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

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CRANBERRIES COME TO BRUNCH DRESSED IN HOLIDAY RED!

 Cranberry Muffins

CRANBERRY MUFFINS

If you’re a cranberry lover like I am, you, too, will revel with joy at the sight of these voluptuous golden muffins with a fluff of bright red berries on top and a confetti of cheery red bits of cranberries dotted throughout the batter.

The sweet-tart flavor blend is heavenly–that first bite will confirm that. But don’t take my word for it–bake up a batch of these little sweeties and I’ll bet you’ll find these muffins just as irresistible as I do.

They’re ideal breakfast treats with their hearty base of rolled oats and delicate sweetness. To create a crunchy texture, add 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts.

For an appealing holiday Brunch, I like to make the Cranberry Muffins along with another Cranberry Muffinsmuffin variety. I can make them in advance and tuck them into the freezer. About 20 minutes before serving, I take them out of the freezer and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then, I tuck them into a preheated 375-degree F. oven and in 20 minutes they’ll start to fill the kitchen with crazy-tempting aromas.

I always include a colorful fruit salad with chopped apples, pears, Fuyu persimmons, navel oranges, strawberries (if they look plump and fresh) and pomegrante seeds. If I can find some beautiful red or black grapes, those add a wonderful touch of color and rich sweetness.

Vegan sausages, either homemade or prepared, always make a tasty and very satisfying addition to a festive holiday Brunch. And the finishing touch can be a steaming cup of herbal tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

This recipe makes a dozen muffins, but could easily make two recipients happy with a wrapped box of half-dozen each. To spread the joy even further, follow the suggestion below to create four dozen adorable little mini muffins and package them in small gift boxes tied with holiday ribbons.

 Cranberry Muffins

CRANBERRY MUFFINS

Yield: 12 muffins

1 1/4 cups soymilk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or distilled vinegar

2 1/3 cups fresh cranberries, divided

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon organic sugar, divided

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups wheat bran

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup golden raisins

2 teaspoons baking powderCranberry Muffins

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup mashed ripe banana

3 tablespoons organic canola oil

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line two 6-section muffin pans with paper baking cups or use an ungreased 12-section silicone muffin pan. Put the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Pour the soymilk into a medium bowl and add the vinegar. Stir well and set aside to sour.
  3. Coarsely chop the cranberries in the food processor. Remove 1/3 cup of the cranberries to a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Set aside for the topping. Transfer the remaining 2 cups of cranberries to a large bowl and add the remaining 3/4 cups sugar.
  4. Add the flour, wheat bran, rolled oats, raisins, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and baking soda to the bowl and stir well.
  5. Stir the bananas, canola oil, maple syrup, and vanilla into the soured soymilk and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to form a thick batter.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each section to the brim. Place a dollop of the reserved cranberry topping onto the center of each muffin and bake for 28 to 33 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the muffins 10 to 15 minutes before removing.

Cranberry MuffinsNote:

Because cranberries are so seasonal, you may consider substituting fresh apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, or berries to enjoy this tasty recipe year round.

Suggestion:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. Baked in metal mini pans, the muffins will be done in 12 to 14 minutes. The silicone mini muffin pans make slightly larger minis and will bake in 15 to 20 minutes.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and tuck them, uncovered, into the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty plastic bag and seal tightly. Frozen, the muffins will keep for 3 to 4 months. Be sure to defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.

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

Vegan Porcupine For Dessert. Yum!

Polenta PorcupinePOLENTA PORCUPINE PIE

I’ve only encountered polenta in a savory form, usually served as a side dish. But I often wondered if it would be possible to turn it into a delicious, gluten-free dessert. And with the wonderful array of freshly dried fruits available throughout the season, I began to ponder how I could incorporate the two ideas–polenta and dried fruits.

Well, the best way to bring an idea into fruition is to just plunge in when the opportunity of time and need arises, and indeed it did.

When a friend invited me for dinner and asked me to bring dessert, she created that perfect momentum for a wildly  new experiment. I decided to make the dessert polenta with the dried fruits I had on hand. For color, I tossed in some carrots that I shredded on the coarse side of the grater. And for texture, I thought pine nuts might be a nice contribution.

To sweeten this little gem I prepared a simple date paste in the food processor. And to make the polenta a little more like a holiday dessert, I added cinnamon, cardamom, and a touch of cloves.

Porcupine moldAfter combining all the ingredients, I pressed the mixture into a large, shallow jello mold about 10 inches in diameter and spread it to the edges to avoid any holes and air spaces. Then I chilled it in the fridge and began to think about how I would garnish it. At that point, the porcupine idea hadn’t occurred.

Shortly before leaving for my friend’s house, I unmolded the polenta onto a huge platter that would fit the mold. I stared at it for a few minutes, pondering some sort of topping to bring it to life. And then that magic aha bell went off and I reached for the almonds.

I poked in a few of the almonds–it didn’t look like much, so I kept going until it took on that finished appearance. Don’t ask how I knew it was finished–I think we kitchen elves just know when something looks pleasing to the eye. The final touch was a flower or two from the garden and then, it was done!

It was a delicious surprise that also looked wonderfully enticing. When my friend asked what to call this dessert, I hesitated only a moment–and out popped the amusing name. Because of the bounty of fruits, small servings make this dessert go a long way. I cut the “pie” into thin wedges and on that day I squeezed 16 servings out of it.

Polenta PorcupinePOLENTA PORCUPINE PIE

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Fruit Mix

1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded

3/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup black raisins

1/3 cup diced dried Turkish apricots

1/4 cup pine nuts

Date Paste

2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half and lightly packed

1/2 cup water

Polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarse whole grain cornmeal

 

1/2 cup whole almonds

  1. Line a large, shallow mold, about 9 to 11 inches in diameter, or a 2-quart ring mold with plastic wrap large enough to drape over the sides and set aside.
  2. To make the fruit mix, combine the carrots, golden and black raisins, apricots, and pine nuts in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. TO MAKE THE DATE PASTE, put the dates in a food processor. With the machine running, add the water and process until smooth. Stop the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the workbowl. Measure 1 cup of the date paste and set it aside for the recipe. Save the remainder for another use.
  4. TO MAKE THE POLENTA, put the water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  5. Add the cornmeal and return the mixture to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add the reserved date paste and mix well with a wooden spoon to incorporate it thoroughly. The mixture will become very thick.
  7. Add the fruit mixture a little at a time, stirring continuously, until well mixed.
  8. Working quickly, spoon the mixture into the prepared mold and spread it to the edges. Let cool completely and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
  9. Before serving, invert the polenta mixture onto a large platter and remove the plastic wrap. Poke the tips of the almonds into the top surface, gently pressing them in just enough to secure them.

Note:

Commercially packaged pitted dates, may contain one or two date pits that have evaded the pitting machinery. To avoid damaging the food processor blade, use a kitchen scissors to snip the dates in half before adding them to the processor. The date paste makes about 1 1/3 cups.