Have an orange holiday

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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It's that time again, and you certainly aren't shy about reminding me - already December and not a single new cookie for the swap.

So, today I've got three recipes that should go immediately to your clippings file, and from there to your shopping list. These are winners in every way. Each is beautiful on your favourite serving tray, rich and flavourful on your tongue, and sweet and satisfying on your table when friends drop by for coffee after an exhausting afternoon at the mall.

Everyday Kitchen -

It's that time again, and you certainly aren't shy about reminding me - already December and not a single new cookie for the swap.

So, today I've got three recipes that should go immediately to your clippings file, and from there to your shopping list. These are winners in every way. Each is beautiful on your favourite serving tray, rich and flavourful on your tongue, and sweet and satisfying on your table when friends drop by for coffee after an exhausting afternoon at the mall.

They are also all quite different, but have one common ingredient among them.

Orange is the perfect supporting cast member in so many savoury and sweet dishes, but it's often buried in a recipe and doesn't shine until it hits your palate.

Orange Chocolate Espresso Bars

I thought about calling these 007 cookies because they have a licence to kill. Cut them small and don't put many out, or have a defibrillator standing by, because you just can't stop.

By all means substitute orange juice for liqueur if you wish, although a more successful substitution might be brandy or rum. For that matter, water would work. If you use salted butter, add only a pinch more salt to the recipe, but don't even consider margarine - you will end up with an oily mess.

1-3/4 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

1-1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tbsp. orange liqueur or orange juice

2 tsp. instant coffee

2 tsp. vanilla

grated zest of 1 large orange

2 cups chocolate chips (divided)

1 cup Skor bits

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy; beat in eggs one at a time. Heat liqueur in microwave until steaming hot and stir in coffee. Add vanilla and add to creamed mixture. Stir in dry ingredients until well combined.

Fold in orange zest, 1 cup of the chocolate chips and Skor bits. Line a 13x9-inch baking dish with foil or parchment paper and grease generously.

Spread batter in prepared dish, smoothing the top. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until centre stops jiggling and top looks dry. If using a dark non-stick pan, reduce the baking temperature to 325 F. Immediately sprinkle remaining 1 cup chocolate chips on top and allow to melt.

Spread over bars. Cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Cut with a sharp knife, dipped in hot water and wiped between each cut.

Spiced Orange Date Pockets

This is the recipe you have to try because you're curious, but then you will make it every year because these tender pastries filled with exotically flavoured jam are irresistible. Everyone will ask you for the recipe, so have it ready if you bring these somewhere with you. If you have some filling left, spread it on a toasted English muffin or bagel - you won't believe it. Omit the liqueur and use 3/4 cup orange juice if you prefer. Depending on the variety of dates you use, you might need more juice before they collapse and form a jam - if you like some lumps, go for it, but I prefer a smooth filling. If you have never used rose water, this is your chance - there is no substitute for the unique flavour, although if you leave it out the filling will still be delicious.

Orange Date Filling:

1-3/4 cups chopped pitted dates

1/4 cup orange-flavoured dried cherries or cranberries

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup orange liqueur

2 tbsp. honey

1/2 tsp. each ground cardamom and freshly grated nutmeg

1 tsp. each vanilla and rose water

pinch salt

Dough:

3-1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3 eggs

1/2 tbsp. vanilla

1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Combine dates, cherries, juice, liqueur, honey, cardamom and nutmeg in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until mixture is smooth with the consistency of jam; stir in vanilla and rose water and cool completely. Sift together flour and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time then add vanilla. Add flour, mixing just enough to create a smooth dough - don't overmix or it will be tough. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of pie crust. Use a floured 2-inch cookie cutter to cut into circles.

Place half the circles on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and top each with a spoonful of jam. Lightly paint a little water around the edges with your finger. Top each with another circle, push out the air, and seal the edges tightly. Use a floured fork to press the edges together if you like. Brush away any flour remaining from the rolling, then brush tops lightly with egg wash.

Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until just starting to colour - don't overdo it or they will be dry. Allow to sit on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. You should get about two dozen from this recipe. The dough freezes well, by the way, and the jam will hold in the fridge for quite a long time, so you can make these now and bake them whenever you want.

Orange Poppyseed Refrigerator Cookies

One of my best holiday memories is baking with my mom. We sometimes made walnut refrigerator cookies, which my mother meticulously sliced to make the most perfect circles you can imagine. I am nowhere near as neat as she is, but the flavour of these will far outweigh any shaping errors. Besides, you get to eat the really ugly ones. Reserve these for when you're in the midst of your Christmas baking marathon, because they are so much easier if you let them stay in the refrigerator overnight. I actually put the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes before I cut them - easier still. These are equally delicious with tea, coffee, cold milk or hot cocoa.

1-1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp. poppyseeds

1/4 tsp. each baking powder and salt

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp. orange liqueur or orange juice

1 tsp. vanilla

grated zest from 2 large oranges and 1 lime

Whisk together flour, poppyseeds, baking powder and salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, mixing until smooth. Stir in liqueur, vanilla and fruit zest. Stir in dry ingredients, mixing just enough to form a soft dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour - this step is necessary or you won't be able to handle the dough at all. Shape into an 8-inch log, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight. Slice with a sharp knife into about 30 cookies. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes or until edges start to turn golden brown. Allow to sit on the baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 5970, St. John's, NL, A1C 5X7.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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