Blog Archives

Holiday Treat Wrap-Up

Holiday Treats

It’s hard to believe that the frenzy of the holiday season is over. I’m still cruising on a sugar high. It’s time to come down soon, but first we have to finish off the dwindling supply of sweets.

It’s been my tradition for a decade or more to make an assortment of treats to share with friends. The whole process is one of my favorite parts of the holidays. First, there’s choosing what to make. I usually mix old favorites with some new recipes. I also enjoy figuring out the right balance of cookies, candies, and nuts. Then, there’s the actual cooking, stirring up a whirlwind of sugar in the kitchen. Plus, there’s packaging everything up in a festive and inviting way, and, finally, delivering the packages to the people that made my year a special one.

Then, we repeat the process, usually with a different assortment, for Howard’s colleagues for him to bring when he returns to the office after New Years.

For my friends’ packages, I made two kinds of cookies, some sweet and salty nuts, and chocolate bark.

Round 1

Round 1

For cookies, first up, I tried Speculoos from Dorie Greenspan’s newest book, Baking Chez Moi. These spice cookies are rolled into logs for slice-and-bake cookies, my favorite technique, though to be honest, I preferred the rolled out version I’ve made from her Around My French Table.

I also chose another cookie recipe from an unlikely source, the out-of-print China Moon Cookbook. A long time ago, at my library’s book sale, I bought a signed copy of this book from a Chinese bistro that was once located in San Francisco, but I’ve never made a single recipe from it. It’s the dessert chapter that always tempts me with a variety of small cookies and luscious sounding tarts, all much more bistro-like than Chinese. The recipe for chocolate stars was calling to me, though my star cookie cutter wasn’t small enough, so I made snowflakes instead. These chocolate shortbread cookies were delightful. Cocoa powder made the dough chocolaty and the chopped dark chocolate gave an added burst of chocolate flavor. Even for this non-chocoholic, this recipe is a winner.

I always like to include some kind of nuts for snacking. The Maple-Thyme Pecans in the new Ovenly cookbook, from the bakery in Brooklyn, were tempting. I made one batch with pecans and another with walnuts. With the second batch, I cut back on the amount of maple syrup to avoid the soupy puddle left in the pan with the first batch. The sweet from the maple was nicely countered by the herbal tones of the thyme and the saltiness of coarse sea salt.

Finally, I took inspiration from David Tanis’ One Good Dish and made some Espresso Hazelnut Bark. This was as simple as topping melted bittersweet chocolate with chopped toasted hazelnuts, crushed coffee beans, and flaky Maldon sea salt.

For packaging, I thought I had bought wintery gift bags at the end of last year’s holiday season, but I couldn’t find them. I used paper lunch bags which I rubber-stamped with snowflakes and tied them close with white yarn.

Snowflake Bag

For the individual items, I fill clear candy bags and typically seal them with our sealer. This year, I did something more interesting. Early in December, I was searching the internet to re-find a white felt wreath I’d seen, but couldn’t remember where. My search brought me to a new (to me) website, White Gunpowder. Though the felt wreath project I found on Kay and Bill’s blog wasn’t what I was looking for, I did discover lots of inspiring new packaging ideas. They were also having a giveaway for an assortment of their favorite packaging supplies. Miraculously, I won!

Packaging supplies I won from White Gunpowder

Packaging supplies I won from White Gunpowder

For this year’s holiday packages, I used the decorative tape to close up the bags. The colorful tape added festive color, plus made the bags easier to open and reseal. I’ll continue to enjoy playing around with the assorted bags, twine, ribbon, and tape that came in my package from White Gunpowder. You should check out their site when you get a chance.

For the New Year’s reprise for Howard, he wanted to go with an all-chocolate theme (his favorite flavor). We repeated the espresso hazelnut bark complemented by Karen’s Cracker Candy topped with chopped almonds (which we’ve nicknamed Toffee Crunch) and World Peace Cookies. To round things out, Howard wanted to include Peanut Blossoms, the peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s kiss pressed into the top. A nostalgic favorite, I hadn’t made them since I was in high school, though I have sampled them on holiday cookie platters, just not at my house. I used the cookie dough recipe I found on Liz’s site, but baked the cookies a little longer and did not return the pan to the oven after pressing in the kiss (the candy melted too much). I located the gift bags in time for this set, and we used the decorative tape again to seal the individual treat bags.

Round 2

Round 2

Overall, this was the perfectly sweet way to end one year and bring in the new. I won’t tell you how many pounds of butter I went through! I will say that I see lots of soup simmering on the horizon to help push the diet back on track to more healthy eating.

If you still feel like indulging, you can follow links above or here are a few of the recipes I made that are not already on-line.

Espresso Hazelnut Bark

1 lb bittersweet chocolate (I used a “Pound Plus” bar of Trader Joe’s 54% Dark Chocolate)
½ cup hazelnuts
½ oz coffee beans
1 tsp Maldon flaked salt

Preheat the oven to 400F. Toast the hazelnuts for 10-15 minutes, until skin is very dark. Rub the hazelnuts in a dishtowel to remove the skins. Coarsely chop the hazelnuts. Set aside to cool.

Place the coffee beans in a ziplock bag. Use a rolling pin to crush the beans.

Line a baking sheet with foil.

Coarsely chop about 80% of the chocolate. Chop the remainder a bit finer. In the microwave, melt the coarsely chopped chocolate. (Start with 1 minute on full power, stir, then heat at 50% power in 30 second increments, stirring after each burst, until completely melted.) Immediately stir in finely chopped chocolate until it melts completely. This tempers the chocolate which gives it a nice sheen when it cools.

Use an offset spatula to spread the melted chocolate to cover the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts, then the coffee beans, then the flaked salt. Lightly press the toppings so they adhere to the chocolate. Chill until firm. Cut or break into pieces.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
Makes 4 dozen 2-inch cookies

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
½ cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
½ cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (1/8-inch bits)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vanilla, flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and chocolate bits, and mix until well blended, about 2 minutes. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten slightly.

Dust a large piece of parchment paper with flour. Place the dough in the center. Place another piece of parchment on top. Roll out the dough to an even ¼-inch thickness. Refrigerate rolled-out dough until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.   Line large baking sheets with parchment.

Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Place ½ inch apart on the baking sheets. Reroll scraps and cut more shapes.

Bake until the cookies are firm enough at the edges to slide easily off the parchment, 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies will be soft but will crisp up as they cool. Cool on the baking sheets set on wire racks.

Notes:

  • I used the 72% dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s.
  • The recipe called for making stars, but my star-shaped cutters are 3-inch or larger. I have 2-inch snowflake cutters, so that’s what I used. I was going for size over shape. The 2-inch size is perfectly bite-sized.
  • When I rerolled the scraps, I did not chill the dough again.
Advertisements

French Fridays with Dorie: Beggar’s Linguine

I had mixed feelings about this week’s recipe selection for French Fridays with Dorie. The recipe’s name, Beggar’s Linguine, is unassuming. Reading through the recipe, it was hard to get my head around just what to expect. Certainly, it was intriguing and exotic: linguine tossed in beurre noisette, a browned butter, with a variety of dried fruit and nuts. It is finished off with grated orange zest, grated Parmesan cheese, and some chopped parsley. I’d never heard of anything like it.

One of the reasons I joined this weekly cooking group is to push me outside my comfort zone once in a while. Sometimes, it’s a technique or an ingredient that presents a challenge. In this case, it was the combination of flavors.

For dried fruit, the recipe called for figs and golden raisins; for nuts, almonds and pistachios. I also threw in some dried apricots and hazelnuts for good measure. The picture doesn’t show it, but my butter browned perfectly. The overall flavor of the dish reminded me of a Christmas cake, like Italian panettone or even a good fruitcake. It was like dessert and dinner, all in one dish.

Only one half of my household will eat dried fruit (that would be me). Given that Dorie’s notes for this recipe said it shouldn’t be reheated or eaten cold, I opted to make a quarter of the recipe to feed just me. What did I think of the Beggar’s Linguine? I’m glad I tried it. I liked it much more than I expected, but given that it doesn’t appeal to the whole family, I doubt I would make it again.

I’m curious to see what my fellow FFwD bloggers thought about this week’s recipe. Check out their links at French Fridays with Dorie. We don’t post the recipes, but consider getting your own copy of the book, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. In fact, earlier this week, I sent a copy of this book to my sister Jane. After reading my post each Friday, she wonders whether she should own this cookbook. I decided for her.

As backup, in case I really hated this unusual dish, and so that Howard could eat dinner too, I made a reliable standard, Linguine with Clam Sauce, with the remaining three-quarters of the box of linguine. This recipe has evolved over many years. It started with a recipe from my old friend Amy, who now lives in Seattle. I have tweaked it to try to capture my mother’s version of this dish, which was one of my favorites when I was growing up. I always keep some canned clams in the pantry, so this is a quick and easy emergency dish. Here’s the recipe as a bonus, if you want to try it. It’s foolproof.

Linguine with Clam Sauce
Serves 4

1 box linguine (12-16 oz)
2 cans chopped (or minced) clams
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
¼ cup white wine
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 Tbsp chopped parsley
Freshly ground pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions. When it is cooked, drain well.

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. First, drain the juice from the clams, reserving the juice.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the minced garlic and sauté until the garlic is golden, but be careful not to burn it. Reduce the heat if you need to. Add the white wine and clam juice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and the chopped clams. Simmer for 3 minutes to heat the clams through. Season generously with freshly ground pepper.

Pour the sauce over the linguine and toss well.