ANYONE READY FOR DESSERT?

CINNAMON PEANUT BUTTER TORTE

You’ve planned a delicious appetizer for your holiday gathering and decided the entrée will be a savory dish–a cherished old family favorite. You’ve added a few well-loved side dishes and everyone’s favorite roasted potatoes. Now, what to do for an awesome dessert that doesn’t take too much fussing, yet looks sensational?

Here’s what I noticed over the years after preparing and serving many a holiday dinner: The appetizers and entrée may be exceptional, and perhaps even lavish, but most likely it’s the dessert that everyone remembers. And it’s no surprise–sweet memories linger longer.

If you loved peanut butter since you were a kid and could never get enough of it, you’ll find this well-endowed peanut butter torte easy to ravish. This torte is deliriously rich in flavor, densely packed with peanut butter, and perfectly accented with cinnamon to bring out its sweetness. The list of ingredients in this dessert relies mostly on simple, whole foods, yet, the dessert gives the impression of a much more complex preparation.

The bonus for the host is that this tantalizing treat can be prepared several days ahead and left in the freezer until shortly before serving. That’s such a bonus for a crazy-busy holiday season when you really don’t have lots of time to spend on each course. I consider it a blessing when I can make the dessert well ahead and tuck it out of site until serving time.

CINNAMON PEANUT BUTTER TORTE

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Crust

1 1/2 cups whole almonds

1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries

4 to 5 tablespoons water

 

Filling

1 1/3 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

1 cup smooth or chunky unsalted peanut butter

3/4 cup well-mashed firm tofu

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk

1/4 cup organic sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Garnish

2 tablespoons sweetened dried cranberries

1 tablespoon coarsely ground dry-roasted unsalted peanuts

6 to 8 sprigs fresh min

TO MAKE THE CRUST, cover the base of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of parchment paper 2 inches larger. Snap the collar back onto the base, and cut off the excess paper with scissors. Lightly oil the sides of the pan and set aside.

Put the almonds into the food processor and process until they become a coarse, slightly chunky meal.

Add the cranberries and water and pulse and process until the cranberries are broken down into tiny bits and the mixture holds together when gently pressed. You may have to stop occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Spoon the crust mixture into the bottom of the springform pan and press the mixture firmly with the back of a spoon to distribute it evenly. Set aside and wash and dry the work bowl.

TO MAKE THE FILLING, put the dates, peanut butter, tofu, soy milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in the food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Transfer the filling to the springform pan, and use a rubber spatula to spread the filling evenly over the crust.

Sprinkle the cranberries and peanuts over top and gently press them into the surface. If desired, sprinkle them in a design of your choosing. Freeze the torte until firm, about 8 to 12 hours. Remove it from the freezer about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

TO SERVE THE TORTE, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the torte. Place the pan on a large serving platter. Carefully lift off the collar. Decorate the platter with the mint and cut the torte into wedges.

 

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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

GOTTA HAVE STUFFING FOR THANKSGIVING!

StuffingSAVORY CHESTNUT AND FRUIT STUFFING

Without fail, Thanksgiving brings out our most nostalgic memories. Often those treasured times call to mind remembrances of the delicious stuffing our mothers and grandmothers brought to the table at holiday time.

Those flavors we remember so fondly may have been savory, sage-infused, and earthy, or perhaps they were sweet, fruity, and spicy. Each year I debate whether to prepare a savory stuffing or one more focused on the fruity side.

This year I’ve settled my own conundrum by uniting both sides of the sweet-savory debateChestnuts roasting and adding one of my very favorite foods of the autumn season–CHESTNUTS! Here’s a quick recipe for roasting chestnuts. If you prefer to boil the chestnuts, a method I turn to most often, here’s my post on Cooking and Peeling Chestnuts with step-by-step directions:

https://veganfortheholidays.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/cooking-peeling-chestnuts-illustrated/

If you don’t have the time to cook and peel fresh chestnuts, you can find them already prepared in jars and vacuum-sealed packages. Avoid the canned chestnuts packed in water–they simply don’t have the alluring taste and texture of vacuum-packed chestnuts.

This scrumptious stuffing, replete with chestnuts, is so fruity and ravishing, it makes a delicious meal by itself. Enjoy it as a side dish or use it to stuff acorn, butternut, or delicata squash.

For convenience, prepare the stuffing a day ahead, and warm it for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree F. oven before serving. If you use fresh chestnuts in the shell, cook and peel them in advance also, to bring this recipe together more easily.

This tasty stuffing recipe is very copious so there will most likely be leftovers that can easily be covered with aluminum foil and reheated. For a small family gathering, you might want to cut the recipe in half.

Vegan Holidays lowresOh, and by the way, this delicious recipe is from my Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook!

SAVORY CHESTNUT AND FRUIT STUFFING

 

 

Yield: 12 to 15 hearty servings

2 cups water

2/3 cup pearl barley

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

8 cups whole wheat bread cubes

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth

3 large sweet onions, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 large apples, cored and chopped

1 1/4 cups chopped cooked and peeled chestnuts, or pecans, or walnuts

1 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries

3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (preferably Turkish)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons white miso

Garnishes

1/4 bunch parsley

3 tangerine wedges or Fuyu persimmon slices

3 fresh cranberries

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

1/4 cup chopped parsley

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  1. Combine the water, barley, and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the barley is tender and all the water is absorbed.
  1. Meanwhile, place the bread cubes on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until dry. Transfer the bread cubes to an extra-large bowl.
  1. Add the vegetable broth to the bread cubes and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until the bread cubes are broken down into a coarse meal. Set aside.
  1. Combine the onions and celery in a large, deep skillet and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of water. Cook and stir for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and translucent. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the vegetables and prevent burning. Transfer the onion mixture to the bowl with the bread cubes.
  1. Add the apples, chestnuts, raisins, cranberries, apricots, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, cooked barley, and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and mix well.
  1. Thin the miso with about 3 tablespoons of water, add it to the stuffing mixture and combine well to distribute it evenly. Adjust the seasonings.
  1. Spoon the stuffing into a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, or until a light crust forms on the top.
  1. To serve, garnish one corner of the pan with the parsley and artfully nestle the tangerine wedges and cranberries into the parsley. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the top, along with the chopped parsley.