Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Gloom and Goodies

We're almost through the horror that is the holiday season madness. In five sleeps, the insanity of Christmas Eve will be upon us, and in six, the hubbub of Christmas Day will be here. Those who know me and my general aversion to all things "holiday" never hesitate to call me a Scrooge, or drop an ever so passive-aggressive "guilt trip" comment about how they wish I would be more active in all the festivities. Well, call me a Scrooge, call me a downer, but I just don't have the energy to deal with 40 seniors (or almost-seniors) at a house party, even if they somehow share a blood line with me. Not only am I at least 20 years younger than anyone else attending, I have nothing in common with them - not least being my diet. It's one thing to have a cut-and-dry allergy or food preference (i.e. my second cousin is deathly allergic to nuts and eggs, my great uncle will not eat any meat but roast beef cooked until grey), but explaining the intricacies of how I went from being the most die-hard carnivore, butter and cheese fiend to being totally unable to digest those same items is difficult even at the best of times, and downright frustrating having to repeat the same story year after year. The worst part is that the conclusion of the plot is always the same vague trail-off - we still don't know, and I've given up on wasting time and energy seeking out an answer. It's not their fault, I know, but all the same, family Christmases just aren't the joy and bliss for me that they are for the rest of the clan. 
I'm not alone in this mentality. My sister feels generally the same way, although she has the benefit of having always been the "picky child", so nobody questions her abstinence from the buffet line. Teaghan also has the luck of being an overall "louder" and more boisterous person than I, which allows her to be a bit less of a wallflower at these occasions.

After all that, you'd think I'd be first in line for a flight to Timbuktu come November 1. But I do love one thing about the holiday season - all the prep leading up to it. I adore wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, arranging menus, and of course all the baking! There is no better excuse to break out the fun "goodie" recipes than the festive season, and this year I had a fair amount of new ones I wanted to try out!

The first of the lot came around as a "semi-regift" mechanism. I was given an adorable mug with some hot chocolate packets for Christmas last year, and since the mix contained dairy I wasn't able to use it. I couldn't bear to simply toss them though, as they were both a gift and a "premium truffle blend" of cocoa, so I did what I do with all the other random things I find in the pantry - I baked it into something! This time around, I chose the most logical avenue for a hot drink mix-containing sweet - biscotti! Why not - you can dunk your hot chocolate cookie in your mug of cocoa for a double hit! The chestnuts were my little homage to the "Italian" side of the family, since one of my step-aunts (is that even a term?) is the lucky recipient of the finished product. They add a little bit of buttery texture and mildness compared to the rich cocoa mix, Kahlua and black pepper I tossed in.

Hot Chocolate Chestnut Biscotti
Massively adapted from Cooking Light, November 1996
Makes 16 
2 tbsp brown sugar
½ cup hot chocolate mix
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 egg white
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp Kahlua
½ cup flour
½ cup spelt flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp allspice
Pinch black pepper
¼ tsp salt
100g shelled roasted chestnuts, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream sugar, hot chocolate mix, butter, egg white, vanilla and Kahlua until well blended.
  3. Add flours, baking powder, allspice, pepper and salt, beating in well.
  4. By hand, fold in the chestnuts.
  5. Shape dough into a 12” log and place on a lined cookie sheet. Flatten to 1” thick.
  6. Bake 30 minutes. Cool 15 minutes.
  7. Cut diagonally into 16 slices.
  8. Place slices, cut sides down, on the baking sheet.
  9. Bake 5 minutes, then flip and bake 5 minutes more.
  10. Cool completely on wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 87.6
Total Fat: 2.1 g
Cholesterol: 3.8 mg
Sodium: 34.9 mg
Total Carbs: 16.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 1.9 g

The major project I wanted to undertake this year was making my own Ferrero Rochers. Some of you who know my whole contact allergy reaction to cut nuts and coconut may be shaking your heads at this (trust me, I did too, until I bought rubber gloves!) but they were my all-time favourite confection back in the day and I knew there were a wealth of people who felt the same way. Plus, they are really so EASY to make and play with that I just couldn't help but try! Of course, I perused the wealth of blogs that had already done this treat to death (and admittedly made it look way prettier than mine did) before starting, and then decided to add my own little twists along the way with what I had around. I didn't go all the way to making mochi like I saw on Gourmeted, but it's totally on my list! What I did wind up with was a seductive combination of ground hazelnuts and almonds, crushed hazelnut wafers, a touch of rice flour and Nutella surrounding a toasted whole hazelnut heart, which I froze before drenching in a melted chocolate and Frangelico coating. Can we say epic decadence? It's a good thing that we're giving all these away, because there could be some not so welcome consequences otherwise!
 
 
Mock Ferrero Rochers
Makes 60
350 g hazelnut wafer biscuits, crushed (I used Loacker Classic Napolitaner wafers)
100 g ground hazelnuts
75 g ground almonds
50 g rice flour
500 g (about 1 2/3 cups) Nutella
60 whole hazelnuts
500 g bittersweet chocolate (I like it nice and dark, like 70%. Use what you like.)
2 tbsp Frangelico liqueur, optional
  1. Combine the crushed wafers, ground nuts, rice flour and Nutella in a large bowl. Mix well.
  2. Form a small ball of this dough mixture around each whole hazelnut. Place on a lined cookie sheet.
  3. Freeze 1 hour.
  4. Melt chocolate in a bowl set over barely simmering water. Stir in Frangelico.
  5. Dip frozen balls into melted chocolate and allow to harden on wax paper-lined sheets. 
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 146.6
Total Fat: 10.3 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 7.3 mg
Total Carbs: 13.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.2 g
Protein: 2.3 g