Monday, December 20, 2010
Out-Of-The-Box Lolita Dessert-Gifts
An assortment of truffles: nothing says gourmand like a truffle assortment, homemade or store-bought. For store-bought, I have a fantastic chocolatier that I visit when I need a really beautiful gift, but those things aren't cheap. Another option? Make up a batch of chocolate ganache (I almost feel silly linking to a recipe for it, it's so easy! Switch out the rum for a bit of flavored extract or butter if you avoid alcohol, but it'd really all cook out either way). Let it cool until it's almost the consistency of clay. Take a small ice cream scoop or melon-baller and scoop a few out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet or plate and roll them in your hands until they're little rustic spheres- think of actual truffles, which are similar to mushrooms and never perfectly rotund. Your hands will heat the chocolate a bit (this is a messy job- wear gloves!); this is okay, though, because it means they'll be wet enough to roll them in something. My favorite is a nice dark cocoa powder, but you could also do finely-chopped nuts, coconut, or sprinkles. This recipe for truffles disguised as cupcakes (picture above) is almost the same idea but a little less elegant, a tad more kitschy, and a great idea for the holidays! No time or effort? You can usually pick up a nice package of truffles at your local gourmet market or even some grocery stores.
Petit Fours: The classier but oft-overlooked cousin to the cupcake. You can buy these at some bakeries, but an easy way to make these teatime staples is to make a sheet cake (make cake batter, pour onto greased & floured sheet pan instead of a cake pan or cupcake tins), then cutting the large cake into small one-inch squares. Thin cakes can be layered two or three tall and frosted (it'd be especially tasty with lemon curd or jam between the layers), or thicker ones can be covered in icing or fondant themselves. I always think these should come in delicate flavors, like lavender or green tea, but a simple chocolate cake mix would be lovely as well.
Think past the macaron for exquisite french desserts. Palmiers are a relatively simple treat for beginner bakers, croissants aren't too hard, and for you pros out there, try dabbling in eclairs, cream puffs, or anything that uses Pâte à Choux. Not only will this be marvelously impressive for your new friends or meetup attendees, but it may be an excellent opportunity to learn and teach something new and fun about another culture, especially one so prominent in lolita as the French.
Not French? No problem! Ethnic holiday cookies such as Pfeffernusse or Chrusciki, of which my mother makes a Hungarian version every year, are great ways to share your culture or try out a new one. Almost every country that celebrates a winter holiday has a traditional cookie recipe- look one up and give it a whirl! Try to put your own spin on it, too- for example, I once had Pfeffernusse that were covered in powdered sugar that had been infused with chai tea, and my mother's version of Chrusciki (which has been handed down through the family and we all only call "Hungarian Cookies") uses a filling of apricot or prune jam, both of which are traditional flavors of the motherland.
Redefine a box of chocolates: Choices for this abound- either go to the store and buy a whole bunch of different candies like jordan almonds and other minis, or try to recreate your favorite childhood memory. Make homemade peanut butter cups, peppermint patties, chocolate-covered strawberries, nuts, or pretzels, cherry cordials, or caramels. Protip: anything with chocolate will become rich and indulgent with a dash of instant coffee or espresso powder, and caramel goes amazingly with sea salt- fleur de sel if you can manage it!
Sweet treats as holiday gifts are really nothing new- my boyfriend's mother is notorious for making huge platters of Christmas cookies for everyone she knows (seriously, huge- at least two feet across, and usually way bigger! Her kitchen is a designated cookie factory starting this week). It's no surprise- the holidays are a time to show people you care about them, and what a way to show your love for a friend or your eagerness for friendship with a new acquaintance. Honestly, if I had the time, money, and skill to bake or cook all of my holiday gifts, I would be all over it, because I feel like it's such a thoughtful way to show someone you've been thinking of them. These also would make such a sweet contribution to a potluck holiday meetup! Either way, baking and creating comforting foods is so wonderfully suited to the holidays- especially in my area, where we're sometimes lucky if the temperatures get above freezing this time of year; nothing sounds better than spending the day in front of a warm oven or stove, sipping hot chocolate while icing petit fours or stirring ganache into concoctions to brighten the dark, cold winter of those I care about.