The Friday Five – Getting in a sweet mood for Christmas

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I'm dreaming of a chocolate Christmas, as usual!
I'm dreaming of a chocolate Christmas, as usual!

You know, it’s pretty undeniable, there is definitely an air of Christmas around. The lights are up in many places, and there is a slight panic going on as to whether we have ordered an appropriate turkey yet. For me, Christmas is also an excuse for cooking up some sweet treats, for eating and for gifting, for sharing and for midnight feasting. Here’s my choice of 5 that might help that along:

1. I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas by Marcel Desaulniers– Christmas and chocolate, does it get any better or to be a more perfect match? And Marcel Desaulnier is king of chocolate desserts, which he shows to great effect in this book. I love the chapter titles, especially Been Nice Sweets and Been Naughty Sweets. The mind boggles!

2. Christmas Cookies from the Whimsical Bakehouse by Kaye and Liv Hansen – this is a new book to my shelves for this Christmas and I am really looking forward to baking from it. There are fabulous recipes and amazing decorating ideas. Although the fairisle sweater may be a little beyond my capability, not to mention my patience! Great recipes here for gifting opportunities, and I think a box of homemade cookies is always welcome.

3. Christmas Cookies, Candies and Cakes by Woman’s Day – something for everyone in this, from traybakes to cookies, choccies to candies. Stylish and tasty, this will give you plenty to work through and plenty of choices for every kind of sweet tooth.

4. Christmas Sweets by Georgeanne Brennan – whilst the title might make you think this is just sweeties, there is a huge variety of stuff in here including baked goods, frozen desserts and candies. There are also projects to do with children, which is part of the fun for me. I have no idea what a Candy Acorn Kissing Ball is, but I fancy giving one a go!

5. Cookie Craft Christmas: Dozens of Decorating Ideas for a Sweet Holiday by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer– I would love to turn out cookies like these, they all look so beautiful. I would suggest this is a great book for experienced decorators, or someone looking to up their game a bit and push themselves. I have to say if I am honest I would probably order a tinful from Biscuiteers, although I can’t choose between the Christmas shapes or the Luxury Baubles.

So stock up now, and get busy baking and making. In this big year of the credit crunch, I think homemade gifts will be even more welcome than ever, particularly when treats are going to be this tasty.

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Amazing new chocolates for aficionados

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Dark chocolate ganache from Michel Cluizel
Dark chocolate ganache from Michel Cluizel

I really like the Chocolate Trading Co as a source for slightly unusual but really great quality chocolate, and delighted to see some fantastic new products from them in time for Christmas.

From master chocolatier Michel Cluizel comes a single estate Dark Ganache Box, which I certainly wouldn’t say no to. Twenty five fabulous bites of ganache from five of the world’s finest plantations then with additional flavours to knock your socks off! And just to keep it looking extra special, even a little festive, decoration includes edible gold and silver. Very precious, but very delicious!

Valrhona are bringing additional temptation to Christmas with their Chocolate Temptation Box. I don’t know where to start on the delicious flavours they’ve included here! I’m particularly keen to try the dark chocolate with pear and bergamot chocolate ganache.

Want something a little less serious, and perhaps a little less cash? Well certainly less cash but truly luxurious would be the Amedei Crema Toscana chocolate spread. Of course Nutella is cheaper, but this is something else: finest milk chocolate with hazelnuts but without hydrogenated fats or artificial flavours. An absolute treat and at £8.95 not a bad gift for under £10.

 And for something a little different looking and a bit of fun then try the chocolate spoons from The Chocolate Maker. The bronze and silver dark chocolate spoons look lovely, but if they feel too gimmicky then there are some plain dark chocolate spoons too. They’d add a certain something to post dinner coffee, or a totally indulgent hot chocolate.

Definitely worth a browse through, and deliveries come through DHL so even if more postal disputes happen then the chocolate will get through!

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The Saturday Session – all treats, no tricks

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It’s been a busy morning here at FGH HQ, with a whole load of cooking going on ready for trick or treating tonight. I decided to eschew the easy option of the bags of multi coloured goo and sugar from the supermarket, and go for homemade versions.

This has involved MGG poring over the pages of Ghoulish Goodies, one of the books I featured in the Friday Five about cookbooks dedicated to Halloween. I really love it, and there are great ideas for everything from chocolate treats to cookies and full on cakes. Sadly, the whistling past the graveyard cake will have to wait for another day!

First up, Zombie Eyeballs (they’re monsters in the book, but we took a little creative licence). Perfect to make with kids as no cooking involved, although I would probably melt the butter and possibly warm the peanut butter next time, as these were a little crumbly to put together. But MGG was not to be defeated:

 

Rolling zombie eyeballs

 

These need an hour or so in the fridge before the final step: a roll in chocolate, leaving enough space for a cornea and a mini Smartie for an iris!

Next up, Funny Bones. These were fun and games, as we are obviously not as fond of pretzel sticks as they are in the US. I thought I might be in luck and they’d be in the Christmas snack section, but sadly not. We had to make do with a box of Mikado biscuits, but of course this meant the chocolate has taken on a slighly marbled effect. I did think about nibbling all the milk chocolate off first, but thought that probably contravened several health and safety regs!

 

Bones awaiting their dipping

 

Once dipped, these just need a few hours in the fridge to firm up. What are the joints? Well, there are uses for mini marshmallows other than for sprinkling on hot chocolate!

Next up, eye of lizard. To be fair, these started out as monster toes, but they spread a lot during cooking, and also the M&Ms split their casings. This gives them a slighly surreal eye look, so we have renamed them into that classic cauldron ingredient!

 

Eye of lizard heading for the fire

 

So next up we just need some paper cones, a Halloween menu and we’re ready to go. This is what they have in store:

Zombie eyeballs

 

Zombie eyeballs anyone?

 

Eye of lizard

 

Eye of Lizard

 

Funny bones

 

Dem Bones

 

Happy Halloween, may all your treats be tasty!

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Doing more with chocolate!

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Learn to put more chocolate on a plate!

 

Given all the chocolate wonderfulness around this week, perhaps you’re feeling inspired to take your skills with it up a level or two. You could read more or you could book on a course and get some hands on experience. Now whether novice, keen amateur or absolute gourmet, then there is something suitable somewhere for you. Here’s a few options:

1. Artisan Chocolate Making at The School of Artisan Food – please Santa, if I am really good, can I go on this in March? It says this is a course for anyone with a desire for real chocolate, so it sounds perfect. You get to work with sweet and savoury flavours, and you get to make chocolate bars and truffles. On top of that, you do so in fantastic surroundings. Worth travelling for!

2. Cooking with Chocolate Masterclass – this is an interesting little gem from one of the gift experience companies, Buy A Gift. This masterclass is with “celebrity” chef Nigel Brown at his home in North Lincolnshire, and you’ll get to create chocolate desserts as well as petit fours and truffles. All this and you get a good lunch too! Sounds like a good foodie gift, and I have used Buy A Gift for other gift experiences which have been delivered to a high standard.

3. Chocolate Delight Workshop – these sound like a bit of a giggle, ideal for a group but less serious from a food perspective. That’s possibly my personal prejudice as it starts with a chocolate fountain. That said, you go onto learn all the skills of truffle making and will leave with around 30 to 50 truffles to enjoy later. You can book direct, or a lot of the gift experience people, such as Red Letter Days and Buy a Gift, offer it as gift options.

4. Atelier Visit and Chocolate Discovery- maybe if Santa doesn’t think I’ve been good enough for the first one, then he could let me spend the day with the team from Artisan du Chocolat. You can travel the atelier and also the journey from bean to bar and bars to chocolates. At £35 this sounds like an absolute bargain and whilst not so much hands-on experience, I would think it was an incredible way to spend a few hours on a Saturday.

So, four very different options, and I would fancy giving them all a go, just for the comparison really. Great courses make a great and unique gift for a foodie at any level of experience. Just try and match their experience to the course! No point sending an advance student on the Chocolate Delight Workshop for example!

Fabulous chocolate image by avlxyz on Flickr.

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