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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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.

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.