Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Very Choccie Chrimbo

In order to justify the purchasing of the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine, I have been typically opportunistic and pouncing on any opportunity to give some of her fancy American biccies a whirl. My first undertaking was the chocolate-almond crackles to bring along to the 30th birthday party of Mrs Newlywed.

I was tempted to do many things that Martha would no doubt disapprove of, such as melt the chocolate directly in the pan, as pictured above. I could envision her tut-tutting, however, and it was spoiling my enjoyment of the process, so I decided to be well-behaved. Anyhow, melting chocolate the proper way produces a much lovelier meltiness - if you do it directly in the pan, you have to be on it 100% as it just sticks and burns extremely quickly and comes out a rather sticky sort of melted, whereas if you do it in a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water it creates a thick, velvety sort of meltedness. And the sound of a wooden spoon wading thickly through chocolate and pinging off the side of a glass bowl is one of my favourite sounds in the world, it is a very comforting, nostalgic sort of noise.

I had bought some blanched almonds, and also had some that needed those funny brown skin thingies removed. According To Martha, you can take those off by toasting them in the oven and then rubbing them off in a teatowel while still hot. So, suppressing my instinct to not bother with that malarkey because it sounds effortful, I dutifully popped the brown almondy numbers into the oven on a baking sheet.

After a failed attempt to take the skins off, the belligerence that comes so very naturally to me that I had been suppressing for the best part of 20 minutes re-emerged, and I began to wonder why the hell I was so keen to please the poster girl for white collar crime anyhow. Back into the oven with the little brown nuts and their de-skinned (by some nice person somewhere else who probably has some sort of fancy machine to do it with) pals for a little toasting.

Then into The Machine Of Wonder with them, to whizz them into a blurry little nutty blizzard. I misplaced the blade for this on Sunday, and as I searched high and low for it (even through the bin and the compost, womit) I contemplated how incredibly lost I would be without it. It was on the floor the whole time. When my clumsiness and my airheadedness collide it causes endless amounts of hassle.

Onward ho with the mixing and measuring.

Aaaaaaah yes, butter for baking. It's supposed to be soft so that it creams up nicely with the sugar. Do I ever remember to leave it out? No. Martha would definitely NOT approve, but at this stage I was very pleased by my Martha-defying acts, satisfying, if minor, domestic nods to culinary anarchy. And my eternal optimism made me quite sure that my electric beaters would sort it out in a jiffy.

My optimism was, like the blade for my blender, misplaced. I guess it worked to a degree, but it didn't have that oh-so-desirable gritty creaminess that you achieve when butter and sugar combine the way they really should.

In the end, I went for an Eimear solution to an Eimear problem and I plunged my hands in there and squidged it all together, which actually worked a treat. Then in with the eggs and vanilla essence; I find the sight of the lazy yellow yolks hanging out on top of the rest of the ingredients to be a particularly joyous one, and I don't know if you can make out the brown rivulets of vanilla essence there, but boy oh boy does this mixture smell good.

And so I got on with mixing and folding, and I found it so relaxing that I realised I was zoning out a little, and what was missing from the mixture...

...mmm hmmm, yes, Einstein here nearly left out the chocolate!!! But remembered just in time. Phew!

Into the fridge with the mixture to firm up for an hour, while I prepared two little ski slopes for the crackle part of the whole chocolate-almond crackles thing: one crunchy little pathway of granulated sugar, and a smoother one of icing sugar (Yes darlings, I know what this looks like, but aren't we all a tad tired of the talk about that powdery white substance of late?).

And then each little roundy mound of choccie-almond mix took a little tumble until they were all gone.

Poised for action.

The sight of these cooling on the rack made me extremely gleeful, as they appeared to have turned out according to plan. And I was even too distracted by dinner preparations to sneak a taste of one.

Having put so much effort into getting dressed up myself, I could hardly arrive with a clump of thrown together choccie biccies, so I took a few minutes to ensure that my tasty plus-one was as party-presentable as I was.

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