NAUGHTY LITTLE NIBBLES MAKES US HAPPY!

CHOCOLATE FIREBALLS and TAHINI PEANUT CONFECTIONS

Homemade fruit and nut confections are often considered non-glamorous and too homespun by some. True, they may not be perfectly shaped and are a bit out of round, but let’s look from a different point of view. By others, they’re beloved, delicious, and most appreciated because they’ve been lovingly hand-made by someone whose desire is to bring a tasty little treat to the table or to offer as a sweet gift.

I’ve made two happily concocted confections to share on this blog–Chocolate Fireballs and Tahini Peanut Confections. Each one is vastly different from the other, yet they pair well together.

First, the Chocolate Fireballs: Most people find chocolate a total charmer. It’s no wonder–chocolate has compelling flavor that hits the tongue and totally wins you over. I say, “Go ahead–devour the chocolate!” These little treats contain no sugar, yet they’re deliciously sweet with nothing more than the earthy gifts of Mother Nature.

A little heads-up: These babies contain cayenne within the confections and also in the coating. I would judge the heat level to be between mildly spiced to just a tad more–not at the medium level, though. But, since everyone has a different spice tolerance, I thought it would be helpful to prepare you for a delightful little touch of heat and provide a little warning to those with sensitive taste buds.

If you know your guests enjoy spicy foods, say nothing and let the touch of spice be a pleasant surprise. You can enjoy watching them light up when that tiny blast of heat hits those little receivers on the tongue.

One day, when unexpected relatives dropped in for a visit, I reached into the freezer for these treats and arranged them on a dessert platter lined with a doily. Unwilling to wait for them to defrost, the cousins snapped them up and devoured them with gusto. That defining moment revealed that the confections were just as enjoyable eaten at room temperature or taken directly from the freezer. These tasty nibbles also make ideal gifts for the grandparents on your holiday list.

CHOCOLATE FIREBALLS

Yield: about 25 one-inch confections

Confections

1 1/2 cups whole almonds

1 1/2 cups walnuts

3 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

5 tablespoons raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon caramel extract

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

5 to 6 tablespoons water

Coating

6 tablespoons almond meal

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tablespoons organic sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

TO MAKE THE CONFECTIONS, put the almonds and walnuts in the food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground but still retain a little texture. If you prefer a confection with a little crunch, process briefly so the nuts still retain their crunchy nature. Process a little longer for a smoother texture. Transfer the nuts to a large bowl.

Put the dates, cacao powder, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, caramel extract, pepper, and cayenne in the food processor. Add 5 tablespoons of the water and pulse and process until the ingredients are smooth and creamy or lightly textured as desired.

Pour the date mixture into the bowl with the nuts and use your hands to thoroughly combine the ingredients. If the mixture seems too stiff, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of water and mix well to incorporate it completely. Set aside for 5 minutes.

TO MAKE THE COATING, combine the Coating ingredients in a separate bowl. Using your hands, roll the confection mixture into 1-inch balls or small logs, then, roll them in the coating, covering them completely.

Put the confections in a covered container. If using within a week or two, store the confections in the refrigerator. For longer storage, put them in the freezer. Frozen, the confections will keep for up to 3 months.

There are several ways to enjoy the confections. Some people enjoy them right from the freezer. Others prefer them partially defrosted, about 10 minutes out of the freezer. They’re also delicious served completely defrosted.

Notes:

When preparing this recipe, be sure to snip the dates in half with a kitchen scissors to avoid date pits that might damage the food processor.

 

 

Cocoa Powder vs. Raw Cacao

Most supermarkets sell unsweetened cocoa powder, while natural food markets sell both unsweetened cocoa powder and raw cacao powder. Between them there’s a world of difference.

Unsweetened cocoa powder has shed all or most of its natural fat content, leaving only a minute amount of its natural cocoa butter intact. Raw cacao powder is considerably more expensive, but some cooks consider it worth the extra price. Because it still contains its natural cocoa butter (the magical fat that boosts the flavor of the chocolate), raw cacao delivers richer flavor with more depth.

The two points to consider when deciding which chocolate to buy for baking or confections are flavor and fat content. If you’re aiming for lower fat foods, stick to the unsweetened cocoa powder. If the fat content is not a consideration, go for the more intense flavor and choose the raw cacao powder.

Caramel Extract: Caramel extract is not available in grocery stores. I order it online from J.R. Watkins – https://www.jrwatkins.com

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TAHINI PEANUT CONFECTIONS

If you’re invited to dinner or a holiday party, bring some of these confections along as a hostess gift and watch the recipients beam with joy. With their captivating sesame flavor and date-sweetened goodness, these little tidbits make outstanding holiday gifts. Prepare these well ahead and keep them frozen so you can be ready when the festive season comes along. The act of giving is reward itself, but you’ll receive extra gratitude when you present these treats in an attractive jar or box attractively wrapped in their holiday best.

My hubby is a happy camper when he can reach into the freezer any time year-round and pluck a sweet frozen treat from the plastic container I attempt to keep filled. He claims they taste better when frozen–personally, I think he just doesn’t want to wait the ten or fifteen minutes for them to reach room temperature.

Yield: 45 to 50 confections

2 cups firmly packed pitted dates, snipped in half

1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

1/2 cup tahini

2 to 6 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon caramel extract

Coating

1 cup natural or toasted sesame seeds

TO MAKE THE CONFECTIONS, combine the dates, peanuts, tahini, water, and caramel extract in the food processor and pulse and process until well blended. Longer processing will create a smoother confection. If you prefer a chunkier confection, you can control the texture by shorter processing and stopping the machine frequently to check the results.

Form the mixture into balls, using about one teaspoon for each confection. Roll, squeeze, and use your fingers to form the mixture into balls or ovals.

TO COAT THE CONFECTIONS, put the sesame seeds in a small, deep bowl and roll each ball in the seeds, coating it completely.

IF PLANNING AHEAD FOR GIFTING, put the finished confections in a covered container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to thaw the confections completely before wrapping them for gifting.

TO SERVE THE CONFECTIONS AT HOME for your own family or guests, line an attractive dish with a doily, arrange the confections on the dish, and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. They’re delicious eaten at room temperature, chilled, or even frozen.

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A PANFORTE TO DAZZLE CHOCOLATE LOVERS!

Chocolate Panforte

Panforte

CHOCOLATE PANFORTE

For those unfamiliar with this very special holiday treat, panforte is a divinely rich confection packed with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, baked in a 7-or 8-inch slab, and coated with confectioner’s sugar. The traditional Italian recipe contains glazed fruits, but I much prefer the sweet, tangy flavor dried fruits contribute to the recipe. When chocolate and lots of spice is added to the mixture, each bite becomes pure nirvana, delivering a delicious melt-in-the-mouth medley of fruit, nut, spice, and chocolate flavors all at once. In other words, all those heavenly flavors and textures you could possibly desire in a holiday candy.

This recipe is ideal for plan-ahead kitchen wizards who love to make their cookies and confections well-ahead of the holiday and freeze or refrigerate them. Then, when they need them, they can easily reach into the fridge or freezer and the muss and fuss is well behind.

Chocolate PanforteDuring the autumn season, I make several batches of panforte, wrap them in double layers of plastic wrap, and tuck them into the fridge. Knowing I’ll be entertaining and going to several parties during the holiday season, my early prep serves me quite well.

A homemade panforte also makes an fabulous gift that can be safely shipped to friends and family across the country without spoilage. Once they taste, the lucky recipients will send you messages filled with OMGs!

Panforte

Entertaining at home during the holidays, I like to serve the panforte as an extra treat. Several hours before dessert time, I remove the panforte from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for best flavor. Then, I unwrap a slab and put it on a colorful plate garnished with real or plastic holly. If the panforte is the only dessert, I’ll cut it into thin wedges like a pie. When serving it along with other desserts, I cut it into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch square. Because it’s quite rich, a little goes a long way.

Panforte makes an impressive homemade gift. Before gifting, tie a holiday ribbon over the plastic wrap, make a large bow, and present the panforte with a happy holiday wish. I like to add a touch of holly to the wrapping–it does such a great job of conveying the holiday message and makes an attractive addition to the presentation.

Here’s the process: Line the pie pans with parchment. Roast the nuts. Cut the fruits, Combine the fruits. Add spices and nuts. Make syrup and add to mixture. Spoon and press into parchment-lined pans. Bake. Cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Ready to wrap.

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

 

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteCHOCOLATE PANFORTE

Yield: four 8-inch round slabs

Panforte

2 cups pecansChocolate Panforte

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried dried apricots, diced (i used Melissa’s)

1 cup flour (oat, all purpose, or whole wheat pastry flour)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s from melissas.com)

Zest of 1 lemon or orange

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmegChocolate Panforte

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Chocolate Syrup

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup agave nectar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into several pieces

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready 2 large rimmed baking sheets and four 8-inch pie pans or cake pans lined with enough parchment to drape generously over the sides. Place 2 pans on each baking sheet. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on one of the baking sheets and toast them in the oven for 9 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a large platter to cool and turn off the oven.

In an extra large bowl, combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and pepper.

When the nuts are cool, add them to the bowl and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the sugar and agave nectar in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan and mix well. Put the chocolate in a bowl and place it near the stove-top. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 225 degrees F., approximately 5 minutes. This can happen very quickly. Do not stir during the boiling.

Turn off the heat as soon as the mixture reaches 225 degrees F. and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.

Pour the chocolate syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients completely. The mixture quickly becomes quite stiff and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a metal spoon to distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, a heaping spoonful at a time, packing it down before adding another. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely for several hours before removing the panforte slabs from the pans.

Then, carefully, remove the parchment from each slab and dust each heavily with the powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat them completely.

TO SERVE THE PANFORTE, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into very thin wedges or into 1-inch pieces. If not serving right away, double-wrap each panforte in plastic wrap. The panforte will keep for a month or two at room temperature or for 1 year in the refrigerator.

Panforte

HELLO, SUGAR PLUM FAIRY. THANK YOU FOR THE SWEET GIFT!

SUGAR PLUM SPICED NUTS

Dish w:white cupAn ideal gift for special friends at holiday time or simply an extra-special treat to serve on a dessert table, these nutty delights can be made well in advance of the holiday rush. They’re good keepers if you store them in airtight containers.

Wrap it for Christmas, tie it in blue and white Hanukkah colors, decorate it in red, green, and black for Kwanzaa–any which way you play with decorating the finished nuts, you’ll have a very special homemade treat for sharing or giving. Holiday cheers!!!!

Walnuts

The success of this recipe depends on two factors:

  •  Measuring all ingredients in advance of assembly
  •  Applying patience and stirring until the liquid is completely absorbed

Closeup on dish

The recipe actually comes together quickly once you have everything ready.

 

SUGAR PLUM SPICED NUTS

 Yield: 31/2 cupsChristmas jar

 1/2 cup powdered sugar or more if needed

Spice Mixture

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepperwhite cup

1/4 teaspoon salt

COATING

1 tablespoon organic canola oil

1/3 cup organic sugar

3/4 cup apple juice

3 cups coarsely chopped raw walnuts

  1. Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set it aside.To make the spice mixture, combine the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cayenne, and salt in a small bowl or cup. Stir the mixture well and set aside near the stove.
  2. To make the coating, pour the canola oil into a large nonstick skillet. Place the Hanukkah jarorganic sugar, apple juice, and walnuts in separate cups or bowls and set them aside near the skillet. Now you’re ready to begin.
  3. Heat the canola oil over high heat for about 1 minute. Add the organic sugar and stir another minute until hot and bubbly.
  4. Pour in the apple juice and stir constantly for about 1 minute, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Quickly stir in the walnuts and continue stirring over high heat until all the liquid evaporates and the mixture becomes sticky and shiny. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  6. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture and toss to coat the walnuts, stirring for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the remaining spice mixture, tossing continuously.
  7. Pour the spiced walnuts into the bowl with the powdered sugar and toss to give them a white dusting. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a large dish or baking sheet to cool completely. Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, Sugarplum Spiced Walnuts will keep for up to 1 month.

Note: This recipe is not limited to just walnuts. It works quite well with all nuts.

white cup w:ribbonGift wrapped jar

Taste the Irrestibles — Resistance is Futile!

irresistible on platterIRRESISTIBLES

My goal was to come up with a special cookie for the holiday cookie tray–and to make a cookie with a long shelf life so the recipe could be prepared in advance for giving as gifts.

I just love it when a first-time experiment comes together on the first try. That was my reward when I decided to do something unique with a fruit and nut mixture that often serves as the base of many commercial raw fruit bars.

I loaded the fruity mixture with tons of nuts and wanted to see what would happen if I formed it into cookies and baked them. But for how long? And how big should I make them?

I took a stab at making them 2 inches in diameter and baking them 15 for minutes. OMG! Irresistible On baking panThey were absolutely IRRESISTIBLE! Yet, with their unusual texture they really weren’t like the familiar crispy cookies most people know, nor were they confections–but, interestingly, somewhere in-between.

It was not only the irresistible flavor these offer, but also the exceptional crunchy-on-the-outside chewy-on-the-inside texture that was so appealing. Here’s another thing I noticed: They kept amazingly well sitting on my kitchen counter in a heavy-duty plastic bag I had left open for several days. When I sealed the plastic bag, the cookies would lose their crunch. The following week I packed them in my suitcase and took them to Massachusetts when visiting my daughter, and they still tasted irresistibly delicious.

I had a few of these little goodies left at home sitting on the counter in an open plastic bag and was delighted that time (about 3 weeks) had not diminished their exceptional flavor or texture.

They’re great travelers! Take them on a plane trip, pack them on a road trip (the kids will love ’em), wrap them in a gift box and ship them to far-away friends and family. All they need is a good home equipped with a pack of cookie monsters.

I knew I had something special and that they would make welcome little homemade gifts during the holidays. If I wrapped them in blue ribbon, I might bring them to a Hanukkah party. I could tie them up with a red and green bow and they would be perfect nibbles for my friend’s Grandma for Christmas.  And by putting the Irresistibles in a gift box wrapped with red, green, and black, they would make the perfect homemade Kwanzaa gift for someone special.

Here are a few handy notes that will help bring the recipe together with ease. You’ll need:

  • A hammer for coarsely chopping the almonds
  • A hand-crank nut mill for coarsely grinding the walnuts
  • A large food processor, at least 11 cup capacity
  • Kitchen scissors for snipping the dates and dried apricots

When the Irresistibles are baked and cooled, treat yourself to one, or two, or—-maybe just one more!

IRRESISTIBLES

Yield: about 50 cookies

 

2 1/2 cups almonds, dividedIrresistible Single

1 1/2 cups walnuts, divided

2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs

 

1 1/2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup Turkish apricots, snipped in half

1/2 cup rolled oats

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder or raw cacao powder

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

 

30 whole almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Put 1 cup of the almonds in a heavy-duty plastic bag, seal it, and coarsely chop the nuts with a hammer. Transfer the nuts to a large mixing bowl. Put 1/2 cup of the walnuts in a hand-crank nut mill and coarsely grind them. Add them to the bowl with the the almonds, add the cacao nibs, and set aside.
  3. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups of almonds into the food processor and process to form a coarse meal. Add the remaining 1 cup walnuts, the dates, maple syrup, apricots, rolled oats, cocoa powder, water, cinnamon, and nutmeg and pulse and process to form a slightly chunky mixture. You may have to stop the machine several times to redistribute the ingredients, but patience pays off. The mixture will be very solid.
  4. When the ingredients are evenly distributed and none of the apricots and nuts are larger than 1/8 inch in size, transfer the mixture to the bowl with the chopped nuts.
  5. Roll up your sleeves and use your hands to work the nuts and nibs into the mixture, incorporating them thoroughly into the firm “dough.”
  6. Lightly oil your hands and roll the mixture into balls about 1 to 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Space them about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use the heel of your hand or fingers to press down on the balls, forming cookies about 2 inches in diameter.
  7. Press an almond into the center of each cookie and bake for 15 minutes. Do NOT overbake! Cool the cookies completely before removing them from the pan.
  8. To store the Irresistibles, put them in a heavy-duty plastic bag, but do not seal it. They keep well at room temperature for up to 1 week. For longer storage, put the Irresistibles in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Ask Santa for Some Delicious Panforte for Christmas!

SANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

Panforte giftsPanforte, pronounced pan for tay with an accent on the for, is an outrageously, delicious sweet and spicy fruit and nut confection that’s perfect for sharing any time of year, but it’s especially meaningful during the holiday season. Panforte originated in Italy where it became a Christmas tradition with a surprisingly long history.

Panforte in Italian means strong bread, but it isn’t bread at all–it’s actually an alluring Christmas confection with stunning eye appeal that matches its irresistible cinnamon-spiced Vegan Holidays highressweetness. Because of its seductive ability to bring extreme happiness to anyone who tastes its “nectar,” panforte seemed like a perfect addition to the Christmas chapter of Vegan for the Holidays.

Panforte, sometimes called Siena Cake, originated in the city of Siena, in the Northern Italian region known as Tuscany. Some consider Panforte a cross between fruitcake and confection. This heavenly sweet treat has been a long-standing holiday tradition in Italy that may date back to the 13th century. Originally it was made for Christmas but is now available year round.

TLC FOR SANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

If you decide not to eat the confection right away, wrap it well and store it in the refrigerator. You can easily keep it up to one year in the fridge, if you choose. For best flavor and ease of cutting into serving pieces, it’s best to bring it to room temperature before serving. At room temperature, the confection will keep for several weeks, if well wrapped. In time, though, it will become very dry and difficult to chew, so it’s best to keep it refrigerated until ready to enjoy.

Panforte dusted & unwrappedTo serve the Panforte, cut it into thin wedges or into one-inch cubes. Be sure to use a very firm, heavy-duty knife because you’ll need to apply more than a little elbow grease to cut through the firm texture.

Panforte is so special it makes a Panforte cut in piecesmuch appreciated holiday gift, too. Each recipe makes four delicious panfortes that can be prepared weeks or even months in advance, double-wrapped in plastic film, and stored in the refrigerator.

If ever there was an exceptional homemade gift to give at holiday time, it’s panforte, a confection that has won over anyone who has tasted its ambrosial sweetness. To make the panforte gift-ready, wrap each one in holiday ribbon and tuck a cluster of real or plastic holly into the center.

Santa's Favorite Panforte copySANTA’S FAVORITE PANFORTE

Baked into slabs, dusted with powdered sugar, and cut into bite-sized chunks or thin wedges, these crunchy, chewy nut-and-fruit-filled nuggets make joyful treats for gifting. For convenience, keep the Panforte well wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until you’re ready to box it, wrap it, or ship it across the country. While panforte keeps at room temperature for several weeks, it just might attract ants or other critters that will think they’ve discovered sweet nirvana.

Important!: You’ll need a candy thermometer for preparing the syrup.

Yield: Makes about 20 servings

PanforteSanta's Favorite Panforte copy

2 cups pecans

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried apricots (preferably Turkish), diced

1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

2 tablespoons plus 1 12 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

Syrup

1 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1 cup powdered sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line four 8-inch metal or aluminum foil pie pans, or 7-inch cake pans with enough parchment paper to drape over the sides
  2. TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast them for 8 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to Panforte gift wrapped 3a large platter to cool and decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  3. Combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, and cinnamon in an extra-large bowl. Add the cooled nuts and toss well to coat all the ingredients. Set aside.
  4. TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the agave nectar and organic sugar in a 2-quart saucepan and mix well. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 230 degrees F., about 5 minutes. (this can happen very quickly.) Do not stir.
  5. Immediately pour the syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients well. The mixture quickly becomes extremely stiff, and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture thoroughly.
  6. Distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, placing one spoonful of the mixture in the pan at a time and packing it down before adding another. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pans. Carefully remove the parchment paper from each slab and dust each one heavily with powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat it completely. After dusting, wrap the panforte until ready to serve or gift-wrap.
  7. To serve, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into 1-inch pieces or slice into thin wedges. Wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap at room temperature, Santa’s Favorite Panforte will keep for 3 months, or for 1 year in the refrigerator.