream, or just on its own, this cake is the perfect light, refreshing end to a summer meal. It also makes a great gift to welcome a new neighbor or to say “thank you!” to a friend because it’s a small, easy-to-transport cake with not a lot of frills to make it messy. Plus, it’s pretty as a picture. What a keeper!

Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake
Yields one loaf cake; adapted from here.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole-milk is preferred, but non/low-fat works well too because of the sour cream addition)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted coconut oil, plus 1 teaspoon or so for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using approximately one teaspoon of melted coconut oil, grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the 1-1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt, and add the unsweetened coconut flakes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, one cup of sugar, eggs, lime zest, vanilla, and coconut oil. Slowly add the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, into the wet ingredients and whisk gently until all is combined. Toss the strawberries in the remaining tablespoon of flour and fold gently into the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a cake tester is inserted into the center and comes out clean. While the cake is finishing cooking, cook the 1/3 cup of lime juice and remaining one tablespoon of sugar together in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and set aside. When the cake is finished baking, allow it to cool for 10 minutes and then gently flip it out onto a cooling rack. Put the cooling rack over a sheet pan or cutting board to prepare for glazing. While the cake is still warm, poke a few holes into the top with a fork or a skewer and then pour the lime-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak into the cake. If desired, sprinkle with some additional coconut flakes – I would have done this, but ran out! Allow to cool thoroughly before serving.

Oscar Night Soft Pretzels

Oscar Night Soft PretzelsWhile everyone else is prepping their best popcorn butter seasonings (yum!), I decided to go a different route for Oscar night this year and bake off some soft pretzels to graze on. From the red carpet to the closing credits, these O-shaped pretzels will be a perfect treat alongside some spicy mustard, a homemade cheese sauce, and of course something bubbly.

Soft Pretzel DoughYou might think soft pretzels are a bit ambitious for a night that should be spent firmly planted on your couch half-listening to speeches and half-Googling designers from the night’s best and worst dressed lists. Truth is, you can easily do about 50% of the work that these require the morning of (or night before if you’re planning on making them for a brunch) and bake them off right before you’re ready to serve them. These are best hot, of course, right out of the oven, allowing them only enough time to cool so that you can handle them without wincing. They’re good room temperature too, but can easily be re-warmed in a low oven or in the microwave for a few seconds to soften them back up.

Oscar Night Soft PretzelsDepending on the thickness that you roll these, they’re either more crisp or more fluffy and, honestly, if asked to pick which one I lean toward, the jury is still out. I love the deep, yeasty taste that the darker brown, more well-done pretzels take on, but I also swoon at the pillowy interior and soft chewiness of the lighter, thicker rings. Experimenting with shapes will also alter the kinds of doneness and texture you get after their 14 minutes is up; along with the O’s for the Academy Awards, I made a few in traditional pretzel shape, twisted logs, and even tiny pretzel balls. The ability to get creative here is high, if you like.

Oscar Night Soft PretzelsYou can also try out different toppings beyond the traditional coarse salt, which I used for some of these. The rest, I sprinkled liberally with a Montreal-style steak seasoning, which incorporates dried onion, garlic, cracked black pepper, and other spices. It made the pretzels taste almost like an everything bagel. So good! These soft pretzels serve not only as a tasty canvas, but also a festive way to ring in your evening with Oscar…and Lupita Nyong’o who should win every single award up for grabs because – perfection.

Oscar Night Soft Pretzels
Yields 8 pretzels; recipe from here.

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups of warm water
1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of table salt
1 packet (or 2-1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast
4-1/2 cups of all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
10 cups of water, for boiling
2/3 cup of baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon of water to produce an egg wash
Coarse salt, steak seasoning, for topping

Directions:
Combine the warm water, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for approximately 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to bubble. Add the flour and butter into the bowl and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Next, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side above the bowl, about 4-5 minutes. Prepare a large bowl by rubbing it lightly with oil. Remove the dough from the hook and place in bowl, covering it with plastic wrap and leaving it in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in size. The rise takes about an hour, but truth be told, the longer the dough sits, the more flavor emerges. For both this reason and the fact that these are a bit time-consuming when having company visit, I allowed my dough to rise for the hour on top of a warm oven (265°F or so), then shut the oven off, let it cool for about an hour and a half, and then popped my bowl in and let the dough hang out in that dark, still slightly warm spot, overnight.

In the morning (or whenever you’re ready for the next step post-hour-long rise), pre-heat your oven to 450°F and bring a large pot of water (about 10 cups) and 2/3 cup of baking soda to a rolling boil. While waiting for it to come up to temperature, divide your dough into 8 evenly sized balls and, on an oiled surface, roll the balls into 24″ logs. Shape the logs into whatever shape you like being sure to press a bit firmly on the places where dough must adhere to dough, like when closing the two ends to form an “O,” for example. When the water is boiling, drop each pretzel (2 maximum, you don’t want them to touch) at a time into the boiling water and allow to cook for 30 seconds. They will initially sink and then float to the top. Gently, with a slotted spatula, remove the pretzels from the water, allowing them to drip off before placing them on a baking sheet that has been lined with either a silicone baking mat or lightly oiled parchment paper. Depending on the sizes and the shapes, you may fill 2-3 baking sheets worth. When you’re ready to bake off the pretzels, brush each one with egg wash and season with your desired toppings. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until they have reached a dark golden brown color. When finished, remove from the pan and allow to cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before enjoying.

Berry Scones with Orange Cardamom Glaze

I, easily, fall victim to the bounty of fruits and vegetables that flood the supermarket this time of year; sometimes, to the point of detriment. In that I’ll be so overwhelmed with all of the delicious, fresh offerings that I’ll buy a few too many tomatoes or an extra pound of peaches and then scramble for ways to use them as I notice them starting to go soft a week or two later. I always find something to do with them, but sometimes it makes for some mismatched meals.

Luckily, I always know what to do when I have berries on their way South, which is exactly the situation I found myself in this week after I had stocked up on some good strawberry and blueberry sales a week or so prior. I’d already eaten many of them on their own, dotted on top of cereal, blended into smoothies (some of which were actually milkshakes that I called “smoothies,” shhh!), and even in a balsamic vinaigrette I’d made poured over grilled chicken atop salad. Delicious! When I happened on their overripe siblings yesterday while searching for a snack, I knew I wanted to use them in a sweeter application, but also something that could handle and disguise the fact that they were past their prime.

Muffins? Sure, muffins are delicious, but why make muffins when you can have their sophisticated cousin, scones? Have you properly met? Scones are simple to execute, but sound and look special, maybe even snooty! Undoubtedly this is because of their being good, proper teatime fare. Scones, though, prove themselves worthy of the fuss. They have a much dryer crumb than the muffin, but in their airiness, they are also deliciously buttery and light all at once. With blueberries and strawberries folded in, they make for a slightly sweet breakfast treat on their own or accompanied with butter and jam for spreading. Better yet, spoon on some clotted cream and lose sense of everything else happening around you. True story: Bear thought I should make clotted cream to accompany this post. Like it was NBD. Like I should just get to it after I churn some fresh butter or something.

Anyway, these scones are delightful in their simplicity as is, but bumped up with the addition of a quick glaze of orange and cardamom that adds a different kind of sweetness and a bit of spice. When it hits the hot scones, the glaze gives off a wonderful scent of citrus with warm notes similar to ginger and cinnamon. The glaze is the perfect compliment to the roasted berry flavor and, because they’re a sturdier crumb, the scones hold up to the glaze well. This is a pairing of flavors I think I’ll come back to again and again.

Mixed Berry Scones with Orange & Cardamom Glaze
Yields 8 scones

Ingredients:
For the scones
2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of cold butter
3/4 cup of sour cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of fresh berries of your choice

For the glaze
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons of orange zest
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon of butter
1 small pinch of cardamom (a little goes a long way!)

Directions:
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and then mix it into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or a fork. When finished, the mixture should resemble coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Fold the wet ingredients into the flour and butter mixture gently until just incorporated; if a bit of dry crumb remains on the bottom, that’s fine, you just don’t want to over-mix.

Dump the ingredients onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Sprinkle the berries (I used blueberries and strawberries; with the latter, you’ll want to dry them a bit with a paper towel after dicing and before integrating them into the dough) in an even layer onto the dough and then fold it over onto itself. Repeat this process once more or until all berries are incorporated throughout the dough. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is refrigerating, make the glaze by combining the above ingredients and set aside. When you are ready to roll out the scones, preheat the oven to 400°F and transfer the disk of dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the disk into 8 wedges with a sharp knife or pizza cutter and assemble the wedges on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Leave a few inches of space between wedges, as they will grow in size as they bake. Bake the scones for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. After 5 minutes, transfer to a baking rack to cool.

If planning to serve that day, drizzle glaze over warm scones and enjoy. If not, store the cooled stones in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, warm them and apply glaze before eating.