There are certain fine dining establishments, The French Laundry and Guy Savoy for example, at which having dinner is not simply a meal, but more like a marathon. To qualify for "the race," you must first score a reservation. This is almost an impossible first step, usually involving secret reservation phone numbers, a friend of a friend of a friend, or promising your first born to the maitre d'. Second, you must be immune to sticker shock. A glance at the wine list alone (which often needs to be wheeled out on its own cart) can leave you praying that the decimal points were accidentally misplaced on every amount. Third, you cannot be a picky eater or insist on sticking to you diet during your meal. There are going to be multiple courses of food (double digits in most cases), unpronounceable ingredients, and countless calories, and each bite not taken equals a serious chunk of change.
Meals at these culinary havens can often last as long as 5 hours. Servers have been known to suggest that you move to the lounge or courtyard for "a break" between courses 9 and 10. Because there is very little ordering off the menu involved, guests just sit back and allow the parade of food to begin.....and it keeps on coming. Just when you think that you have most certainly conquered the final course, polishing off a rich Grand Marnier souffle, the server brings out a plate of petit-fours, macaroons, and house made truffles. O.K. Were definitely done now, right? Wrong. The server hands you some beautifully wrapped pastries and butter cookies, should you get hungry on the way home or wake up famished for breakfast the next morning. Like I said, a marathon. On you mark, get set, loosen those belt buckles!
Whenever I host Thanksgiving dinner, or any dinner party for that matter, I like to do the same thing as my guests depart (only at my house it's probably better, because I don't present them with a four-figure bill at the same time.) For Thanksgiving, I'll often send my friends away with something that they can have for breakfast the next morning, like this date bread, something that they can snack on for a few days, like mixed nuts, or something to get them in the mood for Christmas season, like these gingerbread blondies. I like to place the wrapped goodies at each place setting--it adds a nice unexpected touch to the table, and you can just lean a place card up against them. Not cooking for Thanksgiving this year? Luckily, these sweets make great hostess gifts too! Here are a few extra tips for preparing this duo of delectable treats:
- When testing the blondies for doneness, they should still be a bit soft to the touch in the center of the pan and firmer around the edges. They will solidify as they cool, but they will still be nice and chewy when ready to eat.
- For presentation, try cutting the blondies into shapes other than squares using cookie cutters, such as circles, stars, or hearts. You can also drizzle the finished, cooled blondies with melted white chocolate or sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
- The blondies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
- For both recipes, feel free to substitute a different variety of nut for the ones indicated in the ingredient lists. Hazelnuts and walnuts would work well on the loaves, and almonds or macadamia nuts in the bars.
- The date-orange loaves can be wrapped in foil and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days. The loaves can be tightly wrapped and frozen, unglazed, for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before glazing.
- To make a large single loaf as opposed to the mini loaves, use a 10X5-inch loaf pan, reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees, and bake for 50-60 minutes.
- If you find that the streusel is becoming too dark during the baking process, loosely tent the loaves with foil for the remainder of the time.
White Chocolate Walnut Gingerbread Blondies
Makes about 3 dozen
10 oz. (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup molasses
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
10 ounces coarsely chopped white chocolate
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped, lightly toasted walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray a rimmed half-sheet pan (17X12 inches) with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the parchment.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla and molasses until combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until just combined. Mix in the white chocolate and walnuts.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until set and the edges are golden, 22-25 minutes. Let the bars cool completely in a pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares or your desired shape.
Streusel Topped Date-Orange Quick Bread
Makes 3 mini-loaves
For the streusel
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, lightly toasted pecans
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
For the bread
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup finely chopped pitted dates
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Zest from 1 large orange
1/2 cup safflower or canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the glaze
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons orange juice
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Spray three 6X3-inch mini loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside.
Prepare the streusel: In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the sugars, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in the butter. Add the pecans and stir until the mixture forms large clumps.
Prepare the bread batter: Place the milk and the dates in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; let cool slightly. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, eggs, zest, and oil at medium speed until well blended, 3 minutes. Beat in the milk, dates, and vanilla until well combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the batter all at once and beat at low speed until just combined and the batter is smooth. Distribute the batter evenly among the pans and sprinkle with the streusel, pressing lightly to adhere.
Bake the loaves for 40-45 minutes, until risen and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool for 15 minutes and then remove the loaves from the pan onto a wire rack.
As the loaves cool, prepare the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the confectioner's sugar with the orange juice until smooth, adding more orange juice if necessary to reach drizzling consistency. Drizzle the glaze over the warm loaves and let cool completely before slicing.