Crunch for Italian CHRISTMAS {3 recipes}

Here a three very different holiday recipes which share a few things in common.
They are Italian based with a few influential spice twists and a crunchy bite.

Every year the sweet table invites the old…the new…and…
the dependable treats like my CHOCOLATE truffles.

Some desserts are staples, while others have been introduced through creative curiosity.
All are treats that cater to personal preferences in our family.

The one thing that unites us is how we seek texture.
Along with several aspects we desire in desserts, a delicate tooth crunch is essential.

Today, I'll share with you a few cherished family treats.

I'll begin with the simplest one which can be made ahead and stored for later nibbling.
A super easy roasted snack confection.

roasted Sugar n Spice Almonds

yields 2-1/2 cups / 400 grams

PRINTER version

(American / Metric measures)

. 2-1/2 cups (400g) raw almonds
. 1 large (40ml) egg white

. 1/2 cup (110g) granulated sugar
. 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar, packed
. 1/2 tsp. (2.5ml) sea salt
. 1 tsp. (5ml) ground cinnamon
. 1 tsp. (5ml) ground cardamom
. 1 tsp. (5ml) pure vanilla extract

. Pre-heat oven to 300F/150C/Gas2. 
. Position the rack in the center of the oven.
. Use a non-lined, large baking pan.

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until very frothy. 
2. Add, toss and coat the almonds.  Set for only two minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and fully combine.
4. Spread out the mixed almonds onto the baking pan and BAKE for an initial 20 minutes. 
5. Afterwards, remove the pan from the oven to flip and lightly break up most of the almonds with the aid of a metal spatula.   BAKE for another 15 minutes.
6. Cool the pan completely before removing the almonds to break them up further.
. Store them in an airtight, glass container and into the refrigerator.  They will stay fresh for a few weeks.


rustic Meringue Spice cloud pastry cookies
As light as air and tasty beyond expectation.

serves 12 medium (24 small) meringues

PRINTER version

(American / Metric measures)

. 4 large egg whites, room temperature
. pinch of sea salt
. 1/2 tsp. (2.5ml) pure Vanilla extract *
. 3/4 cup (165g) granulated sugar
. 1/4 cup (30g) confectioners' sugar
. 1/4 tsp. (1.75ml) ground cinnamon

* can be replaced by a flavoured liquor (1 tsp. / 5ml)

Add-ins:  (optional)
. 1/2 cup roasted, crushed nuts
. orange or lemon zest
. decorate: with sprinkled sliced almonds:

. Clean a large bowl with a paper towel and white vinegar.
. Pre-heat the oven to 225F/110C/0.5Gas
. Prepare a large, parchment lined baking pan.
. Position rack in the center of the oven.

1. Place the egg whites into the clean bowl to come to room temperature. 
Tip: for the process to go quicker, place another bowl filled with warm water to then hold the egg white bowl for a few minutes.
2.  Add the salt to the egg whites and beat on MEDIUM-HIGH speed with an electric whisk until very light, soft peaks appear. 
3. Add in the vanilla and keep beating while gradually adding in ONLY the granulated sugar and the cinnamon at first.  At the end, gradually finish with beating in the confectioners' sugar. 
4. Keep beating on HIGH speed for about 5 minutes until somewhat stiff and glossy peaks are achieved.
5. Optional: if using the add-ins, gently fold them in at this point.
6. Spoon 12 big dollops onto the prepared pan.
. BAKE for 1:30 hours (1 hour for smaller units.) Then, close the heat and let them rest with the oven closed for another 1 hour to completely dry.  Then, remove from the oven and cool completely on the pan.
. Store into an airtight container for no more than a week. These can also be frozen into parchment paper and into a freezer bag.


Last and certainly not least, the star of the table setting…
our traditional, slightly more sophisticated CICERCHIATA wreath.

This dessert is usually served during Carnival time in February…
however, my family adopted it for the Christmas sweet table.
An indulgence made of dainty, crunchy dough nuggets held together with flavoured honey.

I also wanted to make sure to let you know that I have tried making the baked version.
I unfortunately was very displeased with the result…
and my family had a hard time withholding their disappointment as well.
Not what you want to feel when you've dedicated yourself to the sweets table.
Therefore, as much as I hate frying, I plead with you to hold back from baking this time.

An indulgence made of dainty, crunchy dough nuggets
held together with flavoured honey…topped with candy sprinkles.

NOTE: if you don't feel like fussing so much, just make the dough balls bigger and…
turn them into another popular Italian dessert called: Struffoli.

serves 8-10 portions

PRINTER version

(American / Metric measures)

DOUGH nuggets:

. 2-3/4 cups (390g) All Purpose flour
        (more or less depending on texture)
. 1/4 cup (55g) granulated sugar
. 1/2 tsp. (2.5ml) baking powder
. pinch of sea salt
. 1 medium Orange, finely zested
. 3 xLarge eggs (room temp.)
. 2 tsps. (10ml) pure Vanilla extract
. 4 Tbsps./ 2.2oz (60g) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
. 2 Tbsps. (30ml) dry White wine (room temp.)
    (or Sherry or Brandy, Vodka etc)

Honey SYRUP:
. 1 cup (250ml) mild, liquid honey
. 1/4 tsp. (1.25ml) ground cinnamon
. 1/2 cup (70g) lightly roasted almonds, coarsely chopped

. For deep frying:  grapeseed or canola oil
. oil for the glass (if making a wreath)
. Candy sprinkles of choice
. Maraschino cherries, halved for garnish

Note: although this dough can be made into a food processor, I much prefer the traditional method.

1. In a very large bowl, whisk together all the DRY ingredients.  Then, make a well and add all the WET ingredients.  Whisk the center lightly to then gradually incorporate the flour mix. 
2. Within the bowl, knead by pressing into the dough with the hand's palm and then fold on to itself.  Turn a quarter of the way and repeat until flour has disappeared.  The dough should not be over-kneaded.  You'll need to achieve a soft, malleable texture.  
3. Form it into a thick rectangle of sorts and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it rest 30 minutes at room temperature under a cloth.

4. Later, prepare a parchment lined pan to hold the rolled out ropes.
5. Divide the dough into 16 pieces and roll into balls.  Then, one at the time, roll out each piece into a slim rope shape.  Place them onto the prepared pan by continuously covering them with the cloth to keep them from drying out.
5. Once all ropes have been made, place up to two ropes parallel to each other and cut into little nuggets.  Note: they will look somewhat like squares when you cut them. You do NOT need to roll them because they will puff up round once they fry.
6. FRYING (prepare the paper towel lined pan):  In a large saucepan, add about 4 inches/ 10 cm of frying oil.  Heat it on just a little higher than MEDIUM or more precisely 350F/180C.  First, test a small nugget of dough as it should sizzle upon contact and float to the top.  Also, make sure it fries up light golden without burning.
7. Now, place some of the dough nuggets with a good spacing.  Fry them until puffed up and lightly golden (about 1 minute or so).  Adjust the heat if the balls are frying too quickly.  Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a paper towel lined plate.  REPEAT the process.  Let them rest while preparing the honey syrup.
. Assembly:
8. Generously oil the outside of a medium, straight-sided water glass and place it in the center of a round serving dish.
Honey syrup:
9. In a large saucepan, melt the honey on LOW-MEDIUM heat.  Remove the pot from the heat and with a sturdy spatula, quickly stir in the chopped nuts, cinnamon and the cooked dough balls until well coated.
10. Quickly spoon the honeyed balls around the glass.  Then, with lightly wet hands, shape the wreath by pressing it together.  Drizzle over any remaining honey.  Sprinkle the candies sparingly as well as placing the cherry halves.  Let it set for a least 4 hours before removing the glass.
Serve:  Preferably to be eaten as fresh as possible.  Lightly cover it with aluminium foil if waiting longer to serve. 
. It's best to use a serrated knife to slice the wreath or just rustically portion out servings.  Any remaining pieces can be stored into aluminium foil for a few days. 

This was certainly an enthusiastic posting…
bringing back all the memories of last year's sweet table.
Within the next few days, I'll be experimenting with a few cookies…
crunch all the way to the next family gathering.

Happy holidays to all and may the New year bring on everything that is good in this world.

Flavourful wishes,

Comments ... ??? ... or suggestions ... write me :o)
Claudia at:  foodessa [at] gmail [dot] com

Go HERE for more SWEET creations.

Please take note on how I bake and cook...
Here’s a 101 of sorts to make sure that there are no disappointments when trying my creations.  
Also...just so you know...feel free to increase the salt and sweet factor since I'm not high on either of them ;o)

. Use DRY cup measurements for...you guessed it...all DRY ingredients.
Anything DRY gets measured by spooning the overfilled ingredient (never shake the cup) and then level off with a flat edged tool.  Exception...Brown sugar should be packed in and leveled.
. Use LIQUID cup measurements for...all LIQUIDS that cannot be leveled like for example butter, yogurt...etc.  Measure the liquids at eye level to avoid overdoing what the recipe truly needs.
OVENS are unfortunately not created equal.  Mine is so old that it has reached many degrees off it's norm.  It's really worth investing a few dollars to test yours with an appropriate oven thermometer.  You'd be surprised how many ovens I've heard about not being where they should have been.  Before you lose any more ingredients and much time preparing a new recipe...run to the store...you'll thank me later.