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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THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE TRAY HAD HIDDEN SURPRISES!

 

 PUMPKIN PINE NUT COOKIES

Pumpkin Pine Nut CookiesThese delightful pumpkin cookies give the tongue a delightful little tingle and make ideal treats for holiday gifting. If giving the cookies as as gifts is the goal, it would be best to double or triple the recipe. If these are simply an after-dinner treat or mid-day nibble, stick with the recipe measurements as is.

To make the cookies really unique, I’ve added a bold flavor surprise from three ingredients seldom found in a cookie recipe–coriander seeds, black pepper, and cayenne.

The fun part is watching expressions on people’s faces when they take their first bite. The flavor-hit doesn’t happen immediately–it takes a few seconds before it registers–and when it does–puzzled looks begin showing up.

It’s fun to see if people can guess what’s making those cookies so lively. The guesses are all over the place–some are even interesting enough to add to a future batch of  cookies.

I’ve chosen to add pine nuts because they stand out in bright contrast to the pumpkin color, but you can add any nut of your choice.  Because these babies keep so well, they can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature  for up to 5 days.

If you’re a long-range planner, make the cookies well ahead, place them on a parchment-lined metal tray with parchment between the layers, and freeze them until solid. Then transfer them to a plastic-wrap-lined box or heavy-duty plastic bags and freeze them for up to three months.

Vegan Holidays highresThis is one of the recipes in the Christmas section of my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook–Happy Baking!

PUMPKIN PINE NUT COOKIES

 Yield: 2 1/2 dozen

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle, or 1

teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepperPumpkin Pine Nut Cookies

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

 

1/2 cup pine nuts

 

1 1/4 cups cooked fresh pumpkin or canned pumpkin

1/2 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons whole flaxseeds or ground flaxseeds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the pastry flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, baking soda, salt, and cayenne in a large bowl and mix well. Stir in the pine nuts and set aside.
  3. Combine the pumpkin, oil, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well to form a thick dough.
  4. Put the water and flaxseeds in a blender. Process on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes to form a thick slurry. Stir the flaxseed slurry into the dough, mixing thoroughly to distribute it evenly.
  5. Place heaping tablespoonfuls of dough 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets, spreading with the back of the spoon to form 1 1/2-inch diameter cookies.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Switch the oven rack positions of the baking pans and bake 13 minutes longer for soft cookies, or about 17 minutes for crisp cookies. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack or plate and let cool completely.

Note: If you use ground flaxseeds, make Step #1 combining the flaxseeds and water in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside. By the time you’re ready to add the flaxseeds, they will have thickened and can be added to the cookie dough without the need of blending.

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