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My parents' suitcases are real treasure troves when they come and visit. My mother usually brings me a couple of cookbooks, some spices, some baking ingredients I have a difficult time finding here. There is a collection of Lindt chocolate bars, with nibs of macarons, tiramisu, Irish coffee, or nougat, bar after bar of Valhrona chocolate, you get the drift.

We spend countless hours at the table reminiscing about family dinners, holiday parties and other gatherings. They have gotten very involved in my blogging in the last few months and always bring interesting comments about the photographs but mostly about the food and the items I bake. The main questions are "what do you do with all of that? Who eats it?", to which my husband answers by rubbing his belly and the neighbor pokes his head out the window around 6 pm. for a sugar fix!

What does this has to do with "improvising"? Well, I don’t have much time to sit and read blogs, or play around in my kitchen because every minute of my time is devoted to them. I love them visiting don’t get me wrong, but I pretty much have to put "selfish" activities on the back burner for a while. And there you have it, my blogger’s dilemna: I have just enough time between our outing, indulging my craving for chocolate with an easy to put together recipe and the last of the good light outside to take a semi descent shot.

I decided to make hazelnut shortbread cookies and to fill them with a dark chocolate and carambars ganache. Carambars are really cool caramels, wrapped in colorful paper with jokes on the inside. I guess you could substitute any semi soft caramel candy you like, these have kind of a toffee flavor. At first glance, the recipe does not seem to comply with my time restriction but on the contrary! You can make everything in the morning and finish the assembly in the afternoon or before dinner. You can also make throughout the day if you have more time around the house.

Shortbread cookies: adapted from Chocolate Passion, by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty

(By the way, run to get this book, everything I have made was amazing!)

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup confectioners' sugar, divided
2 cups flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 tsp. cognac

Ground the hazelnuts with 1/2 cup of the sugar. In mixer bowl, cream together the butter and remanining sugar, add the hazelnuts and flour until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into 4 balls and shape each piece into a disc of 4 inches in diameters in between two sheets of plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm.
Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thick and cut rounds with plain or scalloped 2 inch cookie cutters. Gather scraps, form a ball and refrigerate. Roll out dough and start the whole cutting process again.
Bake in a 35o degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the ganache:
12 ounces sewisweet dark chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chopped carambars or any caramels you like

Heat the cream until it comes to a boil. Lower the heat down and add the caramels, stir until they are melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate. Let stand for a couple if minutes and then stir until all the chocolate is incorporated and the ganache is smooth. Let it cool 15-20 minutes until spreadable but not stiff.

At this point you can spread the ganache with a spatula between 2 cookies and call it a day or fill a pastry bag with it and pipe rounds between 2 or 3 cookies like I have done. These were more than a bite full but were thoroughly enjoyed instead of dessert with a good espresso.

It is my 100th post! Champagne, here I am!

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Ashley September 24, 2006 um 4:53 am

Tell your wonderful parents they are welcome at my house any time. What could be more delightful that eating great food, talking about great food while in the company of great people. Enjoy your time with your family.

Julia September 24, 2006 um 9:00 am

Oh, I loved this post, you write great about your family and those presents…yum!
this improv looks as well amazing, delicious!

Dumoria, 2 sticks of butter = 226g
Clotilde (C&Z) recently posted a great list with almost everything from cups to gram…very handy!

Helene September 24, 2006 um 11:03 pm

Andrew: maybe it is the other way around: they come with gifts because they are staying a month with us.

Ashley: I really enjoy the time spent with them. They remind me of the things that make me who I am and why I am.

Dumoria: I know about that one! You are right, it is delicious! I have been trying to leave a coment on your blog but Blogger keeps refusing my i.d.

Julia: they are a delight to have as house guests, even more so that I am an adult now and dynamics have changed, but I’ll always be my mother’s baby!

Jen September 25, 2006 um 6:54 am

Helene you just get better and better every post. This one is a complete sensory overload.

I will keep saying this, but you really need to make your way to Australia!!

Helene September 25, 2006 um 12:31 pm

JenJen: these cookies are incredible. That whole book is chock full of great recipes. Everything I have made came out beautiful and tasty.

Lis September 25, 2006 um 1:06 pm

I think these are about the prettiest cookies I’ve ever seen! And it’s taking everything I have not to start licking my monitor 😛

I am glad you are having a good time with your parents – enjoy them =)

wheresmymind September 25, 2006 um 1:24 pm

I want you improving for my next partay!

Mrs. B September 26, 2006 um 12:17 am

Lesson #137: Never read a Tartelette post when you are having an afternoon energy meltdown. The urge to eat, and the urge to leave work to make whatever tempting item she has posted, is almost too great to overcome. Gotta find those caramels….

Helene September 26, 2006 um 2:24 am

Mrs B.: oh, now I am having a meltdown! You have such a way with words!

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