Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

I love this time of the year; all the twinkling lights, tinsel, wrapping paper and present shopping. The lead up to Christmas has a really exciting feel to it on this side of the world. The crisp coldness and the early darkness makes the lights of Regent Street, the roasted chestnut stands dotted around Oxford Circus and each glass of spicy mulled wine seem extra festive. I love nothing better than meeting friends at one of our favourite pubs like I did last night, to share a bottle of hearty vin rouge and exchange gifts before we all head our separate ways for Christmas Day.

Here is what I made for the girls – two of the tastiest little treats I can imagine, perfect to have on hand at Christmas time when you need a tiny pause between all the festivities. Perfect with a strong cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Merry Christmas everyone! xx

Panforte (on the left)
Panforte is an Italian fruit cake with a chewy texture created by combining the fruits and nuts with just enough sugar, honey and flour to bind it altogether. My version of this delicious treat is not so traditional, as I’ve replaced the candied citrus fruit and peel with dried cherries and cranberries, added hazelnuts to the almonds and cocoa and chocolate (which is found in many Italian Panforte recipes but not in the very original ones). 

– 90 grams dark cooking chocolate
– 1 cup toasted and roughly chopped hazelnuts
– 1 cup toasted and roughly chopped almonds
– 1/2 cup dried and roughly chopped cherries
– 1/2 cup dried and roughly chopped cranberries
– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon ground mixed spice/allspice
– 1/2 cup plain flour
– 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
– 2/3 cup white sugar (standard/granulated)
– 2/3 cup runny honey
– 1/2 cup icing sugar for dusting

Start by greasing an 8 inch/20cm tart or slice tin and then line with baking paper.

To toast the nuts, pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas Mark 4. Place the nuts on a baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes until the nuts are starting to colour and releasing a lovely nutting aroma. Take care not to let them burn. Remove and leave to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150 degrees C/300 degrees F/Gas mark 2.

Next place a heat-proof bowl over a simmering pot of water, break the chocolate into the bowl and stir to melt. Remove from the heat once all the chocolate has melted and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the toasted nuts, dried fruit, flour, cocoa and spices.

Next is the most important part, creating the sugar syrup. Place the sugar and honey in a small pot over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. Once the syrup begins to boil, stop stirring and let the syrup reach the soft ball stage (115 degrees C/240 degrees F). This is easy if you have a sugar thermometer. If not, drop a teaspoon of the syrup into a glass of cold water and if it hold its shape it’s reached the correct temperature. It will only take a few minutes once the syrup starts to boil for it to reach this stage.

Once the syrup has reached the soft ball stage, you need to work quickly before the syrup starts to set. Add the syrup and chocolate to the dry ingredients and quickly mix to combine. Transfer the mixture to your lined tin and spread evenly. I find that the easiest way to do this as the mixture begins to harden, is to use my hands moistened with water.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until you see tiny blisters/bubbles on the surface. Remove from the oven and after 5 minutes, remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

While its cooling, liberally sift the icing sugar over the Panforte. Then gently rub the sugar in. Once it’s completely cooled, store in an airtight container and it will keep well for weeks.

Snowballs (on the right)
These little shortbread like gems are very similar to melting moments. In fact the only difference is that these have ground nuts in them. I think this is what makes snowballs extra special whilst retaining that amazingly delicious melt-in-your-mouth texture.Ingredients:
– 2/3 cup toasted hazelnuts (use almonds, pecans or walnuts if you prefer). You can also just use store-bought ground almonds if you want, although toasting and blitzing the nuts yourself adds a wonderful flavour and texture.
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 1/4 cup icing sugar
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 2 cups standard plain flour
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas Mark 4. Place the nuts on a baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes until the nuts are starting to colour and releasing a lovely nutting aroma. Take care not to burn. Remove and set aside to cool. Turn the oven off for now as you need to chill the dough for an hour so baking is a wee way off.

Once the nuts have cooled, place them in a food processor or blender with 2 tablespoons of the flour and blitz until they are finely ground.

Next cream the butter and icing sugar in a large bowl. The best way to do this is to use room temperature butter and cut it up into cubes first. Then, I always find that it’s easier to start beating the butter on its own until it’s slightly creamed before adding the sugar. That way, when you do add the sugar it combines quickly instead of flying everywhere. Beat the butter and sugar for a couple of minutes until it’s light, fluffy and pale in colour.

Beat in the vanilla extract, then add the remaining flour and salt and continue beating until combined. Stir in the ground nuts and then roll the dough into a ball, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour. This firms up the dough so that when you begin to roll out the balls they will hold their shape and not melt in your hands.

Once the dough has nearly finished chilling, preheat the oven back up to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas Mark 4 and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Take the chilled dough from the fridge and roll into small (2cm wide) balls and place about 2 cm apart on the baking trays. You should get about 3 dozen snowballs out of this quantity of dough.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the sides of the snowballs are just starting to colour. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

After about 5 minutes, dust liberally with icing sugar. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container and they will keep for a couple of weeks.


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