Monday, December 15, 2014

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

As an adult, Christmas stresses me out more than it did when I was a kid (duh, obviously Amanda!).  There is more to do - gifts to buy, decisions on whose family to see when, working full time, trying not to eat every sweet treat in sight so that the pants still fit come January 1...  Know what I mean??   

In truth, Christmas was wonderful in our family when I was a kid (it still is!).  We had a big family breakfast will all the aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents you could fit into my parents' cozy old house.  Then we'd trek over to my grandparents' home for an all day, open house - family and friends would stop by all day, we'd eat, nap, and eat some more.  Pasta, sauce, braciole (or involtini, to be accurate), cookies, cakes... It was amazing.  A big, loud, Italian-Irish Christmas.  I only regret one thing...

I never appreciated biscotti!  Silly, I know.  Those crunchy, twice-baked Italian cookies that my mom always made.  Now, as an adult, I don't know how I wasn't enchanted by the sweet, almond-apricot treats (that is the flavor I remember mom baking), the zing of the apricot brandy and chunks of dried apricots in the biscuits.  

A couple years ago my mom shared with me the Almond Apricot Biscotti recipe that she got from my aunt, Bethann, many years ago.  I dug it out and made a batch last night. Of course, I can't leave well enough alone and had to dip the finished cookies in melted white chocolate to make them even more enticing.  I instantly craved a strong cup of coffee and wanted to eat the whole batch.  

These do take some time to make, but trust me, it is all worth it! Check out the recipe at the end of this post. 

So, in addition to my Sunday baking bonanza, I made my annual hand-dipped, dark chocolate-covered Oreos.  Um...yes.  These are always a favorite of my colleagues.  I dipped close to five dozen cookies in some delicious Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, melted until smooth.  My technique as improved quite a bit over the years. When I first started making the chocolate-covered Oreos, it looked like a toddler did them (true story!). 

And finally, I experimented a little and made my own biscotti creation - dark chocolate cranberry.  These taste every bit as good as they sound...even if I was a little heavy-handed on the chocolate. ;)  

Yes, that is a 3 pound bag! 

There is a bunch of sugar  in these cookies, so I opted for the reduced sugar Craisins

Chocolate cranberry biscotti - before the first bake

Almond Apricot Biscotti

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 oz (about a cup) white chocolate (I use Ghirardelli chips)
1 2/3 cup sliced, toasted almonds
2 large eggs
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp of apricot brandy
6 oz chopped dried apricots

Mix together in a food processor flour, sugar, ginger, salt, baking powder, and butter.  Pulse until blended.

Next, mix in white chocolate and toasted almonds.

In a bowl, mix eggs, almond extract, and apricot brandy.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the food processor.  Put the mixture in a large bowl and carefully mix in apricots.  It might take some muscle, as the dough will be quite thick now. 

On a foil-lined cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, shape the dough into 3 logs - about 2" x 12" each.  Refrigerate for 30 min.  

Then, bake for 30 min. until golden brown.  The logs will be kind of squishy in the middle.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool.  Reduce oven to 300 degrees.

Cut into 3/4" wide slices.  I use a serrated knife and cut carefully!  Bake for 10 min. on each side.  Cool, then store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long!)

*Dark chocolate cranberry version - use dark chocolate instead of white chocolate, and dried cranberries instead of apricots.  I eliminated the almonds, used vanilla extract instead of almond, and used Grand Marnier in place of apricot brandy. 

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