Monday, November 29, 2010

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Magi Brittle

Magi Brittle

This brittle is dedicated to the three Wise Men or Magi of the Christian nativity story who came bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. It is in honour of those who come bearing precious gifts during this festive season that I include this pleasant confection. Find a trio of nuts (to be sure you've reflected on some acquaintances you know no doubt!) and use them to create a unique trio blend to prepare your brittle. Find patterned cellophane to wrap and tie them for Christmas or Hannukah gift-giving but it is advisable to have a small label outlining your ingredients for those who have allergies. This recipe is also the simple basis for the traditional peanut brittle. Have a candy thermometer close at hand.

2 cups brown sugar 500 ml

1/2 cup corn syrup 125 ml

1/2 cup water 125 ml

2 tbsp butter 25 ml

1/4 tsp salt 2 ml

1 tsp vanilla 4 ml

1 tsp baking soda 4 ml

2 cups shelled nuts selecting three of Brazil, Cashew,

Macadamia, Peanut or Almond 150 ml

In a large dutch oven, stir sugar, corn syrup and water bringing to a boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes to a temperature of 234 degrees F. (112 degrees C.) or when it reaches the stage when 1 tsp of the hot syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft, pliable ball (soft ball stage). Stir in butter and salt and cook for about 10 minutes until 300 degrees F. when 1 tsp hot syrup dropped into cold water forms hard brittle threads (hard crack stage). Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Finally add the nut mixture. Immediately pour into a cookie sheet already lined with parchment paper. Let brittle cool. Break into pieces to make 1 3/4 lbs.

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Dark Rum Drizzled Fruit Cake

Dark Rum Drizzled Fruit Cake

Whether you wildly desire this characteristically traditional festival cake, or simply enjoy baking it for your guests to devour mini morsels, it just says Christmas. This old family recipe I make around now and once it is cooled out of the oven I wrap it carefully in a few layers cheesecloth and 'drizzle' some rum weekly to prepare it for entertaining. Once the cake is reading for serving, you may choose to package it by dividing it into thick slices and wrapping it in festive colours.

11/2 cups sifted unbleached flour 375 ml

1/2 tsp salt 2 ml

1/4 tsp baking soda 1 ml

1 tsp cinnamon 4 ml

1 tsp allspice 4 ml

1/2 tsp nutmeg 2 ml

1/2 tsp mace 2 ml

33/4 cup shortening 150 ml

1 cup brown sugar 250 ml

1/4 cup molasses

6 eggs

3 cups seedless raisins 750 ml

3 cups sultana raisins 750 ml

1/2 chopped marachino cherries 125 ml

1/2 cup chopped candied pineapple 125 ml

1 cup chopped mixed citron peel 250 ml

1 cup chopped walnuts 250 ml

Line 2-9"x5" inch loaf with parchment paper. Prepare fruits and nuts and dust with 1/4 cup of unbleached flour. Stir remaining four, salt, baking soda and spices together. In another large bowl, cream shortening and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, being well after each egg finally adding molasses. Begin to add dry ingredients until the batter is prepared. Fold in fruit and nut mixture. Fill prepared pans 3/4 full. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 hours or until cake springs up when touched. Remove from pans when slightly cooled. Wrap each loaf in cheesecloth several times and place in a deep sealed container. Pour 1/4 cup ((50 ml) rum over each loaf weekly during the advent season.

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Ambrosia Preserves

Ambrosia or Fig Apricot Preserve

This rich condiment is delicious as an appetizer with crackers and light cheeses, but is also suited to accompany pork, or lamb during the main course.

7 cups dried figs 1000 g

61/2 cups water 1600 ml

7 cups granulated sugar 2.62 kilos

2/3 cup orange juice 150 ml

2 tbsp bottled lemon juice 45 ml

2/3 cup dried apricots 150 ml

2/3 cup crushed pecans 150 ml

1 cup crushed pecans 250 ml

3 pkgs pectin

2/3 cup orange liqueure 150 ml

Combine figs, loosely chopped apricots and water in a large, deep preserving dutch oven. Stir frequently, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Boil gently until soft for about 20 minutes. Puree in a blender with the cooking liquid. Add orange and lemon juices. Bring to a simmer once more and add 3 pkgs pectin. Just before placing into jars, add the liqueur and pecans.

Third Day of Christmas: Date, Fig or Prune Bars

Date, Fig or Prune Bars

These bars add variety to your collection for serving and gift giving during the holiday season. Try making all three kinds using dried fruits that are so readily available to us in grocery stores during the winter months. You will find yourself making these squares throughout the winter months. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

1 cup sugar 250 ml

3 eggs

7/8 cup unbleached all purpose flour 220 ml

1 tsp baking powder 4 ml

pinch salt

1/4 tsp each cloves & cinnamon 1 ml

1/2 tsp allspice 2 ml

2 cups chopped dates, figs or prunes 500 ml

1 cup chopped walnuts 250 ml

Grease and flour a 9 x 13 baking pan and set aside. In a mixing bowl, mix 3 eggs, one at a time while slowly adding sugar. Add vanilla to the liquid blend. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. Beat by hand the ingredients until they are very well blended. Add the dates, figs or prunes along with chopped walnuts. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven,let cool, cut into bars and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Second Day of Christmas: Brownies with Raspberry Preserves

Brownies with Raspberry Preserves

What a great way to enjoy your own raspberry preserves! The taste of chocolate and raspberry makes a great festive square, is delicious, and goes well with the classic shortbread for entertaining during the holiday season. These squares only require one pot so it is especially easy. After they're cooled, cut them in generous squares, wrap them and what a great gift to give. This recipe is dedicated to my eldest daughter Emilie who makes the best brownie Christmas gifts ever!

8 oz. unsalted butter 250 g

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate 125 g

2 cups sugar 500 ml

1 tsp salt 4 ml

4 eggs

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour 250 ml

2 cups walnut pieces 500 ml

1 cup raspberry preserves 250 ml

Line a square 9 x 13 baking pan and set aside. Melt butter and chocolate over low heat in a large dutch oven. Remove from heat, place in a large mixing bowl, let cool and add sugar, salt, vanilla and blend well. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add the flour and beat until smooth. Stir in the walnut pieces. Pour half the batter into the baking pan and make a smooth surface. Freeze for 30 minutes. Then apply the layer of raspberry preserve and the remaining batter. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, and cool the pan for 10 minutes before cutting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

12 Edible Gifts for the Festival Season

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The following recipes are dedicated to the twelve days of Christmas. In many cultures around the world, gift giving is offered not on Christmas eve or day but in the period following December 25 throughout the following twelve days. The last night of the Christmas season is January 5, the day before Epiphany and named 'twelfth night' and if you haven't sufficiently feasted throughout the season, this is the last night of revery.

In the 16th century England, when Catholicism was an outlawed practice, and any scripture study would be a cause for capital punishment by hanging or worse being drawn and quartered, youngsters would learn and memorize their catechism by using the traditional song of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' where the 'one true love' was the symbol Christ himself and each of the stanzas symbolizing another aspect of The Faith that they held so dear. There are also schools of thought that dispute the theory of a connection with the catholic catechism but its likelihood is greater than the evidence to dispute it inother words it rings truer than believing it to be a collection of nonsensical rhymes.

There are so many reasons why edible gifts are enjoyable to prepare, give and receive. In a season surrounded by rampant commercial bombardment in department stores and frantic shopping, it is pleasant to prepare gifts that are unique, handmade, fresh and free of unnecessary additives. Many of the ingredients are still local, saved from the fall season harvest but infused with aromatic spices that would have been costly and exotic in previous centuries, namely cinnamon, whole allspice berries and whole cloves. This season would not bring the same nostaligia were it not for the tangy aromas of lemon and orange that infuse this seasonal recipes.

This collection of twelve gifts offered in this book can inspire you to develop your own. Every year your friends and family will look forward to these preparations and encourage them to take part as Christmas culinary events. Package them in delightful ways and offer them throughout the festive season as hostess gifts, in your own home during gatherings and even as gifts under the tree.

The First Day of Christmas: Spicy Candied Walnuts

If you want a lively 'amuse-gueule' as the French would say (tasty something to munch on) during the festive yuletide season, try these candied walnuts that at once have a sweet, salty and spicy zing.

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup butter

2 tbsp corn syrup

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp baking soda

3 cups walnut halves

Combine sugar, butter and corn syrup in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolve. Stir in spices, salt and baking soda. Pour the hot liquid over the walnuts and mix with a large ladle until the walnuts are thoroughly coated and the mixture becomes a luscious sticky cluster. Place the walnuts onto a greased cookie sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. After baking, cool and remove from the cookie sheet. Store in a tightly covered container and try to keep a lid on it.