Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm sure I don't know what took me so long - I've certainly spent enough time surfing the internet in the past - but I only discovered food blogs several months ago.

It has been amazing to discover how many people out there, all over the world, are blogging about and sharing their passion for food and cooking and baking.

I would like to wish everyone in food blogger land a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Gifts

Goodness how the time flies! It seems like just the other day it was the beginning of November and I was just beginning to think of Christmas carols and what to bake this Christmas, and suddenly Christmas is only a few days away. Office Christmas lunches and parties have come and gone, Christmas cards have been sent, even the Christmas baking is nearly all done. I have spent several relaxing evenings in the kitchen mixing up batches of cookie dough and baking cookies while listening to Christmas carols on Classic FM. Is it my imagination or have the evenings (afternoons really) already started to get longer? Yesterday and today when I looked out the window around 4 o'clock, expecting it to be dark, it was still daylight. As I write this it is snowing big fat snowflakes outside, and added to the snow that's been there since Thursday night, it looks like a magical white fairyland. I'm not sure if we've actually had any white Christmases since I've been in England. This time we may just get one. Even if the snow melts before Christmas day, I think it will still feel like we've been having a white Christmas since the snow has come while we've been in the process of making Christmas preparations.

Of course, it is a lot easier to appreciate the beauty of the snowy landscape when one is warm and cosy indoors, rather than stuck in traffic for hours because the snow has brought everything to a halt, which is what happened to my other half, D, on his way home.

Back to the Christmas baking and edible gifts. This year I have been baking Pecan Bonbons, Chocolate Balls, Cherry-Nut Cookies (see the previous post), all from Dolores Casella's book, A World of Baking, and Honigkuchen, from the The Cooking of Germany, in the Time-Life Foods of the World series. I am also planning to bake Candy Canes (cookies) from Margo Oliver's Weekend Magazine Cookbook. For those who have never heard of Margo Oliver, here is a good biographical link.

The Pecan Bonbons and Honigkuchen were first attempts, since I had never made them before. The Chocolate Balls and Candy Canes I had not made since I lived at home with my parents many years ago, but I used to like them back then. The cherry-nut cookies I have made several times in recent years, and they are always very moreish.

The Pecan Bonbons are a sort of pecan macaroon, made with sugar, eggs, finely chopped pecans and a little flour, very crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.

The cookies were baked in mini-cupcake liners in a shallow bun tin. The recipe gives the option of decorating each cookie with a pecan half, so I baked the first tray without, and the subsequent batches with a pecan on top. D decided that he prefers the pecan-topped cookies, because they have a more intense pecan taste.

I decided that I prefer the way the plain top cookies look, though. The pecan halves sank into the batter while the cookies baked, and caused the tops to cave in and crack more. The photo above shows one of the few pecan-topped cookies where the pecans didn't sink down into the batter.

Chocolate Balls are crumbly chocolate and walnut cookies topped with a walnut half. The dough contains finely chopped walnuts and cocoa powder or chocolate. The dough is shaped into balls, rolled in sugar, placed on cookie sheets, flattened sightly and a walnut half is pressed into the top. The cookies flatten out a bit as they bake, and the tops acquire a crackled appearance.

I found that I still like these cookies as much as I did when I used to make them years ago. They are rather crumbly, and tend to fall apart when you bite into them, but still taste quite buttery.

The recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder or 3 ounces of unsweetened cooking chocolate (unless I made a mistake when I copied it out, which is always possible, since the usual substitution is about 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder and 1 Tablespoon of butter for 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate). I remember I first made them using cocoa powder, but I can't remember whether I ever made them using chocolate. So this time I decided to try using 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate, which seems to have worked out fine.