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Put a zesty, springful twist on this season’s holiday sweet treats. 

Story and photos by Natalie Paramore

December is the most magical time of the year to whisk up sugar and butter into something special for the holidays. The cooler temperatures lend us some wonderful produce in Texas, like pecans and citrus. I remember each Christmas, my grandma would make lemon bars, which is why they garner a spot on my list of holiday favorites every year. Whether you want to add a sweet touch to a family brunch or whip up a homemade gift for a friend, the flavors of the Texas produce season are ripe for savoring. So, pull out your mixing bowls, get to baking and have fun putting a spin on these modern holiday favorites.

Texas Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan or about 12 rolls

Ingredients

1 cup milk and 1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk, divided

8 tablespoons butter, divided

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting

1/4 cup sugar

1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) rapid-rise active yeast

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

8 ounces cream cheese, softened, divided

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped, plus more for topping

1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease the pan. If you’re making it the night before, skip the oven.

2. Heat 3/4 cup milk and the butter until just melted. Add in the remaining milk and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together two cups of flour, the sugar, yeast and salt.

4. Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, incorporate the milk mixture and egg into the flour until well mixed, about one minute on medium speed.

5. Scrape down the sides and switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time while the mixer is running. You may not need to add all the flour. Add flour until the dough is sticky and pulls away from sides of bowl. Do not add too much flour or the rolls will be dry. Knead with the dough hook for five minutes.

6. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and roll the dough ball once or twice. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.

7. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle. Spread 4 ounces of cream cheese onto the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, like an envelope, covering all the cream cheese. Dust with flour and gently roll it out to smooth the folds. Cover and let it rest 15 to 20 minutes more.

8. Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine the remaining butter with cinnamon and brown sugar, and whisk together. Set aside.

9. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle on a floured surface again. If any cream cheese pops out, gently patch it with the dough. Spread the cinnamon-sugar mix all over. Top with pecans all over. Roll the dough tightly lengthwise. Cut the log into 12 even pieces.

10. Place the rolls into a greased pan, cover and let them rise in a warm spot for 20 minutes. If you are making the rolls the night before, cover them tightly with plastic wrap and place them into the refrigerator to rise overnight.

11. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 15 minutes until they’re slightly golden brown. If stored in the refrigerator overnight, let the rolls come to room temperature before baking.

12. While the cinnamon rolls are baking, whisk together the powdered sugar and remaining cream cheese. Gently stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons milk, until smooth.

13. Let the rolls cool slightly. While still very warm, put the icing on top. Sprinkle with the remaining pecans. Serve immediately.

Classic Lemon Bars

Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan

Ingredients

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 tablespoons lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoons unsalted butter at

room temperature, cubed

6 large eggs

3/4 cups fresh lemon juice

2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

for dusting

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick foil with an overhang for easy removal.

2. Make the crust by whisking together 2 cups of flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Use a fork to cut in 16 tablespoons of butter until crumbs form.

3. Press the mixture firmly into the pan until even. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly brown.

4. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

5. Whisk the eggs with the remaining sugar. Add in the remaining flour and salt, and combine until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and quickly pour over the hot crust and return it to the oven for an additional 25 minutes, or until the filling is set but the center is slightly jiggly.

6. Let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for an hour, then cover it and refrigerate it for at least four hours or overnight.

7. Lift the bars out of the pan and cut them into squares. Dust them with powdered sugar and serve. The bars can be made as long as three days in advance and stored in the fridge.

 

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