Spreading Holiday Cheer, And Treats

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‘Tis the season for exchanging gifts, and the angst that goes along with it. Here are two sweet treats, and one savory snack, that I love to eat, and my friends love to receive!

This Tutti-Fruit Loaf is a cross between bread and a cake. It’s perfect to give to someone who takes a mid-afternoon tea or coffee break. Any chocolate and coffee lovers on your list? These delicious Super Espresso Cookies are an ideal gift—for both you and them. Make sure you whip up a double batch; you’ll want to save a few for yourself.

The Inn at Little Washington has the best bar nuts I’ve tasted in a long time. Adapted from their cookbook, this recipe adds dried pineapple, creating an absolutely tantalizing mixture. The nuts can be made in large batches ahead of time and make for a wonderful gift.

Bon gift-giving appétit!

P.S.: Here’s the perfect stocking stuffer for cooks and helpers alike: a scratch-free “Scrub Daddy” is available at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $3.99. You’ll thank me later.

Tutti-Fruit Loaf(Two large loaf cakes, or 4 medium loaves, or 8 to 10 mini-loaves)4 cups finely chopped dried fruits: golden raisins, prunes, apricots, apples, pears, peaches, tart Montmorency cherries and cranberries (choose at least 3)

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1½ cups granulated sugar

1½ cups unsalted butter, cold

4 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons half and half, or milk

2 tablespoons pure almond extractTo prepare:Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare loaf pans.

Grease heavily with solid vegetable shortening, butter or coconut oil.

Chop dried fruit into small pieces, leaving the cherries and raisins whole for texture.

Place the fruit in a bowl.

Pour enough boiling water to cover the fruit by 1 inch.

Soak for 10 to 15 minutes.

Place a strainer/colander over another bowl.

Dump the fruit into the colander.

Drain off the water.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer, or food processor, until blended.

Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces.

Scatter them over the flour.

Process, or mix, until the entire mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Transfer flour mixture to a mixing bowl, if using a food processor.

Stir in the drained fruits with a wooden spoon.

Whisk the eggs, milk and extract together in a bowl, until frothy.

Pour the egg mixture into the center of the flour mixture.

Beat thoroughly.

Transfer equal amounts of the batter to prepared loaf pans.

Evenly spread the batter with the back of a wet rubber scraper.

Place the pans on the center rack of the oven, leaving air space between the pans.

Bake, until the tops are light brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour for a large loaf.

Cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tip loaves out onto a wire rack.

Cool, until room temperature, before storing.

Wrap each loaf in parchment paper and aluminum foil.

Refrigerate, or freeze, for up to 3 weeks.Spicy Bar NutsAdapted from “The Inn At Little Washington” by Patrick O’Connell(About 6 to 8 cups)4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons sugar

8 ounces whole pecan halves

8 ounces whole almonds

8 ounces cashews

5 dried pineapple rings, cut into small portions

Sea salt and sugar, to taste, for sprinklingTo prepare:Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add cayenne, Cajun seasonings, cumin and sugar.

Stir, until butter foams.

Immediately add pecans, almonds and cashews, stirring constantly, until the nuts are well-toasted and light brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the nuts onto a wire rack placed over a pan.

Cool to room temperature.

Transfer the nuts to a mixing bowl.

Toss them with dried pineapple.

Taste.

Add salt and sugar.

Toss well.

Taste again and adjust the seasonings.

Store in airtight container, or pack the nuts in glass containers and tie a ribbon around them as a gift.Super Espresso Cookies(About 4 dozen cookies)2 cups unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup finely ground espresso beans

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extractTo prepare:Grind coffee beans, until they are fine and powdery.

Cream butter and sugar together in a food processor fitted with a stainless steel blade, until light and fluffy.

Add ground coffee and vanilla.

Process, until blended.

Add flour, cocoa and salt.

Blend well.

Transfer dough to plastic wrap.

Form the dough into a pair of 1½-inch diameter logs.

Wrap logs in plastic wrap, twisting the ends firmly to snugly enclose the dough.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight, before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unwrap the dough.

Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Place slices 1 inch apart on the prepared sheets.

Bake, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Cool on wire rack.

Store in airtight containers at room temperature.

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