minty sweets and holiday treats: part II!

do you feel like you’ve mastered my peppermint bark?  are you still looking for some fresh new ideas for holiday candies to spice up that dessert tray?  are you tired of the traditional treats that you see year after year?  well then this is the post for you!  i’ll help you make a dish of treats that looks just as fun, colorful, and delicious as this one!

in this second part of my “minty sweets and holiday treats” series, i’ll be showcasing delicious cream cheese mints as well as marzipan almonds and caramel pretzel sandwiches.  all three take just five ingredients or less to make and can be whipped up in less than 10 minutes flat!  let’s get started!

the star of this “non-traditional holiday candies” post is really the cream cheese mints.  sometimes people call them “party mints” and they are similar to those multi-colored candies that restaurants have in bowls up front for guests to take as they leave.  but, unlike that chalky consistency, my cream cheese mints are soft and sweet and i make them in three different flavors and holiday colors.  they are almost stupid easy!

the shopping list:
-4 oz. softened cream cheese (1/3 fat or regular– not fat free)
-3 cups powdered sugar
-your choice of flavorings (i used raspberry extract, almond extract, and peppermint extract)
-food coloring (i used red and green)
-1/2 c. regular white sugar to roll the mints in

to start, grab a medium sized bowl and add the softened cream cheese.  to the cream cheese, add the three cups of powdered sugar and start to combine them with a fork.  this process tends to take a little while because the sugar and the cream cheese don’t seem to like each other very much.  you might find that using your hands will speed up the process slightly :)  here’s what mine looked like in stages:

i like to make three different color and flavor mints just to add some variety to my christmas treat plates.  so at this point, i divided the mixture in to thirds and put each section into a little glass bowl.  i decided to make a green mint, a red mint, and leave the third one white.  using just a drop or two of food coloring, dye your mints and stir well.

next for the flavoring.  i chose to make the green mints peppermint flavored, the white mints almond flavored, and the red mints raspberry flavored.  i added 1/2 tsp. of each flavoring to their correct color bowl and stirred around well.  now its time to form the mints!

take a ball the size of a nickel of your “dough” and roll it around in your hands until its round.  then, drop it in a little dish of white sugar and coat it completely.  lastly, take a fork and press the mint down in to a flat disk and carefully remove the fork to create pretty grooves in the mints.  they should look like this!

and voila, you’re done!  store these in the fridge for the long-term until you’re ready to give them out.  these are sure to be a big hit at your party!

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the next treat we are going to make is super simple:  marzipan apricots sprinkled with nutmeg or dipped in chocolate.  delicious!

the shopping list:
-1 bag whole (and pitted) dried apricots
-1 log of marzipan (ground almond paste)
-melted chocolate OR ground nutmeg

i am telling you… this is the simplest but most crowd-pleasing dessert out there!  there are like three steps:

one) find where the apricot has been pitted– there should be a small slit opening.  open it further to expose the inside of the apricot but don’t pull it in half

two) take a small ball of marzipan and place it right inside the split apricot, and then press the apricot halves together to seal the marzipan inside

three) either sprinkle the apricots with a little fresh nutmeg, or half dip them in dark chocolate for a more decadent version of this fruity treat!  serve them up in a little cupcake liner and enjoy!

*note: this was taken right before the nutmeg sprinkle, but serve them whichever way you prefer!

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lastly, i wanted to share a lightning-fast recipe for delicious caramel pretzel sandwiches that i’m sure every mom has a variation of in her “toolkit” of christmas goodies.  but they were too cute to leave out, so here it goes!
the (meager) shopping list:
-1 bag “snap” shape pretzels (or the ones that look like squares with windows)
-1 bag of Rolo candies
this really doesn’t even warrant the title “recipe”, but what the heck!  this might be the easiest candy you’ll make all holiday!  lay down a layer of pretzels on a microwave-safe plate and on each pretzel place an unwrapped Rolo candy.  put the plate in the microwave for 15 or 20 seconds, or until the Rolos are looking slightly soft.  then, take the plate out and cap each Rolo and pretzel with another pretzel, effectively making a chocolate and caramel pretzel sandwich.  let me tell you, these things are addictive!  
just look how cute they look on the plate with all the other candies!
i hope you enjoyed these three “non-traditional” recipes!  they are lovely additions for those who want to spice it up this holiday season.  let me know what you think!
happy holidays from piquant plates, straight to you!

I’m baaaaack! And, Swedish Christmas Part 1: Lussekatter!

Hi hello hallå hej hei hola bonjour and welcome back to my blog!  I apologize for the hiatus but I assure you that I have been cooking just as much as ever.

In the time since I wrote my last food blog post (May 2012, embarrassingly enough..), I graduated from university, got a proper job, GOT A STUNNING KITCHENAID MIXER, spent the entire summer in my beloved Sweden, hit all 5 Nordic countries in the span of 8 weeks, and have now been a working girl for a solid 5 months. That came out wrong.  I have been an employed female for 5 months.

Last year I started a tradition of throwing a Christmas party at my apartment with all of the traditional dishes on a Swedish julbord, or Christmas buffet.  I even went as far as making the most difficult cake in the history of the world, the prinsesstårta.  Its not traditionally eaten at Christmastime but I wanted a show stopping dessert and I sure made one!  It is a sponge cake brushed with a layer of raspberry jam, topped with homemade pastry cream and topped off with mountains of fresh whipped cream.  The whole thing is covered in a layer of thin green marzipan and adorned with a pink rose.  It is the perfect slice of cake.

The actual process of creating the prinsesstårta is documented photo by photo in my records and I’ll blog about it later on.  For now I will simply leave you with a photo of my masterpiece:

This year, after spending so much time in Uppsala this summer and missing the delightful Swedish food, I was especially excited to throw my Swedish Christmas party again.  I perfected my recipe for Lussekatter (or Lucia buns) and made a double batch of Kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) to share with my Svenska Skolan classmates the next day.  The apartment was decked out in silver and gold, our little modest Christmas tree was twinkling, and I had some of my best friends and family around me.  It was a spectacular evening.
But enough chat, let’s get to the food.
As I’ve already blogged about cinnamon rolls, I thought it would be appropriate to share the recipe for Lussekatter as most Americans have never heard of them.  Its a shame, really, as these little soft and fluffy buns are a little sweet and a little savory, and are perfect with a cup of coffee or just on their own if you are like me and can’t wait to pop one in your mouth as they come out of the oven.  
Every year on December 13th, Swedes celebrate Luciadagen, or St. Lucia Day.  You can read more about the cultural significance of day event here and watch the little videos if you’d like!  
As for Lussekatter, here’s what you will need:
-1 1/2 sticks of melted butter (3/4 c.)
-1 3/4 c. warm milk (any %, but whole milk makes them super rich!)
-1/2 tsp. saffron threads, broken up in your hand
-2 blocks of FRESH yeast if you can find it! (2 of the 0.6 gram blocks)
-1/2 to 2/3 c. of sugar (depending upon how sweet you like your lussekatter)
-good pinch of salt
-1 egg, beaten
-5 or 6 cups AP flour (whole wheat works beautifully here)
-1 egg (for eggwash)
-raisins for decorating!

Warm the butter and milk on the stove until it is finger warm.  This means it is quite warm to the touch but not hot or else it will kill the yeast.  When this is warm, put it in a bowl or stand mixer and add the 1/2 tsp. of saffron threads.  This is the KEY ingredient in lussekatter– its what gives them their beautiful golden color and the distinctive delicious flavor.  Let it steep in the milk and butter mixture for a minute or two until the liquid turns bright yellow.  Next, crumble in the two cakes of fresh yeast.  It is found in the refrigerated section and looks like this if you’ve never worked with it before:

Next add the salt, sugar, and beaten egg, and mix with the dough hook attachment (or a spoon) for a few minutes while the yeast starts to bubble.  Then slowly add the first 4 cups of flour a little at a time, adding the 5th if the dough is still too wet.  When the dough starts to pull away from the bowl and come together, stop adding flour and turn off the mixer.  I like to take my dough out when its still quite sticky because I can always add flour when I knead it, but its hard to correct too much flour from the beginning.  Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
After the hour, take the dough out of the mixer, put it on a clean and floured surface, and knead for a few minutes until it forms a soft dough ball. 
Once it is soft and pliable, roll the dough out to about 1/2 of an inch thick.  
Now comes the fun part– rolling the dough in to the classic lussekatter shape!  They usually look like curled “S” shapes with raisins in each of the curls.  You can shape the dough this way by cutting 10-12 inch strips of dough and rolling the ends in the opposite directions to make the “S” as follows:
Do this with all of the remaining dough and place the rolled lussekatter on to a greased baking sheet.  They won’t spread too much when they bake, so you can place them relatively close together.  They will need to do their final rest and rise on the baking sheet for another 45 minutes, covered with a tea towel.  Here they are, the little beauties, ready for a rest:
The last step is to brush them with eggwash (a beaten egg mixed with a tiny bit of water or milk) and place the obligatory raisin in each of the curls.  Most recipes call for a very high oven temperature and a short cooking time for these buns, but be very careful because the bottoms can burn.  I like setting my oven to 400ºF and baking them for around 15-20 minutes, checking them after 15.  They should be just puffed slightly and golden brown on the top, but they don’t require a long stay in the oven.  When in doubt, take them out early and taste one. No one likes a dry Lucia bun.
Here’s they are, ready for their close-up!
Stay tuned for the next post with a quick refresher on kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) and a closer look at this year’s Julbord complete with a Christmas ham and a beautiful almond pound cake!  
Vi ses!