Slow Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Ginger Lime Butter and Charred Broccoli

By now, given that it’s not only all over Pinterest, but both Saveur and Smitten Kitchen have a version (though to be fair, hers is based on Saveur’s offering), you probably know about slow roasted sweet potatoes which means I am completely overdue unoriginal on trend with this one. But that’s okay. As a scholar of medieval texts, I am nothing if not interested in old material. Besides, this one comes with thanks to Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and her propensity to respond to people’s recipe request tweets – while tweet-stalking fangirling scrolling through my feed last week, I noticed a reader ask advice for a lamb chop dish, and Alex recommended a side of sweet potatoes with a ginger butter.

That was all the light-bulb I needed for how to dress up these already-basically-perfect sweet potatoes, roasted for an agonizingly long time until their sweetness deepens, and their flesh collapses into rich orange velvet, and their skins need the barest flick of a fork to split, and just before serving you can shove them under the broiler just until they start to blister and crackle for extra texture. Ginger would be delightful here, cutting sharply through the butter and the starchy softness of the potato (you keep your fresh ginger in the freezer, right, for easy grating?). I knew immediately I would add some brown sugar, or maybe some maple syrup, but set all that off with a generous grating of lime zest to keep it from becoming just deconstructed sweet potato pie (though honestly, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing…). And rather than make them play second fiddle to some protein, these would be the central feature of our plates.

An almost-dessert main requires a sidekick to keep it oriented, so our vegetable costar would have to be savory and kicky and intense. I went green. Broccoli, sliced into thick, steak-like slabs to expose flat, crisp-tender centers of each stem, aggressively seared until deeply bronzed, then tossed with a pungent mixture of lime juice and fish sauce for that deep, salty-savory funk. At first taste, N. was thrown off by the sourness of the sauce combination, and I’ll admit, it is strong. But then he kept coming back for more, as the briny strangeness seeped temptingly into the bright florets.

This is a weekend meal to be sure, given the length of time needed for the potatoes. But it’s largely hands off; once you stow them in the oven, glistening with oil and scattered with salt and pepper because we are going to eat every shred of that skin, you can putter around, or sink into a movie, or venture out into whatever sort of garden you might be planning for, or indulge in a cat nap, or continue your binging of season two of Jessica Jones; you are free for whatever needs doing until it’s time to char the broccoli and lick your plate.

Slow Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Ginger Lime Butter and Charred Broccoli
Serves 4
About 2½ hours
For sweet potatoes:
4 large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, approximately equal in size
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
For ginger lime butter:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but not melted
zest of 2 limes
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (keep it in the freezer for easier grating) OR 2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
For charred broccoli:
1 pound broccoli
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce

 

  • Preheat the oven to 275F. While it warms, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Rub the sweet potatoes with the 1 tablespoon olive oil, arrange on the lined baking sheet, and sprinkle each generously with salt and pepper. Place carefully into the oven and bake at 275F for 2½ hours.
  • While the sweet potatoes take their sweet time, make the ginger lime butter. In a small bowl, use a spoon or a spatula or a small whisk to whip together the softened butter, the lime zest, the ginger, and the brown sugar. Once fluffy and well combined, cover with plastic wrap and stow in the fridge until a few minutes before it’s time to eat.
  • When the sweet potatoes have about ½ hour left to bake, start on the broccoli. Combine the 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons sesame oil in a small bowl. Cut the broccoli into large, steak-like slices straight across the head – the point is to have lots of flat sides of broccoli flesh to lay against the pan.
  • Heat about 1 tablespoon of the oil mixture in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not quite smoking, carefully arrange slices of broccoli over the surface in a single layer. Try not to crowd; you will likely need to do this in a few batches. Cook without moving until the underside of each broccoli slice is deeply bronzed, around 2-3 minutes depending on your stove. Flip each piece over and repeat, so both sides are darkly browned and the broccoli is barely tender. Remove to a bowl or serving dish and repeat, adding more of the oil mixture when needed, until all of the broccoli is cooked.
  • While you are cooking the batches of broccoli, whisk together the 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 tablespoon fish sauce in a small bowl. When all of the broccoli is done, pour on the sauce mixture and toss to combine.
  • After 2½ hours, the sweet potatoes are done. For an extra layer of flavor and texture, if you wish, set them under your broiler on high for a few minutes just before serving, until the skin blackens and crackles just a little bit, then carefully remove to a plate, split down the center, add a heaping helping of the ginger lime butter, and serve with a side of the broccoli.

Ginger Blackberry Scones

2016 Food Blog March-0656It’s going to sound a bit cliché to do this – a literature major starting a post with quotes about April – but it has again proved itself to be the cruelest month. Really, as a medievalist I should be referencing Chaucer, and I do prefer his April – with its sweet showers and sleepy birds and waking pilgrims – to T.S. Eliot’s earthy disturbance of memory and desire, but this year Eliot is unfortunately more apropos. April is a thief. It stole things from me, and from others I love. It sapped me on a personal and a professional plane, and on levels both trivial and profound.

2016 Food Blog March-06192016 Food Blog March-06242016 Food Blog March-0625In the wake of April’s larceny, which began on the very first day of the month, something had to give, and that something was this something. The ease with which I slipped in a substitute post was insidious, and to manage my own needs, I had to allow that ease to linger.

2016 Food Blog March-0627Now that April has blustered its way out of our lives, now that I’m picking my way delicately up the slope that everything I dropped created, I think we need something warm and comforting, but bright. Something to wake up those sleepy birds and push us forward on our pilgrimages. There are several search terms for the 2016 project that involve blackberries, which is no surprise. However, I just couldn’t see my way ‘round “blackberry sauerkraut party meatballs” (any ideas?), so I settled on “ginger blackberry scones” instead, borrowing a bit from a Bon Appetit base recipe for cream scones.

2016 Food Blog March-06382016 Food Blog March-0641There is much, and also not a great deal, to say about scones. Richer than a biscuit, drier than a cake, they are a crumbly compact package I would eat at any time of day. Studded with chopped crystallized ginger, bright with citrus zest and weeping with the purple stain of lurking blackberries, they are capable of offering comfort even in the final days of the “stony rubbish” that is that cruelest of months (Eliot 20).

2016 Food Blog March-0647Ginger Blackberry Scones
Makes 8 large, 16 medium, or 24 small
Adapted from Bon Appetit
¼ cup granulated sugar
zest of one lemon or one lime
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your board
½ cup (8 tablespoons or one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1¼ cups (about 12 ounces) fresh blackberries
¼ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 large egg, beaten
1¼ cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing
raw sugar, optional, for sprinkling

 

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. In a medium bowl, rub the sugar and citrus zest together until the zest is evenly integrated and the sugar and your hands smell of its brightness. Whisk the zested sugar with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and three cups of flour.
  • Add the butter chunks and, using a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the flour until only small pieces remain – some will be the size of oats; some will be more like peas.
  • Add the blackberries and chopped ginger and toss gently to incorporate.
  • Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the egg and the 1¼ cups cream. Use a fork to mix, incorporating the wet and dry ingredients gently, until a shaggy dough forms. Lightly knead in the bowl just until it comes together – a few dry patches are fine. Some of the blackberries will lose integrity, bleeding through the dough. That’s okay too.
  • Turn the sticky, shaggy dough out onto a floured board and pat it into a round (more traditional) or a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Cut into wedges/triangles (a pizza cutter works well for this), or punch out rounds with a cutter, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Brush tops of scones with a bit of cream, then sprinkle with raw sugar if desired. Bake at 375F: 25-30 minutes for large scones, 20-25 minutes for medium or small. They will blush pale gold when they are done, and the bottoms will bronze a bit darker.
  • Remove gently to a wire rack and let cool a few minutes before eating. If desired, you can leave off the brush of cream and sugar, and instead, when the scones are cool, drizzle them with a well-whisked mixture of 1 cup powdered sugar, ¼ cup lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut and Turmeric

I threw away my bathroom scale today. Before you applaud me, this isn’t some kind of new-year-new-me-self-acceptance resolution. No, it’s because unless we have had a 46 pound ghost living in our bathroom for the last month, the scale has stopped working. No amount of fiddling with the dial on the bottom has had any effect, aside from bulking up our imaginary squatter to 77 pounds.

Food Blog January 2015-0205Though I realize there are probably many videos, tutorials, and step-by-step Pinterest boards devoted to fixing this problem (how to evict your imaginary scale-ghost!), I decided it was easier to just throw it away. Then I went out and had chicken and waffles for lunch.

Food Blog January 2015-0210All that being said, it is the time of year when, if we’re invested in this sort of thing, we tend to pay a lot of attention to what our bodies look like and what we put into them. Usually that involves eating less and eating lighter, which is ironic and unfortunate, because so many places in the country this January are having such a harsh winter. We need comfort, we need warmth, we need rich food to sustain us through snow and low temperatures (well, perhaps not in Los Angeles).

Food Blog January 2015-0199The answer to both of these problems seems, to me, to be vegetable soup. I don’t mean a minestrone type concoction, with chunks of various veggies floating in broth, but a pureed soup, featuring a single vegetable star, with minimal back-up supporters and just a bit of spice to keep things interesting. After a recent episode of Top Chef on which one of the contestants made a deep, sunset inspired roasted carrot soup, I knew what my star would be.

Food Blog January 2015-0201Carrots work well with many flavors, but ginger is a particularly nice pairing; carrots are sweet and hearty, and ginger is a warm, spicy kick that keeps it bright. Rather than chicken stock, which I find can muddy flavors a bit, I opted for water as my liquid, with a generous splash of coconut milk to add some richness. Then, on a whim I’m pleased I followed, I sprinkled in a good teaspoon or two of turmeric, which bolstered both the orange glow of the carrots and their earthy flavor.

Food Blog January 2015-0213As I watched my pureed mixture burble in a pot, I started thinking about texture. I’d stopped short of pureeing the carrots to total velvet smoothness, but I still wanted something crunchy to break up the potential monotony of my soup. During the pumpkin madness of autumn, I experimented with some yet-to-be-perfected turmeric-spiced pumpkin bars that featured a pistachio and walnut crumble topping. Pistachios seemed like a good choice again here, and to play with the hint of citrus flavor they carry, as well as add a slight sourness the soup might benefit from, I tossed the nuts with lemon zest before sprinkling them over my vivid orange lunch.

Food Blog January 2015-0209Despite our less-than-wintery weather, this was a comforting, warming bowl. Roasting the carrots brings out their sweetness and concentrates their flavor, but the spices keep it dancing between decadent richness and brightly refreshing. I used some leftover naan to mop up the edges of my bowl, but a crusty piece of baguette or hot pita would, as you might expect, be just as nice.

Food Blog January 2015-0214This is a thick soup – almost passable as a vegetable puree, and you can play with it as you please. Add more or less liquid, replace the pistachio and lemon topping with another toasted nut, or lime zest rather than lemon, or maybe even fried sage and crumbled gingersnaps, to play with the fresh ginger in the soup. My quantities here produce an assertively gingery mix – reduce to just a teaspoon or two for a milder spice.

Food Blog January 2015-0207

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut and Turmeric
Serves 2-3
1 pound carrots, tips and tops removed, peeled if desired (I usually don’t – just scrub them off)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon grated ginger (or less, to your taste)
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
additional salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup roughly chopped, toasted pistachios
2 teaspoons lemon zest

 

  • Preheat the oven to 425F while you prep your carrots. Remove their tops and tips, then split down the center for two long half cylinders. On an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, toss the carrot halves with the olive oil and the ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper for a gleaming, even coat. Roast in the 425F oven for 40 minutes, until nicely browned and quite tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • For a standard blender: add the roasted carrots, coconut milk, water, grated ginger, and turmeric to a blender and blend until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. As noted above, I chose to leave mine with a little texture, but you can blend until completely smooth if desired. Pour the mixture into a medium pot.
  • For an immersion blender: add the roasted carrots, coconut milk, water, grated ginger, and turmeric to a medium pot with high sides (otherwise the soup spatters a bit during blending) and blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. As noted above, I chose to leave mine with a little texture, but you can blend until completely smooth if desired.
  • For both methods: once the soup is your desired consistency in the medium pot, place it over medium-low heat until it is heated through. Be careful – because this mixture is thick, if it comes to a boil it will spit.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with a scattering of chopped pistachios and lemon zest.

Apricot Ginger Thumbprint Cookies

Food Blog December 2014-0956Up until I was in college, almost every year my family received a heavy box a week or two before Christmas. As soon as we tore through the tape we could smell them: Nana’s cookies. Ladylocks or cream horns, nut-rolls, pizzelles, thumbprints, sometimes chocolate dipped apricots or seven layer bars; everything nestled in its own individual wrapping and ready to be devoured. And she didn’t just send them to us, but to the families of her other two children as well, and who knows who else. I’m sure she saved a few for herself and Pap – who was quite the cookie fiend – to eat as the holidays approached.

Food Blog December 2014-0943I never thought about it when I was a kid, but this must have taken her weeks to do. I can only imagine the organization that went into it – I’m sure dough was made ahead of time and frozen until she was ready to bake, and what a baking day(s) it must have been! How many cookie sheets would that be, all rotating in and out of the oven? How many measuring spoons and bags of flour and sugar and butter?

Food Blog December 2014-0941I had big plans this season. I was going to give you with a week of cookies, presenting my favorite holiday offerings with which you could grace your own dessert bar (and if you have one of those, I politely demand to be invited over). Just one cookie recipe a day, and you and I would both be set for the whole season.

Food Blog December 2014-0944Alas, as usual, that whole having a day job thing took over. Amidst the stacks of papers, however, one cookie managed to sweet talk its way through: a modest tray of thumbprints that, offered up in my department’s mailroom, disappeared in less than two hours. My people are cookie people.

Food Blog December 2014-0946Thumbprints were always included in Nana’s Christmas cookie box. Somewhere between a sugar cookie and shortbread, but with brown sugar rather than white, the soft dough gets rolled into a ball, dunked in egg whites and then coated in chopped nuts. A gentle squash in the middle of the ball gives the cookie its name, and provides a little receptacle for more sweetness – after baking, Nana always filled the little cavity of the cookie with pink or blue royal icing.

Food Blog December 2014-0948I hadn’t thought about thumbprint cookies in years, but at some point this summer, something reminded me of these pretty little sweets and I knew I wanted to make my own version. None of my relatives – good bakers all – had a copy of Nana’s recipe, but one of my aunts told me to start with Betty Crocker, and gave me a few hints about how Nana might have adapted her version. In mine, I’ve replaced the margarine I’m almost sure Nana used with butter, and gone with a fruit-based jammy chutney for the center rather than the sweet icing she favored. Apricot and crystallized ginger, chopped fine or pulverized in the food processor, cooked down with some water, some sugar, and some lemon zest create a beautiful glossy compote reminiscent of those tubs of candied fruit that show up in grocery store produce sections this time of year, but with fresher, cleaner flavor.

Food Blog December 2014-0949It has been a long time since I tasted one of Nana’s thumbprints, but my first bite of these, still warm from the oven, told me I was close. The cookie itself is buttery and crumbly, both features enhanced by its walnut coating, and not overly sweet. The apricot and ginger filling give it a spicy-sweet character that went as well with the walnuts as I’d hoped, and they are actually tastier the day after baking. My recipe wound up making a mere 2 ½ dozen cookies, which doesn’t sound like a pittance, but when I brought home an empty tray after making my offering at work, N. and I wished we’d saved more than the four cookies I’d laid aside for us.

Food Blog December 2014-0952As a friend shocked me by revealing last night, it’s only ten days till Christmas, and Hanukkah starts tomorrow already. I hope your plans are going well, and if you do have the urge to bake something sweet for someone you love, this little gem of a cookie should be hard to resist.

Food Blog December 2014-0955

Apricot Ginger Thumbprints
Adapted from Betty Crocker
Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies
For the filling:
1 cup dried apricots
¼ cup crystallized ginger
Zest of one lemon
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch salt
For the dough:
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, soft but not melted (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ – 2 cups finely chopped walnuts

 

  • Make the filling first, since it will need time to cool after cooking.
  • With a sharp knife or a food processor, chop the apricots and ginger until very fine.
  • Place apricot and ginger bits in a small pot with lemon zest, water, brown sugar, and the pinch of salt. Bring to a bubble, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture becomes thick, 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • When mixture is a thick, jammy consistency, remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
  • While apricot ginger mixture cools, preheat the oven to 350F and make the cookie dough.
  • Cream the butter until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes.
  • Add the brown sugar and cream together another 2 minutes, until this, too, is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, and mix well to combine.
  • Sprinkle in the flour and salt, mix well to combine into a clumpy dough approximately the consistency of wet sand.
  • If at this point the dough is too soft to work with, stow it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to let the butter harden up a bit.
  • While the dough chills, use a fork to lightly beat the egg whites, reserving them in a small bowl.
  • Chop or process the walnuts into small crumbs.
  • When you are ready to form the cookies, use a spoon or your fingers to portion out and roll 1-inch balls of dough. Dunk each ball in the egg whites, then roll in the walnuts until well coated.
  • Place each ball on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
  • When your cookie sheet is full, use your thumb or finger to push down into the center of each cookie ball, making a depression. That’s the thumbprint!
  • Bake at 350F for 15 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden and have swelled up.
  • Upon removing the cookies from the oven, use the back of a spoon to lightly press down on the depressed area again, as it may have puffed up during baking.
  • Let cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove to a wire rack. While still warm, fill the center with apricot ginger mixture – each cookie should fit about ½ a teaspoon of the fruit filling.
  • Cookies are best cooled completely, and only get better the second day, though I suspect they won’t last much longer than that.

 

Tropical Banana Bread for the Hawaiian Vacation we should all be on

Food Blog March 2014-3354As I type this, I am one week – count it! – one lousy week from Spring Break. That doesn’t sound like much, but as I’m sure any of my students would agree if you asked them, in lived reality it is an eternity. On top of that, the sudden influx of warm weather draping itself all over Southern California this past weekend has enchanted misled my poor little vacation-focused brain into thinking the upcoming break might actually be the onset of summer break. It’s going to be so disappointed.

Food Blog March 2014-3327Because I’m foolishly thinking of summer, it’s finding its way into my cooking. N. and I have promised ourselves a Hawaiian vacation this year, in celebration of various job and life related things, and so I’m feeling a bit tropical in some of my undertakings.

Food Blog March 2014-3330In light of my recent declaration that what I do here inelegantly boils down to messing with classics, I’m bringing you banana bread. Now, my banana bread recipe – the one I’ve used so many times the page in the cookbook is torn and spattered and hard to read – is pretty sacred. I’ve been using it since high school, and it produces a loaf that is thick and moist and golden and just barely crusty on top, and when N. heard that I was going to change it, I am fairly certain he let out a legitimate whimper. Apparently there are some things you just don’t mess with.

Food Blog March 2014-3326But I did it anyway, jamming the moist, fragrant batter with indecent quantities of chopped candied pineapple and crystallized ginger.

To make it even more of a celebration, I finally decided to replace the old, mismatched, stained and eternally sticky-handled (they aren’t dirty, the stickiness just doesn’t wash off anymore) glass bread pans I bought from a thrift store while I was in college with actual 9×5 inch standard loaf pans. Non-stick, too. What a luxury! Unfortunately, the stickers advertising how amazing these pans are had been adhered to the insides with gigantic globs of something that can only be described as superglue derived from elephant snot. When not even liberal doses of rubbing alcohol failed to remove all of the adhesive, I got so angry I actually started hiccuping.

Food Blog March 2014-3335Good thing the resulting bread was so delicious. Truly, with all my recent quasi-failures, this one is a real triumph. It is moist, studded with fruit that softens over the long, low bake. These bits of fruit, especially the ones that sink to the bottom of the loaf, take on an appealing kind of gumminess, and some even attain a whisper of the kind of caramelization you’d find in the fruit of a tarte tatin. Sliced thick, it is rich but not too sweet, making it a perfect companion for morning coffee or mid-afternoon chai (the basic boxed mix combined with vanilla coconut milk is my current favorite, and all the more appropriate for the whole Hawaiian vacation thing). It’s the kind of bread you want to eat barefoot, lightly clothed, on a lanai looking out over the ocean, perhaps after you’ve just enjoyed some –ahem– morning activities that left you wanting a snack. The pineapple and ginger mingle well with the already slightly tropical feel of the banana, and the ginger adds a welcome warmth without being spicy (I used a lot, and the flavor is quite pronounced – see my quantity suggestion below if you are unsure about this).

Food Blog March 2014-3333We should all be on a Hawaiian vacation. We probably all deserve one. But if it’s not possible for you, and if you are still in a part of the country that refuses to let Spring over the threshold, may I humbly recommend this bread? At least your taste buds can hop a quick flight… Food Blog March 2014-3338

Tropical Banana Bread
Makes one 9×5 inch loaf
Adapted from Country Cooking
3 medium overripe bananas
½ cup vegetable or other neutral tasting oil
2 eggs
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, use ¼ cup regular milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar, stir to combine, and let sit for 2-3 minutes)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup roughly chopped candied or crystallized pineapple
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (this results in a strong ginger flavor. If you aren’t sure about this or you’re not overly fond of ginger, reduce to ¼ cup)

 

  • Preheat the oven to 325F and prepare a 9×5 inch loaf pan. I usually just coat the bottom and sides with non-stick spray, but this time I lined the inside with parchment paper to protect against any lingering elephant snot glue (see above).
  • In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, mash the bananas into a pulpy mess. Add the oil, the eggs, the buttermilk, and the vanilla and combine thoroughly.
  • Add the sugar and mix well.
  • Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix just until combined. Be sure to scrape the bottom – sometimes streaks of flour wind up hiding out down there.
  • Add the pieces of pineapple and ginger and combine thoroughly; you want even distribution of the fruit through the batter.
  • Carefully pour and scrape the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Beware: if your pan is smaller than 9×5 inches, you may want to make a few muffins as well, or at least place a cookie sheet under the pan in the oven in case of overflow.
  • Bake at 325F for 80-90 minutes, or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Check at 80 minutes, but don’t be surprised if it is still a bit raw in the middle. This is quite a large loaf, and depending on the size of your bananas it may take even longer than 90 minutes to bake.
  • Let cool completely (or at least twenty minutes) before removing from the pan and slicing.
  • Keeps wrapped well in foil for at least three days, but I doubt you’ll have that problem.

Truffling

At our house, a box of See’s chocolates was standard holiday fare. They were special – the white box, the ruffled, rustling brown wraps that made it all but impossible to sneak a selection without someone overhearing – and all too quickly gone. But they were special for good and for bad reasons. As Forrest Gump so wisely told us, you never knew what you were going to get. It might be a luscious square of soft, fudgy dark chocolate studded with walnuts, or it might be the dreaded maple nougat. My cousin J. loves caramel, and when she was little she developed a surefire way to determine which mysterious See’s square to choose: bite the bottoms off, and if you don’t like the filling inside, put it back in the box. No one could see the intrusion, at least not until that piece was selected again.

For the past few years, I’ve made truffles for my officemates at the end of the term. Squares of ganache flavored with fruits, nuts, and liqueurs, robed lovingly in melted chocolate and stuffed carefully into pretty little boxes make excellent, always well-received holiday gifts. I’ve experimented with ginger, apricots, amaretto, peppermint, almond butter, dark, white, and bittersweet chocolate. To my delight, Bittman has a truffle (or at least a truffle-like) recipe among his 101. With no officemates to share with this year, I decided to make a selection of truffles for my husband to give his department at his school.

I went a little overboard.

Food%2520Blog%25202011-2013-0195

Cranberry Truffles: Heat ½ cup simple syrup and ½ cup bourbon or water; add 2 cups dried cranberries and steep until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Pulse the fruit in a food processor, adding just enough liquid so the mixture comes together. Roll spoonfuls of the cranberry filling into balls, then roll them in cocoa, mixed with pulverized nuts if you like.”

This sounded decadent and very adult – an excellent addition to truffle flavor combinations I was planning like Chambord with dried raspberries and Grand Marnier with candied orange peel. I used:

Food%2520Blog%25202011-2013-0182½ cup bourbon (I used Knob Creek)

½ cup simple syrup (I had some ginger syrup kicking around, so why not?)

2 cups dried cranberries (use reduced sugar, if you can find them)

½ cup cocoa powder

½ cup hazelnuts (optional)

I was pleased to find reduced sugar Craisins to use here – the bourbon has its own kind of sweetness, and the ginger syrup I was using instead of a simple syrup was tooth-twingingly sweet. I heated the liquids together in a small pot over medium heat until they came to the barest simmer.

As Bittman directs, I steeped the Craisins in the bourbon and syrup for fifteen minutes or so. I wasn’t sure what temperature “steeping” actually is, so I decided on a barely bubbling simmer. The syrup seeped into the cranberries, giving them a slightly fleshy texture. The bourbon wafted headily through my kitchen, making me think 10am might have been on the early side to take on this project so clearly meant for a Friday evening.

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Fifteen minutes of simmering down, and I dumped my swelling craisins into a strainer over a pot to catch the liquid. Don’t lose all the liquid; you’re going to need a tablespoon or two of it later. Let the craisins drain and cool for at least ten or fifteen minutes. While they cooled, I put half a cup of hazelnuts in my food processor and let it rip until they were almost all pulverized into a powder.

When they were cool and had (emitted) plenty of bourbon infused syrup, I moved the craisins to the clean-scraped food processor and let it run. The little ruby jewels came together into a whirring relish of red, and as the bits began to clump in the bowl of my food processor, I added a tablespoon of the bourbon syrup, and then another. The cranberry bits now clung stickily together and I decided they were stable enough to scoop.

Food%2520Blog%25202011-2013-0186

I mixed my powdered hazelnuts with cocoa powder in a shallow bowl, then laid out a piece of wax paper for the finished balls. I spooned out rounds slightly smaller than ping-pong balls and rolled them gently in the nut and cocoa mixture, then set them gently on the wax paper to set or firm up or whatever it was they were going to decide to do.

Food%2520Blog%25202011-2013-0187

When I let myself taste one (I waited until after lunch, out of respect for the bourbon), I was glad to have waited. These, folks, are strong. They are utterly delicious, but extremely intense. The cranberries absorb all the flavor and warmth and musty floral overtones of the alcohol, and the cocoa adds just the right hint of matte bitterness to combat the sweetness and tartness of the cranberries. I set them gently in mini cupcake wrappers.

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Once completed, the bourbon balls joined the rest of the bejeweled collection, which consisted of:

Apricot and almond bits in white chocolate, spiked with amaretto and then dipped in dark chocolate.

Bittersweet ganache with orange liqueur, threaded with candied orange peel, dunked in white chocolate and garnished with a piece of sugared rind.

Dark chocolate with candied ginger and ginger syrup, dressed with semi-sweet chocolate and topped with a piece of ginger.

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Chocolate ganache flavored with chambord and studded with freeze dried raspberries, which contributed a really intriguing crunchy intensity.

Crunchy flaxseed and almond butter cups, topped with a sprinkle of sea salt.

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Happy Holidays!

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