Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas catchup

After spending the past few weeks absorbed in the 'delights' of moving house, I found that Christmas has suddenly appeared on my doorstep - and I'm nowhere near ready for it! So this week I hurriedly finished off my gift shopping, and attempted to acquire a new seal for the oven door so I could get into my Christmas baking.

This turned out to be more of a mission than I thought, but after several days of trying, I found myself in possession of the desired seal. I brought it home, fitted it on the oven... and two hours later, it had broken in exactly the same way as the old one. Grr. I've got a plan in mind for fixing the thing, but meantime, all my baking is being done with one side of the oven seal hanging loose. Ah well.

By this time last year, I'd done huge amounts of baking - far more than I actually needed, as it turned out. This year, I intend to be a little less extravagant, but I'm still doing double-recipes for almost everything. I just hope I can get through all the recipes I'd earmarked for Christmas - time's running out fast!

Since I'd done the most obvious Christmas recipes last year, I had to think outside the box for some of this year's recipes. The first thing I made, for example, was almond biscuits (p34) - not obviously a Christmas recipe, but I do associate almond flavour with Christmas, So I figured it was Christmassy enough.

It's a straightforward biscuit recipe, really: cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs and almond essence, then add dry ingredients. Roll into balls, squish with a floured fork, and place a blanched almond atop each one. Actually, it's supposed to be half an almond, but whole ones is what I had, and I wasn't going to bother trying to halve them!

While the biscuits were in the oven, I made a couple of recipes that wouldn't need baking - apricot balls (p218) and chocolate truffles (p219). I had a lot of dried apricots to chop up, but the food processor made short work of those, and they were soon in a saucepan with some orange juice and citric acid. I brought this mixture to the boil, and let it simmer for 10 minutes. It's mostly just apricots, though, and at one point, I felt the mixture was in danger of scorching, so I added a bit more juice to keep it moist.

The apricots had to cool after this, so I put the saucepan aside while I made the chocolate truffles, melting cooking chocolate and butter over a low heat. The chocolate seemed to be taking a long time to melt, until I realised that when I took out the last tray of almond biscuits, I'd turned off the element I was using instead of the oven! Obviously, I'm not used to my new stove yet.

With the element back on, the chocolate melted very quickly. I added enough icing sugar to make the mixture thick enough to handle, before adding liqueur and cocoa. When I say "liqueur", it was supposed to be rum, but I never got around to getting any, so the truffles ended up with Cointreau in them instead.

The final addition was more icing sugar: enough to get the chocolate to a workable consistency. In retrospect, I don't think I put enough in - the mixture was very soft and didn't completely hold its shape once I'd rolled it into balls and coated them in coconut. Something to remember for next time.

I began with the tablespoon-sized truffles suggested in the recipe, but these seemed too large for such a rich truffle. I prefer to make things bite-sized for Christmas, since there's just so much to choose from, and rich-tasting nibbles can be hard to get through if they're too large. The other benefit of reducing the size is that you get more out of your mixture. My double recipe should have yielded about 30 at the recommended size; I wound up with 40.

Meanwhile, the apricot mixture had cooled enough to work with, so I spooned it back into the food processor and pureed it. To the apricot puree I added biscuit crumbs, coconut and icing sugar, making a mixture thick enough to shape into balls and roll in coconut or dip in chocolate. Chocolate would be really nice on these, but I chose coconut as quicker, easier and cheaper.

The bowl of apricot mixture was considerably more daunting than that of the chocolate truffles. I'd doubled both recipes, as neither seemed particularly large. As it happens, the apricot ball recipe seems to make quite a bit more than estimated. It took me a while to get through the whole bowl (I tried to keep them to approximately the same small size as the truffles, but impatience creeps in and the size increased a little as time went on) but I eventually had a tray of over 70 apricot balls.

So after spending the whole of Saturday morning in the kitchen, I'd completed the almond biscuits, chocolate truffles and apricot balls. The almond biscuits weren't particularly exciting - they're a fairly plain biscuit with a slight almond flavour - but I don't suppose anyone will complain.

The truffles are rich and chocolaty, though perhaps slightly too sweet from all that icing sugar. Rolling them in cocoa powder instead of coconut might add enough bitterness to cut through the sweetness a little. As for the apricot balls, they're quite interesting. I've always found that truffle-type recipes based on biscuit crumbs are a bit dry, but these are surprisingly moist and fruity. They taste pretty good with the coconut coating, but I think if you're willing to make the effort, chocolate-dipped would be nicer.

So that's three recipes ticked off my Christmas baking list - it's a good start, but there's plenty more to do yet!


  1. I bet you were pleased to have a bit of extra room to move now in a proper kitchen!c


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