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Pistachio Cocoa Nibs Cookies

Are you ready for Christmas? I am not, but my kitchen is! My oven has been rehearsing its favorite carols and humming a happy Christmas Cookie song. You don’t know the Christmas Cookie song? Goes something like this:
"99 Christmas Cookies in the jar, 99 Christmas Cookies in the jar. Take one down and pass it around, 98 Christmas Cookies in the jar.
98 Christmas Cookies in the jar, 98 Christmas Cookies in the jar. Take one down and pass it around, 97 Christmas Cookies in the jar.
No Christmas Cookies in the jar.
Crank the oven on and bake some more, 99 Christmas Cookies in the jar."

And now you know how I get through an entire weekend of baking for us, the neighbors, the family, the friends, clients and patrons. Cookies, macarons, truffles, you name it. My fridge and freezer look like some kind of nut case replaced all food groups by just one, sugar. It leans towards that trend the other months of the year, but really I had a chuckle earlier when I reached for the veggies I needed to make ratatouille. I need to start making my holiday boxes and deliver/mail them soon or I am going to break down and start eating them all!

I like to include a variety of down home treats like chocolate chip cookies, marshmallows, biscotti, and more delicate things like truffles, macarons, madeleines, etc… I like bringing my heritage into a bit of everyday style baking. I know I am not the only one and I love all the family recipes popping around on blogs during the holidays. I am learning so much about holiday traditions from other countries and other people. It’s like food traveling somewhere new everyday. Thanks to all of you out there sharing with me/us. And if you wish to find a list of tried and true Christmas Cookie recipes, visit Susan’s Food Blogga blog where these Pistachio Cocoa Nibs ccokies are heading for her Christmas Cookies From Around The World Event.

Now here is a recipe I tried recently that I think will become a regular in the Christmas cookie repertoire. I found it while reading one of my favorite blogs "Cake On The Brain". Her posts are funny, from the heart and always challenging her self and the way I think about things I deal with everyday. Sometimes I feel jaded by the world I bake for: catering, restaurant, private parties,etc… Her fresh and vibrant perspectives recharge my battery quite often. Go look at her latest macaron creation…with grated dried raspberry on top…how ingenious!! The original recipe is from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet calling for pecans, cocoa nibs and bourbon, which she adapted and which I adapted a little also by using pistachios and Cognac. The result, a delicate crumb, a punch from the cocoa nibs (thanks Lisa for the stash) and a little flavor from home with the Cognac.

Pistachio Cocoa Nibs Cookies:

Makes about 2 dozens

1 cup raw skinned pistachios, finely chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tb. Cognac

Combine the butter and sugar, in bowl of electric mixer and beat on high speed until smooth and creamy (1 minute). Add the vanilla and Cognac. Beat in the pistachios and cocoa nibs. Add all the flour at once. Beat on low speed until flour is incorporated.
Form dough into 12-inch log about 2 inches thick. Wrap in parchment and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. At this point you can freeze the log for up to 3 months.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges. Let cookies firm up on the pans for about 1 minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Try to save some for the day after, they taste even better 24 hours later. The cookies can be stored in airtight container for at least 1 month.

Two more very important things:
The first one is a shameless plug for a friend: Hannah from Bittersweet just published her first book, My Sweet Vegan.

I am among the lucky few to have received a preview copy and I have to tell you to run and get it, regardless of your dietary preferences. I am not a vegan and yet I am wowed by the delicious recipes she wrote. I made her Lemon Lime Sunshine Bundt cake last night and could not stop nibbling on it all day long. Congratulations on your first book Hannah and I can’t wait to see what is up next!

The second one is to tell you about Menu for Hope. Although I realised too late the deadline to send in a participation item, I still urge you to go and donate. The amount raised will go to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa.

Gateau Surprise Chocolat Pistache

Note: I apologize for the quick post you read here but I still have company for another week or so and it seems that I am fullfilling my godmother part pretty good. Sophie is quite busy having made some friends her age and discovered the joys (hmm,hmm…) of dating in America. Yes, French people have different dating rules and "games". I try to calm her nerves while waiting for the stupid "three days no call" rules that guys like to play here. In the meantime, I am making her cakes!!

You know a cake has to be good when it pops up over the years on some of the best food blogs out there. I hope I will carry the torch with honor. Clotilde presented the original and Heidi and Jen made some perfectly mouth watering renditions. The cake appealed to me so much that I made it the exact same say I read about it. The only thing that surprised me is in the lengthy steps undertook by my predecessors in mixing the two different batters. The original recipe they followed called for making the chocolate batter first, then rinsing the bowl to prepare the pistachio one. I don’t know about you, but in a 100F + weather and very little intention to mix, rinse, mix, bake, wash, I knew I had to come up with an easier way to achieve the same result.

I remembered my beloved zebra cakes, or my mom’s comforting marbled chocolate-vanilla cake and decided to go the same route: make one plain batter, divide it in half and add to each part the elements they needed to create both the chocolate and pistachio batters. I wouldn’t call this blasphemy, just practicality…especially when a mob of hungry teenagers was starting to crowd my kitchen!

Gateau Surprise Chocolat Pistachio, adapted from this blog:

Makes 12 cakes

270g plain all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
1½ cups plain yoghurt or sour cream
1½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup shelled pistachio, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 12 small paper cake cases.
In a food processor mix together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, pulsing in between each addition. Add in the yoghurt and the vanilla extract, pulse again. Add the baking powder, baking soda and all of the flour. Divide the batter in half. In one half, add the cocoa powder, in the other the pistachios and chocolate chips. Then using an ice cream scoop, place one scoop of batter into each paper case. Rinse the scoop and add the pistachio batter on top of the chocolate.use an ice scoop to place the pistachio batter on top. Smooth out the surface using a spatula. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to rest for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Pistachio Macarons…A Family Affair

It is always a blessing to have family visits. My parents come regularly, so much so that my produce guy often asks me about them and when they will visit next and they are almost on a first name basis with the mail man! I am surprised that only my brother and his family and my cousin in Savoie are the only ones who also made the trip, with all these paid vacations it should be a no brainer for the others to come visit their "favorite" cousin (cough, cough…) and discover a part of the world they do not know. So having Sophie around is absolutely fantastic on very many different levels. I get to talk about the family, speak French and laugh at the simple words I cannot find easily anymore. When I left she was 7-8 years old, so I also get the chance to discover a maturing young woman full of questions, hope, incertainties and love for life.

I also like having visitors as I can show them this country like they have never seen it before, far away from images of huge skyscrapers, bright neon signs and fast food joints. Ok, so we went to Krispy Kremes, but come on folks! that is a mandatory on the list of culinary treats I have to educate her palate about. Charleston is rich in history, landscape and native animals (she saw her first alligator on a canoe ride in the Lowcountry swamps yesterday) and of course rich in food influences from the Barbadoes, Spain, France, England and Africa. The link with macarons? Well, at the end of the day, after trying many a local delicacies, it’s all about the macarons people, and Sophie asked if I could teach her how to make them. As the good hostess that I am I felt it was necessary to fulfill her wishes..twist my arm right?!

For the second time around I went for another recipe than the one I often use for macarons, and opted not to use the Italian meringue method for the shells. Indeed, this recipe does not require that the egg whites be whipped with a hot sugar syrup, but instead mixed in with the powdered sugar/nuts method. The only reason why I chose this method was that it was over 100 degrees outside and after an afternoon roasting at the beach, we did not feel like standing in front of the stove waiting for the sugar syrup to reach proper temperature. I found this particular one for pistachio in one of my new favorites by a talented French pastry chef, Stephane Glacier, in "Un Amour de Macaron". The filling was a simple chocolate ganache with a hint of ground ginger.
We whipped, folded and mixed. We giggled, talked and dipped our fingers in the batter and the ganache. We filled, broke and sampled some…and we packaged half of them in little goodie bags and took some to the neighbors. It’s all about Southern hospitality!

Pistachio Macarons, adapted from Stephane Glacier.

Makes 35

225 gr powdered sugar

60 gr almonds

65 gr pistachios

3 egg whites (about 100gr)

green food coloring (optional) (powdered is better)

25 gr granulated sugar

In a food processor, run the nuts and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Run through a sieve if needed.

Whip the egg whites until foamy, slowly add the granulated sugar, until they are glossy. Add the green food coloring if using.

Slowly fold the nut/sugar mixture into the whites with a wide spatula. The mixture should remain shiny and flow easily.

Fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe small rounds onto parchment lined baking sheets.

Let the macarons rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 315 and when they are ready, bake them for 12-15 minutes.

Let cool, remove from the paper and fill with the ganache.

Chocolate Ganache Filling:

8 ounces (227 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter

1 tsp. ground ginger

Place the chocolate in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the ground ginger. Let cool to room temperature and use as desired.