The (Tasty) Benefits of Heritage Grains

Does “great taste” come to mind when you think of heritage grains?

Many Americans consider heritage grains a health food—something they should eat, not something they want to eat. Fortunately, that appears to be on the cusp of change. Top chefs and bakers have been cooking with new heritage grain hybrids to thrilling results.

One of my favorite events of the year is Grain Gathering, an annual three-day event held every July at the Bread Lab (the event started in 2011). Expert bakers, millers, grain scientists, farmers, and industry representatives gather in the Skagit Valley. Their goal is to break the dominance of commodity wheat and to find a way to sell America on the benefits of heritage grains. Flavor is the number one selling point. Nutrition is another along with environmental sustainability. Virtually every community in America used to grow wheat. More robust heritage wheat hybrids could again make this economically feasible, benefitting local economies.

At a Grain Gathering a few years ago, I was introduced to two hybrids developed by Bread Lab. One is called Skagit Magic, which is grown in the Skagit Valley and milled at nearby Cairn Springs Mill. The other is called Expresso Wheat (or, in the lab, T-85). It is grown in Walla Walla and also milled at Cairn Springs Mill. When I started Macrina, flours like these just weren’t available.

For Macrina’s twenty-fifth anniversary this year, I developed two new breads that utilized these new organic flours. I spent many hours playing around with various techniques and found the heritage flours work best with a slow fermentation. This helps develop subtle, bright flavors and hydrates the bran. I made our Skagit Sourdough with the Skagit Magic. This is one of our most grain-forward and flavorful loaves. The Whole Grain Baguette is our other new loaf, which we make with the Expr results. At Macrina, our two latest breads feature heritage wheats—the primary reason being the astonishing flavor they add. Edouardo Jordan, the star chef and creator of JuneBaby, named America’s best new restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, opened Lucinda Grain Bar, a concept focused on ancient grains. “As Americans, we eat some of the most flavorless, unhealthy grain-based products in the world,” Jordan said. “Commercialization has stripped down all the nutritional value in our grain product. We are excited to explore the flavor and potential of ancient grains.” Jordan noted that some of the best grains in the world are grown in the Skagit Valley.

The Bread Lab, located in the Skagit Valley, deserves no small amount of credit for this. Part science lab, part high-end bakery, this extension of Washington State University occupies a 12,000 square feet space in Mount Vernon that includes a research and baking kitchen, a cytology lab, the King Arthur Flour Baking School, a milling laboratory and a professional kitchen. The director of the Bread Lab, Dr. Stephen Jones, is currently one of the most influential voices in the food world. Jones is determined to bring diversity to the range of flours widely available. Currently, the bland, chalky white flour born of industrial agriculture is found in almost all the bread sold in America. You won’t find much else at your local supermarket either. By breeding heritage grains that have both taste and nutritional benefits, but that also have the robustness that farmers need to produce high yield crops, Jones hopes to make regional grain farming viable again.

The standard flour available at grocery stores today comes from wheat that has been bred to be optimal for a fast-food hamburger bun. A hundred years ago that wasn’t the case. Diverse wheats grew and were milled in communities across America. Between 1890 and 1930 America went from over 22,000 flour mills to less than 200. The State of Washington had 160. Now there are two. The widespread use of new roller mills that could efficiently strip the grain of both the bran and the germ creating a flour that had an almost indefinite shelf life ushered in this change. This coincided with the rise of the industrial production of food. We got sliced bread in plastic bags and the phrase, “The greatest thing since sliced bread.” However, we lost a wide range of regional flours milled from an incredible range of wheats, many of which had much better flavor than what worked best for industrial bakeries. Not to mention nutrition. Jones writes, “By using only the white portion of the seed, wheat is reduced from a nutrient-dense food to one that lacks basic nutrition.”

When I started Macrina in 1993, it was thrilling to be part of the artisan bread movement that brought French and Italian-style breads to many cities in America. I’m even more excited about the heritage grain movement—so much so that I’m growing heritage wheat on my Vashon Island farm this year!  Seeing grain scientists, farmers and bakers unite around the idea of building a better tasting and healthier bread may just be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 

 

 

The Ruby Brink: A Dream Destination on Vashon Island 

This island-to-table restaurant is a rare gem that doesn’t unduly abuse the wallet. “We didn’t want to price out the farmers who supply us,” says chef Rustle Biehn. 

Every so often you stumble into a waking dream. The Ruby Brink, an eatery that opened this spring on Vashon Island, is the sort of place that inspires such astonishment. It’s an island-to-table experience, equal parts public house, restaurant, whole-animal butcher shop, and farm kitchen.

Vashon is sometimes described as an island surrounded by reality, both positively and negatively. Still, one thing that is beyond contention is its concentration of independent, organic farms and its pastoral beauty. Led by an ensemble cast, The Ruby Brink was born of a dream to create a gathering place that offered the best of Vashon: comfort, beauty, a kind of timelessness, and the delicious best each season has to give. The unique blend has led to The Ruby Brink becoming an epicurean hub in Vashon’s eclectic community.

Located in the historic Vashon Landing building on the central corner in the town of Vashon, The Ruby Brink’s spacious interior underwent a lengthy remodel as the owners tailored the interior to their vision. The space is comfortable and elegant in a way that feels suitable for an anniversary dinner or a beer and sandwich after a day on the farm. The classic J-shaped bar is an invitation to sidle up and start a conversation. Comfortable booths and an array of variously-sized tables accommodate couples and large groups.

The owners are butcher Lauren Garaventa, chef Rustle Biehn, and bartender Jake Heil. Lauren’s background includes stints at Vashon’s Sea Breeze Farms, one of the local pioneers of sustainably-focused, grass-pastured meat and later at the farm-to-table Rain Shadow Meats in Pioneer Square. She and Rustle were the duo behind Meat & Noodle Soup Club, the celebrated pop-up. Jake moved to the island from Portland where he co-opened and managed the Multnomah Whiskey Library, called one of the 15 best whiskey bars in the world. Of his experience working at one of the most exclusive places in the Northwest, Jake says, “The legacy of that for me is less about whiskey, and more about hospitality. Here I’ve curated a back bar that is less exclusive, more local, but, I think, just as intriguing. Each bottle has a story.”

The Ruby Brink exudes a kind of relaxed island hospitality, refined and timely, without any big-city pretension. This carries over to the food. “Nothing about this says fine-dining except for the amount of attention that gets paid to the ingredients,” Lauren says. “That’s the number one thing we have in common with any of the fine-dining restaurants in Seattle: we’re able to curate our ingredients to a really high standard.”

Not surprising, given The Ruby Brink’s focus on sustainability, local meat and produce, and simple, clear, lovely flavors. It’s healthy food that is so tasty it leaves you craving more. Jake says, “We wanted to make it as accessible as possible, a place for neighbors and people visiting the island to enjoy each other, the space, have drinks, a snack or a meal.”

The butcher shop, located in one corner of the ample space, offers a variety of cuts and meats as well as one of the best-tasting bone broths you’ll find anywhere. “We’re a one-cow-a-month restaurant,” Lauren says. “Figuring out how to divide up the meat between retail and the restaurant is a puzzle. At the end of the month, every bit of the cow is used, eaten, with nothing left.”

This kind of approach requires a lot of planning. Lauren and Rustle confer each afternoon, and a new menu is printed every day. You may not find the same thing on the menu from one visit to the next. What you will find is balanced, flavorful food served in beautifully composed plates. You’ll always find a Meat & Noodle bowl, but the meat and vegetables will vary. And you’ll always find a sausage served on a Macrina Challah Roll, but the type of sausage will change. Both carnivores and vegetarians are sure to find something to love on the list of starters, sandwiches, salads, rice dishes, and entrees like roasted half-chicken or whole pork chops. “We want you to feel like someone cared deeply about the ingredients and prepared them with love,” Jake says. “That feeling passes through everything we do, whether it’s drinks, food, or service.”

Leslie Mackie, Macrina’s founder, and a Vashon resident, says, “The Ruby Brink quickly became a beloved island hang out and gathering spot. The menu showcases what they are getting from local farmers and what Lauren is working on in her butcher shop. The food is always delicious and inspiring. Macrina is very proud to provide The Ruby Brink with bread and flatbreads.”

 

February Recipe of the Month: Chocolate Almond Caramel Tartlet

This classic Parisian dessert is both showy and delicious. The addition of ground almonds gives the buttery crust a richness and wonderfully crumbly texture. It is blissfully delicious and makes an elegant base for the chocolate custard. The caramel topping adds a layer of decadence that might seem a step too far, but because the brandied chocolate pudding is bittersweet, it brings the tart’s three elements into balance. Topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and cocoa powder, this stunner will bring you back to that lovely patisserie by the Seine.
INGREDIENTS

Makes Eight 3-inch tartlets

Sweet Almond Dough

½ cup whole almonds

1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

⅓ cup granulated sugar

8 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick)

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

Chocolate Custard and Caramel Topping

2 cups heavy cream, divided

¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

5 egg yolks

1 cup + 3 Tbsp sugar, divided

1 Tbsp brandy

½ cup water

Optional Garnish

reserved chopped almonds

cocoa powder

whipped cream

DIRECTIONS:

SWEET ALMOND DOUGH

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place almonds on the prepared baking sheet and roast for 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Finely chop in a food processor and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add ⅓ cup of the chopped almonds, flour and sugar. Mix thoroughly. Reserve any remaining chopped almonds for garnishing.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Turn off heat and cool for 5 minutes, then add vanilla and almond extracts.

Make a well in the center of the our bowl. Begin adding the melted butter and mix with a spoon until thoroughly combined. Measure 3 Tbsp of the almond dough and press into a 3-inch tartlet shell so that the base and sides are an even thickness. Repeat for each tartlet. Chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Line each chilled tartlet shell with parchment and fill with pie weights (beans or rice also work). Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove parchment and pie weights. Let cool.

CHOCOLATE CUSTARD AND CARAMEL TOPPING

To make the chocolate custard, scald 1½ cups heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the bittersweet chocolate chips to a blender or food processor. Pour the hot cream over the chips and blend until melted.

Combine the egg yolks, 3 Tbsp sugar and brandy in a small bowl. Add to the chocolate mixture in the blender and mix for 3 to 4 minutes.

Fill the baked shells with chocolate mixture nearly to the top, stopping a scant ⅛ inch from the rim of the baked shells—the extra crust will act as a border for the caramel sauce topping.

To make the caramel sauce, add the water and the remaining 1 cup of sugar to a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, dissolve the sugar and cook until the mixture turns golden brown. Run a wet pastry brush around the edges of the pan to prevent any sugar crystals from forming. When medium brown, turn off the heat and slowly add the remaining ½ cup of cream to the mixture. Be careful—this will create lots of steam. Whisk vigorously to combine. Transfer to another bowl. Let the caramel cool for 15 minutes.

Ladle caramel over each tartlet so that they are evenly covered. Garnish with the remaining chopped almonds. Chill the tartlets until cool.

Lightly sweetened whipped cream makes a delicious topping and a sprinkle of cocoa powder makes a handsome garnish.

Printable PDF.

Macrina’s Core Value Winners

When Leslie Mackie opened Macrina Bakery in 1993, she hoped her love of artisan breads would lead to Macrina becoming a community gathering spot. To her delight, that didn’t take long. As the Macrina community grew, we added another café and started wholesaling bread and pastries. Leslie’s spirit of hard work, a positive outlook, and uncompromising quality guided the team that made all this happen.

When we sat down to put these values into words, we didn’t have to look beyond the diverse team of bakers, pastry chefs, savory cooks, baristas, café staff and delivery drivers that make up Macrina. Our employees live the values every day in their mission to enrich communities through the joy of artisan baking.

We’re proud of our 2019 core value winners and the example they set. We wouldn’t be where we are without their shining contributions.

Working Hard: Erica Olsen, Pastry General Manager

When Leslie first met Erica, she was cradled in her mother’s arms. At the time, Leslie was the head baker at Grand Central Bakery and worked with Erica’s mom. More than 25 years later, Erica had graduated from the Seattle Culinary Academy with honors. She joined Macrina in 2017, and was quickly promoted to Pastry General Manager. Erica and her team of pastry chefs produce all of Macrina’s pastries. Erica’s hard work, ambition, and dedication continue to make Macrina more efficient and consistent each year. Her skill is on display in each delicious and beautiful pastry.

Remaining Positive: Sergio Castaneda, Delivery General Manager

Sergio has been with Macrina since 2002 and oversees a large team of delivery drivers. When Sergio is asked how his day went, he always answers with a smile and an honest response, often detailing positive solutions he found to unexpected challenges Most days, he’s in at 4 A.M. working shoulder to shoulder with the packers and drivers to ensure our customers get their orders on time. Before most have us have even awakened, he’s dealt with mechanical issues, staffing, and drivers stuck in traffic. Tall in stature, his employees call him the gentle giant.

Never Settling: Thanh Huyen Dang, Bread General Manager

Thanh Huyen Dang, who goes by Huyen (pronounced “Wen”), has worked at Macrina since 2002 and as the Bread General Manager since 2012. She works tirelessly to find efficiencies in wholesale production, pushes through challenges, and jumps in to assist managers and employees whenever help is needed. She holds her team to high standards and effectively communicates the many details required to produce so many hand-formed loaves with an exacting consistency. Huyen takes on more responsibility each year and works with her team to ensure our food safety plan is rigidly followed

Embracing Diversity: Trevor Kitchin, Food Safety General Manager

Trevor manages an integral department—food safety—and does so with an international team. Together they speak five languages. To ensure everyone is clear on the many details they must master, Trevor has become an expert in communication. A gentle soul, he is patient and takes the time to huddle frequently with his team so that all policies and procedures are understood and executed. He makes a point to make everyone feel welcome and respected.

Integrity in All We Do: Amy Bui, Wholesale Sales Manager

Few know Macrina’s products like Amy Bui does. She’s grown up with them. Her father is Phuong Bui, our Head Baker, and longest-tenured employee. Amy first started coming to Macrina to visit her dad when she was three. Now, all grown up, Amy heads our wholesale sales team. She builds and maintains trusting relationships with our customers through integrity— of product, of communication, and of her word. Additionally, her savvy command of technology has elevated the efficiency of our sales team.

Derby: Inspired Comfort Food, Unique Setting

Located inside a Sodo club for car lovers, the restaurant Derby offers a great bar scene and excellent food. 

The food isn’t served on the hood of a Ferrari, but you’d be excused for remembering it that way. The Shop, a club for gearheads, houses the upscale comfort food restaurant Derby. The spacious, sleek dining area has broad windows opening onto rows and rows of exquisite vehicles gleaming in the clean, well-lit garage. While that’s unique, it’s hardly the best reason to visit Derby. Come for the food (and leave with Lamborghini dreams).

Executive Chef Nick Taseris serves the kind of food your mother might have made if she was a professionally-trained chef that sourced high-quality meats and produce from the Pacific Northwest. Take, for example, their Bad-Ass BLT. It’s served on lightly toasted Macrina sourdough, with thick slices of good tomato, just-ripe avocado, lettuce—and the namesake Bad-Ass Bacon. Not only is this probably not how your mother referred to her bacon, but it’s also nothing like the bacon most of us grew up eating. Derby gets the meat cut in quarter-pound strips from a ranch in Pendleton, Oregon. Nick and his crew coat it in a house-made cayenne-maple glaze, slow-roast it, drizzle it with maple syrup and sprinkle it with Maldon salt. It’s thick, rich, and bursting with salty-sweet flavor. And, yes, you can order a side of the bacon all day off the happy hour menu.

Raised in Texas, Nick brings some of that Lone Star smokehouse know-how to the cuisine. The beef brisket, pastrami, and corned beef are smoked in-house, low and slow, and the tender meat is served in generous portions. You won’t go wrong with the Pastrami Reuben on Macrina’s rye bread, or the Brisket Sandwich served with bbq sauce.

And as with any pub-style fare worth racing for, the burger better be good enough to land pole position. Derby’s is a winner. A Macrina Brioche Bun, topped with sesame seeds, is slathered in Derby sauce (horseradish-infused aioli) and holds a hefty patty topped with American cheese, red onion marmalade, house-made pickles and a thick slice of good tomato. The medium-cut fries are crisp with a light, fluffy interior. You won’t leave hungry.

For those inclined to lighter fare, the Cobb, Chicken Caeser, and Steak salads do not disappoint. The dinner menu builds on the lunch menu to offer a few hearty entrees, including a pasta, crab cakes, and a smoked meatloaf. For those with a Maserati metabolism, Derby’s poutine has a Texas inflection with their house-smoked brisket and red-eye gravy. Order one to share. Or if you’re in that YOLO state of mind—indulge. You can always retire to the heavy leather sofas and chairs in Derby’s lounge for an after-dinner bourbon and another lingering gaze at the two and four-wheeled beauties preening in the garage.

Lunch Mon–Fri 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Dinner Wed–Sat 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. | Sun–Tues 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brunch Sat, Sun 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

Happy Hour Menu Daily 3 p.m.– 6 p.m.

 

North Bend’s Huxdotter Coffee: Worth a Detour

The long-time local favorite now has spacious indoor seating and an expanded menu. 

In episode one of the original Twin Peaks, filmed in North Bend, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper tastes a cup of the fictitious town’s brew—he liked it black as midnight on a moonless night—and declares it, “damn fine.” That was the same year that Huxdotter Coffee opened. Located less than two minutes from I-90, just past the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, the first drive-through in North Bend quickly became the busiest spot in the area to grab a coffee.

Photo CreditAaron Locke/BCRA

Now that drive-through with “damn fine” coffee has grown up. Huxdotter Coffee’s new home is a surprisingly modern building of wood, glass and steel that opened for business last August. Not only does the new building have an improved drive-through, but it also has a roomy interior with soaring ceilings. An array of tables and counter seats provide a welcome space for those wishing to leisurely enjoy espresso drinks and pastries, made-to-order lunch sandwiches and hot breakfast sandwiches. Others use the free wifi to get some work done while they sip their coffee.

The inspired new digs are the brainchild of Jeremy Westlake, whose local roots run back several generations. Jeremy bought Huxdotter in 2016 with the dream of adding indoor seating and expanding the menu. After two years of planning, construction started. Closing down the busiest drive through in the area for ten months was painful, but the results have proved worth it. The café is full of locals and travelers on their way to Snoqualmie Pass, Mt. Si, or Snoqualmie Falls. And the drive-through is faster than ever before, with more room for cars to line up, a better workspace, and even a barista with an iPad who speeds up the wait by walking the line and taking orders when it’s busy.

While contractors worked on the building, Jeremy worked to upgrade Huxdotter’s menu. He visited many bakeries throughout the area, favoring Macrina Bakery. Unfortunately, North Bend was then outside of Macrina’s delivery area. He offered up some estimates of the quantity of bread and pastries he thought he’d need, and an agreement was made to deliver to a restaurant in Issaquah, where Huxdotter could pick the order up. For the first month, Jeremy’s parents drove the 30 minutes to Issaquah and back at 4:30 in the morning so that Huxdotter’s customers would be able to get their Macrina fix when the café opened. It quickly became apparent that Jeremy’s estimates were solid—the café was indeed busy enough to justify expanding a route just for him. Nearly half a year later, the buzz has spread and Huxdotter continues to grow.

One thing about Huxdotter that especially stands out is its friendly, helpful baristas. Even after shutting down ten months for construction, nearly the entire staff returned. Watching the way they hustle to keep the drive-through line moving and the banter at the counter upbeat is invigorating.

When the sun shines on a warm day, the wide garage door that separates the large outdoor patio from the indoor seats opens to merge the two spaces. On a summer afternoon, tired hikers and those returning from work fill the chairs refreshing themselves with coffee, sweet treats or one of the PNW craft beers that rotate through the six taps on hand. Huxdotter also carries quite a variety of canned beers and a small selection of Washington wine.

One wall is decorated with large framed black and white photos of Jeremy’s ancestors who settled in the Snoqualmie Valley generations ago, and on another you’ll find an oversized topographical map of the area—perfect for planning your next hike or visit to the many nearby attractions.

Huxdotter Coffee is open weekdays from 5 A.M. to 7 P.M. and from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. on weekends 

 

 

January Recipe of the Month: Almond Raspberry Cornetto

The quintessential Italian breakfast pastry is the cornetto (singular form of the plural cornetti), a pastry similar to its French cousin the croissant. A bit more rustic than a croissant, they are light and airy and a little sweet with a hint of salt. This simple recipe elevates the cornetti for a lovely brunch treat. You can buy the cornetti the day before—traditionally bakeries use their day-old croissants for these—and you can prepare the almond cream and quick raspberry jam before your guests arrive. Then all you need to do before serving is to assemble and pop them in the oven! These twice baked treats are beautiful, especially dusted with powdered sugar and garnished with a few fresh raspberries. This recipe calls for plain cornetti, but chocolate cornetti also work and add another dimension of flavor.

INGREDIENTS:

Serves 4

1/2 cup whole raw almonds

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 egg

3/4 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

4 Macrina Cornetti

1/2 cup sliced almonds

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roast the whole almonds on the baking sheet for 12 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown and fragrant. Let cool.

In a food processor, blend the whole almonds, butter, 1/4 cup sugar, egg, vanilla and all-purpose our until smooth. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, add the raspberries and 1/4 cup sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, dissolving the sugar and releasing the juices from the berries. Combine the water and cornstarch and add the mix to the berries. Once it has thickened, remove from the heat and pour into a small bowl to cool.

Cut each cornetto horizontally, leaving a hinge. On the lined baking sheet, place the 4 open-faced cornetti. Spread half the almond mixture on the bottom half of each cornetto. Save the remainder of the mix for later.

Place in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes to melt the almond mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of the raspberry jam onto the almond mixture and ip the top of each cornetto closed. Spread the remaining almond mixture over the tops of the cornetti and sprinkle with the sliced almonds (the almonds should stick to the almond mixture). Return the baking sheet pan to the oven for 3 more minutes to toast the almonds and warm the cornetti.

Serve them for brunch, or simply with a hot cup of coffee, tea or a frothy cappuccino. Enjoy!

Printable PDF

Winter Pear Crown

Looking for something with delicious flavor to add to your holiday table? Or a showy appetizer? Our Winter Pear Crown will make a gorgeous addition to any meal. Or serve it as an appetizer with Cambozola or your favorite blue cheese.

Made with ripe Washington State pears and spiked with a dash of black pepper, the bread has a natural sweetness and the moist texture of a classic French loaf.

Leslie began making this beautiful hand-formed crown during the holiday season in Macrina’s early days, and it has earned a devoted following. Utilizing the excellent late-season pears—Washington State is the top grower of pears in the country—we dice the plumpest, tender Bartlett pears available and gently mix them into the dough with just enough black pepper to casually announce itself. Phuong Bui, our head baker, and his team then hand-shape each loaf into a crown.

Any leftovers make a luxurious breakfast treat. Warm it and serve slices with butter, or up your game and present it with a ramekin of olive tapenade. The bread is versatile, makes a stunning table centerpiece, and goes with almost anything. Get one while you can. We only make them during the holiday season.

Baking Holiday Cookies with Friends

At Macrina, we love baking and we love community. The annual holiday cookie exchange is a great example of this—each cookie a story, each an act of love. It’s a time to visit your neighbors and share good tidings. Not much tops baking family recipes with friends, but when you don’t have the time, Macrina has you covered. Our collection of 20 holiday cookies, sold in a reusable Panibois wooden baking box, will bring joy to your friends and neighbors. Each of the six delicious types of cookie has a story and a distinct flavor.

Read our blog to hear how one of Macrina’s partners, Michelle Galvin, has rekindled and nurtured dear friendships through an annual holiday cookie baking gathering and to learn more about our Holiday Cookie Box.

A few years after college, newly married and busy establishing a career, finding time to visit with dear friends was a challenge. In high school, Trina, Kerri and I would spend whole days together, talking every day. But now, despite the desire, we barely saw each other.

With Christmas approaching, we made a promise we’d start a new tradition: a holiday cookie party. We all loved baking and revered the neighborly tradition of the cookie exchange. What better way to reconnect than spending an afternoon sharing and baking family recipes together?

At the first gathering, Trina brought a vintage pizzelle maker. The family heirloom looked, uh, well-loved. It was easy to imagine the hundreds or thousands of thin wafer-like cookies it had produced over the years. Making 200 pizzelles alone would be a monotonous task, but the repetitive task of spooning dollop after dollop of dough into the rustic pizzelle iron with friends made it fun.  We laughed a lot and had plenty of time to catch up.

Next, Trina taught us her Nonna’s biscotti recipe, the best in all of Montecatini she’d claimed. Her “trick” was to toast the almonds before adding them to the dough. Nothing satisfies the need for crunch like biscotti do, and I loved hearing the stories of Trina’s grandmother.

Since only two baking sheets could fit in the oven at a time, we spent an entire Saturday baking. It was like old times, talking of matters big and small, remembering old stories and sharing new ones. And at the end of it, we each had a large box of cookies to share with our friends, neighbors and family.

We promised we’d do it again the next year. And we did. And the year after that, too. Sometime in the early aughts, one of us showed up with a special holiday cookie edition of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. We tried making her Chocolate Crackle Cookies. Soon our hands were sticky with chocolate dough. But they were so delicious straight from the oven—chocolate crack-le!—I worried we wouldn’t have enough to give away. Of course, they got added to the yearly event. Even after all these years, Kerri and Trina still debate whether they should be crisp or chewy and how long to bake them. I love them both ways—and both of them—so I sit back and enjoy the playful debate.

 

As we added cookies, we also added kids. Gingerbread cookies with bright white royal frosting and decorated sugar cookies made their way onto our cookie trays. With the many small helping hands, the mess grew exponentially. The number of hands helping clean up did not! But the kids were thrilled to help. Though some of them struggled just a little to part with the cookies, they were all proud to present their teachers with plates of cookies they’d helped make.

Not only did I catch up with my friends, but now we also traded parenting secrets and potty training strategies. Later those stories included the challenges of starting new schools, puberty and middle school, sharing the car keys with new drivers, and college tours.

Not that it was all free of tragedy. At one gathering, midway through the pizzelle making, Trina dropped the heirloom iron and it broke. (Thank goodness, it was her—not me!) We raced out to a fancy kitchen store for a replacement. It sufficed but didn’t make cookies anywhere nearly as good, or as beautiful. So, we took to eBay for a replacement, carefully inspecting images and bidding patiently. Three years later, we had not one but two vintage pizzelle makers—exact replicas—safe cover if the dropsies came over us again.

With more kids and more plates of cookies to assemble, the single oven was a bottleneck. So, we ventured down to the Macrina test kitchen in Kent. The kitchen had so much space and fancy ovens galore. We were like pros in there. In just three hours, we had plates and plates of cookies, and we’d barely broken a sweat! We realized that the point of the gathering wasn’t about speed and efficiency (although the convection oven with rotating racks that baked all our cookies evenly was amazing), but nurturing friendships of more than 40 years. We’re back to the two cookie sheets oven.

Fortunately, it is the exception when time and circumstance doesn’t allow for our annual event. The few times it has happened, all three of us were very grateful that we could count on the fabulous bakers at Macrina. Sure, we missed the time together. But we were still able to bring our friends, family and neighbors lovely gift boxes of homemade holiday cookies we could be proud of.

Macrina Holiday Cookie box is an assortment of 20 cookies bundled in a reusable Panibois wooden baking box. It contains:

2 Gingerbread

3 Chocolate Crinkle

3 Mexican Wedding Balls

4 Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti

4 Pecan Rosemary Shortbread

4 Rugelach

December Recipe of the Month: Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

This lighter variation of our pumpkin pie practically floats. The fluffy texture comes from separating the eggs and folding the stiff whites into the batter. A topping of whipped cream adds to the feeling that you’re lifting an airy pumpkin dream to your mouth. At Macrina, butternut squash is the not-so-secret ingredient in our pumpkin pies. Simply put, we think pumpkin pies taste better with a dollop of roasted butternut squash. In this recipe however, butternut squash can replace the pumpkin altogether. We hope the cloud-like combination of sweetened squash, crystalized ginger and buttery graham cracker crust becomes an annual holiday tradition.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 8-10

6 ounces graham crackers (2 cups), crushed in food processor

1/2 cup coconut our

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 cups roasted butternut squash, puréed (or substitute a 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon + 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons crystalized ginger, medium dice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 packet powdered gelatin (1/4 ounce)

1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

Garnish

1 tablespoon crystalized ginger, thinly sliced

Sugared cranberries or pomegranate seeds

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F and center the oven rack.

In a medium bowl, add the crushed graham crackers, coconut flour and melted butter. Mix well with a spoon. Press the mixture into a 9″ pie pan so that the edges and base have a uniform thickness. Bake for 5-10 minutes until edges are golden brown. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the puréed butternut squash (or pumpkin), maple syrup and vanilla extract. Set aside.

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a medium bowl and the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Place a medium bowl over a saucepan filled with 2″ of water (or use a double boiler). Add the milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, crystalized ginger, nutmeg and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Add the powdered gelatin and whisk to combine.

Add 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Continue adding the milk mixture in 1/4 cup increments until it’s all added. Return the incorporated mixture to the double boiler over medium heat and whisk for 3 minutes to thicken the custard. Stir in the squash purée and cook for another 3 minutes to evaporate any excess water from the squash.

Transfer the pie filling to a clean bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes, giving it an occasional stir.

Whip the egg whites in a stand mixer until they look foamy. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar and whip until the whites are gently firm.

Fold the egg white mixture into the cooled pie filling. Ensure that it’s uniformly combined before pouring the mixture into the prepared graham cracker shell. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the heavy cream. As the mixture starts to firm up, add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.

Top the pie with the sweetened heavy cream. It is best if you chill the pie for another 2 hours before serving to let the whipped cream set up. For a festive presentation, garnish with crystalized ginger and sugared cranberries or pomegranate seeds. Enjoy!