Holiday Bon Bons and Changing Times

There was a time when shipping was a reasonable part of the Christmas gifting equation.  I would create schedules for preparing, baking, wrapping, and shipping elaborate holiday gift baskets for friends and family. Often there was a theme; once everything was smoked: from cheeses, to sausages, salsas, jerky, and nuts.

As shipping rates escalated, packages got smaller. Now, I’ve pretty much abandoned the whole shipping idea. Instead I turn to Amazon Prime and send something obscure and generic—no doubt these gifts are appreciated just as much as previous crumbled cookies or the occasional exploding jar.

truffle-postThis year I really wanted to share my latest discovery of high flavored sweet treats made with raw (paleo approved) all natural ingredients featuring dried fruits, nuts, flavorings, and no additional sugar.

Of the two I made, I can’t decide whether I like the chocolate or the apricot more, but it doesn’t matter because they complement each other beautifully. The Raw Truffle Bites have high quality unsweetened cocoa powder, pulverized roasted hazelnuts and Deglet Noor dates, and rolled in cocoa powder. They are a bit like an adult Nutella nugget.

Their companion Apricot Almond Balls, are made with dried apricots flavored with grated lemon zest, pulverized almonds plus a few dates for sweetness, and then rolled in desiccated coconut for contrast. Use the best dried apricots you can find, the lemon zest really brings them to life and the almonds are the perfect counterpoint. You’ll find more on the apricots in my next post coming up.

Much like fine bon bons, I reasoned less is more here and the smaller quantities would certainly suffice. Thus, I settled on US Postal Service small flat rate boxes which meant in round numbers, 8.5”x5.5”x1.5” box/postage at $7.00 each; about as reasonable as it gets.

Marginally reminiscent of a candy box, it also meant that the box would likely hold only one layer deep.  After the complicated packaging of previous baskets this would be pretty straightforward; I was more concerned with the strength of the box to do its job.

The raw balls came together in a hurry and in no time I was filling individual candy cups. Next I strategically packed them in colorful beribboned cellophane bags along with gift ingredient labels. The packages were then snuggly bound in bubble wrap and slipped into their waiting boxes—no rattling or shifting here. According to all accounts they arrived safely and fairly unscathed.

Raw Truffle Bites

Inspired by Raw Brownie Bites at paleogrubs.com

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups roasted hazelnuts (walnuts or pecans) light chop
pinch of salt
1 cup pitted Deglet Noor dates (or other excellent quality), chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Add roasted hazelnuts and salt to food processor and process until nuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder and process until mixture begins to come together. If necessary, add a couple drops of water at a time.
  3. Transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using a slightly rounded teaspoonful, roll with hands into small round balls and chill well. Roll in cocoa powder if desired. Yield: 17 – 20 truffles.

Note:  These are best eaten cold. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for about 1 week.

 

Ultimate Chocolate Cookie

Many of my friends have a perennial list of holiday cookies that they religiously prepare consisting of heritage recipes and family favorites.  They are tried and true treasures that everyone looks forward to receiving.

I have a few regulars, but I also like to throw in a little variation, too. Often there is some sort chocolate cookie, since an assortment is not complete without at least one, and I can never settle on one that completely thrills me.

That could have all changed this year.  In One Sweet Cookie, Tracey Zabar offers a Flourless Chocolate Cookie from Francois Payard Patisserie that speaks my language.

choc stack Granted, I’m probably one of the few who is not completely knocked out by chocolate.  For most folks, the more chocolate, the more intense, the better.  I have absolutely no problem with the delicious flavor and nuances of chocolate, it is that heart arresting wallop that most chocolate sweets seem to offer.

ice cream sandIf you had to categorize this cookie, I suspect it would fall close to a macaroon.  The beauty of Payard’s cookie is that it simply consists of  a few egg whites, dutched cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, a big hit of vanilla extract, and plenty of nuts.  With the addition of egg whites no further leavener is required. And much like an old-fashioned macaroon the whites are not beaten into a fluffy mass, they are simply stirred into the batter.  This recipe mixes up in a hurry!

The beauty of using cocoa powder is there is no melting or tempering of chocolate.  Dutched cocoa powder also produces a well flavored, darkly colored product.  In the dutching process much of the fat is removed and alkali is introduced to adjust resulting bitterness and acidity.  You get a big chocolate hit without the damage.

Thanks to the hefty amount of nuts (I substituted pecans for the suggested walnuts) the final cookie turns out rounded, very moist and chewy—much like a brownie.  I can’t imagine this cookie without the nuts.  I also reduced the humongous size of Zabar’s cookie to a manageable 2-1/2 to 3 inch cookie.  It is still a heavenly mouthful!

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Inspired by Francois Payard Patisserie, from One Sweet Cookie, Tracey Zabar

Ingredients
1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp cocoa powder, Dutch-process, (I used Guittard)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped (I used pecans)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
I Tbsp vanilla extract (I used 2 Tsp vanilla paste)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place racks in upper and bottom thirds of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  2. Combine cocoa, sugar, salt, and walnuts in bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed for 1 minute.
  3. With mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes until it has slightly thickened.  Do not over mix, or it will thicken too much.
  4. Using 1 oz scoop or large tablespoon, scoop the batter onto the sheets to make 2-1/2 to 3″ rounded cookies, about 2″ apart.    If there is extra batter, wait until first batch is baked before scooping 2nd batch.
  5. Place cookies in oven and immediately lower temperature to 325 degrees.  Bake 10 minutes and rotate the sheets, bake an additional 8 to 10 minute until cracks begin to form on surface. Don’t over bake.  Carefully remove cookies with spatula onto baking rack to cool.  Yield: about 20, 2-1/2 to 3” cookies.