Sweet Potato Boats

HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY!

When I think about Autumn here in Canada, it could be likened to a      van Gogh painting. The landscape transforms into a beautiful tapestry of red, gold and yellow. As the days grow shorter and the mornings darker, your tastes turn from salads and cool drinks to your favorite comfort foods. Smells that bring you back to your childhood……. evoking so much from one moment in time is the sheer essence of Autumn.

The truth being is that fall just gives us a different perspective. The word Thanksgiving  itself makes one pause and ask, what am I thankful for this year? We start to reflect on the year we have had with it’s inevitable highs and lows.

Fall also represents a time of change. As nature bursts with it’s fabulous fall foliage, it gives us a little bit of extra time to make the most of what we have left in this year before the grand finale.

For the last 60 years, Canada has celebrated Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. It’s one of those holidays that tend to bring families together, both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately though, in this highly technological age, it seems as if we have become more connected digitally than emotionally. Thinking about the food aspect of this holiday, sweet potatoes have become synonymous with Thanksgiving (and Fall).

Native to Central and South America, sweet potatoes are some of the oldest vegetables on the planet. Distantly related to commonplace, starchy Russets and Yukon Golds. Western markets have tagged some sweet potatoes with the deceptive name ‘yams’ to differentiate the southern from the northern crops. True yams are rough-skinned tubers, related to lilies.

Enter the ‘Candied Yam Casserole’. It seems to be the most divisive of the side dishes served, a real ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ kind of thing. Definitely not a venerated Thanksgiving tradition but more of a marketing promotion that caught on. It was 1917 when the first instance of sweet potatoes baked with a coat of marshmallows appeared in a recipe booklet commissioned by Angelus Marshmallow Company. The recipes in the booklet showed you how to incorporate marshmallows into everyday dishes so that their product wouldn’t fail and ‘viola’, the classic and capitalistic pairing was born.

I do remember my mother making this casserole for our special Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, being a kid that loved sweets, it tasted real good. At this point in time, I would rather just have them with salt and pepper for most part.

My blog recipe is one I came across in a Pillsbury booklet from 2010          ( pillsbury.com ). We have enjoyed it several times as it fits in perfect with a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

Sweet Potato Boats
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Servings
8
Servings
8
Sweet Potato Boats
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Servings
8
Servings
8
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil; spray with cooking spray. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork & rub with oil. Place on baking sheet & bake 45-55 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp; remove & drain on paper towel. In bacon drippings, cook onion & celery about 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Add broth & 2 Tbsp butter; heat to boiling. Stir in stuffing mix, cranberries & 2 Tbsp of the walnuts. Remove from heat, cover & set aside.
  3. Remove sweet potatoes from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato flesh, leaving a 1/3-inch thick wall on inside of shell; set aside. Place potato flesh in a large bowl. Add 2 Tbsp syrup, remaining 2 Tbsp butter & the nutmeg; mash. Spoon about 1/2 cup of stuffing mixture into each potato shell; spoon mashed sweet potato mixture over stuffing, leaving some stuffing exposed around side of shell.
  4. Line a baking sheet with foil again & spray with cooking spray. Place potato boats on sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle potatoes with crumbled bacon bits & remaining 2 Tbsp walnuts; drizzle with additional syrup.
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Honey Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls

With tomorrow being Thanksgiving Day, it seems like baking some special little dinner rolls for the occasion would be in order.

Bread making has always been a carefully protected symbol of civilization. The Greeks would let only priests make bread — they reasoned that dealing with the ‘staff of life’ was the business of those trained in religious matters. The Romans, a practical-minded people, turned bread baking over to the Civil Service and enforced rigid sanitary regulations. In any case, it has always been an integral  part of history.

Pan or dinner rolls, a name given to small pieces of dough, shaped and baked in a pan with their sides touching. This prevents them from flattening out, instead springing upwards.

At our house we love pan buns. For some strange reason, both of us enjoy baked goods when they are very lightly baked rather than dark and crispy. Pan buns usually fit that description.

These PUMPKIN DINNER ROLLS  check all the boxes. For Thanksgiving, they’re just a little bit more special as well as being a suitable accompaniment for soups and stews during the fall and winter months. If you like pumpkin, I think you will enjoy them.

Honey Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
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Servings
10 rolls
Servings
10 rolls
Honey Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
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Servings
10 rolls
Servings
10 rolls
Ingredients
Dough
Honey Butter
Servings: rolls
Instructions
  1. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk & butter about 45 seconds. Whisk until butter has melted smoothly into the milk; add egg, pumpkin puree & whisk again to combine. Heat again about 15 seconds to warm total mixture. In a large mixing bowl, add remaining dough ingredients along with pumpkin/milk mixture.
  2. Combine & knead dough on a lightly floured surface 5-8 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Grease bowl lightly, place dough in bowl & turn to grease all sides of dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk.
  3. Spray work surface with baking spray, punch dough down & turn onto surface. Divide dough into 10 equal portions; roll each into a ball. Place dough balls into a sprayed, 9 x 9-inch square pan; cover with plastic wrap & place in a draft-free area until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, melt butter & add honey; stir to combine. Before baking, generously brush the rolls with honey butter; reserving any extra to brush on after baking.
  5. Bake 15-17 minutes or until puffed & golden. After removing from oven, brush with any remaining honey butter & allow to cool slightly before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • For some extra 'butter' to serve with rolls, whisk together equal parts softened butter & honey until fluffy.
  • MAKE AHEAD OPTION:   Once you have the rolls in the baking pan, cover with foil & place in refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, bring the rolls to room temperature & allow to rise about 45 minutes before baking.
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German Poppy Seed Coffee Roll

Germany’s love of poppy seed is no secret, you can find it in everything from sweet to savory foods. For many German and central eastern Europeans, poppy seeds are a symbol of wealth, the tiny seeds representing coins. They figure prominently at Christmas and New Year’s, expressing hoped-for prosperity in the coming year.

Poppy seed cultivation dates back to 1400 BC. Early Egyptians pressed the seed into cooking oil whereas the the ancient Romans mixed them with wine and honey for Olympic athletes or home use. It should be made clear though, that this spice is not narcotic because opium is found in the pod and not in the seed itself. The dried pod loses any of it’s opiate properties long before the seeds are harvested.

‘Mohn Kaffee Rolle’  is considered a nostalgic German Christmas pastry much like Stollen is. One thing for certain, in keeping with true European tradition, poppy seed is added in such large quantities that the dough sometimes looks black.

When I recall my mother’s poppy seed roll, it was never dry. It seemed like a vanilla custard with ‘wall to wall’ poppy seeds in it. There were numerous recipes in her file — cake, roll, twists, cookies, strudel, pudding — everything and anything  poppy seed!  This recipe seems unique in that it uses a  ‘Zwillingsteig’  (zwilling=twin, teig=dough) dough, a rich, moist dough used in the past when making cakes with fresh fruit. The dough is a combination of yeasted  and shortcrust dough kneaded together. It seems a little involved but is well worth it in the end. One more special ‘taste of a memory’ before the holiday season is to far behind us.

 

'Mohn Kaffee Rolle' - Poppy Seed Coffee Roll
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A unique, very tender pastry, slightly sweet with loads of poppy seeds!
Servings
24 slices
Servings
24 slices
'Mohn Kaffee Rolle' - Poppy Seed Coffee Roll
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A unique, very tender pastry, slightly sweet with loads of poppy seeds!
Servings
24 slices
Servings
24 slices
Ingredients
Shortcrust Dough
Yeast Dough
Poppy Seed Filling
Glaze
Servings: slices
Instructions
Shortcrust Dough
  1. In a bowl, place all shortcrust ingredients & quickly knead together until well combined. Shape into a disk & set aside. Dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap & refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before combining with yeast dough.
Yeast Dough
  1. In a small dish, sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water, add 1 tsp sugar stirring until dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes. Sift flour with 3 Tbsp sugar & salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender. Add lukewarm milk, egg & vanilla to yeast mixture, then gradually add to flour mixture & blend.
  2. Press dough out to about 1 inch thickness & lay disk of shortcrust on top. Knead together by hand until fully combined, about 2 minutes. Shape into a ball & place in a greased bowl. Cover with a tea towel, let raise in a warm, draft free spot for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Poppy Seed Filling
  1. Grind poppy seeds. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds, sugar, semolina & salt. Add butter & milk. Place over medium high heat; stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately & set aside to cool. When mixture is lukewarm, stir in egg, vanilla, rum & walnuts. Set aside.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When dough has risen, punch down & roll out on a lightly floured surface about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thickness.
  3. Spread with cooled poppy seed filling leaving a 1 inch border on each of the shorter ends. Brush shorter ends with egg wash. Starting from shorter end, roll dough, jelly-roll style, into a tight log. Cut into 2 loaf pan lengths.
  4. With a sharp knife, cut each log of dough in half lengthwise. Carefully twist the two pieces of dough together & place into prepared pans. Brush dough with egg wash, cover with greased plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 F. When dough has risen, brush again with egg wash & bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown. When loaves have fully cooled, whisk together powdered sugar, water & lemon zest until smooth. Brush glaze over loaves & allow to set before slicing.
Recipe Notes
  • Unless you can find freshly ground poppy seeds, it is best to buy the whole seeds, store them in the freezer and grind them right before using. Because of their high oil content, the seeds easily turn rancid.
  • Good poppy seeds smell slightly 'musty' and have a nutty flavor - not bitter or harsh.
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Thumbprint Cookies

THUMBPRINT or THIMBLE COOKIES – are such a great little cookie with so many variations that they remain among the holiday favorites. Of course it’s not hard to figure out the meaning behind their name. Similar to filled cookies, you can either fill the divot you make in them either before or after you bake them.

Here is a good example of the phrase ‘the same only different’. Four varieties of thumbprint cookies you might want to add to your office cookie exchange list, if they are not already on it.

                                       SPICED PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE * LEMON BLUEBERRY

                                                             RASPBERRY ANISE * FIG & FLAX

Thumbprint Cookies
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By Christmas cookie standards -- they are pretty healthy, right!
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Thumbprint Cookies
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By Christmas cookie standards -- they are pretty healthy, right!
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Servings
30 (each recipe)
Ingredients
Spiced Pumpkin Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies
Cream Cheese Filling
Lemon/Blueberry Thumbprint Cookies OR (Raspberry/Anise)
Fig & Flax Thumbprint Cookies
Servings: (each recipe)
Instructions
Spiced Pumpkin Cream Cheese
  1. In a medium bowl, combine butter with brown & white sugar. Add egg, pumpkin, flour, spices & salt; mixing until a thick dough forms. Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop balls (about 2 tsp size), 1-inch apart from each other. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly brown. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any of the divots if needed. Place on cooling rack.
  2. In a small bow, combine cream cheese filling ingredients, mixing well. When cookies are completely cool, spoon a small amount of filling into each of the divots. Top each with a bit of crystallized ginger.
Lemon Blueberry or Raspberry Anise Thumbprint Cookies
  1. In a medium bowl, cream butter & sugar well. Beat in egg yolks & extract. Stir in lemon zest, then fold in flour & salt until fully incorporated & a soft dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill about an hour. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in hazelnuts & place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb or a sewing thimble, make a divot in the center of each ball. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove cookies from oven; while hot, deepen any divots if needed. Place on cooling rack & cool completely before filling centers with preserves.
Fig & Flax Thumbprint Cookies
  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter & 1/4 cup brown sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add egg yolk & vanilla; beat until combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds, cream of tartar, spices & salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the batter & beat on low until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, place the egg white. In a small dish, combine 1/4 remaining brown sugar with 1/4 ground flax seeds. Roll slightly rounded teaspoons of dough into balls. Dip one ball at a time into the egg white & then roll in the sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet; press divots in each ball. Bake about 15-17 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove from oven; check if divots need to be deepened. Place on cooling rack & cool completely.
Recipe Notes
  • With the Blueberry, Raspberry & Fig recipes, you can bake the cookies for about 15 minutes then add the preserves & bake another 3-4 minutes. I find it easier to store or freeze the cookies if I put the preserve in at serving time -- personal preference only.
  • I rolled my spiced pumpkin cookies in gingersnap crumbs just for a little added flavor.
  • Apricot preserves are another good choice for the flax thumbprints and probably easier to find depending where you live.
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Vanillekipferl – Gevulde Speculaas

I’ve always enjoyed food history and recreating memories from the past through cooking and baking. I had never realized how much my mother’s cooking was influenced by our German heritage. I guess as one gets older, things that were taken for granted now take on a whole new meaning. Today’s blog features a couple of those very special European treats. 

VANILLEKIPFERL or Vanilla Almond Crescent Cookies  –  Although this little crescent cookie originated in Austria, it has become very traditional in Germany. ‘Vanillin’ became very popular in the early 20th century, after artificial vanilla flavoring was invented. I’ve noticed there are numerous recipes that call for egg yolks in them. My personal preference is to make them without – just a few less calories. ‘Vanilla Sugar’  which is used in many German baked goods can be either bought in the Dr Oetker  brand or you can easily make it yourself. If you like the flavor of anise, you may want to try adding some anise seed to the cookie dough and when baked, dust these with  ‘Anise Sugar’.

GEVULDE SPECULAAS  or Spiced Cookies (Squares) Filled with Almond Paste  –  You’re right, this is very much a Dutch specialty. Some years ago I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the presence of a Dutch baker.  Among the many things I learned at that Dutch bakery was their love of almonds and those unique speculaas spices. In the mid 18th century, the recipe for ‘Spekulatius’  made its way to Germany from Holland and has become another traditional favorite. The origin of the cookie’s name may have derived from the Latin word ‘Spekulum’, signifying ‘mirror image’, which alludes to the wooden mold whose mirror image appears on the cookie. Since I became ‘hooked’ on that ‘speculaas spice’ combination, I like to make a small  pan of these very rich  and wonderful tasting goodies each Christmas. 

Vanillekipferl / Gevulde Speculaas
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Servings
48
Servings
48
Vanillekipferl / Gevulde Speculaas
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Servings
48
Servings
48
Ingredients
Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Almond Crescent Cookies)
Gevulde Speculaas (Spiced Squares filled with Almond Paste)
Speculaas Spice (about 3 Tbsp)
Servings:
Instructions
Vanillekipferl
  1. In a food processor, place flour & butter & pulse to combine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Place mixture in a large bowl. Add ground almonds, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 pkg vanilla sugar, salt & extract. Knead dough with your hands in bowl until it comes together, about 5 minutes. Divide dough into four equal pieces, shaping each into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap place in a sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove one ball at a time from refrigerator. Roll into a rope 12 inches in length. Cut into 12 even pieces, rolling each with the palm of your hands to a 3-inch length. Form into a crescent shape & place 2 inches apart on baking sheet. When you have filled the baking sheet, bake for about 12 minutes, just until tips of crescents turn a light golden brown. Using another COLD baking sheet repeat with remaining dough.
  3. Allow cookies to rest on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup powdered sugar remaining package of vanilla sugar. Carefully coat warm cookies in sugar mixture; place on a wire rack to finish cooling. Allow to sit out overnight then transfer to an airtight container for storing or freezing.
Gevulde Speculaas
  1. In a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt & spices. Add chunks of cold butter & pulse into a smooth dough (you can do this by hand if you prefer). If the dough is too dry. you can add a little milk. Wrap dough in plastic wrap & place in refrigerator for 2 hours or up to 2 days.
  2. Either grease or line a 8 x 8" baking dish with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 F. Divide dough into 2 portions. Roll out each portion on a lightly floured surface, until they are exactly as big as baking pan. Put one layer in pan & press lightly to fill the bottom. Lightly beat egg with a teaspoon of cold water. Spread 1/3 of egg over dough in pan.
  3. Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of plastic wrap, until it is exactly the size of pan. Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and spread the next 1/3 of egg over it. Place the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, making it as smooth as possible. Spread the last 1/3 of the egg wash over dough. Decorate the pastry with the almonds.
  4. Bake about 40 minutes or until they test done. Allow speculaas to cool completely in the pan, then cut into the portion size you prefer.
Recipe Notes
  • If you would like to make the 'Anise Seed Crescent Cookies' instead of the Vanilla Almond version, use vanilla extract instead of almond & add 1 Tbsp of crushed anise seed to the batter. For the 'Anise Sugar', blend (at a high speed), 1 Tbsp aniseed with 1 cup of granulated sugar until it makes a powder.
  • Although Gevulde Speculaas are at their best when fresh, I have never heard any complaints after they have been frozen. I always make sure they are wrapped in an airtight way before freezing.
  • In regards to the 'speculaas spice', I like to make extra so I can use it in anything you would normally use apple or pumpkin pie spice in. 
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