Saturday, December 5, 2015

Preparing for the Holidays

It's hard to believe the holidays are only weeks away! Craft Fairs around the Island are in full swing. Surrounding cities, towns and their stores are becoming a bit crazy to navigate. I don't shop for gifts, but instead head to the kitchen to prepare my 'foodie gifts' and stock the freezer with goodies for last minute entertaining, hostess gifts and pot luck gatherings.
Hand Dipping Truffles
I have prepared an assortment of handmade chocolate truffles this year to be presented as special gifts for family and friends. A few trays of my 'Fruit and Nut Bark' (recipe below) round out the decadent chocolate portion of preparation. 
As a kid, I remember my Mom filling the freezer with tins of fancy cookies and squares for the holidays... I also have fond memories of sneaking into the huge chest freezer and munching down frozen cookies! I carry on the tradition of filling the freezer with special baking for last minute gatherings or impromptu guests. 
1/3 slab with Chocolate Buttercream Icing 
~Vanilla and Mint Brownie squares~

'Triple Chocolate Brownies' (recipe page 167~For the Love of Food) yields a big batch. For a fast assortment; once cooled, cut the slab of brownies into 3 equal sized pieces. Decorate one piece with chocolate butter cream, the second with vanilla buttercream then drizzle with melted dark chocolate and the third with vanilla buttercream tinted green and flavored with peppermint extract and drizzled with melted dark chocolate. Chill well in the fridge ...until the icing is firm to the touch, then cut into serving-size squares.
Assortment of Chocolate Brownies made from one slab

Package in a clean tin, lined with plastic wrap. Place a sheet of wax paper or parchment between the layers of brownies, then freeze. Now you have a quick assortment of goodies ready to serve at the snap of your fingers! Fancy cookies and squares ready to serve from the freezer take off some of the stress and pressure of the season's entertaining. These are also a great item for Bake Sales or Dessert Tables because of the large yield from each recipe.

If you are looking for a quick and easy decadent chocolate treat, try your hand at making a batch or two of 'Fruit and Nut Bark'. This is so versatile... use dark, milk or white chocolate and any combination of fruit and/or nuts you like. 
FRUIT AND NUT BARK                    Yield: about 1-1/2 lb. bark 
Always use a ‘top quality’ chocolate, my preference is Belgian Callebaut. Lindt and Ghirardelli are other brands that would be suitable for this recipe.  
*Chef's Note: 'To Temper Chocolate’, go to my Helpful Tips Page

1 lb. coarsely chopped ‘top quality’ chocolate; dark, milk or white
¼ cup whole cashews 
¼ cup pecan, halves or pieces 
¼ cup slivered almonds 
1 cup dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries OR raisins, chopped 
2 oz. white chocolate, for garnish 

Roast nuts in a 350˚F oven for 5-8 minutes, set aside to cool completely. Line a 9x13-inch cake pan with wax paper so it extends up sides of the pan and set aside. In a heatproof bowl over hot, NOT boiling water, melt chocolate. Never let the temperature of the chocolate rise above 104F or it will crystallize and become unusable. Stir until smooth, remove from heat. Stir in nuts and fruit. 

Pour into prepared cake pan, spread to all edges of the pan with a rubber spatula then lift the pan, holding wax paper and bang pan on the counter several times to settle and smooth the mixture.

Allow to cool slightly. Melt white chocolate and drizzle in fine strands over the finished bark. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until the chocolate is firm. Remove from pan, peel off wax paper and break the chocolate bark into chunks. Layer pieces between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container or pack in cello bags closed with a twist tie or ribbon and refrigerate for up to one month.

Till next week, Happy Baking and Bon App├ętit!  

Recipe by Sally Rae
Photos, Chocolate Truffles and Brownies by Sally Rae

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