How did everyone celebrate their Christmas? OK, I know it’s a little late, maybe overdue even but better a post on it than none at all. In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas I felt nothing. No bubbling excitement, no childlike delight at counting down the number of sleeps until the big day. I was positively Grinch-like up until the week before Christmas when, planning a dish for a Christmas meal my friend was hosting, something flipped. I was suddenly looking forward to it! Then it struck me, since starting to celebrate it, Christmas has always been to me, associated with togetherness, thankfulness but above all, food, glorious food. Since I left it a little late to buy anything coming close to a meaningful gift, I decided to make little food hampers for my friends. In them popped in these fragrant orange and almond florentines, pecan and raspberry blondies, an assortment of chocolate truffles – plain, pistachio- and coconut-coated ones. I had such a good time baking these scrumptious sweets. To balance out the palate I bought some lovely crab pate and mushroom pate with toasted bruschettini. Do have a go at baking these goodies – they are so easy to make it beats shelling out loads on them in the shops.
Orange and almond Florentines
Now, the recipe calls for brushing the baking parchment with vegetable oil. I forgot this presumably important step so a little chiselling work and elbow grease was required to release them from the paper, but actually this worked out pretty well, so I just carried out planting the florentines straight onto the paper. If you wanted to make your life easier you could use the oil. And I reused the same piece of paper for all my batches until the batter ran out. This recipe is from the amazing Ottolenghi book. The quantities can be very easily halved, doubled or even tripled.
Makes about 20
2 egg whites
100g icing sugar
260g flaked almonds
Grated zest of 1 orange
Vegetable oil for brushing
- Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celcius/Gas Mark 2.
- To guide you in making respectable circular and uniform-sized discs, place a mug on the paper and outline the base with a pencil, repeating all over the baking parchment. Line a baking tray with the parchment and brush lightly with vegetable oil (optional in my case!).
- Put the egg whites, icing sugar, flaked almonds and orange zest in a bowl and gently mix them together. Use a tablespoon and flatten the each biscuit very thinly within the drawn discs and continue until each circle is filled. Try to make then as thin as possible without creating too many gaps between the almonds flakes. They should be about 8cm in diameter.
- Place the baking tray in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown. Check the underneath of one biscuit to make sure they are cooked through. They will still be soft immediately after removing from the oven but will harden as they cool.
- Gently remove the biscuits from the baking sheet with a palette knife and store in an airtight container. They will keep for 4-5 days.
Pecan and raspberry blondies
This one comes from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, another one full of lovely recipes but altogether too sweet. I always reduce the amount of sugar in the recipes I use here. The original recipe used 150g of caster sugar which I cut down to 125g and I’m sure that can be cut down a little further as well. It also used a 33 x 23 x 5cm tray cooked for 35-40 minutes in a 170 degrees celcius pan. Who has a tray of such exact dimensions anyway! I used one I already had, which was 25 x 20 x 5cm so I extended the cooking time to 45-50 minutes in a 160 degrees Celcius fan oven. What I love about blondies or brownies is the fudgy, soft centre with a crisp top which er, mine didn’t have. It was cooked all the way through and had a cakelike consistency, so I called it a tray bake instead! Happy days.
Makes about 20 small brownies
150g white chocolate, roughly chopped
125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
A pinch of salt
120g shelled pecan nuts, chopped roughly
Raspberries, halved to top the blondies
33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray, lined with baking parchment
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celcius/160 fan/325 Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 3.
- Put the white chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted and smooth.
- Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until well incorporated. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, stirring briskly so that you don’t allow the eggs time to scramble. Don’t worry if the mixture looks like it is starting to split. Add the flour, salt and pecan nuts and stir until well incorporated.
- Spoon the mixture into the baking tray. Top with the halved raspberries, pressing them down slightly into the mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and the centre is still soft. Remove the whole blondie with the parchment paper and leave to cool slightly on a cooling rack, then peel off the paper and leave to cool completely before cutting into squares.