Despite that fact that I'd rather be gardening, let's face it, Christmas is upon us. I love the beautiful Advent season at hand, don't get me wrong, but I begin to feel anxiety when my feet and hands haven't touched the warm earth in too long and (shutter) it's not even the first day of winter yet. But don't worry. These fruit and nut crostini make it better.
They make it better because they remind us that to everything, there is a season. And this season, it's about warmth, comfort, spice, dried treats, and rich bakes that celebrate the harvest at hand – even if that harvest comes from what we've stored away in the larder over the summer months.
Though it's not the first day of winter quite yet, it sure feels like it. Animal water must now be hauled in the back of the farm truck up to the barn, where the animals are tucked in cozy and warm for the freezing nights and dark days.
The Christmas tree is up by the fireplace, where we spend far too much time sitting around, listening to the cedar logs pop and crackle, and reading stories (okay fine, Stu reads stories… I edit photographs).
No less than two dozen ornaments have met their maker, thanks to little hands that just can't quite control themselves around the sparkles and colors at arms reach. Who can blame them. SPARKLES!
And somehow, in the cold, dark, messy madness, it all still makes sense. The gardens need a rest, as do I, I'm sure (even though I don't want to admit it). The family certainly needs a rest from the projects that have kept us slaving away on the farm since the earliest hints of spring last year. It's as if, in this Advent season, we've been given permission to just be. To curl up in our favorite second-hand wool blanket and fall asleep at 6:45 (not that I would do that). To take a bath every single night after the littles go to bed. To watch ‘A Muppet's Christmas Carol' for the two hundreth time. To read (do I remember how to do that?). And, of course, to make fruit and nut crostini at will.
May these special treats, peppered with sweet bits of fruit and toasty hazelnuts, make your kitchen smell as delicious as they did mine.
Fruit and Nut Crostini
You will need:
– 2/3 cup dehydrated whole cane sugar (here's the kind I use)
– Large pinch of sea salt
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1 cup dried cherries or raisins
– 1 cup chopped hazelnuts (or nut of choice, soaked and dehydrated is best)
– 2/3 cup water
– 1 cup butter
– Zest of 1 orange
Real sugar, real flavor baby.
1. In a bowl, combine the flour, dehydrated whole cane sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Use a whisk to thoroughly combine and aerate the ingredients. Whisk, whisk, whisk. Don't let you 1 year old do this. She'll make a total mess. Trust me on this one.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the water, butter, vanilla, and orange zest. Gently warm together until the butter is melted and it's all mixed. Turn off the heat.
3. Add the dried cherries and chopped hazelnuts to the flour bowl. Give them a gentle toss to coat them in flour. Then, add the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Use a spatula to completely combine.
4. Line two loaf pans with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Add half of the mixture to each loaf pan and use the spatula to smoosh it down so it's completely flat in the bottom of the pan. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Or, if you live in Antarctica like we do, simply set them outside.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Remove one of the loaf pans from the refrigerator and remove the dough by lifting up on the plastic. Remove the plastic entirely. Cut the loaf into 1/4″ slices. Place these slices on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 13 minutes, until solid and golden. The end result will be a crispy crostini, so error gently on the side of over done versus underdone. Ain't nobody want a limp crostini, man.
7. Remove the fruit and nut crostini to a wire rack and repeat with the remaining dough until all of the crostini have been baked.
8. Make yourself an espresso. Dip the crostini into the espresso. Sit by the fire, pretend that someone is going to show up to do all your laundry and clean your toilets, and that this moment – this moment right here – is just for pure joy.
I sat and watched this chicken for an hour until she layed her egg. Also pure joy. Every single time! And, of course, there is joy in knowing that this barren season is just a season. That once again, the hills will be filled with blossoms, fruits, and life. That the potager garden will fill up flowers. That the soil will be warm.
But for now, at least we have fruit and nut crostini. And Amen.