Somehow I’ve let another five weeks slip by without writing. It’s not for lack of cooking (or baking!). There were so many recipes I meant to share with you. But when all your spare brain space is consumed by thoughts of a pending life-altering event, it’s difficult to take the time to stop and reflect and write. Instead I’ve been patching walls, painting furniture, organizing closets (and reorganizing them), caulking windows, framing art, and selecting all the very many items it seems we’ll need to care for our little human once he arrives.
In between all the baby preparation, there was a bachelorette weekend in Charleston, a bevy of holiday parties, dinners with friends, and book club meetings, and of course the annual office bake-off. Nearly all of these events required that I whip up some freshly baked platter of sugary goodness (because December), which I would ordinarily love to do. But when you’re running from plane to work to book club to work to party to work to bake-off with 15 pounds of belly and a whole lot of distraction, baking yet another batch of cookies starts to lose its appeal. Until I discovered this gem of a recipe – Cranberry Crumb Bars – from the pantry to your mouth in under an hour. They’re crumbly sweet on the outside and bright garnet red on the inside. They sparkle on a platter of Christmas cookies and are in and out of the oven before the Chanukah candles have burned out.
Despite the hectic frenzy, I did make time to light the menorah. (Truthfully, I missed the first two nights and then ran out of candles on night six, but I tried.) Matt and I don’t really do holidays or presents or religion, but I always start to feel a little guilty and a little nostalgic at certain times of year. And as we start to think about the traditions and memories we’ll undoubtedly be making with our son, I’ve been reminiscing about those happy moments from my own childhood. In particular, I remember waiting eagerly for dad to come home from work, so we could light the Chanukah candles. I would drag him into the living room the second he walked through the door. We would sing the blessings over the candles on the mantle, while the cat meowed loudly and searched the presents for curling ribbon to eat. After the singing ended, dad would say “Hap-py Chan-nu-kah!” in a jolly, sing-song Santa voice. It was always my favorite part of the night and it has stuck with me. I find myself repeating “Hap-py Chan-nu-kah!” after I light our candles; it’s a deep-rooted reflex I just can’t shake. And I can’t wait to say it again next year to baby Krauss (after I introduce him to the wondrous cranberry crumb bars).
Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, plus more at room temperature for the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
3 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides and the parchment. In a large, widish bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices. With a pastry blender or fork, work the chilled butter and the egg into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Pat half the crumb base into the bottom of your prepared pan; it will be thin.
In the bowl of a food processor or blender, briefly pulse the filling ingredients until the berries are coarsely chopped but not pureed. Spread the filling over the crumb base. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly over the cranberry mixture.
Bake cookies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Cool completely before cutting into squares.