Category Archives: make in advance

NYE 2010 Part II: Admiral’s Punch and Festive Sweets

cocktail in a bowl!

At past New Year’s Eve parties, we’ve mixed cocktails to order, and we never draw such a crowd that that’s a problem. However, I did find the Bon Appetit Foodist article about punch that would be less fizzy –spiked-pineapple-juice and more cocktail-in-a-bowl pretty compelling, both for ease of serving and because it enables you to make a drink that benefits from muddling and sitting and melding and chilling, all of which are either annoying or impossible to do on demand and to order. Also, I thought the recipe that called for little more than cognac, lemon juice, sugar, and sherry with a little nutmeg grated in sounded pretty delicious.

And it was. If I’d mixed three batches, it might…might have lasted until midnight. Of course, then we might all have been in too bad of shape to have any champagne.

As for sweets, I could have just relied on the candies I’d made for Christmas. Candies are useful for catering because they’re, by nature, practically non-perishable, sugar being a preservative and all. Additionally, they’re generally best served at room temperature, can be made weeks in advance, and rarely require flatware or cutlery. But candy just never seems totally satisfying as a dessert to me.

So the challenge was to find sweet fingerfoods that were elegant—most cookies don’t quite say “cocktail party” to me—but wouldn’t degrade too much sitting out for hours. I decided on a flourless chocolate-orange cake, cut into two-bite squares, and shortbread fingers filled with three different flavors of preserves. As a bonus for party-planning, both are best eaten the day after they’re made, so you can make them in advance, albeit not as far in advance as candy.

Flourless Chocolate-Orange Cake

instructions for candied orange zest curls also below

 Shortbread Fingers

these are strawberry-raspberry, blueberry on the plate behind, and out of sight my favorite: apricot-peach

Recipes and more pictures below.

Recipe: Admiral Russell’s Christmas Punch a lot of the nutmeg stuck to the ice, but that was fine because it perfumed the drinks without having a lot of grit in the glasses(from the BA Foodist)

  • 5 lemons
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 750-ml bottle Cognac, VSOP-grade
  • 1 cup amontillado Sherry (apparently “lightly sweet oloroso” also works)
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated

1. Fill a 4-cup metal bowl with water and freeze overnight. That will keep the punch cold without diluting it too much.

2. Peel 4 of the lemons with a vegetable peeler and muddle with the sugar. Let sit 30 minutes and then muddle again.

3. Microwave the peeled lemons, individually, for about 45 seconds each. Juice them—you need about 1 cup.

4. Bring 1 cup water to a boil, pour it over the lemon peels and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Strain into a pitcher and discard the peels. Mix in the sugar, cognac, sherry, and 4 cups cold water.

5. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours before serving. To serve, run the ice mold under hot water to release and place in a punch bowl. Pour the punch over and grate nutmeg over the surface. Slice the last lemon into thin slices to float in the punch

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate-Orange Cake (from Epicurious)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the pan
  • flour for dusting the pan (~2 T.)
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup plus 2 T. sugar
  • zest of one large orange
  • 4 eggs plus 2 yolks
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • powdered sugar, for dusting (~4 T.)
  • candied orange zest, for serving (recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 10” round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the pan—including the parchment.

2. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir the butter into the chocolate until it melts, and stir until smooth.

3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar and orange zest. Add the eggs and egg yolks and stir well.

4. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter to remove any lumps, and whisk batter until totally smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top has developed a smooth, cracked crust.

5. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake onto a serving plate. Wrap and refrigerate overnight. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Candied Orange Zest 

  • 2 oranges
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus more for dredging strips
  • 1/3 cup water, plus more for poaching

1. Wash the oranges and peel the into long, wide strips with a vegetable peeler, and scrape any white pith away with a knife. Cut the strips into long, thin pieces.

2. Put the orange zest in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and simmer at least five minutes, then drain.

3. Return the strips to the saucepan and add the 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook 10-15 min or until the strips are translucent and the sugar and water have become a thick syrup.

4. Remove the strips to a sheet of wax paper and spread them out. When slightly cooled, roll in sugar to coat and shape, if desired.

If you’re really crafty and patient, you can cut shapes in the zest with a knife or special hole punch. They’re still pretty if you just let them dry how they will, but if you want to curl them, you have to shape them while they’re still warm and pliable.

I started off by wrapping them around chopsticks, but those tended to unravel too much before they could cool and stiffen. Also, I don’t have nearly enough chopsticks to shape a whole batch before they’re cool. So toothpicks are the way to go.

you might be dextrous enough to get multiple curls on a single chopstick without having them all fall off. I am not.

Recipe: Austrian Shortbread (from Smitten Kitchen)

The peculiar thing about this recipe is that you make the shortbread dough, and then grate it like cheese, and layer the gratings over and under preserves. I’m not sure precisely what difference the grating makes—perhaps it’s less dense? The only other shortbread I’ve made has been quite thin, so I’m not sure how a traditional recipe compares to this—which produces bars almost as tall as my 9×13 pan will hold.

In fact, this recipe makes so much (obviously, right? 1 lb butter, 4 cups flour, 2 cups sugar) that if you’re not trying to feed a crowd, you should probably halve the recipe. You could either use a 9×13 pan and just make thinner bars or use an 8×8 pan.

One benefit to using a 9×13 pan is that you can make several varieties in the same pan, using different kinds of preserves, like so:

front to back: blueberry, apricot-peach, and strawberry-raspberry

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. butter, softened (4 sticks)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla or 1 t. lemon zest (I opted for the latter, as I’m fond of the perkiness citrus adds to fruit desserts)
  • 1 cup preserves—raspberry is the classic, but I’m crazy about Harry & David’s Oregold Peach preserves and just about anything would be great here
  • 1/4 cup. powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Cream the butter in a stand mixer until soft and slightly aerated (should be smooth, and is often described in recipes at this point as “fluffy” though I’ve never quite gotten that). Add the egg yolks and mix until fully combined.

2. Whisk the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together and then add to the butter-egg mixture and mix just until incorporated. You don’t want gluten to develop—treat this like a biscuit or pie crust. You want the dough to just begin to come together.

3. Spread two large pieces of plastic wrap on a table or counter and dump the contents of the mixing bowl out onto it. Separate the crumbs into two roughly equal piles. Press them into two balls or disks, using the plastic wrap to help gather and compress the dough. Freeze at least 2 hrs, or up to a month.

4. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove one ball of dough and grate it with a medium cheese grater (a food processor makes this so much easier, but if you’re grating by hand you can grate directly into the pan). Spread the shreds of dough evenly in a 9×13 pan.

5. Put the preserves in a piping back or a zip-top bag with the corner snipped off, and squeeze it over the surface in thin strips. Spread gently to cover the surface evenly, leaving a 1/2” border around the edges.

6. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer, grate, and sprinkle evenly over the top.

7. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until the center no longer wiggles and the surface is turning a pale golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven.

8. Cool on a wire rack and cut in the pan. If you chill it before cutting, the cuts will be cleaner. Dust again with powdered sugar before serving.

NYE 2010 Part I: Party Nibbles You Can Make Weeks in Advance

Life, as usual, gets in the way of finishing all the half-completed entries on cholesterol, trans-fats, cherry-almond oatmeal muffins, butternut squash soup, pie crust with and without lard, how to make your own sourdough starter, etc. It’s folly to start yet another series of entries I’ll never get around to finishing, but I tried cramming all the things I made for New Year’s Eve into one post, and I just couldn’t do it. 

This is why.

Roughly clockwise from the upper left corner, that’s matzoh toffee, peppermint bark, spicy cheese straws, spiced nuts, goat cheese and fig jam crostini, smoked salmon rolls, more nuts and cheese straws, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, warm crab florentine dip with flatbread and sourdough, flourless chocolate-orange cake, shortbread bars with strawberry-raspberry, peach-apricot, and blueberry preserve fillings, more cheese straws and nuts.

There’s no way I could have made and served that many different things by myself if many of them couldn’t be made in advance. So that’s the theme of the first entry in the NYE 2010 series. These are all things that I made before Christmas. In most cases, I doubled or tripled the recipes and packed most of them into tins and boxes to give as gifts. But I set aside enough to put out on New Year’s Eve. In short, these are handy recipes to have, especially around the holidays.

More pictures and recipes below for Spiced Nuts, Matzoh Toffee, Peppermint Bark, and Spicy Cheese Straws.

Spiced Nuts (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

One of the things I miss most about living in New York City is the smell that wafts from the street vendors who sell their version of these: nuts encrusted in cinnamon and sugar. I would occasionally cross the street just to pass a walk by one of the carts or linger a little downwind. But I rarely bought them—partially because they’re kind of expensive, but also because the taste doesn’t quite live up to the smell. They’re not very crunchy, which I assume is an inevitable cost of keeping them warm. And maybe that’s an acceptable trade-off, not just because of how the heat augments the smell, but because the heat makes the wax paper pouches they come in kind of soft and flexible, and especially in winter, walking down the street holding a warm little bundle of nuts that smell like grandmothers’ kitchens probably smell in heaven is basically sublime in the full sense of the word—like, it really does inspire the kind of immediate awareness of your own happiness and well-being that gives meaning to the cliche, “so happy I could die.”

Making these at home will never be able to compete with that experience. But on just the level of taste, these win hands down. It’s the bite from the cayenne and extra hit of salt in these and the fact that they stay crunchy—I’m actually not allowed to make them again until next Christmas because they’re so irresistible.

I used a mixture of pecan halves, hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews, and I can’t think of a nut that wouldn’t be even better this way. This recipe uses a beaten egg white to adhere the spice mixture. Some recipes use butter, some add an herb like rosemary, some forego the sugar. I don’t think there’s a bad way to make spiced nuts. This is just one way that is very, very good.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb nuts (like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecan halves, or walnut halves)
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 T. water

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

2. Beat the egg white and water until the the mixture is frothy, but not stiff. Add to the nuts and stir to make sure they’re all moistened all over.

3. Combine the brown sugar, white sugar, salt, and spices. Pour the mixture over the nuts and toss until they’re evenly coated.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Let cool and break apart.

If they’re still sticky after they cool, which happened with one of three pans I made (it got the dregs of a triple batch, so I think it had more of the egg white than the other two), you can just put it back in the oven for another 10-15 min.

Matzoh Toffee (from David Lebovitz)

The function of the Matzoh here seems to be to add structure and snap to the toffee, which is baked instead of finished on the stovetop. That means no candy thermometer necessary, no washing down the sides of a pan with water to prevent crystallization, etc. As with most things involving caramelized sugar, a healthy pinch of salt does a lot to enhance the flavor. I made three batches, which used almost exactly one box of Matzoh and made enough to fill three large tins with more than enough left over to serve on New Year’s Eve.

still learning to use my new camera...

 Ingredients:

  • ~4 sheets unsalted matzoh
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted sliced almonds

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 375F and line an 11”x17” pan with foil. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

2. Line the baking sheet with the matzoh, breaking them as necessary to fit.

3. Melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat until it boils. Boil for 3 min, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt.

4. Pour the mixture over the crackers, using a spatula to spread evenly.

5. Put in the oven and lower heat to 375. Bake for 15 min, checking occasionally to make sure it’s not burning. I turn the pans about halfway through because my oven’s uneven.

6. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the hot surface and let stand 5 min. When melted, spread into a thin, even layer. Then sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top.

7. When completely cool, break into pieces.

Peppermint Bark (from Orangette)

This is basically like a sheet of truffle: two layers of tempered white chocolate with a layer of dark chocolate ganache flavored with peppermint extract in the middle. Topped with crushed peppermints. You have to cool each layer before spreading the next and last year I had some problems with the ganache melting. So this year, I froze one batch before pouring the top layer of white chocolate. And for some reason, that batch eventually…sort of wept. A lot of the crushed peppermint became a sort of sticky pink goop. The other batch was lovely, I swear, but that all got given away as Christmas gifts. Thus the little picture: I’m ashamed of my goopy bark.

I actually tossed the goopy pieces in more crushed peppermint in an attempt to mitigate the goopiness, but of course that just made them even goopier. and the lesson is: when a recipe for candy tells you to chill something in the refrigerator, it may not be a good idea to chill it in the freezer

Ingredients:

  • 17 oz. white chocolate, chopped (I use Callebaut)
  • about 30 striped peppermints, finely crushed
  • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 T. heavy cream
  • 3/4 t. peppermint extract

Method:

1. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet with foil and mark a 9”x12” rectangle.

2. Put the white chocolate in a metal bowl and set it over a bowl of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, but don’t let it get too hot. Should be ~110F. Pour 2/3 cup onto the prepared pan and spread evenly to the edges of the rectangle. This is much, much easier using an off-set spatula. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of the crushed peppermints on top and chill for at least 15 min in the refrigerator.

3. Meanwhile, melt the bittersweet chocolate with the cream and peppermint extract in a saucepan over low heat just until the mixture is smooth. Let cook until barely warm to the touch.

4. Spread the chocolate layer over the chilled white chocolate. Chill at least 25 minutes in the refrigerator.

5. Re-warm the remaining white chocolate to 110F. Pour over the chilled ganache and spread to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints and chill until firm.

6. Lift foil from baking sheet to a cutting board and peel the foil away. Cut into 2” strips, cut each strip into 2-3” pieces, and cut those diagonally into 2 triangles.

Spicy Cheese Straws

 (adapted from a recipe on GOD-DESS I think I found elsewhere)

These are basically thin strips of cheese-flavored pie crust spiked with cayenne, the homemade version of store-bought cheese crackers. These : Cheez-Its as Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies : Chips Ahoy. The more you like the cheese you use, the more you will probably like the straws it produces, but as with most baked goods there is a ceiling. In other words, don’t use commodity cheese, but don’t use $16/lb cheese either. I shoot for something as sharp as I can get for around $8/lb. You can also make interesting variations using cheeses like parmeggiano, romano, and asiago and an herb like rosemary or thyme instead of the paprika/cayenne, but cheddar-blue-cayenne is my favorite.someday I will learn to focus and frame things in a way that is not vaguely disorienting

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. butter, cut into 1/2” cubes and frozen
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
  • 2 oz. blue cheese, grated or crumbled
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. ice water

Method:

1. Cut and freeze the butter while you grate the cheese. I use a food processor.

2. If using a food processor, switch to the normal blade and add the flour, salt, spices, and butter. Pulse a dozen times or so, until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas. If mixing in a bowl, use a pastry cutter, fork, or two knives to combine the ingredients into a lumpy meal.

3. If using a food processor, let it run while adding the ice water in a slow stream. Stop as soon as the mixture begins to stick to itself and form a ball of dough. If mixing in a bowl, add the water 1 tsp. at a time until it begins to form a dough.

4. Spread a piece of plastic wrap out and dump the mixture onto it. Using the plastic wrap, press the mixture into a slab or a tube about 1” thick, wrap well and chill in the refrigerator for 30 min.

5. Preheat the oven to 350. Break the dough into 4 equal parts, re-wrap 3 and return them to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a tube about 12” long and 1” thick. Flatten it so it’s a rectangle about 12” long, 2” wide, and 1/2” thick. Then, use a rolling pin or empty wine bottle or glass to roll it out to about 18” long, 3-4” wide, and 1/8” thick.

6.  Slice the dough into strips about 3/8” thick and place on ungreased cookie sheets. You don’t want them to touch, but they can be pretty close together.

7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Watch them closely towards the end of the baking time, and rotate the sheets so they bake evenly if your oven, like mine, is uneven. If you under-bake them, they won’t be crisp, but too much and they’ll taste burnt.

8. Cool on paper towels, which will wick away a little of the excess grease. When cool, store in airtight containers.