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Making edible gifts is definitely my favourite activity during Christmas. After the much loved Pfeffernüsse last week, I could not keep myself away from the wide array of Christmas recipes I have collected over years. Deliciously illustrated pages depicting Christmas themed cookies, brownies, cupcakes and candy from my innumerable cookbooks made it impossibly difficult to settle on a single baking project. In the end, I decided to go ahead with what I already had in my kitchen cupboard since my Christmas shopping would invariably include lots of new exotic ingredients from gourmet shops. I unfortunately happen to be an impulsive shopper as most of the stuff I buy on whim finally find themselves spending weeks to months unattended till I remember to invest them into a worthy recipe.

A big jar of Nutella always holds the place of pride on my kitchen shelf along with other baking essentials like my bottle of golden syrup and my stash of vanilla pods from Madagascar. Nutella is a life-saving ingredient, you can use it as an emergency filling for any sweet bakes or even as frosting if you need a last-minute topping everyone will love. When I found this gorgeous set of pictures featuring Nutella truffles, dipped in dark chocolate and dusted with golden ‘hazelnut dust’ on DeliciouslyYum, I instantly bookmarked them as the chocolate candy I would blog about this Christmas.

NUTELLA TRUFFLES

Ingredients:

14 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread/ Nutella

1/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature

1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil, optional

Roasted, chopped hazelnuts for sprinkling

Method:

  • Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside. Place 10 ounces of the chocolate into a medium bowl.
  • Using the microwave or stove, heat up heavy cream until hot, but not boiling. Pour over the chocolate.

  • Let stand for 1-2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, stir mixture until combined and chocolate is melted.
  • Stir in chocolate hazelnut spread and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until it is set.

  • With the help of a small scoop (about 1 teaspoon), scoop out the chocolate mixture and form into balls.
  • Place the chocolate balls onto prepared cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes.

  • Heat remaining chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl until melted. Add oil, if using, and stir to combine.
  • Remove the firm chocolate balls from the freezer and place one ball at a time into the melted chocolate.

  • Using a fork, evenly coat each ball with the melted chocolate and remove the truffle from the chocolate.
  • Place on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining balls. Pour leftover chocolate in a small Ziploc bag.

  • Cut off one corner and pipe melted chocolate on top and finish with hazelnuts. Return truffles to freezer.
  • Leave for 15 minutes until well set. Keeps up to 7 days stored in the fridge or up to 4 weeks in the freezer.

While my truffle balls were setting in the fridge, waiting to be packaged in their individual wrappers, I found time for another candy I have been longing to make ever since I saw the recipe on a tin of Nestle condensed milk. Luckily, the online recipe on The Pretty Blog comes as close to the real thing as I can remember. Super sweet, sticky cubes of vanilla fudge make a nice addition to any Christmas hamper and are quite inexpensive if you need to make large batches. The most important step is achieve the perfect fudge-like texture is to beat it well after it starts to caramelize. Before it sets completely, you can fold in any topping of your choice including chocolate chips, cranberries, apricots, chopped nuts or a combination of any of these but my favorite remains a sprinkling of our local coarse sea salt.

VANILLA FUDGE

Ingredients:

500 ml (2cups) granulated sugar

75 ml (5 tablespoons) cold water

25 ml (5 teaspoons) golden syrup

60 g unsalted butter, softened

1 can (390g) condensed milk

5 ml (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract

Seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Method:

  • Put sugar and water into a large heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

  • Add the butter and syrup and stir until the butter has melted. Add the condensed milk and stir it.

  • Continue stirring till it comes to the boil. Boil very slowly on low heat, stirring every minute or 2.

  • Boil until soft ball stage, mixture will darken to a deep caramel colour and will form sugar crystals.

  • Remove mixture from the stove, add the vanilla extract and seeds and beat with a wooden spoon.

  • Beating the fudge for about 5 to 10 minutes will ensure a great texture when it is cools completely.

  • Pour the hot fudge into a 22 x 22 cm square pan lightly greased with butter and level the surface.

  • Leave it to cool completely in pan. Cut into squares when cold and store in an air-tight container.

Homemade Christmas Candy

Christmas to me is the ultimate baking season and there is nothing that says it better than homemade cookies. As I set about discovering and experimenting with new cookie recipes for this year’s festivities, I came across this dainty little holiday treat, which is very popular in Nordic countries like Denmark and Germany. Pfeffernüsse, richly infused with the aroma of freshly ground spices, is not as complicated as it sounds though it may take a few trips to the spice aisle of your local supermarket to get all the spices that go in its making.

The recipe, from Daring Gourmet, also guides you through the making of Lebkuchengewürz, the German gingerbread spice mixture that definitely beats any of those store-bought bottled stuff you might think of using. The complexity of flavors in this particular mix gives Pfeffernüsse its deep characteristic quality which improves considerably as they sit around in the cookie jar waiting to be eaten or packed as edible gifts with lots of cellophane and fancy ribbon. The sugar glaze gives a lovely sophisticated bakery-style finish but feel free to omit if you are keeping close count on your calorie intake this December.

PFEFFERNUSSE

Ingredients:

For the Lebkuchengewürz/ Gingerbread Spice

2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground star anise

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the Pfeffernüsse Cookie Dough

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kitchen salt

2 teaspoons homemade Lebkuchengewürz

1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper

1/4 cup ground almonds/almond meal

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup pure honey

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 large egg, room temperature

For the Sugar Glaze

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

4 tablespoons hot water

Method:

  • To make Lebkuchengewuerz, combine the spices together and store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.
  • This mixture will keep for up to one year but using the freshly ground blend within a few days is optimal.

  • For superior flavor result, make the Lebkuchengewuerz mixture by grinding the spices from whole spices.
  • In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, ground white pepper and almond meal.

  • Add 2 teaspoons homemade Lebkuchengewuerz to the mixture, mix till it is homogenous and set it aside.
  • Combine the brown sugar, honey, butter, and cream in a medium saucepan and heat, stirring frequently.

  • Stir until melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Stir in flour mixture.
  • Once incorporated stir in the egg until thoroughly combined. The dough should have a nice glossy sheen.

  • It will be very sticky. Turn mixture out onto plastic wrap; wrap dough tightly and refrigerate it overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough from the plastic wrap and immediately roll into two strands.

  • Each strand should be about ¾ inch thick. Slice into ¾ inch thick rounds and roll each round into a ball.
  • Each ball should be about ¾ inch large. Work quickly while dough is chilled and place on a cookie sheet.

  • Bake cookies for 15 minutes or till golden brown. Remove and let cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
  • To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and water till it is smooth. Dip each cookie in the glaze.

  • Let them sit until the sugar glaze is fully hardened. Store the cookies in airtight container in a cool place.
  • Cookies will keep for at least 2 weeks and the flavor only gets better over time. Makes about 50 cookies.

Pfeffernüsse – German Iced Gingerbread Cookies

I am somewhat late with this post because December was such a busy month that I hardly had time to sit down and figure out exactly what to blog about this month. With all the Christmas shopping, gift hampers, last-minute gift hunting for those who were not on my original guest list, it was quite a semi-marathon to get everything ready in time. In spite of all, I really hope you had a wonderful time this Christmas with your family and friends around you. I could not help being on duty on Christmas eve but the festive mood was strong even on our hospital premises. Our team of doctors and interns managed to cook up a jolly good Christmas dinner with Creamy Chicken in Mushroom Sauce, Potato & Chayote Gratin and my own contribution, a coffee flavored Bûche de Noël with chocolate dipped strawberries. The bûche fortunately turned out well, overcoming my fear of baking a totally foreign kitchen.

My enthusiasm to get back home and rip open my Christmas gifts, however, was unparalleled to none. The trip back home was a painfully long one but when I got there, I was rewarded by a beautifully wrapped book: Le Larousse du Chocolat by Pierre Herme and a huge box of Lanvin assorted chocolates: Noël à Paris. Since I was not going to work today, it was sheer pleasure for me to bake this Bûche de Noël au Chocolat et à l’Orange from my new cookbook. I did get a bit impatient over the long chilling time towards the end but found nothing to complain about when I tasted the brilliant combination of rich dark chocolate and candied orange peel with a faint whiff of fresh vanilla. With so many new chocolate flavored possibilities at hand, I cannot wait to start on another recipe from this absolutely gorgeous book which is, indeed, a bible for chocolate connoisseurs.

BUCHE DE NOEL AU CHOCOLAT ET A L’ORANGE

Ingredients:

For the Chocolate Sponge

4 eggs, separated

100g granulated sugar

75g all purpose flour

25g cocoa powder

For the Orange Syrup

125ml fresh orange juice

75g granulated sugar

For the Chocolate Filling

200ml whipping cream

200g dark chocolate [70%]

60g candied orange peel

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 220oC. Prepare the sponge by beating egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer.

  • Beat for about 5-7 minutes until it is pale and frothy. Sift flour and cocoa powder into egg mixture.

  • Whip egg whites until they form soft peaks. Carefully fold whipped whites into chocolate mixture.

  • Spread batter over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake it for about 8-10 minutes.

  • Remove from oven and lift off parchment paper. Transfer to cooling rack, cover with a dish towel.

  • Prepare syrup by bringing orange juice and sugar to boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat.

  • Set aside to cool. Next, prepare the filling. Bring 4 tablespoons of cream to the boil in a small pan.

  • Chop chocolate coarsely and add to hot cream. Stir well until melted. Whip the remaining cream.

  • Carefully fold the cooled melted chocolate into the whipped cream and combine till homogenous.

  • Place chocolate sponge on a sheet of cling film or wax paper and brush with cooled orange syrup.

  • Spread half of the chocolate cream over the sponge and sprinkle the candied orange peel on top.

  • Roll up sponge tightly and wrap it in the cling film or wax paper. Chill sponge for at least 2 hours.

  • Remove from fridge and unwrap the cling film or paper. Spread with remaining chocolate cream.

  • Using a fork, create parallel lines across the chocolate surface that it resembles the bark of a tree.

  • Decorate with more candied orange peel. Chill for another 2 hours before serving. 6 to 8 servings.

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PrerrnaMirchi
Mauritius

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