Pumpkin-Spice Granola

pumpkin-spice granola recipe

When I was little, my brother used to joke that a box of Christmas candy would probably go through so many regiftings that it’d make its way back to its original owner. I don’t think the candy was junk per se, but it carried an air of fatigue, that it was the 124th instance of unbridled sugar. Even when I give gifts, I wonder if the other person begrudgingly eats my stuff.

So this year, I decided to give something healthy yet festive. It also has a long shelf life, so you don’t have to eat it all now, though I hope you do. The idea came to me when I made a care package for a friend who’s spending the holidays abroad. If she couldn’t come here, I’d bring the holidays to her. This is my condensed version of Thanksgiving and Christmas: granola with spices, cranberries, and pecans.

The basic granola recipe is from Alton Brown; I’ve dialed down the sugar and oil for my tastes, and you can create endless variations by adding your favorites fruits, nuts, and spices. For example, Alton’s original recipe calls for coconut, but I like to substitute flax seed or toasted okara (leftover soy bean pulp from homemade soy milk).

Related Link: more edible holiday gifts

Pumpkin-Spice Granola

Rating: 41

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Serving Size: 1/2 cup granola

Pumpkin-Spice Granola

Inspired by Good Eats

Ingredients

1 cup raw pecans
3 cups oats, rolled or quick cooking
3/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast pecans for about 10 min., or until lightly colored and fragrant. Chop coarsely. Lower oven temperature to 250° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pecans, flax seed, spices, and brown sugar.
  3. In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt.
  4. Add maple syrup mixture to the oats, stir, and spread on two sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes for even browning.
  5. Remove from oven and mix dried cranberries till distributed evenly.
http://www.sugoodsweets.com/blog/2011/12/pumpkin-spice-granola-recipe/

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Save Your Saltines for Chocolate-Caramel Cookies

chocolate-caramel cracker cookies

The last time I hoarded leftovers, everyone must have laughed their faces off.Some people bring home entrées; others take home french fries. I do both and then some, like the time I doggie bagged bread cubes that were meant for the fondue pot. I had the last laugh when I turned them into Nutella bread pudding and made everyone jealous.

It gets even better: the other day I used leftover saltine crackers (from Hill Country barbecue) for chocolate-caramel bars. I’m not one to relish in packaged foods and refined flour, but the saltines are key. I tried a similar recipe with homemade graham crackers, but you really do need a flimsy base to soak up the toffee. A fancy “crust” will only break your jaw. I haven’t gone crackers: these are even surpass the chocolate matzoh crunch that’s become popular of late.

chocolate-caramel cracker cookies

Bittersweet Chocolate-Caramel Cracker Cookies

Adapted from Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, divided
35 saltine crackers
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
10 ounces premium dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)

For topping:
1 cup toasted unsalted nuts, chopped medium coarse or
1/2 cup cacao nibs or
5 teaspoons fine salt (such as fleur de sel or gray sea salt), turbindado sugar, finely ground espresso, pepper, spice blends/rubs

Special equipment: a 10-by-15-inch pan

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). To make the cookies easy to remove, line a 10-by-15-inch pan with a sheet of foil, shiny side up, leaving a few inches hanging over the longer edges. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter onto the foil-lined pan, and brush to cover the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with the crackers (don’t worry if there are small gaps).

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup butter and the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick syrup (248°F/120°C on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the condensed milk until blended. Pour the mixture over the crackers, making sure all the crackers are covered.

3. Bake until the syrup layer bubbles, for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter the chocolate over the topping, and allow them to melt for 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread the chocolate over the surface and sprinkle with the nuts, cacao nibs, salt, spices, etc. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the nuts into the chocolate. Freeze until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from the freezer and invert the pan onto a clean surface (don’t worry if you lose some nuts from the surface; they’ll be great for topping an ice cream sundae or for adding to cookie dough). Carefully peel back the foil to reveal the soda-cracker underside of the cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut the cookies along the cracker outlines. This is easier to do when the cookies have begun to thaw slightly. Invert and cut the squares into quarters for bite-size pieces or thirds for finger-size pieces.

Buy Deep Dark Chocolate
Buy Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry

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Truffle Showdown: Simple is Best

chocolate truffles

At its simplest, chocolate truffle recipes are like this: Pour hot cream over chocolate. Stir. Roll into balls. Eat. If only it were that simple. Some recipes include corn syrup, butter or egg yolks for richness. There’s also the mysterious water ganache, where you combine hot water with chocolate. It breaks all the rules, since recipes warn you that one drop of water will ruin an entire bowl of chocolate. This is true, but if you have a lot of water (1 tablespoon of water per 2 ounces of chocolate), it’s not a problem. In some cases, it’s advantageous, because water doesn’t distract from the chocolate flavor like cream can.

To find the best truffle recipe for Valentine’s Day, I tested three recipes: vegan truffles adapted from Enlightened Chocolate, Alice Medrich’s truffles that started her chocolate empire, and Robert Linxe’s cream truffles (of La Maison du Chocolat, my favorite chocolate shop in New York).

The vegan truffles were six ounces of semisweet chocolate combined with 1/2 cup hot water, 1/4 cup oil (unrefined nut oil was recommended, but I used olive oil) and 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract. Since I was curious whether this water ganache thing would work, I tasted the mixture before adding the oil and vanilla. Not bad, but it was plain. After adding the rest of the ingredients, it tasted funky. The alcohol flavor from the vanilla extract lingered. Note to self: never eat “raw” vanilla extract.

Alice’s truffle recipe from Bittersweet was the richest, since it contained egg yolks and butter (but water instead of cream). It was very good, but not necessarily worth the trouble of cooking and straining the yolks.

Robert’s recipe was the simplest: pour 2/3 cup hot cream over 8 ounces finely chopped chocolate. I skipped the chocolate coating and just tossed the truffles in cocoa powder. They had the freshest and truest chocolate flavor, even though I used sub-par cream that was several months old. It just goes to show: sometimes simplest is best.

Simplest Chocolate Truffles

Adapted from Robert Linxe of La Maison du Chocolat
Makes about 60 truffles (do not double recipe)

These truffles are very soft, so store them in a cool area.

8 ounces chocolate (preferably 60% cacao)
2/3 cup heavy cream
Cocoa powder for dusting (about 1/2 cup)

Finely chop the chocolate.

Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Make sure your pan is small, so you’ll lose the least amount of cream to evaporation, and heavy, which will keep the cream from scorching. Linxe boils his cream three times — he believes that makes the ganache last longer.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a rubber spatula.

Then stir with a whisk in concentric circles (don’t beat or you’ll incorporate air), starting in the center and working your way to the edge, until the ganache is smooth. Pour into an 8″ x 8″ pan lined with wax or parchment paper.

Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to hold a shape, about 1 hour.

Turn out the ganache on a cocoa-dusted cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the ganache into half-inch cubes. Dust your palms with cocoa powder and roll the ganache balls. Toss the truffles with more cocoa powder. Shake truffles in a sieve to eliminate excess cocoa. Store in a well-sealed container.

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Savory Cheese Biscotti

cheese biscotti

For a twist on cheese straws, try making savory cheese biscotti. These “cookies” are macho enough for Super Bowl parties but elegant enough for other occasions.

This recipe is adapted from Marcy Goldman, the creative cook behind Betterbaking.com. Usually, recipes fall under two camps: classical or fun. Reference books like The Cake Bible have trustworthy recipes, but after a while, I want something more than basic sponge cake. Then there’s the comfort-food recipes, like Paula Deen’s bacon-wrapped mac and cheese. But can you trust Paula Deen? She of the Velveeta chocolate fudge? Fortunately, you get great results with Marcy’s recipes, and there’s a twist to keep things interesting.

The secret to these biscotti is wine, which makes them taste even cheesier. I paired Gewürztraminer with Mimolette cheese (leftover from the CulinaryCorps potluck). Mimolette looks like cantaloupe, but the flavor is a cross between cheddar and parmesan. Because it’s firm, crunchy bits of cheese remain after baking.

After the first baking, these biscotti are as flavorful and tender as Red Lobster’s cheddar biscuits. I don’t know what the “unscotti” are like when they’re cool; I couldn’t wait that long. But my gut says that this recipe is a two-for-one. Bake once, and you have biscuits. Bake twice, and you have crunchy cheese sticks.

Savory Cheese Biscotti

Adapted from A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman

Makes 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 dozen biscotti, depending on size

Any firm cheese and wine will work here: the original recipe calls for Parmesan and Chianti. To lighten things up, you can probably reduce the oil by half, since these biscotti are rich.

1/2 cup olive oil
3 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, or to taste (depending on how salty your cheese is, you can reduce or increase the salt by 1/4 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary, parsley, or chives
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup spicy white wine, such as Gewürztraminer
2 cups freshly grated Mimolette cheese
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 to 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350°Â F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or greased foil.
  2. In a mixer bowl, blend oil, eggs, salt, pepper, herbs, and garlic powder. Blend in wine, cheese, baking powder, baking soda, and flour to make a stiff dough.
  3. Spread dough into a log about 10 inches long and 4 to 5 inches across and pat down to square off the dough neatly.
  4. Bake until set, about 35 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheet. Wrap and refrigerate log 1 hour (this step ensures that the biscotti don’t fall apart when you slice them). Using a long serrated knife, slice log into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  5. Preheat oven to 300°Â F. Return biscotti to baking sheets and bake a second time to crisp, about 20 minutes, turning once at midway point to ensure even baking.
  6. Taste one biscotto after it cools. If it is crisp, biscotti are done. Otherwise, bake a little longer, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheets.

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Panforte: It’s Not Fruitcake

panforte nero

At this time of year, the dirtiest word you can utter is fruitcake (foodwise, at least). You could be describing the most delicious thing in the world, but as soon as you mention dried fruit, nuts and spices, people associate it with fruitcake and run the other direction.

Fruitcake is lovingly referred to as “the gift that keeps giving,” since every loaf you receive looks suspiciously like the one you gave away last year. If you’re tired of cakes with neon-colored fruit pieces, here’s an alternative.

Panforte is an Italian confection with plump, dried figs; honey and whole nuts. Wait, don’t leave! It’s not fruitcake. It’s sticky and chewy, like the topping on pecan bars. Think of it as healthy fruit fudge, since there’s no butter, cream or oil. When I made these as gifts this year, I was careful not to refer to it as fruitcake. It worked. One of the recipients didn’t even get to bring it home. He took it to a party, and his friend’s mom ate it all.

Panforte with coffee is a morning treat, and it becomes an afternoon pick-me-up when paired with tea. It also goes well with wine and cheese (or so I’ve heard), but I’m not a savory person. The version below is Alice Medrich’s panforte nero (black strong bread), which gets an extra kick from cocoa and spices. If you don’t have all the spices and nuts, use whatever you have. Walnuts work well, and I substituted a scant teaspoon of whole, slightly crushed cumin for the fennel.

To find out more about dessert pioneer Alice Medrich (they don’t call her the First Lady of Chocolate for nothing), check out the “Minimalist’s Dessert” interview, which I did for Chow.com. As another fruitcake alternative, try the date and walnut bars from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. Just tell the fruitcake-phobes that they’re “friendship bars.”

slice of panforte

Panforte Nero

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Serves 12-16

1 cup (4.75 ounces) hazelnuts, toasted and loose skins rubbed off
3/4 cup (3.75 ounces) whole unblanched almonds, toasted
2/3 cup (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons natural (nonalkalized) cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons slightly crushed fennel seeds
Slightly rounded 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Slightly rounded 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon finely crushed coriander seeds
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
grated zest of 1 orange, preferably from an organic or unsprayed fruit
8 ounces dried Mission or other figs, tough stems cut off and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
Powdered sugar or cocoa powder for dusting (optional)

Equipment: An 8-inch round cake pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 300° F. Grease the pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Line the sides with a 2-inch wide band of parchment. Liberally grease the parchment all over.

In a large bowl, mix the nuts, flour, cocoa, spices, orange zest and figs.

In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, bring the honey and sugar to a full boil. Boil for 15 seconds.  Take off the heat and pour into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, and quickly, before the syrup hardens.

Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake until it bubbles in the center and the edges, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool the panforte in the pan on a rack.

Invert the panforte onto a plate. Peel off the parchment and turn the panforte right side up. If desired, dust the top with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Serve in thin slices.

Panforte keeps forever, well wrapped, at room temperature. But I don’t think it will last that long.

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My Mayabars

homemade chocolate Larabars

When it comes to sugar, I let nature be the guide. Instead of eating flavored yogurt with one tablespoon of added sugar, I’d rather eat plain yogurt with real fruit. For breakfast, I sweeten my oatmeal with raisins rather than maple syrup (maple syrup may have trace minerals, but you have to eat a lot to get the benefits).

Although I love sweets, most packaged stuff is overkill. Case in point: Quaker chewy granola bars are 1/3 sugar by weight. There’s more sugar than fiber and protein combined. Their 25% Less Sugar line sounds like a great idea in theory, but it has calorie-free sweeteners. The solution is dialing down the sweetness, not replacing it with lab-made “food!”

Larabar, on the other hand, makes excellent no-added-sugar snacks. They use the natural sugar of dates, nature’s sweetest fruit. White sugar isn’t evil per se, but it lacks the fiber, vitamins, and minerals of fruits.

Larabar used to make Mayabars (which I dubbed the best chocolate energy bar from the 2006 Fancy Food Show). They were fruit-sweetened chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs. Unfortunately, they revamped the line (now called Jocolat) and removed the nibs for a “smoother texture.” Bah, I want my essence of chocolate. The other problem is they’re expensive at $2 each. Since their bars are essentially dried fruit and nuts, it’s not that hard to figure out the recipe.

Anna at Cookie Madness developed a formula: 1 part of dried fruit to 1/2 part of crunchies (nuts, oatmeal, puffed rice, cacao nibs, etc.) by weight. I added a little more cocoa for extra chocolatiness. It’s not an exact recipe; you can adjust the ingredients by taste.

These are delicious chocolate bars that are actually good for you! You get a one serving of fruit with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.

Naturally Sugar-Free Chocolate Bars

Adapted from Cookie Madness

Makes 6 bars or 24 “truffles”

2/3 cup walnuts
1 cup packed, pitted dates (about 24)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
2 Tbsp cacao nibs or finely chopped dark chocolate

Toast the walnuts in a preheated 325F oven for 15 min., or until browned and fragrant. Stir the nuts half way through baking.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts until they are pebble sized pieces. Set aside in a medium bowl.

Place the dates in the processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Process until they’re smooth and form a ball around the blade. (At first, you will get lots of sticky pieces.) Add the cocoa and process until smooth.

In a bowl, knead the date mixture with the walnuts and cacao nibs until they stick together. If the mixture is too sticky, add more nuts or cacao nibs. If too dry, add a couple teaspoons of water.

On a cutting board lined with plastic wrap, shape the mixture into a long 1″-wide rectangle. Slice pieces with a sharp knife. Or, roll into 1″ balls. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Note: You can use natural or Dutch-processed cocoa, depending on your tastes. Natural cocoa has more complex flavors, but it is more acidic. I like to use it in cooked recipes. Dutch-processed cocoa has some the edge taken out, but you also loose other flavor elements. I like it for frostings and other raw uses. Generally, don’t swap one cocoa for another in baking recipes, since it can throw off the pH and affect the way cakes rise.

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Gingerbends

Elle and her hairstylist

In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods shows her bumbling stylist the sure way to get any man.
“Whoops, I dropped my pencil,” Elle demonstrates. Then she bends down and snaps up. “Bend and snap! Works every time!”

Some would argue that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In that case, the bend and snap also works. For the holidays (I am way behind in posts), I made the famous Chez Panisse gingersnaps. Although they’re gingerSNAPS, they’re bendy and chewy if you underbake them.

Why are these cookies so famous?  Renee at Feeding Dexygus Seconds once applied to be a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, the restaurant pioneered eating seasonal, local produce (30 years after it opened, the rest of the country finally caught on with the food politics/organic/vegetarian craze). Renee didn’t get the job, but she walked away with one of their recipes. Since sharing this heartwarming story, the recipe spread like wildfire at The Amateur Gourmet, Chocolate & Zucchini, Kottke, The Baking Sheet, Tarting it Up, The Recipe Box, Simply Recipes…you get the idea. I compulsively clip recipes, so it took me a good two years before I had a chance to try it out.

They are one of my favorite non-chocolate cookies, the other being potato chip cookies. Although they look like mis-shapen blobs (the dough is very soft), no one can say no to butter, sugar and warm, tingly spices. If you want them to live true to their name, bake them till they are dark brown. Forget the rule of pulling cookies out of the oven just when the edges brown and the middle is still soft set.

I cheated and actually like the cookies chewy. There’s so much molasses that they’ll be “gingerbends” unless you bake them to death.

They’re more presentable if you slice the dough from a log. Forming it in a loaf pan makes for really big cookies that squish under the knife. If you make rounds, decrease the baking time to 8-9 minutes. I would send you over to Feeding Dexygus Seconds for the recipe, but it doesn’t work now. So here it is in my words. You can actually make the cookies without an electric beater. In Into to Fine Baking at The New School, we didn’t use machines for any of the doughs!

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 small eggs or 1 1/2 large eggs
1/3 cup molasses
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, cream the butter until soft. Beat in the sugar, then add the vanilla and eggs. Add molasses and beat until well-incorporated. Sift the dry ingredients, and add to the mixture. On low speed, mix until it all just comes together.

Line a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with plastic wrap, so that some hangs over the edges. Firmly press the dough into the bottom of the pan, making the top as level as possible. Cover the dough with the plastic overhangs. Freeze until very firm, preferably overnight.

Unwrap and remove dough from the pan. Slice the brick into thin slices, no more than 1/8″. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or ungreased foil. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven until the edges turn dark brown, about 12 minutes.

Notes:

  • Alternatively, you can form the dough into a couple logs that are 1 1/2″ in diameter. Slice as directed above and bake for 8-9 min.
  • The dough gets soft quickly, so work quickly.
  • Because the cookies are thin, there’s a fine line between underbaked and burned.

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Chocolate-chile almonds

mound of chocolate-chile almonds

Combining chocolate and chiles seems like avant-garde cuisine, but South Americans have been doing it for more than 1400 years. Before chocolate bars were invented, the Aztecs enjoyed hot chocolate by grinding cocoa pods with chiles and cinnamon. Other recipes, like mole negro (a thick sauce made with unsweetened chocolate, chiles, nuts and seeds) remain a staple in Mexican cuisine.

The sensation came into American consciousness with the 2001 movie, Chocolat, in which Juliet Binoche’s character spiced up romances through handmade chocolates. Real-life chocolatiers, like Jacques Torres, have capitalized on the “new” flavor by offering wicked hot chocolate.

You needn’t go to a nouvelle chocolatier to tickle your tastebuds. In fact, the professionals often over or underwhelm chocolate with chiles. My favorite way to enjoy the flavors is to eat chili or curry on its own, then cool off my mouth with a square of chocolate. The heat from the food seems to melt the chocolate faster. The next time your mouth’s on fire, don’t reach for a glass of water or milk; go with chocolate!

Coming in a close second is Daisy Martinez’s recipe for “sweet & spicy almonds.” Cumin, cayenne pepper, cocoa and powdered sugar are layered onto almonds to create an addictive snack. They’re just sweet enough to satisfy a dessert craving but salty enough to inhale like Lay’s “betcha can’t eat just one” potato chips.

There’s two delightful ways to eat them. You can just pop them in and let the “brown snow” dance around your mouth. Or, if you’re more patient, don’t chew right away. Let the cocoa dissolve, then let the spice layer sting your tongue before giving way to the candy shell.

Plus, these almonds are highly nutritious. One ounce of almonds has 35% of the RDA of vitamin E, is high in fiber and high in heart-healthy fats. Plus, cocoa arguably has more antioxidants than green tea. Granted nuts are high in fat, but if you snack on them instead of potato chips, you’re well on your way to good health.

Chocolate-Chile Almonds

from Daisy Cooks! : Latin Flavors That Will Rock Your World

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pound brown sugar or piloncillo (Mexican sugar)
1 cup water
3/4 pound (2 1/2 cups) whole unpeeled almonds
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300F. Stir together spices.

Heat brown sugar and water in a pot over medium heat until dissolved. Add almonds. Scoop out with a slotted spoon to drain out the liquid. Toss with spices.

Bake on a greased pan for 20 minutes, rotating half way. Meanwhile, stir together the cocoa and powdered sugar. Roll hot almonds in the cocoa mixture.

Notes:

  • Don’t use blanched almonds; the skin helps the spices stick.
  • Just use table salt; coarse salt won’t stick.
  • Any type of nut can be substituted. If you like Nutella, hazelnuts would be divine.
  • Honestly, my almonds didn’t taste hot, but that’s probably because my spices were old.
  • Use the leftover sugar syrup to sweeten drinks or as a topping for pancakes, etc.

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Homemade Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread Recipe (Better Than Nutella)

homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread (Nutella)

If someone offered you portable chocolate that could instantly be spread on bread, fruit, crackers and pastries, how could you refuse? Thus began my love affair with Nutella, a European spread made of hazelnut butter and cocoa.

During my days at NYU, I was at a make-your-own sandwich bar when I first tried Nutella with French bread. What a revelation! The chocolate oozed out of the nooks and crannies, while the spread’s smoothness contrasted the bread’s crust. I then saw that bagels were an excellent vehicle for Nutella. So were pretzels. And bananas. And gummy bears.

Fascinated by this new condiment, I bought myself a jar and finished it in one week. I’ve never met any food that does not taste better with a dollop of Nutella. Sometimes the best way to enjoy Nutella is to take a spoonful and just plop it in your mouth.

Nutella

According to Ferrero’s website, Nutella was created in the 1940s in the midst of a chocolate shortage. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker, stretched chocolate by thinning it out with ground hazelnuts. It became so popular that it’s as ubiquitous in Europe as peanut butter is in the U.S. If you ignore the high sugar content, Nutella actually has a nutritional profile similar to peanut butter. Its fat comes from the nuts, not the chocolate (Nutella gets its flavor from cocoa solids rather than cocoa butter). True, nuts are high in fat. But if you’re going to be eating fat, it might as well come from nuts rather than steaks.

According to Mort Rosenblum’s Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, a 13-ounce jar of Nutella contains 50 (2/3 cup) hazelnuts, 1 1/2 cups skim milk, “enough cocoa to make it brown, and a lot of sugar.” As much as I love Nutella, today’s commercial version is actually sugar that’s flavored with hazelnuts and cocoa. You can tell because sugar is first in the ingredient list. And there’s lots of added oil to make it spreadable.

The version that I make at home is truly chocolate-flavored hazelnut butter: I use 2 cups of hazelnuts rather than Ferrero’s puny 2/3 cup. This recipe is the same that I’ve sent out in Blogging by Mail and that Nic (of The Baking Sheet) used for her Nutella biscotti.

If you love this original recipe and repost it, please credit this site. Technically, recipes aren’t copyrightable, but the L.A. Times posted an eerily similar version.

Update: For an even richer version, try the second formula, which has caramel powder and no added oil. Unless you have a professional nut grinder, it won’t be as smooth as commercial Nutella, but the flavor more than makes up for it.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (easy version)

Yield: about 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups)

2 cups whole raw hazelnuts
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
up to 1/4 cup vegetable or nut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Toast until the skins are almost black and the meat is dark brown, about 15 minutes. Stir the nuts halfway through baking to ensure an even color.
  2. To get rid of the bitter skins, wrap the cooled hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Rub until most of the skins come off, but don’t worry if some remain.
  3. Process nuts in a food processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until they have liquefied, about 5 minutes. First, you will get coarsely chopped nuts, then a fine meal. After a little while, the nuts will form a ball around the blade, and it will seem like you only have a solid mass. Keep processing. The heat and friction will extract the natural oils, and you will get hazelnut butter!
  4. When the nuts have liquified, add the sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Slowly drizzle in enough oil to make a spreadable consistency. Since the mixture is warm, it will be more fluid now than at room temperature.
  5. Transfer the spread to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 months. For best results, stir the chocolate-hazelnut spread before using.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (caramel base)

Caramel instructions adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich

Yield: about 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 cups whole raw hazelnuts
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt

  1. Preparation: Line a baking sheet with foil. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Make the caramel: Combine the sugar and water in a 3- to 4-cup saucepan. To prevent crystallization, don’t stir it again during the cooking. Cover and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the lid and wipe down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush or a scrunched up paper towel dipped in water. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, or until the sugar’s completely dissolved. Uncover and cook until the syrup looks like pale amber maple syrup. If your pan’s dark and you can’t gauge the color of the syrup, spoon a drop or two onto a white saucer. Swirl the pan gently, continuing to cook and test the color until the syrup turns medium amber.
  3. Immediately pour the caramel onto the lined baking sheet. Tilt the sheet to spread the caramel as thinly as possible. Let harden completely, about 15 minutes.
  4. Toast the nuts: Meanwhile, place the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until the skins are almost black and the meat is dark brown, about 15 minutes. Stir the nuts halfway through baking to ensure an even color.
  5. To get rid of the bitter skins, wrap the cooled hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Rub until most of the skins come off, but don’t worry if some remain.
  6. Make the nut butter: When the caramel is completely cool, break it into small pieces and pulverize in a food processor. Try to get the caramel as fine as possible at this stage (it won’t get finer once you add the nuts).
  7. Add the nuts and process until they have liquefied, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Be patient; the nuts will go from a fine meal, to forming a ball around the blade, to nut butter. Add the cocoa, vanilla and salt and process until smooth.
  8. Transfer the spread to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 months. For best results, stir the chocolate-hazelnut spread before using.

Variations: To make any standard nut butter, use this procedure but omit the powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla and extra oil. Add 1/2 tsp salt and up to 2 tbsp granulated sugar. Try making your own cashew butter: you may never go back to peanut butter again!

Notes:

  • Please use whole raw nuts, and toast them yourself to intensify the flavor. Pre-toasted or pre-chopped nuts are often spoiled.
  • To further intensify the nut flavor, use unrefined nut oil (for version 1), which is tan in color. Peanut oil is especially cheap in Chinese supermarkets: 20 ounces for $2.38! So if you’re looking for a “gourmet” ingredient, try an ethnic market.
  • You really need a full-sized food processor to make nut butter, not a mini version or a blender. I recommend a 7-cup Cuisinart: it’s large enough for most household tasks but isn’t too bulky.

Resources:
Official Nutella site
Nutella recipes

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Terra Chip Cookies

I’m always disappointed when I open a new bag of potato chips, hear the air rush out, and discover that it’s only half full. Once I finish the few unblemished chips, I’m left with a pool of crumbs on the bottom. Most often I shake the bag and spitefully throw it away.

Not anymore. Crushed chips actually make tasty cookies! The promise of sweet and salty, plus a hint of the bizarre prompted me to try a potato chip cookie recipe from Real Simple magazine. These cookies are reminiscent of pecan sandies and snickerdoodles. When fresh, they’re delicately crisp like shortbread. After a couple days, they get chewy but remain delicious for weeks.

I upgraded these cookies by using leftover Terra chips, a mixture of taro, sweet potato, yuca, batata and parsnips. I imagine tortilla chips would work too. Any nut can also be used; I substituted hazelnuts. I also omitted about 1/3 of the butter (the original recipe called for two sticks) to no ill effect.

potato chip cookies

Terra Chip Cookies
Inspired by Nancy Myers’ recipe in Real Simple, May 2005

1 stick plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup more for coating
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup Terra, potato or tortilla chips, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (only add if using low-sodium chips)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Cream the butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. Lower to medium speed and add the vanilla. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt (if using) to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until incorporated. Fold in the chips and nuts. Form into approximately 1 1/2-inch balls. Dredge in the remaining sugar. Flatten with the bottom of a glass cup. Place on foil-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 13 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Yield: Makes 2 1/2 dozen

NUTRITION PER SERVING (from full fat recipe)
CALORIES 138(54% from fat); FAT 8g (sat 4g); PROTEIN 1mg; CHOLESTEROL 16mg; CALCIUM 6mg; SODIUM 18mg; FIBER 1g; CARBOHYDRATE 15g; IRON 1mg

Notes:
When lightening a cookie recipe, you may remove up to half of the fat. Because cookies depend on butter for crispness and chewiness, I don’t recommend replacing the fat with anything. Fruit purées like applesauce will make the cookie cakey and gummy. Just leave out the fat: most recipes have plenty already!

This recipe is a variant of the Earl Grey tea cookies that have popped up in IMBB 17: Taste Tea and Blogging by Mail 2. The Earl Grey cookies use 1/2 cup each of granulated and powdered sugar, 2 Tbsp tea leaves pulverized with the dry ingredients, and no cinnamon. They are the slice-and-bake variety.

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