Saturday, January 22, 2011

The 12 recipes of Christmas - Part 4

One of the things I enjoy most about hosting Christmas dinner at my house is the secret tradition I carry on: each year, one menu item contains a hidden Jewish ingredient. Not sure if I started doing it to pull one over on my husband's ultra Catholic family members or to make my Jewish brother in law and semi-ex-Jewish father feel more welcomed. Either way, it has become a pursuit - ok, an obsession - that is in my thoughts all year long.

This year, the hidden Jewish ingredient disguised itself in dessert. I made two desserts - both keepers! - a flourless chocolate torte and, in lieu of cookies, cheesecake bites topped with a chocolate drizzle.
The drizzle incorporated Sabra, an Israeli chocolate orange liquor. What about that combination is suggestive of Israel, I have no idea. But the recipe had been decided and the hunt was on. Let me tell you, this stuff isn't sold just anywhere. After two days, four liquor store visits and several phone calls, I finally found one lone dusty bottle in a strip mall shop.
Back at home, under the auspices of knowing the ingredients I would be offering my guests, I had a shot. Maybe two. It's good stuff. A little like Godiva's forgotten cousin. So on to the recipes...

Cheesecake bites
This is a long list of ingredients, and admittedly, a fairly complicated recipe. But if you need a semi-fancy dessert that goes far and that you can completely make in advance, this one's a winner.
2 c almond meal
2 ts unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c butter, melted
32 oz cream cheese, at room temp
1/4 c agave nectar
1 tb arrowroot powder
3 eggs
1 tb vanilla
1/2 c chopped cashews (or slivered almonds)
1/2 c chopped dried apricots
1/4 c crystalized ginger, chopped
4 oz dark chocolate (I used 72% - if using all cream and no liquor, use 85%)
1/3 c heavy cream
1/3 c Sabra
For the crust: Combine first 3 ingredients and press into the bottom of a 13x9 baking pan (the aluminum ones have more squared-off corners). Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and cool completely.
For the filling: Beat cream cheese in a stand mixer until smooth throughout. While blending, add agave, arrowroot, eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Spread over cooled crust and bake 35 minutes or until set. After removing from oven, cool completely, cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator at least 8 hours.
For the topping: Combine ginger, apricot and nuts. Lightly press into top of cheesecake. Cut into squares and set spaced out on waxpaper-lined cookie sheet. You may need to pile some of the topping back onto the squares. Return to refrigerator.
For the drizzle: In double boiler, melt chocolate. Stir in cream and liquor until smooth. By spoonfuls, drizzle over tops and down sides of squares. Return to refrigerator 1 hour, or until chocolate is hardened. To serve, remove from waxpaper with spatula and arrange on pretty tray.
For the record, I know that agave is only borderline acceptable. I don't like the way honey works in this recipe though. Also, it is basically impossible to find crystalized ginger that does not have a sugar crust, so I brushed off what I could. On both counts, I figure: Hey, it's a holiday. Live a little!

Flourless chocolate torte
1+ c butter
1/4 c heavy cream
8 oz dark chocolate (72%)
5 eggs
1/2 c maple syrup
1/4+ c cocoa powder
Melt butter over low heat in saucepan on stove. Stir in cream and add chocolate, continuing to stir until melted. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, then add syrup and cocoa. When stovetop mixture is completely melted, slowly whisk into mixing bowl. Coat a springform pan with additional butter, then dust with extra cocoa powder, removing excess. Pour batter into pan and bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until set in the center. Allow to cool and run knife around edge before unmolding.
Cut into slim wedges and serve with a scoop of gluten-free, soy-free organic ice cream such as Coconut Bliss or Turtle Mountain.

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