Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: A trip to 'The Nutcracker' inspires some seasonably nutty treats

By JANINE GILBERTSON December 06. 2017 12:21AM
Homemade peanut brittle is simple and satisfying. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Every year when the Christmas season approaches, I say the same thing: “This year, I’m going to go see ‘The Nutcracker.’”

Next thing I know, it’s January, and once again, “The Nutcracker” has come and gone and as usual, I’ve completely missed it.

Not this year.

Thanks to a particularly wonderful friend, who was listening to me as I explained my perpetual Nutcracker failings, I will be right up front, center row, watching the Boston Ballet’s performance of the classic Christmas tale.

In honor of this special occasion, I thought I would come up with a few “Nutcracker sweets.”

Fortunately, holiday time is a great time to stock up on nuts. Grocery stores usually have bins of nuts to buy by the pound as well as plenty of packaged nuts. They can get pricey, so it’s no wonder you see them packaged with bows and ribbons at the grocery store, ready for gift-giving.

I use a lot of nuts when cooking and baking and add lots of nuts and seeds to just about every salad I make, so I had a pretty good variety in the pantry to choose from when making these recipes.

One of the easiest nutty sweets to make is peanut brittle, which doesn’t even require any baking. I love the sweet and salty combination, and, nicely packaged, it also makes a thoughtful gift or tasty stocking stuffer.

I also love almonds, so an almond cake with a kick of orange is a perfect special-occasion sweet. Grind up some blanched almonds and they will become flour-like; combine them with a few other simple ingredients and you will have a delicious (and gluten-free) treat.

For your favorite coffee lover, biscotti is an easy treat to make and give as a gift or to have around the house on a cold winter day when you want a snack with your coffee or hot chocolate. In keeping with the Nutcracker theme, I swapped pistachios for dried cranberries in the biscotti recipe I use and it was a big hit. I managed to save some to share with my friend who made “The Nutcracker” happen for me this year.

Peanut Brittle

You’ll need a candy thermometer for this recipe.

1 cup sugar 

1/2 cup light corn syrup 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/4 cup water

1 cup peanuts

2 tbsp butter, softened 

1 tsp baking soda

Add the sugar, corn syrup, salt and water to a heavy saucepan and set over medium high heat. 

Stir while heating to dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil, then stir in the peanuts. Continue to stir and heat until a candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees F. 

Remove from heat and stir in the butter and baking soda, then pour into a well greased cookie sheet, spreading into an even layer. Allow to cool, then break into pieces to serve.

Pistachio Biscotti

1 1/2 cups pistachios, chopped

1/2 cup butter

3 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 vanilla extract

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Add the butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. 

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. 

Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix until a smooth dough forms. Stir in the pistachios. 

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface divide it in half. Roll each into a log shape about 12 inches long, then set the logs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 35 minutes. 

Allow the logs to cool for about 10 minutes, then slice each log diagonally into pieces about 1 inch thick. 

Put the cookies back on the baking sheet (use fresh parchment paper) and bake for 5 minutes, then turn the cookies over and bake for another 5 minutes. 
Ground almonds serve as the “flour” in this gluten-free Orange Almond Cake. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Orange Almond Cake

2 cups blanched whole almonds

6 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cups sugar

Grated zest of 1 orange

2 tsp fresh orange juice

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 tsp cardamon

Powdered sugar for dusting, if desired

Preheat oven to 350.

Add the almonds to a food processor and process until finely ground. 

Add the egg yolks and sugar to a mixing bowl and beat for about 3 minutes until creamy. Beat in the orange zest and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and cardamon and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until firm and stiff peaks form. Fold whites into the egg and almond mixture. 

Pour the batter into a greased springform pan and place in preheated oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake has set and is firm. 

Allow cake to cool before dusting with powdered sugar.


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