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Let the Christmas Nom-a-Thon Begin!

Like a good chunk of the Midwest, snow dumped on us pretty badly yesterday. We are officially all dug out, however, and now I get to enjoy a day at home straightening up, slurping delicious cocoa, and starting on holiday sweets. I love giving gifts of treats at Christmas, and I’m feeling adventurous this year. Adventurous enough, in fact, that I am going to blog today’s kitchen sweatshop extravaganza here. Keep checking back for updates on this post!

For anyone who has missed the writing on the wall, I am an experimental cook. So, in all honesty, my Christmas goodie-fest actually started two days ago when I made mint chocolate “fudge.”

I knew full well that messing with fudge was to tempt fate since fudge, like caramels and other types of candy, is a chemistry project first and foremost. For that reason, I attempted to respect the protein, sugar, and fat ratios as much as possible while also trying to replace half the sugar with agave nectar and cutting the overall sweetness of it. I knew full well I wasn’t guaranteed fudge, but I figured I’d wind up with something interesting. And I did: a delicious, soft, creamy concoction that could be scooped and keep its shape. I had, I quickly realized, the perfect center for a minty truffle. So today, that’s where I started. I scooped the filling into balls and popped them into the freezer for about 15 minutes while I melted dark chocolate over a very low heat on the stove. I then smoothed out the minty bits, rolled them around in the dark chocolate until covered, and popped them onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper to harden.

Quoth the Unicyclist: “A smooth and tasty little minty treat.” A flop if you had your heart set on fudge, but a total score as an all-natural, reduced-sugar chocolate truffle.

Since I still have chocolate on the stove, I think I’m going to go right into the predictable-but-delicious world of chocolate-covered pretzels. Then, however, I’m going to get really nutty. Cranberry caramel tarts, rosemary pine nut cookies…who can say? Stay tuned for updates and pictures!

***do-do-doop-do-do-doop-do-do-doop** [with Wayne and Garth fingers]

So, I wound up going with a chai and almond shortbread for the present, which I created by marrying an Earl Grey shortbread recipe with a hazelnut shortbread, subbing chai for the Earl Grey and a mix of raw and toasted almonds for the hazelnuts. It is, unsurprisingly, buttery and rich and spicy, and it makes the house smell amazing. The almonds and the ground tea add some great texture, but I almost wish I had used a spice grinder instead of a food processor for the tea; you do get some respectable nibbles of clove and cardamon in there, which may not appeal to all my holiday nibblers. I like it, but I also think cacao nibs are awesome. I think I am a minority. In any case, I am considering dipping one end of each shortbread in white chocolate and sprinkling a bit of toasted coconut on it, but I am going to wait and see how it is once it fully cools before I go playing with it.

Speaking of dunking, I did dip some short pretzel rods in dark chocolate and sprinkle chopped toasted almonds on them. They’re good, but I suspect they’d be awesome with semisweet chocolate instead of dark and little toffee bits sprinkled on them instead of almonds. If you’re looking for inspiration, that would be my suggestion on how to get the elusive additional yum factor and some visual appeal¬† without going the route of Christmas jimmies and artificial color.

***do-do-doop-do-do-doop-do-do-doop** [with Wayne and Garth fingers]

Taste testers’ verdict is in: don’t mess with the shortbread. Looks like it will remain white-chocolate- and coconut-free.

The evening is winding down, but I think I might do one last project and dip a few pretzels in white chocolate as well. Later this week, once I can get in and do some shopping, I am looking to try a few more of these recipes that caught my eye today: lemon ricotta cookies, polvorones (also known as Mexican wedding cookies), and perhaps some cheesecake squares with a fresh cranberry glaze. I am really intrigued by the rosemary pine nut cookie recipe I saw as well, but my project list is getting a littler butter-heavy between the shortbread, polvorones, and inevitable sugar cookies yet to come. I think I need some gingerbread or fruity options to balance it out. Or peanut butter balls. Or some minty brownies. Mmmmm.

Dear cookies:

Why must you all be so tasty?

Love,

Me

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