Fresh Figs

How Figs Make Your Fall Meals Easy

Figs

One of the joys of fall are figs.  After weeks of corn and tomatoes I’m ready for some new flavors. Nevertheless, it takes little effort to turn figs into a meal.

Figs

Figs

The Uniqueness of Figs

Fresh figs are lusciously sweet. Their texture is unique, with smooth skin, chewy flesh and crunchy seeds. A member of the mulberry family, they grow on ficus trees. Although there are more than 150 varieties, I only know the black mission fig. Delicate and extremely perishable, I try to use them within a day or two. It’s best to keep them covered, refrigerated and on a plate to prevent bruising.

Fresh Figs

Fresh Figs

Health Benefits

Despite their sweetness, figs are a healthy choice. They contain over eighty nutrients. Figs are high in potassium and an excellent source of fiber. They can also help with weight loss, lowering cholesterol and preventing hypertension.

Fig Toast with Cream Cheese

Fig Toast

Figs for Breakfast, Brunch or Lunch

I like figs at any time of day. At breakfast I have then on oatmeal with pistachios and pomegranate syrup. Or on Icelandic yogurt with chopped walnuts and maple syrup  They are also delicious at lunch, on an arugula salad with blue cheese. Or simply as fig toast with cream cheese on multigrain.

Figs and Goat Cheese Appetizer

Figs and Goat Cheese

Figs and Goat Cheese

Figs and goat cheese are a traditional combination. There is no easier way to impress guests than with a figs and goat cheese appetizer. More than the sum of it’s parts, it’s simply a quartered fig stuffed with a nugget of goat cheese. If I’m feeling more ambitious, I make crostini. I layer each toast, with a slice each of prosciutto, fig and a lump of goat cheese.

Carmelized Figs with Vanilla Ice Cream

Caramelized Figs , Balsamic Condiment and Vanilla Ice Cream

Fig Dessert Recipes

Caramelized figs topped with a splash of balsamic vinegar are a perfect dessert when I just want a bite of something sweet. More often, I put the warm drizzled figs on top of vanilla ice cream for a more decadent dessert.

For other dessert ideas try my recipes for Chocolate Apricot Rugelah, Raspberry Milkshakes, Plum and Lemon Thyme Flaugnarde. 

Recipe

Caramelized Figs with Balsamic Vinegar

Figs

Light brown sugar

Balsamic Condiment

Quarter figs and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with light brown sugar. Broil 3-5 minutes until sugar has melted. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of balsamic condiment over each sliced fig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raspberry Milkshake & Straw

How To Make Great Milkshakes

Milkshakes

Milkshakes are great anytime. But stopping for ice cream is a rite summer. Creamy and cold, they bring instant relief on a hot day.

Raspberry Milkshake & Straw

Raspberry Milkshake

Raspberry Milkshakes

One reason I describe my diet as “healthyish” is my love for desserts. Life wouldn’t be as the same without the pleasure of sweets. This summer my new dessert discovery is raspberry milkshakes.

Milkshakes

Milkshake

Milkshake Flavors

My favorite place to try new milkshake flavors is Edzo’s Burger Shop in Evanston, IL.  Just north of Chicago, it can compete with any burger place in the city. The burgers and fries are delicious, but it’s the shakes that tempt me to experiment. Their specials might include Spicy Mexican Chocolate, The Elvis or Blackberry Pie.

Fresh Raspberries Tabletop

Fresh Raspberries

Fruit Milkshakes

I have to admit I’m a chocolate person. My favorite shakes are more likely to contain hot fudge than fruit. Nevertheless Edzo’s raspberry milkshake was a revelation. Greater then the sum of it’s parts, my favorite fruit was elevated by its incorporation into a thick vanilla milkshake. Similar to old favorites like raspberries and whipped cream, but a little more decadent.

Raspberries Close - Up

Raspberries

Replicating Edzo’s

To find the perfect milkshake recipe I turned to advice from  ice cream maker, Tyler Malek, from ice cream emporium, Salt and Straw in Portland, OR. As I expected, a thick milkshake requires on a generous portion of ice cream. However, the fat content of the milk is also important. Skim milk results in a watery shake.; thick milkshakes need whole milk.

Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream

Quality Ingredients

Like Edzo’s, Malek relies on high quality ingredients for his shakes. He suggests using ice cream made from natural ingredients. I chose Breyers Ice Ceam because of their commitment to quality. Their Natural Vanilla contains simple ingredients and sustainably farmed vanilla beans. I also followed Edzo’s lead, and bought fresh locally grown berries at Chicago’s Andersonville Farmer’s Market. With ingredients of this caliber, a great dessert is almost guaranteed. Try my recipe for a refreshing summer treat.

Raspberries at the Farmer's Market

Andersonville Farmer’s Market

Desserts

My idea of decadence usually involves chocolate. For some chocolate dessert ideas try my recipes for Chocolate Rugelah, Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread or Dark Hot Chocolate.

 

Recipe

Raspberry Milkshakes

Serves 2

1 pint firmly packedvanilla ice cream

1/2 cup whole milk

1 pint raspberries

Raspberry Box

Box of Raspberries

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into tall glasses. Serve with straws.

 

How to Make Rice Pudding into a Healthy Breakfast

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Vintage Cookbooks

What are your first cooking memories? Mine are of making Jell-O pudding. For safety purposes I had to use a back burner. I remember standing on a chair, stirring the milky mixture while I waited for it to thicken. Then putting it in the refrigerator for after dinner when it would be cold. I loved it; it was satisfying and deeply chocolaty.

 

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Healthy Rice Pudding

I still crave the comforting quality of custards. I even had it for breakfast once. In fact I would be happy to have pudding for breakfast everyday; I just needed to figure out a healthy version. The challenge was to keep it creamy, but still low in sugar and fat. I also wanted some fiber to help keep me full. I decided to try making a whole grain version of the lemony rice puddings found in Greek restaurants.

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Precooked Custard

Since rice pudding aficionados recommend Arborio rice, I substituted short-grain brown rice. I also used 2% milk to keep the fat content low.

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Healthy Rice Pudding with Blueberry Compote

Although I usually like my custards cold, I prefer this one warm, or at room temperature. Good plain, I couldn’t resist trying it with blueberry compote to compliment the lemon flavor. Try my recipe and see what you think.

Healthy Rice Pudding

Serves 3

2 1/2 cups 2% milk (use the Fairlife brand for extra calcium and less sugar)

1/3 cup cooked short grain brown rice

½ a vanilla bean scraped of seeds

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 pinches salt

2 tablespoons maple syrup

½ teaspoon brown sugar

1 egg

Combine milk and rice in a saucepan and bring to a boil. After it has reached a boil turn it down to a simmer. Add the vanilla bean seeds, lemon zest and salt. Stir frequently and allow it to thicken, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the maple syrup and brown sugar.

 

Lemon_Zest

Lemon Zest

Split Vanilla Bean with Seeds

Split Vanilla Bean with Seeds

Reduce the heat to low. Beat the egg in small bowl. Add a tablespoon of the warm milk to the egg and whisk vigorously. Repeat several times until the egg mixture has become creamy. Add the egg mixture to the milk. Stir while it thickens another five to ten minutes. Do not let it boil or it will curdle. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator. If reheating in a microwave, check every 30 seconds.

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Thickened Custard

Blueberry Compote

1 cup blueberries

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon butter

pinch of salt

Put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir sauce to make sure the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 2 minutes. Uncover, smash the blueberries and cook stirring occasionally until slightly thickened.

How to Make Delicious and Simple Tiramisu

I’ve always loved icebox cakes. There’s something magical about the idea of transforming cookies into cake.

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Nabisco Wafer Cake

My first exposure to this marvel was through the Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer version. A cake made famous by the recipe printed on the box. Instead of rising in the oven, four hours in the refrigerator turns cookies and whipped cream into cake.

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Tiramisu

There are many variations on this dessert. Some people are drawn to the decadent beauty of the trifle, which substitutes pound cake for cookies. Personally, my favorite is tiramisu.

Though a standard on menus of the 80’s, it remains a sentimental favorite. Creamy and refreshing, tiramisu is the perfect snack when I can’t decide between dessert and coffee.

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Whipped Cream

This the tiramisu recipe I use most often. Although I like it with either whipped cream or custard filling, the whipped cream is easier and faster to prepare. I use Marsala wine instead of rum, to keep the alcohol content low, while still imparting traditional Italian flavor.

Tiramisu

Serves: 9

1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso at room temperature

1/4 cup dry Marsala wine, divided

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened

2 cups heavy cream

18 to 20 Italian ladyfingers

1-2 ounces grated bittersweet chocolate for dusting

Brew espresso.

In a wide dish mix the espresso, 2 tablespoons of Marsala wine, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.

Whip the cream to form stiff peaks with a whisk or hand mixer. Set aside.

Grate the chocolate and set aside.

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Grated Chocolate

Mix the mascarpone, sugar, remaining vanilla and Marsala wine until combined. Fold  the mixture into the whipped cream.

Quickly dip both sides of the ladyfingers in the espresso mixture and lay them in the bottom of a 9 – inch square dish. It might be necessary to break the cookies to completely fill the space.

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Italian Ladyfingers

Cover the ladyfingers with half of the whipped cream mixture. Top with grated chocolate. Add a second layer of espresso – dipped ladyfingers. Top the cookies with rest of the whipped cream, and cover with a layer of grated chocolate.

Cover the dish with cellophane and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Add more fresh grated chocolate to the top before serving.

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How to Make Blissful Zucchini Bread

I love the last days of summer. Everything at the farmer’s market looks perfect; I want to try it all. While I like almost any vegetable, my family has never taken to summer squash. Nevertheless, they don’t mind it, when I incorporate it into homey treats like quick breads.

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Zucchini

One of the biggest changes I made in recent years, was to start eating mostly whole grains. Although many people have given up carbs, it is the consumption of processed grains, such as white flour, that leads to weight gain and poor health. In fact the fiber in whole grains, fruits and vegetables is essential to a healthy diet.

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Since I haven’t given up cake, I am always trying to develop healthier baked goods. A neglected bottle of buttermilk motivated me to try to develop a whole grain quick bread with an outer crust as delectable as its moist center. The recipes I had tried in the past had been gooey, but the texture of the crust was either too rubbery or indistinguishable from the cake. I was hoping that the addition of buttermilk would help produce the texture the crust needed.

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Buttermilk

A search of buttermilk whole grain recipes led me to A Daring Gourmet post for Chocolate Deception Cake. While too rich for me, the recipe proved a wonderful jumping off point for creating a cake that is whole grain and contains two cups of zucchini.

Finely Grated Zucchini

Finely Shredded Zuccihni

I love spelt and whole wheat pastry flour for whole grain baking. Used alone (rather than in combination with all purpose flour) they create the light texture I prefer for muffins, quick breads and cakes. Although the recipe I referenced suggested spelt flour, I thought that hardier whole wheat pastry flour might be a better foil for all the moisture I was adding. Mixed with buttermilk, I found the flour to be the perfect ingredient to create a luscious cake with a tender crunchy crust.

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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

I don’t dwell on the zucchini component of this cake when presenting it to my family. I will leave that decision to you.

Zucchini Bread

A Slice of Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

 Chocolate Chip  Zucchini Bread

Serves 6-8

2 cups grated zucchini – 4 small zucchini (leave the peel on and use the small holes on the grater. The zucchini will appear pulverized, not just shredded. Thoroughly squeeze the liquid out until there is about 1 tightly packed cup.)

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup maple syrup

¾ cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 stick butter (room temperature)

½ a vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9×5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper letting it overhang on each side.

Squeeze as much liquid out of the squash as you can. This will leave you with about 1 cup of densely packed zucchini. Put it aside.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set it aside too.

In a large bowl, add the sugar, eggs, and maple syrup and beat until smooth. Add the butter, vanilla extract, and the seeds scraped from the inside of the vanilla bean. Beat until combined. Add the buttermilk and beat for another 30 seconds.

Split Vanilla Bean with Seeds

A Split Vanilla Bean

Stir in the pulverized squash until combined with the batter. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, gently folding until just combined. Be careful not to stir too much. Fold in the chocolate chips with minimal stirring.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use the parchment paper to remove the cake from the pan. Set it on the wire rack to cool completely.

Low-calorie cocoa and decadent hot chocolate

How to Make Virtuous Cocoa and Blissful Hot Chocolate

I have always loved chocolate. One of its extraordinary qualities is that as a drink, it can be either a low calorie treat or a decadent dessert.

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Cocoa

Cocoa is easy to make, filling, and full of calcium and protein. Cocoa is much lower calorie than hot chocolate. If you aren’t bothered by the subtle flavor of almonds, using unsweetened almond milk is an easy way to bring down the calorie count of your cocoa. If you have trouble sleeping it’s an excellent way to end of the night. There is no need for packaged cocoa mixes. Cocoa powder, sugar and milk are all you need. The biggest decision is natural or Dutch process cocoa powder.

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Natural Cocoa Powder

Natural cocoa powder has a sharper taste. The flavor varies in the way of chocolate bars, by the producer. I find cocoa with a deep strong taste the most satisfying. Try different brands to find the flavor profile you like best. This type of cocoa powder is a good choice when adding strong flavors such as chili pepper or peppermint to the drink.

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Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder has a mellow smooth flavor. It is less common, but is often preferred by children. It pairs well with subtle flavorings such as vanilla.

Hot Chocolate

I find the intense rich taste of hot chocolate, as it is traditionally prepared in Europe incomparable. Melted dark chocolate mixed with milk and lightly sweetened is a decadent pleasure that always leaves me completely satiated. Don’t pass up the opportunity to try it at Café Angelina in Paris or Rivoire in Florence.

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Hot Chocolate in Chicago

Wherever I am, I try the hot chocolate if it is made in the European style. Though I’m often disappointed, I’ve found a few places that make phenomenal chocolate drinks. Fortunately one of them is here in Chicago. At chef Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate, she creates drinks that vary the flavors and balance of chocolates types. My favorites are the black & tan: 1/3 hot fudge, 2/3 medium hot chocolate and the half & half: half espresso and half dark hot chocolate. Try making these at home with the recipes below.

NYC Hot Chocolate

Another incredible spot for hot chocolate is the City Bakery in Manhattan. Both the plain and the flavored choices are delicious. Their drinks sustained me on many cold winter days.

Cocoa Recipe Inspiration

My cocoa recipe is inspired by a number of cocoa boxes and leaves room for improvisation. I find that a deep rich tasting cocoa creates a drink that doesn’t require much sweetening. I use no more than 1 part sugar to 2 parts cocoa and sometimes less. Also adding a touch of vanilla adds complexity to the taste. Although I often substitute maple syrup for sugar and almond milk for cow’s milk, hot chocolate drinks are often an exception. Although I make an almond milk variation, I prefer skim milk so I can enjoy the unsullied flavor of chocolate.

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Cocoa and Espresso

If I want something sweet in the afternoon adding a couple of shots of espresso to my cocoa is a favorite pick me up. Since mocha cappuccinos are often made with chocolate syrup I think of it as cocoa espresso. 

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Hot Chocolate at Home

My basic Hot Chocolate recipe is a family favorite and is derived from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. It uses equal proportions of bittersweet and milk chocolate. My personal favorite is the Dark Hot Chocolate.

Flavorings

Chocolate is the perfect canvas for added flavors. Some popular choices are cinnamon, chili powders, crushed peppermint, caramel and hot fudge. Flavored syrups are another way to add flavor and color. Coffee bars and stores that have a section devoted to Italian products usually have a selection of syrups. Although I like all of these, my favorite hot chocolate topping might be unsweetened whipped cream.

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Share

Please share your recipes for cocoa or hot chocolate with me. I’d love to try some new variations!

 

Cocoa

Serves 1

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup nonfat milk

½ teaspoon vanilla

Mix cocoa powder sugar and vanilla to form a paste. Add a touch of milk if it is still powdery. Warm the milk until is simmers but does not boil. Slowly stir the milk into the cocoa mixture.

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Cocoa Espresso

Serves 1

Add two shots of espresso to the above recipe.

 

Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

1¼ cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

2 ounces milk chocolate chips

1½ teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon instant espresso powder

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Use a saucepan to heat the milk and the half and half until tiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips. When the chocolate is melted add the sugar, vanilla and espresso powder. Whisk until all the ingredients are completely combined. Reheat to serving temperature. Again be careful not to let the hot chocolate boil. Serve alone or with your favorite topping.

Medium Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

1¼ cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

2 ounces semi-sweer chocolate chips

1½ teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon instant espresso powder

Use a saucepan to heat the milk and the half and half until tiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips. When the chocolate is melted add the sugar, vanilla and espresso powder. Whisk until all the ingredients are completely combined. Reheat to serving temperature. Again be careful not to let the hot chocolate boil. Serve alone or with your favorite topping.

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Dark Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

1¼ cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

1½ teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon instant espresso powder

Use a saucepan to heat the milk and the half and half until tiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips. When the chocolate is melted add the sugar, vanilla and espresso powder. Whisk until all the ingredients are completely combined. Reheat to serving temperature. Again be careful not to let the hot chocolate boil. Serve alone or with your favorite topping.

 

 

How to Make the Best Chocolate Rugelah

Chocolate Rugelah

Chocolate Apricot Rugelah

My family celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas; boughs of pine, lights and a menorah decorated our living room. My mother loved bringing family and friends together for dinner and holidays. Many of the recipes I create and photograph are inspired by the food from her table.

Chocolate

I love dessert, particularly chocolate. My mother shared my passion and introduced me to the decadent delights of Viennese pastry and chocolate soufflé.

Rugelah

Rugelah was a staple of family occasions, always a favorite despite its simple filling of finely chopped nuts. The layered dough somehow elevated it beyond a cookie to a pastry.

Viennese Inspiration

It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I tasted rugelah that included the chocolate and jam I always loved in Viennese Sacher tortes. My recipe is an attempt to recreate this bakery experience, it owes a great debt to Gourmet magazine and the book “Gourmet Today” edited by Ruth Reichl.

Dough

Experienced pie bakers will love this easy recipe. Although I have little skill with a rolling pin, this wonderful dough developed into marvelously flaky pastry.

Recipe

Chocolate Apricot Rugelah 

Makes approximately 3 ½ dozen cookies, special equipment – parchment paper

Active time: 40 minutes, start to finish 9 ¼ hours – Requires Chilling

 

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, softened

8 oz. cream cheese softened

½ cup, plus 8 teaspoons sugar

4 teaspoons ground Saigon cinnamon

1 cup apricot preserves

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup pulverized walnuts

Half and half for brushing the cookies

 

Instructions

Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Beat butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. When they are thoroughly combined stir in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until dough forms. Shape into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Flatten the dough into a 7 x 5 inch rectangle and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the middle of the oven (325 F if using a convection oven.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take out the chilled dough and cut it into 4 pieces. Rewrap 3 pieces and return them to the refrigerator. Cover the work surface and rolling pin with flour before rolling out the dough. Roll out the first piece into a 12 x 8 inch rectangle. Place the finished dough on a baking tray covered with a piece of parchment  and refrigerate. Repeat this process with each piece of dough, layering the parchment papers on top of each other on the tray in the refrigerator.

Combine sugar and cinnamon.

Put walnuts in a large freezer bag. Smash the walnuts with a rolling pin or large metal spoon until pulverized.

Take 1 dough rectangle on parchment out of the refrigerator. Work with the long side of the dough. Spread ¼ cup apricot preserves over the dough with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/8 cup pulverized walnuts over the jam. Sprinkle with ¼ cup cinnamon sugar. Roll into a log using the parchment as an aid. Place seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pinch the ends closed and fold them under to keep the filling from spilling out. Make the other three pastry logs, and place them 1 inch apart on the baking tray.

Brush each log with half and half and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar. Using a sharp knife cut ¾ of the way through the dough on an angle at 1 – inch intervals, exposing a spiral of dough (if dough has become to soft to cut return to the refrigerator for 20 – 30 minutes.)

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until golden brown (45 minutes in a convection oven.) Transfer the tray of logs to a rack to cool for 30 minutes. Use a cutting board to cut through the logs and separate the cookies. The cookies last well for a week if kept in a room temperature airtight container.