I don't know how a whole year can go by so fast, in the blink of an eye. It seems that I was just putting away the Christmas decorations, and it's already time to get them out again.
After more than 30 years in the same house, I have way too much stuff - and I'm not just talking about Christmas. I have to stash the everyday collections to make room for all the holiday paraphernalia.
I'm getting older and slower, and it takes me longer and longer, but when the holiday are all said and done, I love it. I still feel it's worth all the trouble.
In talking to my friends about what and how they bake for the holidays, I wanted to share a couple of items. If you are using fast-action yeast, (for faster rising), you need to make sure the water is hotter (than when using regular yeast) when you add it to the yeast-and-flour mixture. If it's not, the dough won't rise any faster.
I always use a thermometer to check the temperature of the liquid when using yeast. Also, invest in an oven thermometer. Just because your oven dial says it's 350 degrees doesn't necessarily mean that it is. Oven temps vary. I leave my thermometer in the oven, that way I'm always sure of the temperature.
This is also a good time to check and make sure your baking powder and baking soda have not expired.
Now is a good time of the year to go to the store and get a few items that might not be on your list. It's always nice to have something on hand if you are pressed for time and need to bring something to someone's house, or have unexpected company for dinner.
My list includes a good spaghetti sauce and pasta, and I always have a French bread in the freezer. Oranges, lemons, limes, cream cheese, sour cream, some assorted cheeses with good crackers and a couple bottles of wine and sparkling cider are also good to have on hand.
Every year, my best friend, Laura Vance, makes the wonderful bear claws you see in the picture. If I'm lucky to be at her house when she's serving them, I get a couple. She's been making them for more than 25 years, and got the recipe from Sunset magazine.
Bear claws are usually considered a bakery specialty, but with the easy refrigerator dough and make-ahead almond filling, you can make some that are far better. The first time you make these they might seem difficult, but read through the recipe and take it step by step.
You can make the dough and filling one day and roll out the dough and make and bake the bears claws on another. So they really aren't that time- consuming.
You just stir the butter-rich yeast dough together and chill it for one to three days; it doesn't even require kneading. Roll out the dough, fill it, cut, and bake. The recipe makes 18 bear claws - some to serve now and enough to freeze for another occasion.
I want to wish everyone a holiday filled with peace, joy and, most of all, love.
Buttery Almond Bear Claws
1 cup (1/2 pound) butter or margarine
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 t. salt
1 small can (about 5 ounces) evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup sliced almonds
Almond filling (recipe follows)
Melt the butter, then let cool to 110 degrees. Dissolve the yeast in the water, then stir in the 1/4 cup sugar, the egg yolks (reserve whites), salt, evaporated milk and cooled butter. Stir into the flour and chill at least 24 hours (up to three days).
Meanwhile, prepare and chill the almond filling as follows:
Smoothly blend together 1/2 cup (1/4 pound) butter or margarine (at room temperature) with 1 1/3 cups unsifted powdered sugar. Add 2/3 cup all-purpose flour and 7 or 8 ounces (about 1 cup) almond paste. Stir until crumbly and evenly mixed, then beat in 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel and two of the reserved egg whites. Stir in 3/4 cup finely chopped almonds. Cover and chill until firm - one to three days.
To shape bear claws, roll out dough into a 13-by-2-by-27-inch rectangle on a well-floured board, straightening edges with a ruler as you roll. Cut dough lengthwise into three long strips, each 4 1/2 inches wide. Divide the almond filling into three portions and roll each into a 27-inch rope on a floured board. Lay one filling rope in the center of each dough strip and flatten rope slightly.
Fold long sides of each strip over filling, overlapping slightly. Cut each filled strip into six segments, each 4 1/2 inches long. Arrange the 18 segments, seam-side down, on greased baking sheets. With a flour sharp knife, make a row of cuts halfway across each segment and about 1/2 inches apart. Curve each bear claw so it fans out.
Lightly beat the remaining egg white and brush over bear claws; then top with sliced almonds and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 30-40 minutes. Bake in a 375-degree oven until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Package airtight to store or freeze. Makes 18.
To reheat the bear claws, unwrap and thaw them first, if frozen. Heat, uncovered, on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until warmed through.
Linda Marrone has lived in Carson City since 1973, and with her husband, Ralph, formerly operated Marrone's Restaurant in Carson City and Somethin's Cookin' Catering.