Folks, count them, there are only 11 merry days left until Christmas (or shitty days if that’s the side of the fence you’re sitting on). I’ve already shown you the lucky bird that will probably feature on my festive table but now we need to talk sugar. Every year I’m the one planning and cooking the family’s Christmas feast from start to finish (lucky for me, The Captain is an excellent dishwasher). I’m not complaining though because it’s what I love to do but it also means that I’d always have a gazillion things going on at once. The main course is the one that takes up most of my time so desserts and other sweet recipes have to be easy and extremely doable amongst the mayhem.
Say, like these Russian Tea Cakes (how’s that for a segue?). Also know as Mexican Wedding Cakes or Butterballs, these are just the most beautiful shortbreads with the addition of ground nuts for extra flavour. Naturally you’ll need to splurge on good butter here but you can pick and choose whatever nuts you prefer. Almonds are classic, hazelnuts and peanuts are to-die-for but pecans and walnuts are also equally popular. Today I used cashews, which all the men in my family are thrilled with (we all love our cashews as much as we love our beer).
At the moment, we are hoovering through these as an afternoon sugar hit but these would also make awesome gifts or post-feast nibblies. Especially if accompanied by a hot mug of caramel chocolate. Now I would never dream of giving you a recipe for something as basic as hot chocolate but in case you never had it made with caramel (which I’m sure you’d know, makes this classic just a bit more indulgent), check out the method below.
- 125g nuts, roasted (I used cashews)
- 300g plain flour
- 90g caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp sea salt (skip this if using salted butter)
- 250g chilled butter, chopped
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp of orange zest (or lemon)
- About 125g icing sugar
- In a food processor, grind up the nuts until fine but not completely pulverised (I like a bit of texture in these shortbreads). Add flour, sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter cubes, vanilla and zest and process until it comes together into a dough.
- Divide dough into 4 pieces, then form each into a thin log of around 30cm. If the dough is too soft, chill it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes then shape into logs.
- Wrap each of them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Dough can be stored in fridge for up to a week or frozen if wrapped really well. Feel free to change up the size or shapes of your shortbread.
- Preheat oven to 160°C and line a baking sheet with baking paper. Remove logs from the fridge and slice 1.5cm thick rounds and place on tray an inch apart. Stick it back in the fridge to chill if it warms too quickly.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly coloured. Rest for 5 minutes then toss cookies into the icing sugar and place on a wired rack.
- When cookies have cooled, roll again in more icing sugar. Store in airtight container.
- Adapted from Sydney Morning Herald.
- 600ml milk
- 100g caster sugar
- 110g good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 60-70%)
- 2 tsps of unsweetened cocoa powder
- Over medium-low heat, bring milk to a gentle simmer.
- In another heavy based saucepan over low heat, add the sugar in an even layer and leave to melt. When it has mostly melted, stir around gently with a silicone spatula to make sure all granules have dissolved. Cook without stirring, until caramel is a golden amber colour.
- Add the milk to the caramel (be careful because it’ll bubble up furiously). The caramel will seize and harden so continue to stir over low heat until caramel has completely melted into the milk.
- Whisk in the chocolate and cocoa powder and stir until melted and combined. With a stick blender, whizz up the hot chocolate until smooth and slightly frothy.
- Serve in warmed mugs or glasses.
- Add a shot (30ml) of alcohol to liven things up. Grand Marnier or Cointreau would go well with the Russian Tea Cakes but brandy, white rum, whisky, Baileys or Tia Maria would also be amazing.
- For extra indulgence, if you have a spare vanilla pod lying around, add it to the milk in the beginning, bring to simmer and leave to infuse off the heat for 10 minutes. Remove the bean and bring the milk back to a simmer then continue with the recipe as stated.