Deep and crisp and even


I love the smell of the kitchen at Christmas and New Year. Heavy with the scent of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, sweet wine, golden syrup, orange peel and chocolate. Its so good it should be bottled and sold.

For me, the Christmas & New Year celebrations are the perfect time to prepare a few simple classics like chocolate truffles, biscotti and brandy snaps. I know brandy snaps can be a little fiddly, but once you have mastered the basics, they are really very easy to make. Just remember that once out of the oven the Brandy snap wafer is far too soft and delicate to curl, it needs to be left for about two to three minutes to start to firm up and become flexible. However, as the Brandy Snap wafer further cools it becomes hard and brittle, and within the next four to five minutes they become too brittle to curl, and they will break if you try. So there is only a small window of opportunity to curl them successfully. If they harden up, just pop them back the oven for a few moments and start over.


Chocolates are also a must for Christmas and New Year dinners. Just when you think you can't possibly fit another morsel in your mouth, someone brings out the chocolate truffles and you miraculously find room. When making chocolate truffles, buy the best quality bitter chocolate you can get hold of. It really does make all the difference. Most chefs’ use a top grade chocolate called covertures, which has a high proportion of cocoa butter. Never overheat chocolate and always melt it slowly, making sure that the temperature never rises above 49ºc. Stir the chocolate until liquid but never overwork or whisk too vigorously as it can curdle easily.

Delicious home-made chocolate truffles can be turned into a variety of flavours, all stemming from one simple recipe and the combinations are endless.
I will give you a basic truffle recipe where they are rolled in cocoa powder. For something different, try rolling them in chopped almonds or pistachios. Dip them into melted dark or white chocolate and garnish them with chopped hazelnuts or cherries. These simple truffles and brandy snaps will be a hit and can also make a great gift to take to anyone you're visiting over Christmas.


Happy cooking and a very happy new year.
 
ORANGE-CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

ingredients:

600g            dark chocolate
300g            butter
200ml            cream
2tbsp.            Grand marnier
            Grated zest of half an orange
100G            dark cocoa powder

Chop the chocolate or break into small pieces and place in a bowl. Bring the cream and butter to the boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chopped chocolate, stirring continously until all the chocolate has melted. Add the Grand marnier and grated orange zest. Leave to set in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours.
Sift cocoa powder on to a flat plate, then take heaped half teaspoons of the truffle mixture and dust your hands in cocoa, roll each piece into a ball and then roll it in the cocoa powder.
Place it immediately into a paper case. Obviously the less handling the better as the warmth of your hands melts the chocolate. Store in the refrigerator.


BRANDY SNAP BISCUITS

Ingredients:

55g            butter
55g            Demerara sugar
55g            golden syrup
55g            plain flour
½ tsp            ground ginger
½ tsp            lemon juice
                    olive oil for greasing


Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment, and oil the handles of 4 wooden spoons.
Place the butter, sugar and syrup in a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter and sugar have dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and sift in the flour and the ginger. Add the lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Place teaspoons of the mixture on to greased baking sheets, at least 10cm apart.
Bake in the preheated oven (160C/325F/Gas 3) for about 6-8 minutes or until the mixture is well spread out and a dark golden colour.
Remove from the oven and leave for a few seconds to firm, then lift  and shape round the handle of  wooden spoons or drape over a rolling pin. Leave to set on a wire rack. When cold, store in an airtight tin.

CHOCOLATE AND ALMOND BISCOTTI



Ingredients:
200g plain flour
80g dark cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
60g dark chocolate, chopped
¾ tsp baking powder                                                                                         
3 whole eggs
Grated zest of half an orange
100g peeled almonds, lightly toasted
½ tsp salt

Heat oven to 180C.
Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, dark chocolate, orange zest, baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt into a food processor. 
Blend to a powder. Add the whole eggs and pulse until the mixture forms dough.
Tip the dough onto a counter dusted with flour, add the almonds and knead until smooth. Divide into 4 and shape into 2.5cm wide x 30cm flat rectangles. Lift them onto a paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool.

Use a serrated knife to diagonally cut the baked dough into 1.5cm pieces. Put on a clean baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes, turning once until crisp.
Allow to cool on a wire rack. Store for up to 10 days in an airtight container.  

*Biscotti make perfect gifts. For an extra touch, dip halve of each biscotti into melted white chocolate and allow to cool.

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