Holiday chocolate treats

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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It's hard not to overindulge when you're surrounded by seasonal treats, so here we are, together again on the road to sugar comas.

The next two weeks - and the last before the big holiday - we're all about the chocolate. There isn't a recipe here you would not be proud to share in the cookie swap or display on a party buffet table. In fact, these are so special you could easily serve them as a dessert.

Everyday Kitchen -

It's hard not to overindulge when you're surrounded by seasonal treats, so here we are, together again on the road to sugar comas.

The next two weeks - and the last before the big holiday - we're all about the chocolate. There isn't a recipe here you would not be proud to share in the cookie swap or display on a party buffet table. In fact, these are so special you could easily serve them as a dessert.

Chocolate Florentines

Florentines are those delicate, lacy, crisp wafers that look so difficult to make ... but aren't. These are extra special, cookie pairs sandwiched with chocolate heaven. The trick here is to use a level teaspoonful of the batter for each cookie - don't try to guess.

This one will take you a while, because you can only bake a few at a time, and they have to cool completely before being removed from the cookie sheet, which should also cool thoroughly before the next batch goes on.

I especially like to use the double-layered cookie sheets for these - the extra insulation prevents scorching.

2/3 cup unsalted butter (no other)

2 cups rolled oats - the larger cut type if possible

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

1/4 cup 2% or whole milk

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/2 tbsp. vanilla

pinch salt

12 oz. dark chocolate - best quality

Melt butter. Stir in rolled oats, sugar, flour, milk, corn syrup, vanilla and salt. Drop by level teaspoonful at least three inches apart onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Spread with a wet spatula or back of a spoon to make as uniform rounds as possible, about two inches across. Bake at 375 F for 7 minutes or until golden. Cool to room temperature on the baking sheet before attempting to remove to a cooling rack. Peel the foil off carefully. Melt chocolate over hot - not boiling - water, stirring until smooth. Spread thinly on half the cookies, then top with the rest. This recipe should make about 36 sandwiches.

Fudge Walnut Rum Bars

These will satisfy the most devoted chocoholic's sweet tooth. The buttery short crust is a perfect match for the nutty and fudgy topping. If you prefer not to use rum, substitute all hot water. To toast walnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 5 or 6 minutes, until they are fragrant.

Base:

3/4 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

3/4 cup sifted icing sugar

1-1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

Top:

1/3 cup unsalted butter (no other)

1/2 cup cocoa

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1-1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts

1/4 cup dark rum

1/4 cup boiling water

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. salt

Cream butter until fluffy and lighter in colour. Beat in icing sugar until smooth. Sift or whisk together flour and salt and add gradually to creamed mixture; mix well. Press evenly in an ungreased 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until just starting to turn golden brown.

For the top, melt butter and whisk in cocoa. Stir in condensed milk and walnuts. Combine rum and boiling water and add to mixture along with eggs, vanilla and salt; stir until mixture is well combined.

Pour over baked crust. Return to oven for 25 minutes or until centre is barely set. Cool to room temperature in pan, then refrigerate at least an hour before cutting into 36 bars. Be sure to use a sharp knife and rinse it with hot water, wiping clean between cuts.

Hazelnut Macaroon Slices

Coconut, hazelnuts and chocolate - can you get any better than that? And believe it or not, these are easy. Don't beat the base or you will end up with batter instead of crumbs. Use soft but still-cool butter - no margarine here, please.

And bring out your best chocolate. Chop it finely so it melts quickly and evenly over the base. Of course, you can use chocolate chips if you prefer.

I like the colour from the skin-on hazelnuts, but use whatever you like. I know it's a pain to cut them up yourself, so put them in a heavy plastic bag and use a rolling pin or bottle to break them up.

Base:

3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup icing sugar

pinch salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, soft but not oily

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

Top:

2-2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

Whisk together flour, icing sugar and salt. Add butter, egg yolk and vanilla and combine with a fork or your fingertips until mixture is crumbly. I admit I used a food processor for this step, but if you take your eyes off it for a second you lose the crumbly texture, so it's hardly worth it - not to mention the extra washing up.

Press evenly and lightly into a well-greased square 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 F for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are starting to brown and centre is just set.

Combine coconut, hazelnuts, condensed milk and vanilla, and spread evenly over baked base. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Sprinkle on the chocolate right away, let stand a few minutes, then spread with the bowl of a spoon or an offset spatula - a few small lumps of unmelted chocolate are charming, not a mistake. Chill until chocolate is firm, then cut into 24 squares, or into 16 squares, then cut diagonally into triangles for a dramatic presentation.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 5970, St. John's, NL, A1C 5X7.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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