Friday, December 30, 2011

nougat marzipan cookies

The other morning, I was supposed to be writing.

Instead, I just sat there, staring out the window and thinking about nougat.

In fact, ever since I got a box of Toffifee for Christmas, I have been thinking a lot about German nougat and how I can incorporate more of it into my life.

German nougat, by the way, is very different from French nougat. The Germans combine nuts and chocolate to form a magical substance they call nougat. The French, sadly, leave chocolate right out of the equation and still call it nougat. Even more sadly, Canadians hardly eat any kind of nougat at all.

Then, as I sat there, I thought about how I was in the mood for something that is not a cookie and not a chocolate. I wanted something in between. Something small and chocolate-ish, but also cookie-ish.

And I wanted it to have nougat. Suddenly, I was composing not a story but a cookie.

Enter the marzipan left over from my stollen-making expedition in early December . . .

Add my desire to eat shortbread over the holiday . . .

Drop a few lines of melted dark chocolate left over from that disastrous truffle-making episode . . .

And the chocolate-ish, cookie-ish thing is born: the nougat marzipan cookie.

If you would also like to compose an itsy-bitsy cookie, here's what you do:

Bake mini shortbread cookies.

Make German nougat (which is not difficult) and dollop it on top.

Pull out your extra marzipan and mold it into a patty to fit over top.

Melt some chocolate and start drizzling.

VoilĂ ! – you're done!

A new little cookie for those times when you can't stop thinking about nougat and you want something that is in between a chocolate and a cookie.

Happy New Year!

May you eat many cookies, chocolates, and everything in between.

Last December: tipsy rum balls (also in between!)

nougat marzipan cookies
bakes about 20 wee cookies

about 20 shortbread bottoms
nougat (adapted from here) :
      1/3 c. heaping cashews or hazelnuts
      1/3 c. icing or powdered sugar
      1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
      2 - 4 tsp. cocoa powder
      2 tsp. strong black coffee
150 g. (5.3 oz) prepared marzipan 
50 g. (1.8 oz) dark chocolate

First, make the little shortbread bottoms. A half recipe from here works perfectly.

While the shortbread is baking and cooling, make the nougat. Grind the nuts in a food processor until they look like couscous. Add the icing sugar and grind until fine, but not until you have nut butter. Empty into a medium-sized bowl. Add 2 teaspoons cocoa and stir well. Mix in the vanilla and coffee. If it is now a firm but spreadable texture, you're done with the nougat. If it's not thick enough, keep adding a bit more cocoa until it is.

Once the shortbread is cool, spoon a bit of nougat on each cookie. Cut pieces of marzipan and roll them into balls. With your fingers, shape each ball into a patty. Carefully attach the patty to the cookie, over the nougat centre.

When all the cookies have nougat and marzipan, start melting your chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a metal bowl suspended over simmering water. Once it's melted, use a small spoon to drizzle chocolate over each cookie. Refrigerate until chocolate has hardened. Eat!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

cheesy grapes

I like it best when parties have themes.

(I also like games at parties, but since I seem to be the only adult on the planet who feels that way, let's just keep that to ourselves, shall we?)

So, our friends Catherine and Guthrie had a Christmas open house this weekend and the theme was 60s finger food.

60s finger food!

Genius. Catherine had a big pot of fondue simmering, we drank mulled wine, we ate deviled eggs and tiny skewers of salami and pickle, and so many girls wore cute 60s dresses. (Wish I'd thought of that.)

I did think long and hard about my contribution and ended up with cheesy grapes. (The title alone – are you hooked yet? I bet you're just skipping on down to the recipe now, desperate to make them.)

I first ate these at a Christmas party seven years ago. They were crunchy and juicy and creamy and salty and somehow it all worked. Luckily, my friend Hilary is generous with recipes and she shared it with me. Turns out, it's originally from Canadian Living magazine, which is always a good source of retro and old-fashioned recipes.

The grapes are smothered in a creamy mixture of blue cheese, cream cheese, garlic and ground ginger. This sounds odd, but you'll just have to trust me. And really, can you go wrong with blue cheese and nuts on anything? (Although I do find I always have to eat quite few as I'm rolling them, just to – you know – make sure they're still tasty.)

I did stick a toothpick in each cheesy grape for the party. After many years of trial and error, I've learned that you have to make it easy for people to try your odd-looking potluck dish. After all, no one wants blue-cheesy hands when they're meeting new people.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 Last December: tipsy rum balls

note: almonds only stay crunchy for so long – try to make this no more than a few hours before your party

cheesy grapes
slightly adapted from Canadian Living

114 g. (4 oz. or 1/2 c.) cream cheese
24 g. (7/8 oz. or 1/4 c.) blue cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
60 seedless red grapes
1 1/2 c. roasted almonds, chopped finely

Wash the grapes and dry them thoroughly. (I liked a clean tea towel for this.) Set aside.

Put the almonds in a small bowl – big enough for the nuts to move around, small enough to easily roll a grape. Set aside.

Cream the cream cheese, blue cheese and mayonnaise together. Stir in garlic and ginger. Carefully stir the grapes in, so that each grape is coated. Roll each cheese-covered grape in the almonds. Place them in a single layer on your serving dish. Poke a toothpick in each one for easy handling. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until your party starts.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

spiced ginger mounds

I think the world can be divided into two kinds of people: those who like chewy cookies and those who like crisp cookies.

That means that some people go ga-ga over ginger snaps.

I don't.

I go ga-ga over ginger chews.

That's right – I like my ginger cookie good and chewy.

My friend Carolyn gave this recipe to me one December in Halifax, eleven years ago (when I was a mere child).

With a slight crackle appearace and a dusting of sugar snow, this is one of my favourite Christmas cookies. It is also very satisfying to watch them flop from a sugary ball down into a thick, chewy* cookie. And, I am happy to report it has single-handedly broken my bad baking streak this December.

What more could you ask for? With or without gluten, these cookies are gentle little spicy chews that just beg to be chased with a Christmas orange.

That's really all I have to say. If you like chewy cookies, you should make these spiced ginger mounds. If you like crisp cookies, you'll have to find another recipe. Or bake these a lot longer.

* Obviously, I am trying to break some kind of record for how many times I can use the word chewy in one post.

P.S. I am back from Toronto. There was no snow, but I did brave a chilly north wind, which was perfect for cold-testing my new coat from Cornwall. (My new coat performed perfectly, thank you very much. It felt light and toasty like a marshmallow and I love it.) Getting back to food matters, I discovered some excellent Italian food. Hop on over to hop & go fetch it for new favourite restaurants in Toronto.

Last December: spicy cajun almonds and butter lettuce for a break

spiced ginger mounds
bakes 36 

3/4 c. butter
1 c. + 3 tbsp. white sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. molasses
2 c. wheat flour
     or gluten-free flours:
     80 g. sweet white sorghum flour
     40 g. teff flour
     90 g. sweet rice flour
     70 g. tapioca starch
     1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and 1 cup of sugar. Beat in the egg and molasses. Set aside.

In another bowl, blend the flour(s), salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix well. Stir into butter mixture.

Shape into small balls, about 1 inch in diametre. Pour your extra 3 tablespoons of sugar into a small bowl. Roll each ball in the sugar. Set on prepared cookie sheet. Give them room to spread out (only 12 - 14 balls per large cookie sheet).

If you're making gluten-free cookies, chill at least 15 minutes. If you're making cookies with wheat flour, skip the chilling. Bake for 9 – 11 minutes, until small crackles form on the cookies.* Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 – 10 minutes before transferring to a rack.

* Don't overbake if you like a chewy cookie.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

dominosteine and christmas treats

My dear readers, I have been trying to make some Christmas treats to share with you. Trying being the key word.

After rolling and carefully cutting out a promising new recipe of cinnamon stars . . . they melted into tasty but shapeless blobs as they baked.

Then I pulled out a tried and true truffle recipe – one I've been using since I was 16! – and what do you think happened? Somehow, the chocolate separated and I have some very grainy pre-truffle mixture lurking in my fridge. (It's certainly not worth rolling.)

Now, I am in Toronto for work and there is no baking going on in my hotel room. So, all I can do is tell you about my favourite little German Christmas treat: dominosteine.

Maybe you've seen them in the import section of your grocery store and wondered what those dark chocolate cubes were? Well, they are actually the perfect cross between a chocolate and a cookie, and I would recommend you eat at least two every day leading up to Christmas.

The bottom layer is a soft lebkuchen or gingerbread. Top that with an apple jelly. And top that with marzpian! (No, I am never far from marzipan.) And cover it all in dark chocolate! Yes, you see why I love them so.

I know, I know, you still want to do some Christmas baking. Well, until my unlucky streak runs out and I'm back with both a pretty and edible recipe to share, how about repeats?

Here are a few ideas from the past (both pretty and edible) that could work for Christmas:

tipsy rum balls

chocolate nut balls


salted chocolate shortbread

walnut slugs

butter tarts

bacon-wrapped dates with olives and almonds

spicy cajun almonds

Do you have any good recipes to share? (Yup, I'm looking for ones that actually work.)