Anise Citron Biscotti

When most people mention biscotti, they actually mean a specific type of Italian cookie called ‘cantuccini’. Italians use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie, round, square and otherwise as the British use the word biscuit. Here in North America, biscotti refers to a specific type of Italian cookie, derived from the ‘Tuscan cantuccini‘, which is a hard, almond flavored cookie that is baked twice and usually served with the sweet Italian dessert wine, Vino Santo. This wine is loved for its intense flavors of hazelnut and caramel. When paired with biscotti, Vino Santo is inarguably Italy’s most famous welcoming tradition. What makes this wine truly special is the natural winemaking process which gives it a unique taste.

The word biscotti derives from ‘bis’, Latin for twice, and ‘coctum’ or baked (which became ‘cotto’, or cooked).

The original biscotti was created by a bakery in Prato, Italy. Cantuccini became a staple in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Prato then spread throughout the Italian peninsula. Tuscan biscotti are flavored with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato. From the original recipe it expanded to lemon flavored dough as well as other flavors and spices with additions such as raisins, dried fruits and peels to chocolate morsels and nuts.

Biscotti have been baked for centuries and its iconic texture was the perfect for for sailors who were at sea for months. In modern times, biscotti range in texture from very hard to somewhat spongy and more cake-like. First, the sticky dough is shaped into a log and baked until firm. After a short cooling period, the log is sliced into diagonal pieces and baked again to cook out the moisture and produce the crisp, dry-textured cookie with a longer shelf life. The classic recipe has no butter or oil, using only eggs to bind the ingredients together. They are typically made in a 3, 5 or 7-inch size.

I have to be honest, biscotti has never been one of my ‘go-to’ cookie recipes. But, for something quick and easy, I decided to make a small recipe using two of my favorite ingredients …. anise seed & citron peel. Brion & I tried dipping them in wine and we realized we have been missing out on something real good!!

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Anise Citron Biscotti
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  2. In a bowl, combine oil & sugar followed by vanilla & eggs.
  3. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder & anise seed then gradually stir this mixture into the egg mixture. Lastly, fold in citron peel.
  4. Divide dough in half & form into two logs (about 6"x 2"). Place logs on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake for about 30-35 minutes; remove from oven & set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 F.
  6. Cut logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices. Lay the slices on their sides on lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through baking time.
  8. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.

Hunter’s Chicken Lasagna

Hunter’s chicken is a dish consisting of a chicken fillet wrapped in bacon, smothered in barbecue sauce then topped with cheddar cheese. This particular ‘style’ of chicken was originally adapted from a classic British pub food favorite.

Before I could give it a try, I saw a video of someone making lasagna by tucking these same ingredients into small folded ‘pockets’ of pasta instead of layering everything in a large pan. It seems there is always something unique about having your own individual serving as opposed to a chunk of the whole.

Lasagna is simple to eat but intricate in its appeal. Satisfying on three accounts …. pasta, gooey cheese and a savory sauce. In many ways, lasagna is the result of the interaction of cultures across generations …. an organized combination of different ideas and flavors.

No matter how you slice it, making lasagna is a big production. These lasagna pockets take a bit of work to make, but they are totally worth it!

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Hunter's Chicken Lasagna
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Chicken
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Season chicken breasts with salt & pepper. In a small roasting pan, melt butter & brown chicken slightly on both sides. Add water, & herbs & roast until cooked thru. Shred the cooked chicken breasts with two forks.
  2. Cook bacon in microwave until done but not crisp; coarsely chop. In a bowl, combine bacon, BBQ sauce, crushed tomatoes, sliced green onion & shredded chicken; mix well.
Pasta & Sauce
  1. Boil lasagna noodles, shred cheeses & prepare the béchamel sauce.
  2. In a a saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour & cook until bubbly. Slowly add milk, stirring until sauce is smooth. Add shredded mozzarella cheese & salt.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Spread a dollop of béchamel sauce in the middle of a cooked lasagna noodle. Place another noodle on top of the first noodle so that it is perpendicular & spread béchamel sauce in the middle of the second noodle.
  2. Spoon a portion of the BBQ chicken mixture on top of the béchamel sauce in the center of the noodle & sprinkle some shredded mozzarella & cheddar cheese on top.
  3. Fold the ends of the two noodles over the filling to create a lasagna 'pocket'. Repeat the process with the rest of the lasagna noodles until you have 4 lasagna pockets.
  4. Place 2 lasagna pockets next to each other in a 9 x 5-inch casserole dish, cover with béchamel sauce, sprinkle with shredded cheddar & mozzarella cheese over the top. Place the other 2 lasagna pockets on top of the shredded cheeses, followed by another layer of béchamel sauce & more shredded cheese,
  5. Bake for about 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

Pumpkin Seed Butter Tart Squares

Butter tarts were a staple of pioneer cooking with the first known recipe dating back to 1915, becoming extremely popular during the twenties and thirties.

If you’re Canadian, chances are you have eaten a butter tart. They are part of our DNA! As a croissant is to France, the butter tart is to Canada.

Chatelaine Magazine printed its first butter tart recipe in April 1931. By the 1950’s, butter tarts were part of the picnic lunch boxes sold at Eaton’s Department Store in Toronto, Canada.

Tarts have continued along this commercial journey and now are pretty much in every cafe, bakery, at your nearest grocery store and even Tim Horton’s has them.

Overtime, the recipe for our ‘national treasure’ has been adapted to suit many different applications. Today’s recipe is a good example of that. I’ve swapped out the regular pastry for a shortbread crust and pumpkin seeds and cranberries for the raisins. Take note, that the one constant in butter tarts …. that syrupy, buttery filling remains in tact.

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Pumpkin Seed Butter Tart Squares
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Instructions
Shortbread Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8 X 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper using only one piece so none of the filling leaks out during the baking process.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt to combine. With a pastry cutter, cut in cold butter, adding vanilla & lemon zest. Transfer dough to prepared baking pan. Using your finger tips, evenly press the dough onto the bottom of the pan.
  3. Carefully prick the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork making sure not to make any holes in the parchment. Bake for about 20 minutes or just until a pale golden color. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool while you prepare the filling.
Filling
  1. In a bowl, beat together butter & sugar with a hand mixer until light & fluffy. Beat in eggs until incorporated then the corn syrup & vanilla. Stir in flour, salt & baking powder.
  2. Sprinkle 100 gm of the pumpkin seeds & all of the dried cranberries over the baked shortbread base. Then pour the filling over this mixture & bake for about 20-25 minutes or until filling is set. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle remaining 20 gm of pumpkin seeds on top for decoration. Serve at room temperature or chilled (or straight from the freezer).

Belgium Meatballs w/ Sour Cherries

This is an example of great classic Belgium cuisine. Sweet, sour and savory all in one dish! It seems, in Europe alone, many countries have their own special version of meatball dishes, from Swedish and German meatballs in brown or white sauce to Italian meatballs with their classic red sauce.

Although meatballs are a staple of Belgium home cooking, you will find a variety of different recipes throughout the country.

Boulets a la Liegeoise, (a traditional Belgium meatball originating from the city of Liege), are a blend of ground beef and pork, eggs, some bread crumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg. That’s it …. no fusion cooking, bells and whistles. Just good, plain food made special with a tart cherry sauce.

I just couldn’t resist making a variation of these since Brion & I have our own little cherry tree in our back yard.

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Belgium Meatballs w/ Sour Cherries
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Instructions
Meatballs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a baking tray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients & mix well. Measure out 20 meatballs, approximately 40 gm each, & place on the baking tray.
  3. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.
Cherry Sauce
  1. Measure cherry juice & cornstarch into a dish to combine.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat cherries & add cornstarch mixture. Stir until sauce thickens, add honey & stir again.
  3. Remove from heat. Drizzle over meatballs or serve on the side. Serve hot.
Brown Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, melt butter; add flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Slowly add beef broth, stirring until sauce thickens. Season to taste.
  3. Serve as an alternate to the cherry sauce with Belgium meatballs.

Persimmon & Almond Brioche Buns

I never fail to get drawn in by the sight of fresh persimmons at the grocery store. Not only do they have a wonderful flavor but you can use them in so many ways.

Their strangely tropical characteristics pair nicely with many spices, such as cinnamon and cardamom. With a little imagination, cakes, cookies, pies and even some ‘persimmon brioche’ can be made from the persimmon fruit.

In reading about this fruit, I came upon some interesting weather folklore. I’m unsure if its true or not, but it said you can predict winter weather with a persimmon seed.

The first thing was to find a locally grown persimmon, which of course, is not possible for us in our location. You wait to pick and cut into the persimmon after it gets a bit soft … almost mushy. Then you open the fruit and cut open the seed.

Look at the shape of the kernel inside:

  • If the kernel is spoon-shaped, expect plenty of snow to shovel.
  • If it is fork-shaped, plan on a mild winter with powdery, light snow.
  • If the kernel is knife-shaped, expect fridgid winds that will ‘cut’ like a blade.

Interesting!!

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Persimmon & Almond Brioche Buns
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Instructions
Brioche Dough
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add milk & heat until lukewarm, but not hot. Stir in yeast. Allow yeast mixture to proof for about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar & salt; add both eggs & combine. Add the yeast/milk/butter mixture. Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball & there is no dough sticking to the sides of the bowl.
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface & knead well until dough is smooth (about 10 minutes). Form dough into a ball. Grease mixing bowl with butter. Place dough in the bowl, cover & allow to rise until its roughly doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Persimmons
  1. Peel, halve & slice persimmons into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place in a shallow dish with sugar & cardamom; toss gently to evenly coat slices. Set aside.
Cream Cheese Filling
  1. In a bowl, whisk together softened cream cheese with milk. Gradually add in the powdered sugar, beating until mixture is smooth. Add lemon juice & set aside.
Brioche Dough
  1. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface & punch down. Divide it into 12 equal parts. Roll the dough balls into discs 4-5-inches in diameter & about 1/4-inch thick. Place the discs onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a buttered piece of plastic wrap. & allow the dough to rise again in a draft-free place for about 25 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. When dough has risen, using your fingers, press the center of each disc down, leaving about a 1/2-inch rim. If necessary, you can dip your fingers in egg wash to keep the dough from sticking during this process.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Spread about a teaspoon of the cream cheese filling in a thin layer in the depression of each disc. Press some persimmon slices in the center over the cream cheese. Brush the outer edges of the discs with egg wash mixture. Place buns in the oven & bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven & transfer to a wire rack, keeping them on the parchment paper.
  2. Combine the apricot jam & warm water. Microwave to thin the jam to a liquid consistency. Brush buns LIGHTLY with glaze & garnish with almond slices & pearl sugar.

Creamy Bacon Fish Pie w/ Potato Topping

This English classic originated in small fishing villages as a way of using up the surplus catch. After poaching, baking then adding cream sauce and potatoes, the quality and the cut of fish used really doesn’t matter.

Like its cousin, the shepherd’s pie, fish pie is a comforting, homey affair of savory stew, topped with cheese laden mashed potatoes.

Traditional fish pie makes use of white fish such as cod, haddock and halibut. However, salmon and prawns can also be used. Vegetables such as mushrooms and leeks will help to make the pie even tastier.

I found, adding bacon to the filling made it a really flavorful meal. You know that expression ….. ‘bacon makes things better’!

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Creamy Bacon Fish Pie w/ Potato Topping
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a casserole dish or individual ramekins; set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, sauté bacon until partially cooked then add leeks & mushrooms. Sauté, while stirring until leeks & mushrooms are cooked. Remove from saucepan & set aside. Wipe out saucepan with paper towel. Melt butter; add flour & cook until mixture bubbles & thickens. Gradually stir in chicken broth, milk & grated Parmesan cheese. Stir over heat until mixture boils & thickens. Season to taste; add fish & steamed broccoli along with bacon mixture. Gently stir until combined & heated thru.
  3. Spoon into casserole dish or divide between ramekins. Top with cooked, mashed potato & sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered, about 25 minutes or until browned lightly.

Lemon Fig Tart

I have always found the sweet, earthy flavor of figs so unique. Their high sugar content pairs perfectly with similarly intense flavors, adding a burst of sweetness to a savory dishes and a distinctive texture and aroma to sweet treats.

Figs are surprisingly easy to work and have endless ways to prepare them. Just to name a few ….

Pies & Tarts * Cakes * Puddings * Fig Rolls * With Cheese * On Pizza & Breads * With Meat * Salads * Stuffing * Or just let the natural beauty and taste of figs take center stage to end a dinner party.

Today, I chose to use some to decorate our lemon tart.

LEMON + FIGS = AMAZING!

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Lemon Fig Tart
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Course dessert
Keyword lemon fig tart
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Shortbread Pastry
Lemon Filling
Glaze
Figs
Course dessert
Keyword lemon fig tart
Servings
Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
Lemon Filling
Glaze
Figs
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar & salt. Process for a few seconds then add butter. Pulse until mixture becomes crumbly and resembles coarse meal, about 15 pulses. Add egg & vanilla; pulse until dough is no longer dry & starts to clump together, about 10-15 seconds. Dough should be quite crumbly with large clumps.
  2. Place dough on a lightly floured surface & form into a ball. Flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Lemon Filling
  1. In the top of a double boiler saucepan, place eggs, sugar, lemon zest & cream (if using). Whisk to combine. Place top saucepan over boiling water (in the bottom of double boiler saucepan). Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes thick, about 10-20 minutes. The filling will thicken more once cooled.
  2. Remove from heat & immediately strain mixture through a sieve. Add butter, a few cubes at a time, whisking until completely melted & incorporated. Mixture should be smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature before filling the tart shell.
Bake
  1. Remove dough from refrigerator & allow it sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften slightly for easy rolling. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a rectangle. Gently place into a tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom). Brush away any excess flour on the surface. With a sharp knife, trim the edges of the pastry to fit tart pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap & place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes to prevent it from shrinking.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place rack in center of oven. Remove tart shell from freezer; press some parchment paper or foil tightly against the crust. Cover edges to prevent from burning. Fill with pie weights, distributing them evenly over entire surface. Bake crust for 20 minutes, until paper no longer sticks to dough. Transfer crust to a wire rack & remove weights & paper. Return to oven & bake about 10 minutes longer until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Glaze & Assemble
  1. In a saucepan, cook 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water over moderate heat. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved & syrup is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. Fill the baked tart shell with the lemon filling. Decorate with sliced figs. Brush the syrup lightly over the figs. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until well chilled before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • An alternate glaze you could use would be heated orange or apricot preserves.

Corned Beef & Potato Cabbage Rolls

Stuffed cabbage is a humble food and probably originated , as most comfort food has, from leftovers. Common place in Russian, German, Irish, Hungarian and Slovakian cooking, cabbage is an ingredient that is filling and inexpensive.

Readily available, this cold season crop is the under-appreciated cousin of brussel sprouts. There’s nothing particularly mysterious, alluring or exotic about it. Cabbage’s distinctive odor might have something to do with its unpopularity. When cooked, it has a pungent and pervasive, slightly sour, sulfur-y smell.

All that aside, cabbage becomes buttery soft when cooked. This allows its wide and sturdy leaves to be used as wraps for soft fillings. Any type of ground meat can be used, seasoned with garlic, onions and spices. Additional ingredients may include rice, breadcrumbs, barley, eggs, dried fruit, nuts, veggies, dried or fresh mushrooms, etc. The ‘sauce’ for baking stuffed cabbage, varies widely by cuisine.

These cabbage rolls are the full meal deal’, all rolled up in one …. corned beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes and cheese. Yum!

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Corned Beef & Potato Cabbage Rolls
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Cabbage
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Sauce for Baking Cabbage Rolls
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Instructions
Cabbage
  1. Place about 1-inch of water in a large kettle. Using a sharp knife, Cut the thick stem out of the bottom of the cabbage head leaving all of the leaves intact. Place the cabbage head into the pot of water. Cover the pot & bring the water to a boil. Steam the cabbage for 15 minutes. Once the cabbage is steamed, remove it from the pot & place it on a plate to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease an 8 X 8-inch baking dish.
Filling
  1. In a large bowl, combine 'pulled' (cooked) corned beef, mashed potatoes, egg, mustard, parsley, salt & pepper. Mix well & set aside.
  2. Gently remove 15 (there will be a few extra in case of any that tear) cooled outer leaves from the cabbage head. Set them aside. Chop a cup of the remaining cabbage & add it to the filling mixture. Mix well.
  3. Lay a one cabbage leaf on a cutting board, with the stem facing towards you. Cut out the tough bottom section of the vein in the leaf, creating a V-notch. Place roughly 1/4 cup of the filling at the center of the leaf (around the tip of the notch). Roll the bottom (cut side) of the leaf up over the filling. Fold the two sides in. Continue rolling away from you to wrap the filling tightly in the remaining leaf.
  4. Place roll in baking dish. Continue with the remaining filling & leaves, creating two rows of 5 rolls each in baking dish.
Sauce
  1. In a small dish, whisk together beef broth & flour until no lumps remain. Pour over cabbage rolls. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil & bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove from oven & sprinkle top of the rolls with Swiss cheese. Cover & allow to sit for 5 minutes. Nice to serve with some RYE BREAD STICKS.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer not to cook your own corned beef, just purchase a thick piece of 'deli' corned beef, using forks you can easily 'pull' the meat apart that's needed in this recipe.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns

It doesn’t have to be fall to crave something pumpkin. It’s still a bit early for Halloween jack-o-lanterns but not too early for some pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

This recipe builds on the traditional cinnamon roll, but adds the magic of pumpkin and fall spices. The dough is more subtle, moist and not too sweet in taste. With the addition of pumpkin to the dough, it adds a nice vibrant orange color. The filling is the classic pumpkin pie spice mix, blended with butter and sugar. What makes the buns even more special is they are then ‘baked‘ in the spiced ‘sauce’ mixture. Last but not least, topped with some whole pumpkin seeds, adds a delicate crunchy texture.

Pumpkin, like zucchini, seem to grow in abundance so it is always nice when they can be used in either sweet or savory recipes.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns
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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, add yeast, lukewarm water & 1 tsp sugar. Allow to sit about 10 minutes until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, butter, salt, cinnamon, eggs & pumpkin puree. Mix well. Add flour, one cup at a time, until well combined. Knead dough for about 8-10 minutes or until smooth & soft. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  3. While the buns are rising, place sauce ingredients (except pumpkin seeds), in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, while whisking, until sugar has dissolved & ingredients are combined. Remove from heat & set aside to cool for a few minutes while you are preparing the buns.
  4. In a small dish, combine filling ingredients, set aside.
  5. LIGHTLY butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Turn dough out onto a floured surface; roll out into a rectangle (about 12"x 18"), approximately 1/2-inch thickness. Spread the melted butter across the rolled out dough leaving 1/2-inch around the top edge. Sprinkle filling mixture over butter. Roll up tightly lengthwise towards the top edge. Using a sharp knife (or a string), cut dough into 12 slices. Place in prepared pan. Pour cooled sauce evenly over buns. You can reserve a bit for drizzling on top after they are baked if you wish.
  6. Cover the buns with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Set aside in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; allow to rest for a few minutes then drizzle with remaining sauce & sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
Recipe Notes
  • Once the sauce is cooked & cooled, you can blend with a mixer or blender to keep it from separating if you wish.

Crispy Seed & Fruit Oat Diamonds

Faster to make than cookies, easier to transport than a cake and equally as delicious as both, what’s not to love about dessert squares (or in this case ‘diamonds’).

The classic rice krispie treats recipe found on the back of the cereal box call for very few ingredients. While we will forever appreciate the simplicity of the sweet treat in its unaltered form, its hard not to experiment with a few new ideas.

There’s a good reason why oatmeal cookies are the poster child for rolled oats. Oatmeal can enhance a whole range of dough and/or batters from pancakes to bread & muffins, etc.

The idea of putting oatmeal, rice krispies, pumpkin seeds & candied fruit peel all in one dessert bar is the ultimate rice krispie treat in my opinion.

You can choose to cut them in whatever shape you wish depending on the the baking pan you use. I wanted to bake these in a 9 x 13 pan and cut them into diamonds for this blog recipe. I had previously made the same recipe in a drop cookie form. Same great taste, just a different shape.

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Crispy Seed & Fruit Oat Diamonds
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Lemon Glaze
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Lemon Glaze
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or line (w/parchment paper) baking pan of choice & set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda & oatmeal.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together butter & sugars until light & fluffy. Mix in vanilla & eggs until well incorporated. Add flour mixture & mix until completely combined.
  4. Stir in seeds, fruit & rice krispies with a spatula.
  5. Press batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 20 minutes, until LIGHTLY golden on the edges. These bars are best if slightly under-baked. They may look shiny & under-baked, but will darken & set up as they cool.
  6. Cool completely then cut into desired size & shape (squares, diamonds or bars). Drizzle with lemon glaze & remove diamonds from pan.
Recipe Notes
  • If you are not a fan of pumpkin seeds or candied fruit peel, just substitute them with your own favorites.