The Joy of Holiday Giving

The Joy of Holiday Giving

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When the days grow short and cold, my thoughts turn to baking. A warm blast from a hot oven on a chilly winter night, even better if it carries the aroma of baking cookies, is enough to make even Scrooge smile. And nothing fills a wintry home with more cheer than the clatter of a busy kitchen. Did I mention the smells that waft throughout the home? Maybe this is part of why I bake so much when it’s cold and dark. Another part is the lovely tradition I grew up with of bringing Christmas baskets with homemade foods to friends, neighbors, and relatives.

My mother was the driving force. From an early age she’d been creative, starting at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, where she joined a social club called MyPhidias. The group remained friends until my mother was well into her 70s. They were the most artistic group of gals I knew. They did toile painting, made theatrical backdrops, choreographed entertainment, and created all kinds of handmade cards, tags, and preserves that they sold at holiday bazaars.

This creative streak made its way into our Christmas baskets. Starting with jam, which we made all summer. We bought freshly picked strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries from local farm stands and made freezer jam, the favorite in our house because of its brighter color and fresh-fruit flavor. We certainly ate our supplies down throughout the year, but always saved plenty to give away.

Just after Thanksgiving we started baking holiday cookies—lefse, fried rosette cookies, and many other family favorites, all in preparation for our holiday baskets. We had boxes lined with paper towels for the rosette cookies and tins–o-plenty for all the other cookies. When it came time to assemble everything my mother lined the baskets with colorful tissue paper, arranged the cookies and jars of jam and wrapped the basket in clear cellophane with a wire edged ribbon. They were beautiful.

I have carried on this tradition of making jams from local berries, plum bbq sauce, plum & quince paste (see our blog and video for plum paste), roasted tomato sauce, and holiday cookies (see our blog and video for holiday cookies)—both old family favorites and many new recipes I’ve discovered. This year I even made bitters. When the time comes, I buy a bunch of baskets and fill them with my handmade treasures, much as my mother did. The baskets are synonymous in my heart with festivity, giving, and joy. They are also the perfect antidote to the gloomy weather we get this time of year, both in the making and the giving. Delivering them to friends and seeing the smiles on their faces brings me such happiness. To me, this “giving from your heart” is the true spirit of Christmas.

If your life has just been too crazy to make any of your traditional specialties, Macrina does have a selection of artisanal handmade delicacies, both savory and sweet. We make many of them, but we’ve also curated a few of our favorite local artisanal products, such as Ayako and Family Jam. Drop by one of our cafés and we can help you put together a gift basket.

Leslie

Macrina Pumpkin Pie: From Seed to Table

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Little is more satisfying than cooking from my garden’s bounty. It represents months of work and patience. Every vegetable started as a seed I planted, nurtured and harvested. And while the process is on a much larger scale at Macrina, it is still just as fulfilling. Yesterday, the first crates of butternut squash (more on this secret later) were delivered for our Thanksgiving pies. I didn’t grow them myself, but I worked with local grower extraordinaire Oxbow Farm in selecting the seeds and establishing the quantities we’d need.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Oxbow Farm gets their seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s has been around since 1972, is 100% employee owned and does not use genetically engineered plants or seeds. Our squash began with a hybrid seed called Metro PMR. It has superior flavor, resists powdery mildew and matures relatively quickly. Butternut is a moschata species of squash, which can be hard to ripen in our region’s limited growing season.

Butternut squash plants are tender, and their seedlings are especially susceptible to frost damage. Before planting growers have to wait until the soil is warm and the danger of a cold snap has passed. In the Pacific Northwest this means no earlier than May. The growers at Oxbow sow the seeds in a large protected hothouse to give them a head start. Because the seeds sprout quickly and are susceptible to becoming root bound, this can’t be done too early. Once they reach transplant size in the nursery there is quite a scramble to get so many tender plants out to the fields with enough time remaining for them to mature before the first fall frost.

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Like zucchini, the butternut squash plant sends off several vines as it grows, some as long as 15 feet. Lots of work is required to keep the plants weed and bug-free. After flowering, two or three young squash will grow off each vine. Green at first, tan vertical stripes emerge as the squash ripens. Eventually the green fades and is replaced by the matte tawny color of the mature fruit.

Depending on the weather during the growing season, the squash are harvested anywhere from mid-September through mid-October. This year, at Oxbow, the butternut were ready later than the other varieties of winter squash. The crew at Oxbow harvested them all in mid-October.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

More than six months after choosing the seeds it was a joy to hold the ripe squash. Each is unblemished and heavy in the hand. Cutting one open, I found the orange flesh inside creamy and sweet. Perfect for pie.

Butternut squash are the not-so-secret ingredient in our pumpkin pies. Simply put, the pies made with roast butternut squash won our taste test. They had more flavor than those made with only pie pumpkins. While our pumpkin pies are predominantly made with butternut squash, we do add a bit of pumpkin.

To make our pie, we cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and roast them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once the roasted squash cools, the skin peels off easily. Roasting them concentrates the natural sugars, and they puree beautifully. With the butternut squash we found we needed both less sugar and less cream in our recipe to create the perfect texture and taste for our pie.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

The week of Thanksgiving is when our bakery floor gets truly insane. We start by roasting the squash and the pie shells. Then the filled pies shuffle in and out of our ovens. At the cafés, managers and crew pull together the long list of pre-orders that customers have placed throughout the month. Thanksgiving Eve managers and crew are usually at the cafés by 3 a.m. to be sure every order is ready to go, as well as plenty of extra stock on the shelves to accommodate last minute shoppers.

And when it’s all done we do the same thing you do. We gather with our families and friends for a feast. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love every part of it: decorating the house, setting the table beautifully, organizing the beverages, and—the best part—cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. Because there are so many dishes to prepare and only so much time, I always rely on Macrina Stuffing Mix, a selection of bread and rolls, crostini and a few of the appetizer spreads, and, of course, our pies. The pumpkin pie is my all-time favorite. The sweetness of Oxbow’s roasted squash with brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice and ginger is perfect with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 21st.

Leslie

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Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center cultivates 30 acres of vegetables, tree fruit, and berries on the banks of an oxbow lake in the lower Snoqualmie Valley. We have been growing food for our customers for 16 years. Our produce is available throughout the greater Seattle area at independent grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Panettone

panettone smallThere is hardly a more Italian way of celebrating the holidays than a slice of panettone and a flute of prosecco, a December ritual in homes, cafes, and restaurants throughout Italy. This sweet toque-shaped yeast bread stuffed with raisins and candied orange and lemon peel originated in Milan. It’s often served with a sauce of zabaglione, a custardy sauce made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine, or crema di mascarpone, and accompanied with a glass of sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti. The name panettone comes from the Italian word “panetto,” a small loaf cake. The addition of the suffix “-one” makes it a large cake.

The origins of the cake date back to a type of leavened cake sweetened with honey and enjoyed by nobility during the Roman Empire. The cake makes cameo appearances in Italian paintings in the 16th century and is associated with Christmas in the 18th-century writings of Pietro Verri, who wrote an epic history of Milan.

But Panettone didn’t become a household item until 1925 when Angelo Motta, a Milanese baker, began commercial production of the bread. He’s credited with modifying the shape from a low, dense loaf to the tall, airy bread we know today. He introduced a natural leavening process, more like that used in sourdough, and allowed the bread to rise three times over 18 hours before baking. This produces the bread’s lightness and soft texture.

Motta’s bread was an enormous success and soon a competitor arose. Giacchino Alemagna created a similar bread, pricing his higher. The competition proved good for both brands, with Motta seen as the panettone of the middle-class, while Alemagna targeted those willing and able to pay premium prices. Today, the brands Motta and Alemagna dominate the market. Over 100 million panettone are produced by Italian bakeries each holiday season. Italy only has 60 million people! Even with about 10% of production bound for export that is a lot of panettone per person.

While commercial production of panettone dominates in Italy and abroad, many small bakeries (or le pasticcerie in Italy) make their traditional versions of the famous bread. Macrina’s version was inspired by a recipe in Carol Field’s wonderful book The Italian Baker. Our loaf is studded with candied citrus and dried fruits and enriched with eggs and butter. Nowadays it’s easy to find decorative paper baking molds, but I prefer to bake these loaves in clay flowerpots, which look beautiful and make great holiday gifts. The dough takes time and cannot be rushed, but it’s more than worth the wait. If you’re looking for an alternative to the version shipped over from Italy you can pick one up at any of our cafes this month, or find my recipe in the Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook. Then grab a bottle of prosecco and invite some friends over for a very Italian holiday celebration.

Happy Holidays, Leslie

The Thanksgiving Rush

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Thanksgiving is such a special time of year, a time for family and friends to come together to celebrate food. Not surprisingly, the Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest time of year for us at Macrina. Demand for our offerings has grown every year. So many customers have told me how helpful it is to get items from us—our pumpkin pie, for instance—that allows them to spend more time with family and friends, offerings they know will shine.

And isn’t it really the sides and the pie that make the Thanksgiving holiday? I enjoy a slice or two of turkey, but what I go for is the stuffing, the vegetables, the cranberries, the rolls, and at my table anyway, various crostini with interesting spreads. To this end, we make a stuffing mix that has gotten very popular. We used to sell the stuffing mix only in the cafes, making it with leftover bread. Now we bake loaves just for the stuffing mix. You can find them at many places that carry Macrina’s breads. Our crostini and spreads have also taken off, as have our dinner rolls, our Winter Pear Crown and, of course, our pies.

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Loaves of bread waiting to be prepped into our stuffing mix

We start our planning in early September when I sit down with our lead bakers, our savory department, and our retail managers. We talk about past favorites and new ideas. We test recipes. When we finally have our season’s list of offerings, we talk about logistics. This is no small challenge. Even with our fabulous space in Sodo, which once seemed so big, we are bursting at the seams. The spatial challenges and work-flow planning fall on the capable shoulders of Production Manager Jane Cho. The mixers run around the clock now, with three shifts managing dough production. On Thanksgiving eve last year they mixed nearly 20,000 pounds of dough. A seasonal crew is brought in to help with the production and packaging of the stuffing mix. Given the limited floor space, Jane maps out the production floor on charts that resemble architectural renderings.

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Loaves of Guiseppe awaiting delivery to local grocery stores.

I work with Head Baker Phong Bui on all the items, such as this year’s Porcini Roll Tray, or the Winter Pear Crown, a sweet bread spiked with black pepper. Mi Kim, our head pastry chef, stays busy prepping lots of pie shells, pies, and ingredients to be ready for the big Thanksgiving rush. She says, “Every day is a busy day for our bakers once the holiday season is here! Long days are logged from everyone when needed, and we have fun doing it!”

In our savory department, Savory General Manager Marilyn Mercer and her team, in addition to preparing items for the cafes, are busy making the spreads, including a new one, a smoked trout spread. Savory Assistant Manager Elizabeth Hall says, “It’s Scandinavian-inspired, with smoked white trout from Gerard & Dominique, a premium purveyor of smoked fish, located right here in Washington state. We blend the smoked trout with a hint of horseradish, cream cheese, scallions, parsley, chervil, and lemon.”

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Our pastry case stocked with Thanksgiving treats.

The cafes must also do lots of extra planning, upping their pars to ensure they have enough on the shelves for their customers. Crystal Kitchin, general manager of cafes, starts the month off with a two-night Thanksgiving tasting. Each member of the retail staff tastes the products and learns how different items pair so they can help guide customers. On Thanksgiving Eve the management team comes in early in the morning to put together the long list of special orders that have been placed throughout the month. Elizabeth Krhounek, general manager of the McGraw Cafe, says, “Being here at 2:30 in the morning in my pajamas to get all the orders ready is really fun, also putting on music we usually can’t listen to in the store. Last year my lead came in wearing his red onesie pajamas.”

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Crystal checking to make sure all the orders are organized for pick up.

While all the extra work provides new challenges, it’s exciting to see all the teamwork. “In production you see everyone moving fast, working their hardest, but we have fun,” Jane Cho says. “It’s exciting. And then after months of planning it’s just suddenly over and we get to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.” It really is a rush, in every sense. I love it all.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 23rd.

Leslie

Garden Pumpkin Pie Video

Last year was the first year I grew my own squash for our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. We did a taste test between canned and fresh, and surprise, fresh squash won. My favorite pumpkin variety is the New England Pie Pumpkin. You can find the seeds in many local garden stores. It’s fun planting a garden in April, nurturing it through the summer and waiting for the squash to ripen in the fall. It’s even more fun cutting that pumpkin up and turning it into pie!

The pie crust recipe I use is Flaky Pie Dough from More From Macrina cookbook. We sell this pie as well as many other Thanksgiving treats at our cafes. Do come visit and see what we’ve got cooking. Watch the video to learn how I prepare my special pumpkin pie and follow the recipe links below.

Garden Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Flaky Pie Dough Recipe

Pan de Muerto

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In Mexico, Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead, is a flavorful sweet bread traditionally baked during the weeks leading up to the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. All month leading up to the official celebration people enjoy this bread. On Dia de los Muertos, the bread is taken to the gravesite, often along with the favorite food of the deceased, and eaten there. Food is very important to the celebration, for it is thought the dead are driven back to the living by the scent of their favorite foods.

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Our Pan de Muerto is made in honor of this wonderful tradition. A soft round of sweet, yeast-risen bread with a crunchy cinnamon sugar glaze, ours is studded with fresh orange zest and spiced with orange flower water, cinnamon, cardamon, and cloves. We lay two crossed links of dough over the top to symbolize crossbones. They represent those no longer among the living. This bread, sliced and toasted for breakfast or dipped in Mexican hot chocolate as an afternoon snack is a decadent treat.

Pan de Muerto is in our cafes up through the Day of the Dead. You can also find it at Metropolitan Markets and Town and Country Markets.

Leslie

 

Challah Crowns

challah crownThroughout time people have gathered to break bread, brought together by warm loaves made from simple ingredients: flour, water, salt. Some special loaves bring people together with religious significance. Challah is just such a loaf. A traditional egg bread in the European Jewish tradition, the rich, golden loaf is similar to brioche or the Russian babka. It is typically eaten at the meal marking the beginning of the Sabbath, the day of rest. Traditionally the loaf is braided to symbolize unity. Some loaves are sprinkled with poppy seeds to symbolize manna from heaven.

At Macrina we make Challah every Friday, offering it in both plain and poppy seed. Our recipe came from our friend Andy Meltzer, a former baker at Macrina, who is currently a baking instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. He got the recipe from friends in upstate New York. Our Challah is such a favorite, I included it in the first Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook. We form ours into three braids. It bakes into quite a beautiful loaf. Our challah is a deep golden mahogany color and has a firm crust. Its soft, tight crumb pulls apart easily. Gently sweet, the bread is great toasted, turned into delicate french toast, or passed around the table with a meal.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, challah takes on extra significance when it is formed in a circle to recall the cycle of the year. For this occasion the bread is often dipped in honey to represent hopes for a sweet new year. We refer to the circular Challah we make for Rosh Hashanah as a crown. Whether challah is part of your religious tradition, or you just love sharing great food with others, come try this beautiful, symbolic loaf for yourself.

This year Rosh Hashanah starts Sunday, September 13th and ends Tuesday, September 15th.  Our three cafes will be well-stocked with challah for the duration of the holidays.

Leslie

Colomba Pasquale: A Springtime Tradition

Colomba Pasquale for EasterSo many wonderful things mark the arrival of spring: sun-drenched days, flowers in bloom, fresh produce in the market, and our favorite, Colomba Pasquale. This bread has been an Easter menu highlight for years, ushering in a new season and adorning tabletops alongside tulip-filled vases.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bakery in Italy not spilling over with freshly baked loaves of Colomba Pasquale this time of year. Hailing from the Lombardy province in Italy, “Colomba Pasquale” translates to “Easter dove.” Similar to Panettone at Christmastime, this bread is widely known in Italy as a favorite for Easter celebrations. While it’s less common in the states, our customers look forward to it each year.

Studded with candied orange peel, topped with a baked glaze of sliced almonds, and dusted with powdered sugar, our Colomba Pasquale is just as delicious fresh as it is toasted. Slices can be drizzled with honey and served with fresh fruit for a pre-Easter Egg Hunt brunch, but its also perfect with afternoon tea. Whether you’re looking for a hostess gift or just want to add some extra sweetness to these spring mornings, Colomba Pasquale is a natural.

Be sure to pre-order a loaf or two for Easter morning. Colomba Pasquale will be available in our cafés through April 12.

Valentine’s Day Brunch: Cherry Brioche French Toast

Cherry Brioche French Toast

Instead of scrambling to find a last-minute Valentine’s Day dinner reservation, whip up a delicious brunch for your Valentine – or your favorite single friends. Our Mini Cherry Brioche is only available for a limited time and it makes a wonderful French toast. Topped with warm maple syrup and rich brandy whipped cream, it’s a sweet way to start the day whether you’re happily single or blissfully coupled.

Cherry Brioche French Toast
Click here to print this recipe!

Ingredients

For the brandy whipped cream:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla

For the French toast:
5 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
*1 Mini Cherry Brioche
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

*Available in our cafés.

Serves 2

Preparing the brandy whipped cream:
In a medium bowl, place the cream, brandy, sugar and vanilla. Mix with a whisk or hand-mixer until the mixture holds its shape, about 2 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

Preparing the French toast:
1. In a medium bowl, place the eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, cream, cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk to combine. Pour custard into a shallow baking pan.

2. Cut the brioche into 1-inch thick slices. Dredge each slice in the custard, making sure all sides are evenly coated.

3. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil and butter. Lay the brioche slices in the pan and cook until both sides are golden brown.

4. Divide French toast slices among 2 plates. Serve with a drizzle of pure maple syrup and a dollop of brandy whipped cream.

12 Days of Cookies: Day 12, Ginger Molasses Cookies

Ginger Molasses Cookies

As Leslie says, ginger has a natural warming quality that’s perfect for this time of year. With its recipe closely mirroring that of gingerbread, conventional wisdom tells us that the Ginger Molasses Cookie is a miniature version of the sweet and spicy cake.

Fresh ginger and a texture that perfectly balances chewy and crisp are what make these cookies exceptionally good. Follow along with Leslie as she prepares our Ginger Molasses Cookies in this video!

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Click here to print this recipe!

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons peeled and chopped ginger
1/3 cup dark molasses
1 cup granulated sugar

Makes 16 cookies

1. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground cloves, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix with a whisk until evenly distributed and set aside.

2. Combine shortening, butter, and brown sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and pale in color. Add 1 egg and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add remaining egg and scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add ginger and molasses and mix on low speed for 1 minute. The mixture may look as if it’s separating, but have no fear. It will come together once the dry ingredients are added. Remove the bowl from the mixture and scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

3. Using a rubber spatula, fold half of the flour mixture into the dough. After the flour is fully incorporated, fold in the rest of the flour mixture and continue folding until all of the flour has been absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. At this point the dough can be formed into cookies or stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

4. Preheat oven to 325º F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and pour granulated sugar into a pie pan or shallow bowl.

5. Scoop dough out of the bowl (I like to use an ice cream scoop) and roll the dough into small balls. Toss each of the balls in granulated sugar until evenly coated, then place on a baking sheet, leaving space between each ball. Slightly flatten each ball of dough with the palm of your hand to keep the balls from rolling around.

6. Place 1 sheet of cookies in the refrigerator while baking the other sheet.

7. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, on center rack of oven for 12 to 14 minutes each. To help the cookies bake evenly, rotate the baking sheet every 4 minutes or so. The finished cookies will be golden brown and slightly puffed up but will collapse while they cool. Let cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes. The cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.