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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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.