[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays. This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too. ]
Back in the day (haven’t you always wondered about that expression? I mean, which day?), I used to bake entirely conventional, non-vegan, sweets and treats. As a graduate student with a job as a Teaching Assistant as well as a scholarship, I was lucky enough to have both a flexible schedule and sufficient finances to indulge my love of culinary invention. My favorites at the time were cheesecakes, light and fluffy (and, in particular, a chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake–yep, studded with globs of raw chocolate-chip cookie dough), whipped cream-topped layer cakes or pavlovas, and thick, dense, decadent brownies of all spots and stripes (top contender there was an intensely dark chocolate brownie with hidden pockets of Caramilk chocolate bar strewn throughout–cut the brownie and be treated to surprising little bursts of oozy, gooey caramel, enveloped in creamy milk chocolate. . . there must be a way to do this in a [semi?] NAG-friendly version!).
In any case, what I really loved was baking for the holidays. Between studying for finals, I’d take breaks by whipping up assorted cookies and bars, and filling dainty, decorative tins with dozens of them as Christmas gifts for my friends and colleagues. It was a fun challenge to find 12-15 recipes for cookies in differing flavors, textures, shapes or colors, so that the varying hues and contours complemented each other visually when placed together like pieces of a mosaic in the tins. Most years, I went so far as to draw a legend on a circle of paper (placed atop the cookies before closing the tin), like the kind you get in boxes of mixed chocolates, illustrating each different flavor and shape so people would know in advance what they chose (can you say, “anal”?).
Even though my schedule isn’t nearly as flexible any more (not to mention my hip joints), I decided that this year, I really wanted to resurrect that tradition for the holidays. And while cookies are still on the list, I’m going to focus more on slightly less perishable items, so that I (and you) can send these goodies to loved ones far away, or as parting gifts with visitors who pop in over the next few weeks.
One thing I’ve never made as a gift, though, is fudge. When the HH and I were first together, we once took a weekend junket to Niagara-on-the-Lake (not far from the Canadian side of Niagra Falls) to trundle around and see a play at the Shaw Festival. Well, I said I was going for the play, anyway. What I really looked forward to was a visit to a little candy shop that’s become semi-famous for its fudge. Have you ever tried fresh, satiny homemade fudge, like, 30 seconds after it’s set?
They say chocolate is better than sex, but really, chocolate fudge is even better than chocolate.
Still, I’m aware that no self-respecting holistic nutritionist or health-conscious foodie would foist fudge on friends (and no self-respecting writer would pen such an obviously hokey alliteration!) Craving all that is chocolate, smooth, and fondant-like, I sought out a healthier version–but one that would still embody the same indulgent, creamy, and, most importantly, chocolate–qualities of “real” fudge.
Well, I’ve found it! Today’s recipes are both based on a Carob Fudge I saw ages ago on Deb’s blog. I’ve been waiting to try it since then, and this seemed the perfect occasion. Of course, since I can’t even imagine a non-chocolate variety, I played with the recipes somewhat and created not one, but two cacao-flavored versions. The first is orange-scented, studded with tangy bits of chopped dried apricot, while the other is draped over clusters of mixed nuts and dropped into little truffle cups to serve as individual candies. I have no doubt that whomever you choose to bestow these upon, they will devour them most gratefully. Perhaps best of all, this is incredibly quick to make!
“Mum, we love the idea of food-based gifts for the holidays! But why did you take out the carob–now we can’t have any. . . ”
I’d also love to hear what you’re whipping up this year as gifts. Do you have any old favorites, or perhaps some newfound treasures? Leave a comment (or a link to a recipe) so we can all increase our gift-giving repertoire!
I also thought this would be the perfect submission to the Monthly Mingle: Low-Sugar Sweet Treats, this month hosted by Dee at The Daily Tiffin and originated by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey?. This month, they’re requesting desserts low sugar.
Chocolate-Orange Fudge with Apricots
adapted from Altered Plates
Smooth, rich and as dense as cream-based fudge, these squares are a perfect post-prandial sweet to help settle a meal (or, in my case, the final course of the meal itself).
1-1/2 cups (255 g.) dark chocolate chips (the barley-sweetened type work well here, too)
1/2 cup (120 ml.) all-natural cashew-macadamia nut butter (I just mixed half of each type together in a bowl)
1/3-1/2 cup (80-120 ml.) agave nectar, depending on desired level of sweetness (I used 1/2 cup)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) pure vanilla extract
grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup ( g.) finely chopped dried apricots
Lightly grease a 9 x9 inch (20 cm.) square pan, or line with parchment paper.
In a glass or metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate chips. Mix in the nut butter until smooth; remove from heat. Add the agave, vanilla and orange zest, and stir until combined. The mixture should thicken up a bit as you stir.
Spread in prepared pan and smooth the top. Chill until set (2-3 hours), then cut into squares. Wrap in plastic before packaging as gifts. Makes 12-25 squares, depending on how small you cut them. Bonus: this may be frozen! Defrost in fridge overnight.
Fudge Nut Clusters (variation)
These little confections are perfect to serve at tea or on a dessert tray for a buffet celebration.
Line about 15-20 mini-muffin tins with foil liners.
Prepare chocolate fudge as above, omitting the apricots and orange zest. Place a small spoonful of mixed nuts (I used chopped almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts) in the bottom of each cup; drop spoonfuls of still-warm fudge mixture over each, and allow the fudge to sink down to the bottom of the cup to create a mound of nutty fudge candy. Top with extra fudge mixture if necessary to fill the cups and cover the nuts.
Other Gastronomic Gifts:
Gastronomic Gifts III: Marzipan-Topped Shortbread **Note: the original recipe was somehow transcribed incorrectly–please use the current version with the correct amount of flour!!
Gastronomic Gifts IV: Jam-Filled Turnovers
Gastronomic Gifts V: Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies
Gastronomic Gifts VI: Pumpkin Butter
Gastronomic Gifts: VII: Chocolate Macroons in a Flash
Last Year at this Time: Frosted Banana-Oat Bars
Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll get recipes as soon as they’re posted, plus cookbook updates and news about upcoming events! (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”