“(Scrooge was as …) hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster… External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him”
- (all quotes by Charles Dickens from A Christmas Carol)
- (all quotes by Charles Dickens from A Christmas Carol)
There seems to be a pre-holiday grumpfest, a sulkorama amongst the menfolk hereabouts. Husbands slouched on the sofa, remote in hand, sliding from one channel to the next in the hopes of being entertained, losing themselves in a mindless horror or adventure flick or, better still, a rugby match. Or husbands slumped in front of a computer screen, grumbling almost, but not quite, inaudibly about their workload, the need to bring it home with them of an evening or weekend. While we women can rant and rave or moan and wail to our sisters, allowing for that much-needed occasional release of stress and tension, the men, well, they tend to hold it in and go all grumpy on us.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”
I’ve been huddling with my girlfriends, keeping low and discreet, out of the way of the husbands. We all seem to have experienced being married to Scrooge lately and have found solace and laughter through our connections with each other. Last week, as the men roamed around our respective houses feeling peevish and discontent, like wayward schoolboys being punished unfairly by a stern schoolmarm or like a Scrooge amongst the gay and giddy holiday preparations, we women gathered together and organized a group movie night. And although we were spread across three different countries and five different livingrooms, we turned on skype, stuck the same film at the same time into our respective dvd players and watched, commented, chatted, gossiped and laughed together. We sighed over the same leading men, cried in sisterly compassion for the same heroines, ogled or booed the same actor or actress as one and felt as if we were all sitting together in the same cozy den sharing this movie night like girlfriends should do. We already have two more films selected, and a date set for our next group skype movie night. And this next time, pizza and wine will be included.
“It is a fair, even-handed noble, adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor”
This past Saturday, Mathilde came over for the day to bake macarons for her grandfather’s surprise 80th birthday party. Mathilde is all that is sweet and adorable, the daughter I never had, and we measure and sift, stir and bake together amid chattering and laughter. She is as gourmand as I, and we take turns sticking our fingers into the batter and the ganache to taste and we each end our day with sticky batter, dough or filling stuck in our hair, tummies full and content. Our macarons did not, this time, come out picture perfect, but the flavors we concocted were fabulous and worth another day’s testing and perfecting. Her boyfriend came over to see Clem’s new computer and to pick up Mathilde, and when the boys joined us in the kitchen and I pulled out my Zuccotto with Straccatella Whipped Cream Filling boy oh boy did two pairs of eyes light up! Huge wedges were carefully sliced and placed on plates, forks were pulled from drawers and handed over, and two young men, like ravenous animals falling on their prey, like excited children falling on piles of Christmas gifts, finished off their servings in seconds.
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Merry Christmas to everybody! A Happy New Year to all the world! Really, for a man who had been out of practice…. it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.”
Sunday was slow and lazy. Scrooge had left the apartment and made way for Jolly Old Saint Nick who claimed his spot on the sofa and enjoyed a day of total coziness and relaxation, watching rugby and cracking jokes. The air had cleared and the atmosphere was lighter as I jogged around the apartment cleaning, straightening, making bread dough. We talked about a visit to Paris, purely for pleasure, ordered the books we wanted and even took that long-awaited stroll around town late in the afternoon. We have happily already given the boys their Christmas gifts and only have each other to think about, which, truth be told, is both exciting and nerve-wracking. What does one get a man who doesn’t quite have everything but rather has everything he wants? He has so many interests, but when he wants something he often prefers just choosing it and buying it for himself. Yes, books are always on the list as are sweaters. And from there? Well, I have another few days to think about it, don’t I? So I shall call forth my inner Mrs. Claus and pray for a little elfin inspiration and will come through with the goods in the end, as I always do.
And I am back doing a bit of baking. Lovely crunchy biscotti, studded with Christmassy red dried cranberries and green pistachios, flavored with a spoonful of holiday spices and drizzled with dark, orangey chocolate ganache, the perfect gift to wrap up all pretty and tie with a bow. And my Zuccotto. A light, just-sweet whipped cream filling full of the crunch of finely chopped dark chocolate and a touch of rum or Amaretto and almond all wrapped up in vanilla sponge like the perfect Christmas gift. Someone broke down from his good resolution to watch his sweet intake as soon as he spied this magnificent temptation and ate a slice. Or two. He just couldn’t resist. And Clem, well, I haven’t seen Clem attack something I’ve baked with such glee, such uncontrolled, joyous abandon, for so long! It makes a wife and mother proud.
So here is to another holiday season! We raise our glasses in a toast to our best girlfriends, the ones with whom, no matter how close or how far, we can sit down and enjoy a gossip and a movie together to ease the winter blues, chase away the grumpies, forget that we are anything more than a gaggle of giggly 16 year olds at heart and to our men, whom we love with all of our heart no matter whether going through the Scrooges or ho-ho-ho-ing like the pot-bellied, red and white-clad Holiday Dude. I pull out the Chocolate Chip Zuccotto from the refrigerator and cut a slice for myself in the calm of a quiet house this Tuesday morning, pull out a pen and two pieces of paper, one for my letter to Santa and the other for my New Year’s Resolutions, and smile to myself as thoughts of the past year rush through my head, the friends I have made, the laughter we have shared, the projects that I have had the great opportunity to see through or participate in, the time I have spent with my family. As I peek over the edge into the New Year to come I see only wonderful things, family and friends, work, projects and plans, yet I am not quite there! I have Christmas and New Year’s Eve still to conquer, gifts to buy, cards and boxes to send, meals to prepare.
Find the basic recipe and instructions here. Read below for my Christmas version and find the recipe for Chocolate Ganache at the end of the post:
I made my wonderful, favorite Biscotti studded with jade green whole pistachios and bright red dried cranberries and added a bit of Christmas zing by adding a spoonful of the German Spice Mix I used in my Decadent Chocolate Cake. You can use a mixture of ground cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg (light of the ginger and nutmeg, please) or gingerbread spices. I then drizzled Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache over the top of the finished and sliced Biscotti: simply line the biscotti up (pressed together) on aluminum foil and drizzle with the ganache. Allow to cool and completely set before storing in a metal container or wrapping up to give as gifts or the chocolate will stick and smear.
CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCOTTO
A Chocolate Chip Zuccotto is an easy treat to prepare and both JP and Clem simply went wild for it! Even though it didn’t quite turn out what I had pictured in my mind, they absolutely loved it and devoured it (as did Mathilde and Valentin)! My simple vanilla sponge, cut out anyway you wish, whether in simple strips or in more decorative shapes – I cut out stars for Christmas – lining a bowl or pan then filled with a simple whipped cream filling, stabilized with a dash of powdered gelatin and flavored with chocolate chips or finely chopped or grated chocolate, as milky or dark as you like, a bit of ground almonds and spiked with rum or Amaretto, this is a dessert to please even the grumpiest of souls. And put a smile on his face. Cheers!
A truly simple Zuccotto, no syrup, no complicated filling, just a stabilized whipped cream flavored as you please and a wonderful, simple vanilla sponge cake. Quick and easy, this is a great dessert to have on hand and which will please young and old alike.
1 vanilla sponge sheet cake (find the recipe and step by step instructions here)
Chocolate Chip Whipped Cream Filling:
3 Tbs water, rum or Amaretto or a combination of water + either alcohol
2 tsps powdered gelatin
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped or grated chocolate *
½ cup (50 g) ground almonds or hazelnuts
Chocolate Ganache (optional but fabulous!) **
* Feel free to use any chocolate that you like best, bittersweet, semisweet, even milk. Or you can use one of the flavored chocolates (mint, orange, spiced….)
** You can make one recipe of Chocolate Ganache for both your Zuccotto and your Christmas Biscotti
Have a large glass or pyrex mixing bowl and beaters chilled, at least 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
Place the water, rum or Amaretto and the powdered gelatin in a small saucepan and allow the gelatin to soften for 3 to 5 minutes. Place over low heat and, stirring, heat thoroughly until the gelatin is completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Pour the cream into the chilled glass bowl and, using the chilled beaters, beat until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and continue to beat on high until the beaters leave traces in the cream. Add the gelatin in a stream followed by the vanilla as you continue beating until soft peaks hold when the beaters are lifted. Using a spatula, fold in the chopped or grated chocolate and the ground almonds. Cover the bowl with plastic and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the mold.
Line a 6-cup (1 ½ liter) bowl or mold completely and as smoothly as possible with plastic wrap, leaving overhang. If you want a base for the Zuccotto, as I did, place the bowl upside down on one side of the cake and, using a very sharp or serrated knife, cut out a bottom circle. This will leave you less cake to line the bowl and serve as an outside casing for the Zuccotto, so strips will not be possible. Cut either strips of cake or, as I did, decorative shapes from the vanilla sponge and line the bowl, pressing the cake onto the plastic wrap lining the sides of the bowl.
Remove the Chocolate Chip Whipped Cream Filling from the refrigerator and very carefully spoon it into the bowl, careful that the cake pieces don’t become unstuck from the sides and fall under the cream. Fill the cream up to the top and smooth, pressing down to make sure your cream completely fills every space in the mold. If you have cut out a bottom layer of cake, press the cake down onto the surface of the cream, trim any overhang and then tuck the edges inside the edge of the bowl. Pull up the overhanging plastic and use it to cover the bottom of the Zuccotto. Place the Zuccotto in the refrigerator for a few hours to set completely before serving.
Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and remove the plastic from the bottom of the Zuccotto (the top of the bowl). Flip your serving platter over onto what will be the bottom of the Zuccotto making sure it is centered, then carefully invert the platter and the bowl containing the Zuccotto over in one quick movement. Lift off the bowl, remove the plastic and voilà! You have your Zuccotto.
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
¾ cup (about 100 g) chopped dark chocolate (I use Lindt Excellence 70% or Lindt Excellence Doux 70% and sometimes one with flavor such as mint or orange. The Orange-infused Dark Chocolate is fabulous on both the Zuccotto and the Biscotti, giving it a very Christmassy flavor)
Place the chopped chocolate into a medium-sized mixing or other heatproof bowl. Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Slowly heat the cream until it comes just to the boiling point. Pour the cream immediately over the chopped chocolate and stir until it is smooth and creamy.
Once the Ganache has cooled to room temperature and thickened just enough so, while still being smooth and pourable, it will hold its shape when drizzled and will not just run off the dessert or cookies and puddle onto the plate, carefully spoon ribbons of ganache over the Zuccotto and/or the Biscotti, as much or as little as you like.