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lavender chicken breasts in Champagne sauce ~ with mushrooms

Time’s a wasting! Let me cut right to the chase. Would you like to put on the table a dinner that makes you feel like you just came out of Cordon Bleu with your own chef’s cap and apron? Would you like to set down a plate in front of someone you love with a proud little smirk on your face? Would you like to feel accomplished and loving all with one gorgeous dinner? You’ve got this one in the bag!

I want so badly to describe to you how lovely this dish is! Let me try, while the taste still lingers on my tongue. I’ve discovered that there’s something inexplicable about lavender in one’s mouth. In the right proportions, it’s neither a scent nor a taste, but somewhere smack dab in between the two. As my sweet husband and I sat eating our dinner tonight I was (so sorry honey) distracted trying to identify just where the lavender touched – and it was, honest to goodness, top of the palate where it borders the nose. Ok, you don’t care about that, and why should you?

This is what you want to know:

Lavender chicken in champagne sauce is one of the most exquisitely delicious chicken dishes I’ve ever prepared. I’ve made it several times now, and each time, the same. I can hardly stop sighing. And for a romantic dinner for two that’s an especially nice thing.

Lavender Chicken Breasts

in Champagne Sauce with Mushrooms

serves 6

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary Provence lavender buds, finely ground in a spice grinder (see NOTE)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups thinly sliced small brown mushrooms
  • ½ cup minced shallots
  • ½ cup Champagne
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 1 Tablespoon concentrated chicken stock – optional (also known as Glace de Poulet GoldBetter than Boullon is one brand)
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • Fresh thyme sprigs or lavender sprigs (optional)

NOTE on lavender: For culinary lavender, one good source (if you don’t find in the bulk tea section of your market, is Amazon.

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the lemon juice, thyme and lavender. Let marinate for 20 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Brush the dust from the mushrooms and slice thinly. Dice the shallots. Set aside.

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, place the oil and 4 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter has melted, add the chicken breasts and brown on each side, about 7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Read more

awards & recommendations

On Christmas night, just as I was about to turn out the lights on the tree and head upstairs to bed, I went to tuck my computer to sleep. I didn’t realize it but I was about to open the final gift of the day. A comment had come through that Ronnie Hammer at Morristownmemos had nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you so much, Ronnie. Such an honor!

Ronnie herself was nominated. She writes of the everyday from a light-hearted and positive perspective, often with gentle humor. It’s been a pleasure getting to “know” her through her writing.

Complying with the rules of the award (that I’ve lazily copied from Ronnie’s site) – I have a few of my own nominations to make, some thank you’s to write and a few questions to answer. Forthwith – (do people still talk like that?)

Here are the rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:

1. In a post on your, blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

~ ~ ~

Some of those I’m about to nominate have been nominated previously – some likely more than once – I hope they’ll forgive me for calling them out again. They’re too delightful for me not to mention. I’m fairly new in the blogosphere (only since April) and my feet feel just barely wet. I confess to not having a full 15 to nominate. (That’s got to be at least a 15-yard penalty!) Apologies made, let me now sing out (in no particular order) :

Lesley Treloar of Photo Journeys  – her photo work is simply exquisite, often exotic, and evocative. And Lesley travels the world, lucky for us!

Tanya at Chica Andaluza – witty, charming, endlessly creative!

Chicago John over at Bartolini Kitchens  – delightful, delicious, family stories and recipes to go along!

Greg & Katherine of Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide – Greg (I’m quite sure) was the very first person outside my own circle to comment on a post I’d written. The team of them are prolific to say the least, and funny! Quick and uncomplicated recipes (for both food and spirits.)

Tinkerbelle, often hilarious, sometimes “shocking” – such fun reading.

Barbara (Smidge) over at Just a Smidgen – the epitome of versatility – cook, writer-poet, cellist, artist, humorist, and she takes some lovely photos. Hers is always a delight to read.

Roger of Camerahols/Food, Photography & France – extraordinary photography, both of food and the French countryside where he and his wife reside. Witty, intelligent writing. A Joy.

Natalie of Cook, Eat, Live Vegetarian – inspired recipes, lovely photography. (Natalie, like Tanya of Chica Andaluza, lives in Spain – considered the new center of the culinary world.) Her recipes are wonderful.

City, Hippy Farmgirl –  Fun, witty, clever, food & tales & photos worthy of your time!

In need of no call-outs from me, Brian of  The Blue Hour – lovely photography, sometimes hauntingly beautiful, stirs the imagination.

Savory Simple, gorgeous recipes from a professionally trained chef and gorgeous photos to match.

~ ~ ~

I think that concludes the list for the time-being. These are blogs I regularly follow and love. I’m sure my list of recommendations will grow as my horizons daily widen. There are other blogs I follow, some that I am enormously enriched, inspired and sometimes deeply touched by. For the purpose of this particular “assignment” though, I’m recommending blogs that are largely either food-  or photography-centric. And one that just makes me laugh. I thank them all for the lovely reads and the many eyefuls of beauty!

Seven random things about me? Seriously?

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smokin’ hoppin’ john

From down south in New Orleans there comes a Cajun dish of black-eyed peas and rice, traditionally served on New Year’s Day. Hoppin’ John they call it. Eaten on the first day of the new year, it’s purported to bring good luck for the remainder. I figure when something tastes this good, it’s bound to be lucky! Most often made with ham and bones, this is a vegetarian version – don’t be dissuaded you meat-eaters – it’s brimming with smoky flavor from smoked paprika and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  (Now you see where the smokin‘ comes from.)

If you use frozen black-eyed peas and white rice, you could assemble this in well under an hour. And is it ever affordable! (With money saved….here I go with the pitch again…you could donate to a local food bank or shelter and help another eat well. That just may be doubly lucky.)

Smokin’ Hoppin’ John

makes 4 very generous servings

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup uncooked medium- or long- grain rice (brown or white)
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1½ cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, cooked and drained – or use a 20 oz. bag of frozen black-eyed peas for immediate use (see NOTE)
  • 2 – 3 cups vegetable both (or, if you prefer, chicken broth)
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1 t. salt

Optional Garnishes:

  • chopped green onions
  • grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • chopped fresh parsley
  • shredded cheddar
  • hot sauce (especially Cholula chipotle-style)

Soak black-eyed peas overnight.  Cover with water to level 2 inches above beans.  Gently simmer until done.  Drain and set aside. (If using frozen beans, simply proceed to the next step.)

NOTE: on the black-eyed peas. I have a preference for beans I cook myself. They hold together better, have just the perfect “doneness” and I think a bit more flavor. HOWEVER, frozen black-eyed peas make a totally acceptable alternative to cooking the long way and I wouldn’t hesitate to go that route if at all pressed for time.

Over medium heat, warm the oil in a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is softened and sweaty, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and rice and stir well.  Allow rice to toast for 1 minute.  Add the smoked paprika and 1 teaspoon salt and stir to coat the mixture well. Read more

German apple pancake

No food tradition in our family is longer-lived than the German apple pancake. So central a family holiday tradition, so beloved, for years it even served as the “secret password” between my daughters and me. We never needed to use it, but it was comforting knowing it was there. ; )

Every Christmas morning for our children’s lives our house would fill with the sweet perfume of cinnamon and nutmeg and caramelizing apples. Every Christmas morning, the girls’ eyes, and later on, the boy’s, would pop at the big puff of a pancake as it came from the oven. (It’s a bit of a wonderment really.) From the oven, I’d slip it onto a warm platter and then –  into the golden heart of it a steaming skillet-ful of glistening caramelized apples would tumble. I think it’s become impossible for any of us now to separate Christmas morning from the pancake.

As true as that is, we enjoy this special breakfast too much to relegate it to one morning a year. It manages to show up at birthday breakfast tables by request, and occasionally it appears just because  someone’s in need of a little extra lovin’ or an atta-boy or -girl! This year we’ll bring it the New Year’s table too. It’s how our family celebrates with breakfast.

So disappointed I forgot to include the cranberries for this one – it’s positively beautiful with them.

German Apple Pancake

serves 6 to 8 

the pancake:

  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour (3¾ oz. – 105 g.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1½ Tablespoons butter

the apples:

  • 1½ pounds apples (up to 2 pounds will work) – Granny Smith are a good choice
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (either new or freshly grated is best)
  • ½ cranberries (optional)

the sprinkling of snow:

  • powdered sugar

Place an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Into a blender (or food processor) break 3 eggs. Add milk and vanilla, and process for about 30 seconds. Add the flour, salt and sugar and process until lumps are gone, about 15 seconds. (Don’t overmix.) Allow to “bloom” – for flour to absorb the liquids completely – at least 15 minutes, and as long as overnight. Briefly mix again before pouring in the pan.

With oven at 500°F, melt 1½ Tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat- cast iron works very well for this. When the butter has turned to foam, swirl it around the bottom of the pan, and slightly up the sides. Pour in the pancake batter and place the pan in the oven. Promptly lower the heat to 425°F. Cook for 10 minutes at this setting, and then lower the heat to 350°F and cook for about 15 minutes longer. (If during the initial stages of the baking, the center of the pancakes bubbles up and forms a little mountain, pierce it with a long handled fork. No worries if it doesn’t completely flatten though because the apples will take care of most of that.) Like magic, the sides of the pancake will rise up and form a bowl.  Read more

remnants of Christmas past ~ and chocolate lavender brownies

When I wrote my last post, I hadn’t really intended that it be my farewell until after the holiday was over. But big family came to stay with us, and even though I had a picture of what that might look like, my picture was a bit off. What we had for a week was a joyous, raucous house.

My office becomes a bedroom for a little one, a diaper-changing station, and the floor a stage for exploding overflowing suitcases! We lose heat to that part of the house while they’re here and no one will come to fix it, so space heaters, extra quilts and comforters clutter the bedrooms. Teeth chatter as little ones climb under a mountain of covers to get warm for the night. Our favorite dog in the world (along with our own), a blind yellow lab, manages to maneuver his way around toys, Christmas trees and moving furniture with only a few mishaps as we call out over here buddy to help him when he’s lost his way. Five little children cousins run crazy with joy at seeing each other again, and stage parades complete with instruments and frequent costume changes. Their delight at life is completely infectious! Their brilliant imaginations, their adaptability to changing circumstances, their ease at living in the moment is a reminder. We make a mistake when our expectations are too finely detailed, too perfectly colored in. We do best to take the lovely surprises as they come and revel in messy mayhem and laughter. All too soon a pale quiet will descend. Order will return. And our hearts will ache a bit from the missing of them and all the Life they breathe.

~ ~ ~

Undoubtedly I have some catching up to do, but I’m excited to begin it. First off, I want to share with you a brownie, densely dark and aromatic, the very kind of brownie that could drive sane people mad. I’m quite sure it’s my very favorite brownie ever and it was the genesis for a gift.

For the last several years one of my presents to my daughters is a box of goodies organized around a theme. Last year it was vanilla and chocolate. This year, lavender.

The recipe for this exquisite chocolate mouthful comes from the cookbook (above) by Chef Sharon Shipley. It’s a fairly new book to me and already I’m buying it for others. (That, if you didn’t guess, is a bonafide endorsement!) Based on several other recipes from the book, tried and loved, I was game to try a lavender brownie of hers though I couldn’t quite taste it in my mind.

I assure you, this isn’t a nose full of lavender. It doesn’t taste anything like rolling down a lavender hillside in Provence (though I’d love to try that, just to be sure.) You won’t know lavender’s in it – you’ll just know there’s something quite extraordinary, unidentifiable, about this brownie…and you’ll keep trying to figure out what as you reach again for another…or so.

Chocolate Lavender Brownies

(makes 24 brownies)

  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary Provence lavender buds (see NOTE)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cups plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (see NOTE)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon instant espresso powder (or instant coffee powder)
  • ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Place the lavender in a spice grinder with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Pulse until the lavender is finely ground. Transfer every last delicious dusty bit of it to a large bowl. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and espresso or coffee powder, along with the remaining sugar. Mix well.

Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high power for 1 minute at a time until melted. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Stir in the nuts (if using).

Pour the brownie batter into a prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool and cut into 24 brownies.

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I take a break today from the extraordinary messes I make when I cook and take pictures of my food. Someday I may share photos of the paths of my destruction. It’s good for a laugh. But not today. Today, let me just wish you, in this season of lights, all good things.

~ ~ ~

May you come in out of the cold…

…may you be warmed and may you be fed…

…may you hold some dear one close…

…may you paint your toenails red…

…may you see art where you had not…

…may you know wonder…

…and may you share it…

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Fiesta Rice & Black Bean Salad

We pick up the series on Rice & Beans with Installment #6. (The series offers one idea on how we can help feed the hungry. If you’d like background, please see the NOTE at the bottom of this post.)

You know how in the dead of winter, when your bones are cold and your lips are chapped and you’re wearing your socks to bed, you long for something warm in your belly? Soups, stews, chilies, or maybe for you it’s a hearty roast and potatoes.

Does it ever happen for you in the dead of winter when your bones are cold that you long instead for something that smacks of warm summer days, open windows, t-shirts and flip flops?  Something on your plate that reminds you there IS a sun, and it’s on its way around again. Sometimes we just need a reminder that winter doesn’t last forever. And if you’re in need of such a reminder, and wanting the feel and taste of summer in your mouth again, this may be just what you’re in need of. I’ve posted lots of soups and stews in this series. Time to shake it up a bit. Time for a party of a salad.

This is a meal easily put together. The ingredients can be picked up at just about any market, any time of year. Not a thing to cook but rice. Open a can of beans and a bag of frozen corn, do a little chopping & tossing. Whir up a little dressing. There’s no meat, but plenty of lean protein from the rice and beans. With its tasty guacamole dressing, its a fresh sort of delicious. It’s light-tasting but satisfyingly filling. It’s a bite from a place where the sun always shines.

Fiesta Rice & Black Bean Salad

salad ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked rice (your choice of white or brown)
  • 1 – 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup thawed frozen corn
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 green onions sliced
  • ¼ cup plus cilantro
  • 2 large or 3 medium jalapeño peppers, seeded, de-ribbed, and minced

the dressing

  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • 4 green onions roughly chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon (to 2) fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

To serve:

  • leaf lettuce
  • tortilla chips
  • wedges of lime

Cook the rice and allow to come to room temperature. Add the black beans, corn, about ¾ of the chopped red pepper, 8 green onions sliced, ¼ cup chopped cilantro and the diced  jalapeños. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together and chill.

Prepare the dressing:

Into the jar of a blender put the minced garlic, 1 avocado in chunks, the remaining 4 green onions coarsely chopped, the yogurt, remaining 2 Tablespoons cilantro, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cumin. Process until smooth. Taste for salt and lemon, adding more as necessary.

Toss the rice and beans with the dressing and chill. Before serving cut the avocado in ¾-inch pieces and gently toss together with the rest of the salad. Place lettuce leaves on plates or large salad bowls, top with fiesta salad, scatter the last bit of red pepper over top and serve with tortilla chips and wedges of lime.

~ ~ ~

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our last days in Sedona

Coming into Sedona, you don’t miss it. This place announces itself without an ounce of self-consciousness. It’s riotous, full of absolutely everything southwest and some that tries hard to be. It wasn’t until close to the end of our trip that we actually stopped in. Funky, up-beat singing-out-loud music, room after room of color explosions, statuary, pottery, icons, spices, ornaments, jewelry, chilies and garlic braids hanging from rafters, cactus (living and make-believe), cow skulls, every sort of kitsch and wanne-be art, and some really cool stuff. We didn’t buy a thing. We had such fun!

~ ~ ~

Changing gears completely (and thankful we had an hour or so to do it in) we visited Montezuma’s Castle.  The site was inappropriately named because it had absolutely nothing to do with Montezuma – but the namers were rather clueless on that point. It was inhabited by people commonly referred to as the Sinagua between 1100 and 1400 c.a. Then, like so many of the settlements (now ruins) in this part of the world, it was mysteriously evacuated.

One wonders why. It sat in such an idyllic setting. A lovely little valley, treed, alongside a gently rolling river. Crops of corn and cotton were planted on the valley floor. The adobe-bricked buildings, most of them perched high up and inside the cliffs, faced south to take advantage of the solar warmth in winter, while being shaded from the searing heat of summer. It was a spot well-chosen.

We saw beehives, laden with sweet honey, perched inside openings in the cliff.

Swallow nests lined the ceilings.

You could picture them living here. You could almost hear their echoing voices.

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Smoky corn & sweet potato chowder

We woke in the dark, piled on layers of clothes and loaded cameras in the car. We gassed up and fearlessly set out in the sub-arctic temperatures of sunny Arizona, our hearts tilting toward Grand Canyon. Because it was dark and there was little else to look at, I became fascinated with the external temperature indicator on the dash. We left Sedona at 22°F. We climbed higher, through Oak Creek Canyon in the blue black frigid darkness and the temperature kept dropping. I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the numbers on the dash. 15°, 9°, 0°. Past Flagstaff, we changed directions, I think we were heading north, but I know we were heading colder. Somewhere up there on this wide white expanse, the temperature dropped to -15°. That’s 15°  below ZERO! I texted the proof back home.

I try not to get too terribly excited when my husband’s driving, but I was shrieking in my own head – I’d never been in a place this cold before, “I” was breaking records here! He (the rational one who considers our safety) thought of turning around and heading back. What if we stopped the car and it wouldn’t start again? Then where would we be? Me (the fool, who thrills to adventure) thought this was really cool! Happily, the fool prevailed – we drove on.

In another hour or so, we arrived. The brilliant sun shone. Long icicles dripped crystal drops. Blue-black ravens made their cracking sounds high in the branches above us.

Bundled tight, we ran for the edge to see to the bottom. It was dizzying, glorious!

We snapped our dozens of photos including one of our own long shadows holding hands. Then we headed for the warmth of the lodge, with its rockers on the porch, its grand-scale stone fireplace, and the soup we remembered from the last time we were here.

Last time, I’d even begged for the recipe for that soup. And they gave it to me!

We kept flipping the menu over, front to back, and back to front again, sure we’d missed the soup somehow. It wasn’t there.

We asked our server and were told that another restaurant in the canyon serves it regularly and that it only makes its way up to the big lodge on occasion. This was not to be such an occasion. There was no soup for us that day.

Did it dim our enthusiasm? Not one bit.

~ ~ ~

But with corn chowder still on my mind when we returned home, I had to make a pot. This pot though varies hugely from the one we’d eaten at the canyon. That one used a half gallon of cream. I kid you not. A half gallon! Granted it fed quite a few people, but there was just no way I could bring myself to do it.

I’m pointing no fingers, but I’ve noticed we’re all eating quite well this time of year. Sneaking cookies and egg nog, seconds on gravy and mashed potatoes. But here’s an offering that’s very low fat, creamy with no cream, sweet with no sugar, colorful with no candied sprinkles. What’s more, it’s inexpensive and easy to prepare.  Here’s how:


Smoky Corn & Sweet Potato Chowder

(about 6 good servings)

1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped  (2 cups)

4 cloves garlic, minced

one 3- to 3½-inch jalapeno pepper, finely diced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1½ teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)

1 Tablespoon cumin seed, dry roasted & then ground (or 4 teaspoons ground cumin)

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¾ teaspoon liquid smoke

6 cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock

2 medium-large sweet potatoes, in ½-inch cubes

6 cups frozen corn (3- 10 oz.bags)

1 large red bell pepper, medium-diced



  • corn tortillas – sliced in ¼-inch slices, fried until crispy in small amount of olive oil
  • finely diced red onion
  • finely diced red pepper
  • small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped


Roast the cumin seed in a dry skillet, medium-low heat until its begun to brown and its aroma is rising. Grind using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. (Alternately use ground cumin. But the flavor of toasted cumin is wonderful and worth the extra step.)

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a Christmas bread – Panettone

I caught a little flack from family for sharing the caramel corn. Some thought (kiddingly I’m sure) that it ought to be “sacred,” a family secret, vaulted away. These are NOT stingy people! They’re tremendously generous. Their hearts are huge. But they did have serious qualms about my going public with Ruthie’s caramel corn.

And yet…I’m here to share. So while I’m at it (and already in questionable standing with the family)… here comes another recipe from our holiday house to yours.

This bread is so deliciously fragrant! It’s a soft loaf, delicately but surely flavored with anise, slightly sweet and full of colorful dried fruit. It’s the traditional loaf on Italian tables for Christmas and New Years and has been a tradition in our non-Italian family since I was a kid and our mom first learned to bake homemade bread.  You can eat it with just a creamy smear of sweet butter or – as we do – toasted, with its fragrance roused to life again. We’ll have it for breakfast along with our scrambled eggs and fresh-squeezed juice.

I’ve suggested certain fruits to go inside, but really the choice is entirely yours. Mom used to make it with those candied fruits and peels (which, as a kid, I detested and had to go to a lot of trouble to pick out so I could get to the truly good stuff.) I’m saving you the trouble. Use whatever dried fruits you like…cherries, apricots, golden or dark raisins, cranberries or candied citrus rinds or softer nuts like walnuts or pecans. Traditionally, it’s one half raisins and one half other mixed fruits, but you can do all raisins if you like, or none at all. Be sure though not to skimp on the anise (neither the extract nor the seeds) because that’s where all the heady perfume comes from! Can you stand being adored? Then you will be so glad you made this bread!

Panettone – Christmas Bread

  • 2 Tablespoons yeast (or two packets)
  • ¼ cup lukewarm water (100-110°F)
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ teaspoon anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons crushed anise seed
  • 6 to 6½ cups all-purpose flour or bread flour  (total weight 30 ounces – or 1 pound, 14 ounces)
  • 2 cups dried fruit (1 cup golden or dark raisins plus 1 cup total of a variety – dried cherries, dried apricots, cranberries, dried pineapple, candied citrus rinds or soft nuts like walnuts or pecans)

My personal choice – 1 cup raisins (¾ golden, ¼ dark), and 1 cup equally divided between apricots, tart cherries and dried bing cherries. If I had on hand a bit of candied orange rind, I’d add it too, but I don’t always.

Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water. (Don’t exceed 115°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, the elbow is a good indicator of the right temp. It’s baby bathwater warm.) Set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and salt in a medium size bowl and pour boiling water over top. Stir to melt and dissolve, then set aside to cool. (Again, no warmer than luke warm.) Once it’s cooled, add the eggs, anise extract and crushed anise seeds. (You can use mortar and pestle to crush…they don’t need to be ground.) If you’ve got a stand mixer than can knead your bread for you, hooray! Transfer these wet ingredients to the bowl of your mixer.

Measure out 6 cups of flour. Have another ½ cup standing by in case you need it. Gradually add the flour to the liquid and knead with dough hook attachment for about 7 or 8 minutes (or longer if required to achieve proper consistency.) You’re looking for most of the dough to be pulled away from the sides of the bowl. When you press the dough with a finger, the dough bounces back at you. And when you lightly squeeze it between your fingers, it almost wants to stick but you’re able to ply your fingers from it without taking dough with. The surface is smooth and baby’s bottom soft.

Lightly butter the inside of a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball, place inside the bowl, and roll around the sides of the bowl to very lightly coat with butter. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 hour. (My preferred place is inside a cold oven. I place another bowl inside the oven filled with hot water. It creates just the right environment, rising the dough but not too quickly. It should be doubled in about 1 hour.)

 While the dough is rising, place the raisins in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes and plump up a bit. Drain them in a collander and then place them on a clean towel, patting to dry.

Cut the fruits into approximately raisin-size pieces.  Mix all the fruits together.

Once dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap, and with your fist, deflate the mound. One gentle punch or two will do.

Lay the dough out fairly flat; pile the fruits on top. Roll the dough around the fruit and gently knead, incorporating the fruit. Gather into a rough ball, then tuck the sides of the dough under until you’ve again achieved a smooth, round ball. Place it back inside the bowl to rise as before, a second time. Allow to rise until double, about an hour or so. (This may take a bit longer with the heavy fruit now inside.)

Once doubled the 2nd time, split dough in two fairly equal pieces. Allow to rest for 5 minutes under a towel. 

Forming the Loaves:  The object is to stretch the top, tucking the sides down and to the bottom of the loaf. Do this with the dough held in both hands, thumbs more or less on top, your other fingers continually curving over the sides, tucking the sides down and under. If that’s something you don’t feel confident about, not to worry. However you make a round loaf will be good. Put each loaf onto its own baking sheet or into individual cake pans. (You’ll want to put them side by side in the oven. If you put them both on the same baking sheet, they could rise to meet each other and meld their sides together. That wouldn’t be a catastrophe but you’ll be happier if they don’t.)

15 minutes before you expect the loaves to be ready for baking, place a rack 1/3 up from the bottom of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush the loaves gently with melted butter using a pastry brush.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes. If they begin to brown too much, lay a large paper grocery bag over the top toward the end. (Don’t worry, it won’t catch fire.) Or use aluminum foil if you’re leery.

Remove loaves from oven; cool completely on a rack before cutting. This bread keeps well for days, if wrapped tightly. Or bake ahead and freeze (double-bagged) for weeks or longer. Be sure to bring out before the holiday!

~ ~ ~

Tomorrow, continuing to be inspired by our travels to the southwest,

I’ll share yet another recipe with corn as the centerpiece

and some more photos from our trip.