Incredibly Delish Chocolate Bliss

Experience the Holidays: Incredibly Delish Chocolate Bliss! Is it a cake? Is it a confection? Who cares? It’s smooth, creamy dreamy chocolate and it is incredible. The fact that it is flourless is a plus for those who avoid desserts for that particular reason. The dark chocolate and butter combination is divinely rich, which is why a little bit goes a long way. I find a nice cuppa joe or herbal tea creates a balance that works. As always, share a little bliss with those around you. They’ll thank you for it.

INCREDIBLY DELISH CHOCOLATE BLISS

Ingredients:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons butter, cubed

2 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

6 teaspoons chocolate hazelnut spread

Crushed pistachios for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Use paper muffin cups or buttered ramekins. Set aside. Combine bittersweet chocolate and butter in a microwave-proof bowl. Melt in microwave on high setting at 30-second intervals until melted and smooth. Stir occasionally. In a mixer bowl, combine eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and almond extract. Beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes or until mixture is lightened. Reduce speed to low setting. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture until combined. Spoon into muffin cups or buttered ramekins. Add one half teaspoon of hazelnut spread in the center of each muffin cup batter. Bake 10 minutes until edges are set, but center is still soft. Do not over bake. Garnish with crushed pistachios. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Ole Smoky Cherry Drops

Experience the Holidays: Ole Smoky Cherry Drops! For those who think this is a strange name for something sweet, allow me to explain. The Great Smoky Mountains form one of the most beautiful mountain ranges along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Nestled in “The Holler” is a distillery made famous by its 100-year-old recipe base for signature flavors of moonshine. Can you see where this is going? Stick with me. From the fermenting grains of the moonshine stills come the most extraordinary combinations you can ever imagine. Bottled in quart jars are what appear to be a dozen or more moonshine variations that go by names like Apple Pie, Hunch Punch, Blue Flame, Lemon Drop, Dill Pickles, and Moonshine Cherries. Since I found a jar in my pantry, I thought going into the holidays, this might present an interesting dessert opportunity. It definitely passed the “flame test” in my house.

OLE SMOKY CHERRY DROPS

Ingredients:

1 quart jar Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries*

12-ounce bag white chocolate chips

4.6-ounce jar rainbow sprinkles

5.2-ounce jar sanding sugar

14-ounce bag sweetened coconut flakes

Party Picks

Instructions:

Several steps are necessary to prepare your workspace. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove maraschino cherries from jar. Reserve moonshine for another use. Gently pat dry each cherry and set aside. This is important before coating them in white chocolate. Place each topping (rainbow sprinkles, sanding sugar, and coconut flakes) in a separate dish. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. To melt white chocolate, place half a bag of chips in a microwave-proof bowl. Warm at 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval. Repeat until the white chocolate is smooth and no lumps remain. Working quickly, pierce a cherry with a cake tester. Coat it halfway in the white chocolate, then dip it in one of the toppings. Place decorated cherry on the waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all cherries are decorated. Chill to set. Two things: As the white chocolate cools, gently warm and stir. When it becomes necessary to use the remaining white chocolate chips, begin with a clean bowl. This will eliminate waste. Cherry Drops should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with party picks.

*I receive no recompense for mentioning Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries.

Bourbon Balls

Experience the Holidays: Bourbon Balls! Remember the scene from “The Grinch Stole Christmas” where the adults in Whoville are throwing a key party? Well, I’m convinced they may have been nibbling on holiday Bourbon Balls based on the way they were flirting and having a crazy-fun time. Be forewarned. This recipe does contain chocolate and alcohol. You may want to mention it.

BOURBON BALLS

Ingredients:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

3 tablespoons corn syrup

1/2 cup bourbon

2 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

Granulated sugar

Instructions:

Pulse vanilla wafers in a food processor to make crumbs. Set aside. Over hot (not boiling) water, melt chocolate morsels; remove from heat. Blend in corn syrup and bourbon. In a large bowl, combine vanilla wafer crumbs, powdered sugar, and nuts. Add chocolate mixture. Blend well. Chill 30 minutes. Using a melon ball utensil, scoop dough into 1″ balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Store in covered container for several days to season flavor.

Chocolate Chip Candied Cheese Ball

Experience the Holidays: Chocolate Chip Candied Cheese Ball! The most amazing surprise appears at first bite. Dark chocolate blended with sweetened cream cheese presents itself as a first class cheeseball that leaves everyone smacking their lips in satisfaction. The fun of swiping a cinnamon graham cracker cookie transforms this dessert in a mouth-watering finger food. Make this holiday surprise the happiest one yet.

CHOCOLATE CHIP CANDIED CHEESE BALL

Ingredients:

1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup mini chocolate chips

1 cup sugared pecans, crushed

Graham cracker sticks

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and vanilla. Beat until creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar. Mix until smooth and completely incorporated. Fold in mini chocolate chips. Chill two hours. On a sheet of waxed paper, sprinkle crushed sugared pecans. Form chilled mixture into a ball. Roll in pecan coating. Chill overnight. Serve with honey graham cracker sticks or cinnamon graham cracker sticks.

Nonpareil Thumbprint Cookies

Experience the Holidays: Nonpareil Thumbprint Cookies! Ask my husband what his favorite candy is and without hesitation, he’ll respond “Nonpareils”. Think about it… dark chocolate buttons sprinkled with tiny beads of white candy. And they’re French! With today’s recipe, the nonpareil takes center stage crowned over a dark chocolate thumbprint cookie as rich as a brownie. Dusted in powdered sugar, it’s just the right size for nibbling.

NONPAREIL THUMBPRINT COOKIES

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup powdered sugar for rolling

40 nonpareils

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add yolks, cream, and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture just until combined. Roll balls using 1/2 tablespoon sized scoops of dough. Roll each ball in powdered sugar. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Press gently in the center to form an indentation. Bake 10 minutes or until set. Remove from oven. While cookies are warm, place one nonpareil in the middle of each cookie. Let cool before transferring to wire rack.

Unicorn Holiday Bark

Experience the Holidays: Unicorn Holiday Bark! Everyone remembers a childhood of mythical creatures, especially the unicorn which resembled a horse with a pointed horn spiraling out of its forehead. Some believed it had magical powers in addition to being a symbol of purity and grace. Only a virgin had the power to tame the unicorn, according to art from the Middle Ages now hanging on museum walls. Today the thought of unicorns make us happy. Perhaps they represent childhood dreams, or wishes, filled with hope for a future. It should be no surprise that pink swirls of white chocolate and candy glitter in sparkly hues appear in food to further those good feelings. Think of Unicorn Holiday Bark for your next festive occasion. Kid-friendly, husband-approved.

UNICORN HOLIDAY BARK

Ingredients:

2 pounds white chocolate chips

Food coloring of choice

1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles

1 tablespoon glitter sprinkles

1 tablespoon candy pearls

Instructions:

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Depending on how many colors you choose (I used 3), place 1/3 cup white chocolate chips per color in separate microwave-safe bowls. Warm on Low setting for 15 second intervals in microwave, stirring often. Continue until chips are melted. Add food coloring to desired tint. Hint: One drop of red will produce a pastel pink. Prepare tinted chocolate first before finishing with the remaining plain white chocolate. Once the white chocolate is melted, spread it onto the baking sheet. Smooth into an even layer, approximately 1/4” thick. Working quickly, dot tinted colors over the white chocolate in a random pattern. Take a wooden skewer, or toothpick, and drag it through the colors creating swirls. Next, scatter the rainbow sprinkles, glitter sprinkles, and candy pearls on top. Refrigerate baking sheet for 30 minutes, or until firm. Once set, break the bark into pieces, reserving a curved edge for the unicorn’s horn. Let the magic begin!

Xmas Pizzelle Cookies

Experience the Holidays: Xmas Pizzelle Cookies! I’m obsessed with food that has eye appeal. That’s one reason I was drawn to pizzelles, a traditional Italian waffle cookie. I could make you crazy by telling you we’re going to make them from scratch, but hey, my time is in high demand just like yours. Besides, since I don’t own a pizzelle iron, sometimes it’s better to leave things to an expert. I’m here today to save you time when someone suggests a Holiday Cookie Exchange. Pick up a package of Classic Italian Pizzelles on your way home from work, dip the cookies in melted chocolate, and sprinkle with nuts. You can thank me later when you’re sitting back relaxing with a glass of wine.

XMAS PIZZELLE COOKIES

Ingredients:

7-ounce package Vanilla Flavored Pizzelle Cookies

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 ounces pistachios, chopped

Instructions:

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine semisweet chocolate chips and vegetable oil. Heat in microwave on 50% setting for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat in 30-second intervals until melted. Stir until smooth. Dip half of each pizzelle cookie into melted chocolate. Sprinkle both sides with chopped pistachios. Place on baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set.

Traditional English Toffee

Experience the Holidays: Traditional English Toffee! So often we have those cherished childhood memories of homemade candy and cookies that accompanied holiday celebrations. They stick with us for life. I can remember being in eighth grade and determined to replicate a batch of my mother’s English Toffee. I waited for her to go into town and then pulled out her secret recipe. You know, the ones scratched on a 3.5”x5” card. More often than not, they showed a list of ingredients with instructions that simply said, “Bake at 350° for 30 minutes”. Let’s face it, that’s pretty vague compared to what we explain nowadays. As you can imagine, I melted the butter along with the brown sugar and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. So how come it wasn’t turning into this crisp crunchy texture of rich golden butter that fueled my addiction? What could I possibly be doing wrong? There was nothing written on the card to correct this runny, gooey mess. Alas, I scraped it all into the trash, washed the pan, and plopped myself at the kitchen table with my Algebra book. She walked in, smiled, and never said a word.

TRADITIONAL ENGLISH TOFFEE

Ingredients:

1 cup pecans, chopped

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

Butter a baking sheet. Spread pecans in a single layer in the center. Heat butter and brown sugar to boiling in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil over Medium heat, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes. Immediately spread mixture over pecans on baking sheet. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot mixture. Place a cookie sheet over pan until chocolate chips are melted. Spread melted chocolate over candy. Refrigerate until firm. Break toffee into pieces.

White Chocolate Lavender Berry Scones

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: White Chocolate Lavender Berry Scones! Butter and Buttermilk, two main ingredients that lasso the moon. This is not your ordinary pastry. It’s not a doughnut. It’s not a muffin. It is a flavorful raised vessel for smearing on more butter. Granted, the American version may be filled with fresh fruit and chocolate chips, but hey, it’s all good. And since I was doing it my way, I went one step further and added a lavender glaze on top. There’s no way I’m going to be accused of making a dry-as-dust scone. I’m living with a man who conjures up that image whenever he hears the word “scone”. I believe for now, I’m okay with him thinking that way. More for me!

WHITE CHOCOLATE LAVENDER BERRY SCONES

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons cold butter, grated

1 egg, room temperature

3 ounces buttermilk, plus more for brushing

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup fresh blackberries

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Ingredients for Lavender Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons dried lavender buds

Fresh mint, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and sea salt. Add the grated butter; toss with flour mixture. Add the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Stir just until combined. Do not over mix. Fold in blackberries and white chocolate chips. Turn the dough onto a floured surface; then pat into squares. Cut into equal triangles. Place formed dough 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Brush tops with buttermilk. Bake until golden brown, 15-18 minutes. Rotate baking sheets halfway through. Allow the scones to cool slightly. To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon dried lavender. Stir until smooth. Drizzle scones with lavender glaze. Garnish with remaining lavender buds and fresh mint leaves. Serve warm with butter.