Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm a #CALWALNUTS♥ Case

So now that everyone on both sides of the border has eaten their fill of Thanksgiving chow (and, if you're like us, stashed the rest in the freezer to disappear until March), the attention of the masses is free to turn to the next seasonal shindig on the docket. Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Divali, Yule, Solstice or simply being alive, warm and fed for another year, the cold weather brings people together in a way not much else can.
The cold and sometimes stormy weather has another side effect too, triggering the tastes for heartier, warming and (admittedly) higher-calorie and -fat food. It's a natural impulse - after all, back in the paleolithic times, humans needed that extra nourishment to keep warm and make it through until the next spring's plants and animals returned. Today, it's not a necessary yen, but still a persistent one... and should be looked at not as a source of "dreaded weight gain" but as an opportunity to embrace new and varied sources of nourishment.

Healthful whole grains (think steel cut oats, kasha, barley and grainy breads), tubers and squashes, cruciferous veggies and nuts all play starring roles when the mercury starts dropping. For those of us who turn to the stove and oven for comfort this season, baking and sweet treats begin to crop up on our "to-do" lists, as much for the purpose of continuing tradition as for sharing the bounty and warmth with others. For many years, holiday goodies at our home (except Mom's filled brioche) were solely the nut-free variety - nuts were verboten at school, and neither my sister nor I particularly cared for them (why have nuts, we reasoned, when you could have chocolate, or better yet, Mom's shortbread?). Even the more traditional dried fruits of mincemeat, fruitcake and Christmas pudding were relegated to the "older set". Dad was (and is to this day) the Mincemeat King, his mother always broke out the brandy-laced plum pudding at the holiday party, and we could count on any of my grandparents or great-relatives to take a doorstop fruitcake crusted in marzipan granite off our hands. I didn't eschew fruit completely - but unless it was a chunk of apple in my mom's to-die-for pie, a raisin in a rich, gooey buttertart or a plethora of dates in a "Matrimonial Square", I could be counted on to pass it by.

Times have changed - somewhat. While my sister and I still don't eat nuts (her out of preference, mine since discovering an allergy to the very ones I avoided), our circle of family and friends has expanded to include many a nut-lover. So who am I to deny them - especially when I have something as fresh and rich as the goodies in my California Walnuts gift basket to use?

This year's "nut cookie" uses the  walnuts in three forms for a variety of textures and tastes: ground nuts freckle the batter slightly and give the cream cheese cookies a hint of sandy buttery-ness, diced "crumbles" add pops of more assertive walnut character, and finally a maple-glazed half crowns each sugar-rimmed slice for a glistening, bitter-sweet finish. After consulting with one of my favourite taste-testers, I added currants to half the batch, but I have it on good authority that the recipe is just as delicious without them.

Triple-Walnut Cookies
Makes 32
5.3 oz (a generous 2/3 cup) salted butter, softened
5.3 oz (a generous 2/3 cup) shortening
4 oz cream cheese
5.4 oz (13 tbsp) sugar
2 tbsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
1 cup oat flour
pinch nutmeg
1/3 cup ground California Walnuts
2 cups finely chopped California Walnuts
1/4 cup currants (optional)
coarse turbinado sugar for rolling
32 California Walnut halves
Maple syrup for brushing
  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla, beat in well.
  3. Add flours, nutmeg and ground walnuts, beating in.
  4. Fold in the chopped walnuts and currants (if using).
  5. Scoop 1/2 the batter (it will be very soft and sticky) onto a sheet of wax paper set on a double layer of foil.
  6. Using damp hands, roll dough into a log about 2" in diameter.
  7. Wrap in the waxed paper / foil layers and freeze until very firm, at the least 3-4 hours and up to 6 months.
  8. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
  9. Unwrap one log and roll it in the coarse sugar to coat the sides completely.
  10. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the log into 1/4" thick rounds and place them 1" apart on sheets.
  11. Lightly press a walnut half onto the tacky surface of each cookie (dough will have defrosted somewhat) and using a pastry brush lightly glaze the top of each round.
  12. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 16-17 minutes. They will not look overly browned but this is OK.
  13. Cool completely on the sheets.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 205.2
Total Fat: 16.9 g
Cholesterol: 16.7 mg
Sodium: 37.9 mg
Total Carbs: 12.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 2.8 g

Don't forget to enter my KitchenAid Food Processor holiday giveaway! Entries close at 11:59PM on Saturday, don't delay!!
Somebody likes nuts!