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Archive for Christmas

TIP OF THE DAY: Struffoli, An Italian Christmas Tradition

Struffoli Candied Fruit

Struffoli Wreath

Struffoli Cornucopia

Frying Stuffoli

Croque Em Bouche

1000 Italian Recipes Book

[1] A mound of struffoli, the traditional shape, from Linda’s Italian Table. It can be cut into slices, or for a party, put on the buffet so everyone can pick off what they like. [2] A loose wreath style from Il Cuori In Pentola. [3] A cornucopia shape, called Cornucopia di Sfoglia in Italian. It’s decorated with chocolate foil coins, by Oggi Cucino Cosi. [4] Frying the dough at My Spice Sage. If you can fry, you can make struffoli. [5] Croque em bouche, a special occasion treat in France, is often served instead of wedding cake. These smaller versions are decorated for the holidays by François Payard Bakery in New York City. [6] The recipes in this book include one for struffoli, reprinted below. You can see the recipes for any of these photos by clicking their links.

 

How about a holiday baking project for family and friends?

If you don’t have your own holiday baking tradition like Christmas cookies, gingerbread people or spritz cookies, how about struffoli?

Struffoli (STROO-fo-lee) are puffy balls of eggy fried dough coated in honey. They are a traditional Christmas sweet in Naples and other parts of central and southern Italy.

The fried dough is stacked into a cone-shape centerpiece or assembled into a wreath design. More ambitious cooks have the puffs spilling out a pastry horn of plenty. We like to present it with after-dinner coffee.

It’s actually quite easy: If you can fry, you can make struffoli.

Struffoli look like a smaller, flat croquembouche. Both have a crunchy outside and soft inside.

  • Croque Em Bouche is made from profiteroles—cream puffs—that are baked, filled and stacked into the shape of a large cone. The puffs are held together by caramelized (spun) sugar and finished with drizzled caramel. It is served for weddings and other celebrations.
  • Struffoli is made from deep-fried dough the size of marbles. There is no filling, but the balls are rolled in honey to stick together. They can be shaped into a cone or a wreath.
  • Stuffoli can be set on a cone base made from nougatine, a mixture of caramelized sugar and sliced almonds.
  • Croque em bouche is also traditionally served during baptisms and other special occasions. The name means “[it] cracks in the mouth,” which is what the caramelized sugar does!
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    DECORATING THE STRUFFOLI

    While struffoli can be served plain, you can express your creativity with decorations.

  • The Italian preference is for pastel sprinkle mixes. We suggest red, green and white sugar holiday confetti or sprinkles.
  • For an old-fashioned approach: candied red and green cherries or other candied fruits.
  • You may want to avoid Jordan almonds or candied nuts, another traditional decoration, if any guest may be allergic.
  • Like to roll fondant? Drape a red “ribbon” around the pastry and top with a “bow.” You can use real ribbon if you prefer.
  • Want elegance? Get gold and silver edible dragées and pearls.
  • Our favorite: strips of candied orange peel or an assortment of all the citrus peels you can collect. Dipping the peels in chocolate is our own personal touch. Here’s a recipe.
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    RECIPE: STRUFFOLI (NEAPOLITAN HONEY BALLS)

    This recipe, from 1,000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone, can easily be doubled. It is © copyright Michele Scicolone.

    If you like the idea but not the labor, call the nearest Italian bakery and order one.

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for kneading the dough
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup honey (about 6 ounces)
  •  
    TIP: Use quality honey instead of the generic supermarket variety for a more elegant flavor.
     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the cup of flour and the salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon zest and stir until well blended.

    2. TURN OUT the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Add a bit more flour if the dough seems sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with an overturned bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes.

    3. CUT the dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Roll one slice between your palms into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch nuggets. If the dough feels sticky, use a teeny bit of flour to dust the board or your hands. (Excess flour will cause the oil to foam up when you fry the struffoli.)

    4. LINE a tray with paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of oil into a wide heavy saucepan and heat to 370°F, or until a small bit of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and turns brown in 1 minute.

    5. PLACE just enough struffoli in the pan to fit without crowding, taking care not to splash the hot oil. Cook, stirring once or twice with a slotted spoon, until the struffoli are crisp and evenly golden brown (1 to 2 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough. When all of the struffoli are fried…

     

    6. GENTLY HEAT the honey to just a simmer in a large, shallow saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the drained struffoli and toss well. Transfer the struffoli to a serving plate and shape into a mound or wreath. Decorate as desired.

    7. TO SERVE: For each person, break off a portion of the struffoli with two large spoons or a salad server. Or, pass the plate so people can take what they like.

    You can store struffoli at room temperature, covered with an overturned bowl, for up to 3 days.

    STRUFFOLI HISTORY

    The ancestor of struffoli dates back to ancient Greece. A similar dish is described by Archestratus, a Greek poet from Sicily.

    Called enkris, the dough balls were fried in olive oil (source).

    The name derives from the Greek word strongoulos, meaning “rounded in shape.”

    Fast forward to the early 17th century. The nuns of Naples were famous for their sweets, which they sold to the public. Each convent had a specialty. According to tradition, struffoli are considered good luck because the balls are a symbol of abundance.

    At Christmas, the nuns made struffoli as gifts for their aristocratic patrons, to thank them for their charity throughout the year. The tradition was copied by home cooks and became a Christmas tradition (source).

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Instant Holiday Ice Cream

    Christmas Ice Cream

    Turn any flavor into “Christmas” ice cream with red and green sanding sugar. If you want to save calories, check out Halo Top: our favorite of the low-calorie ice creams with just 240 calories for the entire pint. And it has extra protein—really! Here’s our review (photo courtesy Halo Top),

     

    When you hear “Christmas ice cream,” you probably think of candy cane (a.k.a. peppermint stick) ice cream.

    We love it and gobble it up over the holiday season. But not everyone is a mint fan.

    So here’s the easiest way ever to serve Christmas ice cream:

    Sprinkle colored sanding sugar over the top.

    Sanding sugar, also called colored sugar, decorating sugar, nibbed sugar, pearl sugar or sugar nibs, is coarse granulated sugar.

    It’s processed to have larger granules that sparkle, and is used to decorate candies, cookies, cupcakes, sweet breads and other baked goods. You can find it in white as well as a rainbow of colors.
     
    SPRINKLE YOUR HOLIDAY COLORS

    For Christmas, sprinkle red and green sugars on ice cream.

    For Chanukah, get blue and white sugars.

    For Kwanzaa, get black, red and green.

    For New Year’s Eve: gold and silver.

     
    Use the colors of any special occasion for an instant celebration dessert.

    You can find sanding sugar in some supermarkets, baking supply stores and online sites like TheBakersKitchen.net. Here’s their selection of colored sugars.

    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SUGAR IN OUR SUGAR & SYRUP GLOSSARY.

     
      

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    FOOD FUN: Poinsettia Hors d’Oeuvre

    .

    Turn spinach dip into poinsettia hors d’oeuvre.

    The ones in the top photo, from Mackenzie Limited.

    They have a base of focaccia bread topped with creamy spinach dip with a hint of truffle oil. The flower is made from piped goat cheese flower.

    We created our own version of the canapés, which pair well with beer, wine or a savory Martini.

    They are best assembled as close as possible to serving time, although you can prepare the spread and other ingredients in advance.

    RECIPE: POINSETTIA CANAPÉS

    Ingredients

  • Base of choice: bread or toast rounds or squares
  • Spinach spread of choice (or other green spread)
  • Cheese of choice: cream cheese spread, goat cheese spread or other pipeable cheese
  • Flower center: piece of peppadew, pimento or sundried tomato
  • Piping bag (or substitute) and tip
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUT the bread into rounds with a 1-1/2″ cookie cutter and top with some of the spread. Place on a serving tray.

    2. PIPE five petals on top of each and add the red center.
     
    WHAT’S A CANAPÉ?

    A canapé (can-uh-PAY) is a type of hors d’oeuvre: a small, savory bite on a base of bread, pastry, toast or a cracker. It is cocktail party fare, a finger food eaten in one or two bites.

       

    spinach-goat-cheese-focaccia-mackenzieltd-230r

    Poinsettia Hors d'Oeuvre

    [1] White poinsettia goat cheese blossoms atop a spinach and foccaccia base (photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.). [2] This version uses roasted red peppers to create the flower and fresh thyme leaves and flowers for the center (photo courtesy Tara’s Table caterers).

     
    Canapé is the French word for sofa. The idea is that the toppings sit on a “sofa” of bread or pastry. In the hands of a good caterer or chef, they can be beautifully decorated works of edible art.

    The translation of “hors d’oeuvre” means “[dishes] outside the work” i.e., outside the main meal. Technically, the term “hors d’oeuvre” refers to small, individual food items that have been prepared by a cook.

    Beyond canapés, hors d’oeuvre include everything from deviled eggs and crab puffs to mini-quiches to rumaki (bacon-wrapped dates). There are scores of options in French cuisine alone.

     

    Poinsettia Plant

    A poinsettia plant (photo courtesy 1-800-Flowers).

     

    ABOUT THE POINSETTIA PLANT

    Native to southern Mexico, what we call the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) was used for dye and decorative purposes by the Aztecs. The milky white sap, today called latex, was made into a preparation to treat fevers.

    Cuetlaxochitl, the Aztec name for the plant, is actually a small tree. It was bred down to a tabletop plant, although you may still come across a lovely small tree at better florists.

    In Mexico, it blooms naturally in Mexico around Christmastime. The poinsettia achieved fame in the U.S. thanks to Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829), who had been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

    An amateur botanist, he sent spectacular plant to botanist colleagues in the U.S. for breeding. It became known as the poinsettia (try pronouncing cuetlaxochitl). Its vibrant red color made it a natural for holiday decorations, and it was subsequently bred into pink and white varieties as well.

     
    Ambassador Poinsett later served as Secretary of War under Martin Van Buren, and was a co-founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, a predecessor of the Smithsonian Institution).

    Note that his name is Poinsett, not Pointsett; there is no “pointsettia” plant.

    Congress honored Joel Poinsett by declaring December 12th as National Poinsettia Day.

      

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    HOLIDAY COCKTAIL: Christmas Martini Recipe

    Christmas Martini

    Christmas Martini

    Pickled Cauliflower

    Castelvetrano Olives

    Fresh Dill

    [1] [2] It’s a Christmas Martini (photos courtesy World Market). [3] You can find actual rose and purple cauliflower heads at farmers markets, but at this time of year, you may have to color your own with beet juice. Here’s a recipe for pickled cauliflower and beets from The Galanter’s Kitchen. [4] Castelvetrano olives are the greenest, for Christmas garnishing. [5] Fresh dill, along with rosemary, are the two most Christmasy herbs: They look like evergreens (photo courtesy Burpee).

     

    Is there such a thing as a Christmas Martini?

    According to us: Yes!

    We’re not talking a peppermint “Martini” garnished with candy canes, but a real, savory vodka/gin-and-vermouth cocktail as its creators intended it to be (here’s the history of the Martini).

    We adapted this Dill Martini recipe from WorldMarket.com and gave it more holiday spirit.

    If you switch the evergreen-like dill to chive or other herb and perhaps make all the pickles red or pink, you can serve this as a Valentine Martini as well.
     
    RECIPE: CHRISTMAS MARTINI

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1/2 ounce pickle brine*
  • Splash of dry vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • Large sprig of fresh dill
  • Beet juice
  • Ice
  •  
    For The Garnish

  • Cauliflower floret pickled in brine and beet juice†
  • Fresh grape tomato
  • Baby radish, pickled or not
  • Pimento-stuffed green olive or pitted Castelventrano olive (it’s bright green)
  • Whole baby beet (from can or jar, regular or pickled)
  • Cocktail pick
  •  
    ________________
    *If you make pickled vegetables, you can use your homemade brine.

    *If you aren’t using beets, you can buy a bottle of beet juice (delicious!) at a natural- or health-food store.
    ________________
     
    Preparation

    1. PICKLE the vegetables as desired and make the cocktail pick.

    2. COMBINE the vodka, pickle brine, vermouth mustard seeds, and fresh dill in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour into a glass.

    2. ADD enough beet juice until you get the color you want (an assertive blush as in the photo is a good start).

    3. ADD ice to the shaker along with the contents of the glass. Shake well, strain into a coupe or Martini glass and garnish with the vegetable pick.
     
    HOW TO MAKE PICKLED VEGETABLES

    It couldn’t be easier to make “quick pickles”: just the vegetables, vinegar, spices and two hours to marinate.

    You can pickle just about any vegetable, and you can also pickle fruits: from grapes to sliced fruits.

  • Use your favorite spices in the brine. Look at your spices for inspiration: allspice, bay leaf, crushed red peppers, dill seed, juniper berries, mace, mustard seed, and peppercorns are all contenders. Pickled vegetables never met a spice they didn’t like. We often add a touch of nutmeg.
  • For the brine, use cider vinegar or other vinegar (you can use half vinegar and half salted water if you like). To color white veggies like cauliflower red, add beet to the brine. Be sure the brine covers the tops of the vegetables.
  • You can add sugar and or salt to the brine; but make a batch without them first. It’s healthier, and it will let the flavor of the spices shine through.
  • Pickles will be ready in just two hours; although you can keep them in the fridge for a few weeks (trust us, they will eaten quickly).
  •  
    Since these pickled vegetables aren’t sterilized in a water bath, they need to be kept in the fridge. Eat them within two weeks (more likely, they’ll be gone in two days).

    If you’re excited about pickling, pick up a book on the topic. The Joy Of Pickling, first published in 1999, is now in its second edition.

    You may find yourself making classic bread-and-butter and dill pickles, pickled beets and kimchi.

  • Check out our Pickle Glossary for the different types of pickles.
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    RECIPE: Pomegranate Cheese Ball

    Christmas Cheese Ball

    Christmas Cheese Ball

    Christmas Cheese Ball

    [1] The Christmas Cheese Ball, festive with cocktails. This recipe, from How Sweet Eats, is made with with white cheddar, mascarpone and sage. [2] The Café Sucre Farine is made with Monterey Jack, pecans, rosemary and thyme. Minced parsley accents the arils for an even better holiday effect. [3] Our original inspiration was this red and green cheese ball from Go Bold With Butter (recipe below).

     

    Deck the hall with this festive almond-Gruyère/Swiss Cheese cheese ball.

    Parsley colors the interior green, while the pomegranate arils create a crimson cloak.

    Bonus: Prep time is 15 minutes, and you can make it two days in advance. Thanks to Go Bold With Butter for the recipe.

    RECIPE #1: CHRISTMAS CHEESE BALL

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup pomegranate arils
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces Gruyère/Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 [heaping] cup slivered almonds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons horseradish mustard (recipe below)
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or ½ parsley, ½ chives)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  •  
    For Serving

  • Bagel chips
  • Breads
  • Crackers and crisps
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PAT the arils dry with paper towels, ensuring removing as much moisture as possible. You can do this an hour or more in advance and leave the arils on paper towels on the counter to further dry.

    2. PLACE the cheeses and butter along with almonds, horseradish mustard, parsley and seasonings in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for 1-2 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently until ingredients are well combined.

    3. SHAPE the mixture into cheese mixture into a large ball and refrigerate. can be made up to 2 days ahead, wrapped and stored in refrigerator. Before serving…

    4. ROLL the ball in pomegranate arils until fully coated. Gently press the arils into the heese ball to adhere. To serve, place on plate with breads, crackers and spreaders.
     
    RECIPE #2: HORSERADISH MUSTARD

    We tend to keep sugar away from where it doesn’t need to be—in savory foods. We just don’t enjoy sugary potato chips or wasabi-flavored mustard. (Honey mustard gets a pass.)

    Numerous recipes for cheese balls contain a sweetened condiment: honey, maple syrup, sugar brown sugar. It’s the same with horseradish mustard.

    We don’t mind a brief hint of sweetness; but if a cheese ball tastes sweet (and it isn’t a sweet style, e.g. with dried fruit, or a dessert ball), it’s too sweet for us.

    Since the cheese ball recipe requires just 1-1/2 teaspoons of the mustard, you can adjust the amounts below accordingly.
     
    Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup white prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • Optional: sour cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone or plain yogurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Preparation

    1. DRAIN the horseradish in a fine strainer or cheesecloth, pushing down with the back of a spoon to remove the excess liquid.

    2. COMBINE with the mustard, mix well and taste. If it’s too strong for you, you can add a bit of sour cream to remove some of the spiciness.But remember, mixing the mustard with the cream cheese will temper the heat.
     
    Variation

    Make a mustard horseradish sauce for meat or poultry, simply by adding one cup of sour cream to recipe above.
     
    MORE CHEESE BALL RECIPES

  • Mini Cheese Balls With Green, Red and Golden Coatings
  • Pecan Pine Cone Cheese Ball (yes, it’s made in the shape of a pine cone)
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