Not sure what to bake up for the holidays? Busy running around trying to finish your shopping and preparing for your New Year’s party? Never fear! Baking up sweet treats will be easy this year because TRB is serving up some help from Trader Joe’s!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the specialty retail grocery chain that has stores across the U.S., it can be summed up in just one word: Awesome! Trader Joe’s carries organic, preservative-free, “good for you” prepared foods, and “tough to find” items that are lifesavers for those with gluten and dairy allergies, and vegans and vegetarians.
But, TRB digresses…
Perhaps the best thing about Trader Joe’s is that it not only makes everyday eating easy, it also makes entertaining a cinch. So, why not take advantage of all Trader Joe’s has to offer during your busiest time of the year?
In an recent awestruck moment, TRB had the great pleasure to connect with Deana Gunn, one of the authors of Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s, The Trader Joe’s Companion, A Portable Cookbook and Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Dinner’s Done!, and Cherie Mercer Twohy, author of The I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe’s Party Cookbook. (P.S. If you’re still doing some last minute holiday shopping, these books make gift giving pretty easy too!)
Seizing the opportunity, TRB asked the authors to share some of their best holiday baking tips. Here’s what they had to say:
“Bread pudding is warm, delicious and perfect for the colder winter months — it’s simple enough for any day, but elegant enough for entertaining,” according to Deana, referring to her Honey, I Ate the Chocolate Bread Pudding recipe from Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s. “The preparation is simple and can even be done ahead of time — that way you can enjoy a warm, cozy dessert without scrambling to prepare it during dinner or your holiday party. This recipe only requires 5-10 minutes of prep work, and you can even assemble it ahead of time.”
Honey, I Ate the Chocolate Bread Pudding
½ loaf (8 slices) Whole Wheat Honey Bread
1 ½ cups Brownie Truffle Baking Mix (just the dry mix, don’t add anything else)
2 ½ cups whole milk
- Cut crusts off bread slices. Cube bread into ½-inch by ½-inch pieces. Toss diced bread in an 8 x 8-inch lightly greased or buttered baking pan and arrange so pan is filled evenly.
- Combine milk and brownie mix. Stir well for a minute until dissolved. Pour brownie mixture over diced bread. Lightly press down on bread pieces so that they are thoroughly soaked through with brownie liquid.
- Set pan aside while you preheat oven to 350° F, perhaps 10 minutes or so. This extra time will give the bread time to soak further. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- When done, remove pan from oven and let it cool for 15 minutes, allowing bread pudding to set. Serve warm.
Deana’s Easy Holiday Tips:
- Prepare the bread pudding mixture and keep it covered in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it. (It’s fine in the fridge for hours). Simply pop it into the oven about about 45 minutes before you’re ready to eat dessert.
- For a festive touch, top this bread pudding with Trader Joe’s seasonal ice cream, Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s ‘n’ Cream (Yum! Wow!)
- Make whipped cream and stir in crushed candy cane or peppermint bark, or simply top with vanilla ice cream and a Dark Chocolate Star. (These small chocolate-covered star-shaped cookies are beautiful and addictively delicious!)
- How about a sprinkle of dried cherries? (Trader Joe’s dried Montmorency tart cherries are a favorite of mine and go really well with a chocolate dessert).
Not in the mood for bread pudding or chocolate? Then, you’ll want to try Puff Pastry Pillows, from The I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook, Cherie’s “go-to” dessert for the season.
“The TJ puff pastry is wonderful and well worth hoarding, as it’s stocked seasonally,” Cherie says. “The recipe below is a starting point—the pillows are perfect for a lot of different yummy fillings!”
Puff Pastry Pillows
1 package Trader Joe’s frozen puff pastry, defrosted but kept cold
½ cup Turbinado sugar (large grained, crunchy sugar–Sugar in the Raw will work, too)
1 container (16 oz) Greek Yogurt
½ cup Apricot Preserves (or to taste)
About 6 ripe apricots, thinly sliced
A sprinkle of sugar for the apricots, if desired
Blueberries or raspberries for garnish, optional
- Preheat oven to 400° F. (Use convection, if you have it.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle a good handful of the turbinado sugar onto a work surface and lay a sheet of puff pastry on top. Sprinkle more sugar on the top of the pastry, and roll a rolling pin across the pastry, just enough to press the sugar into the pastry.
- Cut pastry into desired shapes and sizes. (I usually get 9 rectangles out of each sheet—there are 2 sheets to a package.) Repeat with the remaining sheet of pastry, if you need more than 9 pillows.
- Place the pastry pieces on the baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden, 12-15 minutes.
- While the pastry cooks, stir together the yogurt and preserves, and taste to see if you like the sweetness. If the apricots you are using are quite sweet, the filling does not need to be very sweet…if the apricots are tart, you may want the filling a bit sweeter. You can add more jam, or a little honey to achieve your perfect flavor.
- Slice the apricots thinly and set aside.
- When the pastry is baked, use a serrated knife to split the “pillows” in half horizonally. Dollop about ¼ cup of the apricot yogurt mixture on each pastry bottom and top with the sliced apricots. Add a few berries, if desired, and place the top half of the pastry on top of the fruit.
Cherie’s Easy Holiday Tips:
- When apricots are not in season, instead of the yogurt-preserves filling, whip up a package of TJ Vanilla Pudding, according to package directions, but add a splash of Bourbon and half a container of mascarpone. Use this delicious creamy-goodness in between layers of puff pastry.
- To dress up the dessert even more, toss in some chopped candied ginger, toasted nuts or chocolate chips!
Now that we’ve made quick and easy work out of your holiday desserts with some help from our friends at Trader Joe’s, TRB hopes you’ll have more time to spend with family and friends. (Your secret is safe with us!)
Special thanks to Deana and Cherie for sharing their fabulous tips and photos of these yummy treats!
What are you baking up for the holidays? Did you try these recipes? Post a comment.
On a side note, TRB has been campaigning on Facebook to bring a Trader Joe’s store to Staten Island, NY. You can join the ranks at: Trader Joe’s + Staten Island = Perfect Together
Rumor has it, we’ll be getting a store in spring 2011. We sure hope it’s true!