Holiday Cookies & Treats
a festive recipe Round-Up
Hard & Crunchy Italian Nougat
250 g whole blanched almonds
200 g mild-tasting, runny honey
200 g caster sugar
1 large egg white
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the almonds on a tray and toast them as the oven is warming up (keep an eye on them and stir them so they toast evenly and don’t burn). Once toasted and fragrant, turn the oven off and take out the almonds. Let them cool on the tray while you carry on with the rest.
Combine the honey and sugar in a pan set over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Using a candy thermometer, allow the temperature of the honey and sugar to reach 120ºC. As soon as it does, take the pan off the heat and set aside momentarily.
Beat the egg white until frothy but not stiff. While still beating the egg white, slowly add in the hot honey and sugar. At the end, you should have a dense, pearl-white, sticky mixture.
Put this mixture back to the pan and heat it over a low heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning it. This will take quite a while, as we want to take the candy mixture past the crack stage. Be patient and stir away. To know when it’s done, take a tiny bit of candy and put it in a bowl with icy-cold water. If it hardens and holds its shape when cold, then you’re almost there.
Stir in the toasted almonds until evenly combined into the torrone mixture.
At this point, you can pour the mixture into moulds lined with parchment, or sandwich it between wafer sheets. I like to shape mine into walnut-size bites, which I then stick to each other (as they were bits of monkey bread, to give you an idea) and press onto a sheet of parchment. They make for moreish portion-size morsels.
Cool your torrone completely. (I do so by putting the nougat outside my window, simply wrapped in parchment and with a towel on top.) Store it – always wrapped in parchment – in an air-tight container and away from humidity.
Venetian Polenta Raisin Cookies
80 g raisins
60 ml grappa
280 g plain flour, sifted
250 g fine polenta (such as Fioretto)
Pinch of fine-grain sea salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
180 g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150 g caster sugar
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Soak the raisins in grappa or warm water for 20 minutes, then drain and pat dry with kitchen paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, salt and baking powder. Add the butter and work it into the flour mix using the tips of your fingers until you have a crumbly, coarse, sandy mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks with the vanilla and sugar until frothy and pale yellow. Fold them gently into the flour mix until the dough comes together. Stir in the raisins and mix to combine. Cover the bowl with cling film and place it in the fridge to cool for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Take a roughly tablespoon-sized piece of dough and shape it into an oval using your hands. Ease it onto the prepared sheet and press it down gently. Repeat with the rest of the dough, making sure to space out the biscuits.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and lightly cracked on top but still rather soft within (shift the trays halfway through so that they bake evenly). Remove from the oven and transfer the biscuits to a rack to cool. Once cooled, dust with icing sugar if you wish. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Sicily’s Sesame & Almond Brittle
100 g caster sugar
100 g mild-tasting runny honey
250 g sesame seeds
125 g whole almonds
Combine the honey and sugar in a pan set over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Using a candy thermometer, allow the temperature of the honey and sugar to reach 120ºC. As soon as it does, stir in the sesame seeds. Carry on cooking the mixture for 5 to 6 minutes, until the sesame is toasted and fragrant, stirring constantly. Finally, add the almonds and fold them through.
Spread the hot brittle mixture over a greased marble surface or a sheet pan lined with parchment. Place a sheet of parchment on top and flatten the brittle to 3 to 4 mm using a rolling pin. Slowly remove the parchment.
Cut the lemon in half and use the cut part to shine the surface of the brittle.
Wet the blade a sharp, heavy-duty knife, and use it to cut the brittle into diamonds or squares before it’s cooled completely. Once cold, you can store the brittle in an air-tight container and away from humidity.
cantuccini farro e nocciole
Hazelnut Spelt Biscotti
150 g whole hazelnuts
200 g plain flour, sifted
150 g whole spelt flour, sifted
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
200 g light brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten + 1 egg yolk, for glazing
40 ml milk
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray lined with parchment. Toast them for five minutes, until just fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Combine the two flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs and the milk and mix them with the dry ingredients until it all comes together into a dough (You can do this by hand or with a stand mixer).
Add the hazelnuts and work them into the dough until evenly incorporated.
Divide the dough into three pieces and shape them into flattened logs –– about 1.5 cm high and 3 cm wide. Ease them on the lined baking tray, spacing them out a little.
Beat the yolk and use it to brush the top and side of the logs.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked through and crackly on the surface. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, using a sharp, heavy knife, slice the logs –– best if at an angle –– into 1.5 cm slices.
Lay the biscotti back onto the baking tray, cut side down. Bake for 20 extra minutes, turning them halfway through, until crisp. Let them cool completely on a rack before serving them or storing them in a jar or tin.
paste di mandorla all’arancia
Citrus-Scented Marzipan Biscuits
225 g blanched almonds
225 g caster sugar
65 g icing sugar, plus more for dredging
2 egg whites, divided
½ tablespoon almond extract
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange
Preheat the oven to 170°C. In a food processor, blitz the almonds with the caster sugar until finely ground. Add two tablespoon of cold water and blitz until the mixture comes together into a firm paste. Add an extra drop of water if needed.
Transfer the almond paste to a large bowl. Add one egg white, icing sugar, almond extract and orange zest and stir until fully combined into a soft, slightly sticky mixture.
Tumble the mixture onto a surface dusted with icing sugar. Divide it into three equal portions and roll each one into long ropes (about 2cm wide). Using a paring knife, cut it into 2cm bits, then roll them into little rounds using the palms of your hands.
Lightly whisk the remaining egg white. Roll the biscuits in it, then dredge them in plenty of icing sugar. Arrange them on a baking tray lined with parchment. Pinch the top of each biscuit so as to give them a slightly pointy shape.
Bake the biscuits for 14-15 minutes, or until crinkled and golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cook completely Serve or store in a jar or tin.
dark chocolate bark
with Candied Orange Peel, Pistachios & Maldon Salt
300 g quality dark chocolate (ideally 85% cacao), finely chopped
65 g whole almonds
65 g unsalted pistachios
75 g candied orange peel, chopped
1/2 tsp flaky salt (such as Maldon)
Gently melt the chocolate in a double boiler set over a low heat.
Once melted, pour it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Even the surface using a spatula and spread it to 3mm thick.
While the chocolate is hot, scatter the whole surface with the almonds, pistachios and orange peel and then sprinkle with the crushed flaky salt.
Let the chocolate cool at room temperature, then transfer it to the fridge to harden. At this point, you can break the chocolate bark into any size you like. Store it in an an air-tight container in the fridge to preserve its texture.
Soft Bitter Almond Biscuits
200 g icing sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling and dusting
200 g ground almonds
70 g (about 2 medium) egg whites
1½ teaspoons almond extract
In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds with the icing sugar.
In a smaller glass or metal bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold them into the dry ingredients together with the almond extract until it all comes together into a sticky but even ball of dough. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Next, preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with parchment. Scoop a scant tablespoon of dough (about 20 g) and work it between your palms to form a ball. Roll it in icing sugar, shake off any excess, flatten it slightly and ease it on to the lined baking tray. Repeat with the rest. Ensure a couple of cm between each biscuit — if one tray is not enough, bake in two batches, keeping the remaining dough in the fridge while the first batch bakes.
Place the tray in the upper middle part of the oven. Bake for 18 minutes, or until golden and wrinkly. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container, tin or jar.