Hasselback Potato Gratin by Amy Cantu

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Notes: This is essentially the same as the recipe from J. Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, except that I used half and half instead of heavy cream. The results are similar, albeit a bit lighter on the gut. Given how heavy holiday foods tend to be, this seemed like a good compromise to me!

Per Alt-Lopez's recipe notes: Because of variation in the shape of potatoes, the amount of potato that will fit into a single casserole dish varies. Longer, thinner potatoes will fill a dish more than shorter, rounder potatoes. When purchasing potatoes, buy a few extra in order to fill the dish if necessary. Depending on exact shape and size of potatoes and casserole dish, you may not need all of the cream mixture.

Time: 15 minutes (active), 1 hour 45 minutes (inactive)
Servings: 6

3 ounces finely grated Gruyère or comté cheese
2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-reggiano
2 cups half and half or heavy cream
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or to taste)
3 to 3 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8th-inch thick on a mandoline slicer or food processor slicer (5 to 6 medium, see note above)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Combine cheeses in a large bowl. Transfer 1/3 of cheese mixture to a separate bowl and set aside. Add cream, garlic, and thyme to cheese mixture. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add potato slices and toss with hands until every slice is coated with cream mixture, making sure to separate any slices that are sticking together to get the cream mixture in between them.

Grease a 2-quart casserole dish with butter. Pick up a handful of potatoes, organizing them into a neat stack, and lay them in the casserole dish with their edges aligned vertically. Continue placing potatoes in casserole, working around the perimeter and into the center until all potatoes have been added. Potatoes should be very tightly packed. If necessary, slice additional potato, coat with cream mixture, and add to casserole (see note above). Pour excess cream/cheese mixture evenly over potatoes until the mixture comes half way up the sides of the casserole. You may not need all excess liquid (see note above).

Cover tightly with foil and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until top is pale golden brown, about 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for a few minutes, and serve.

Hot Cross Buns by Amy Cantu

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Notes: You can start these buns the day before a couple different ways. The first way - make the dough and then let rise overnight in the fridge for the first rise. Bring the dough to room temperature, and continue with the recipe by punching down the dough and shaping into the small rolls. The second way - follow the recipe through shaping the dough into small rolls. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge overnight for the second rise. Bring the rolls to room temperature, and if they are not double the original size, let rise until they are. Continue with the recipe as written.

Loosely adapted from Nigella Lawson's cookbook, Feast.

Time: 1 hour active time, 2 1/2 hours inactive time
Yield: 12 buns

For the dough:
2/3 cup milk, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup unsalted butter
zest of 2 clementines or 1 small orange
1 clove
1 vanilla bean
3 cups bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoon (1/4 ounce) instant yeast
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit (I used dried tart cherries, cranberries, and raisins)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 egg, at room temperature

For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten with a little milk

For the crosses on the buns:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2-3 tablespoons water

For the glaze:
runny honey, for brushing

Split the vanilla bean in half length-wise using a small, sharp knife. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean pod into a small saucepan and drop the vanilla bean pod in too. Stir the milk, butter, zest, and clove into the saucepan, and heat over low heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat and let cool until mixture is just warm to the touch (about 110 to 115 degrees F). 

Combine bread flour, instant yeast, dried fruit, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a medium bowl, if kneading by hand). Remove vanilla bean pod and clove from the milk. Beat a room-temperature egg into the warm milk mixture, and pour into the flour bowl. Knead using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (or by hand), adding additional warm milk 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems dry. Keep kneading until the dough is silky and elastic (about 5 minutes or a little longer by hand). Lightly grease a large bowl with oil or butter. Form the dough into a ball and place inside the greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place (like an oven with the light turned on or a sunny window) to rise until double in size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F. 

Punch the dough down, and knead it again by hand until it is smooth and elastic - 2 or 3 minutes. Divide into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Place the buns on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat, so that there is a little space between them. Using the back of knife (any one will do), score the tops of the buns with the imprint of a cross. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rise for about 45 to 60 minutes, until puffy and roughly doubled in size.

Make an egg wash by beating one egg with a bit of milk. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash. Then, mix the flour, sugar, and water into a smooth, thick  paste. Using a squeeze bottle or teaspoon, dribble two lines over the buns in the indent of the cross. Bake buns for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

When the hot cross buns come out of the oven, brush each one with a little honey to give them a sweet and shiny disposition. If the honey seems too thick, microwave the honey for 10 seconds to help liquefy it before brushing. Buns are best eaten the first day as is, or still warm and slathered with a pat of butter (my favorite). The next day, toast the buns and eat with a bit of butter and jam.