There's a soft, cold hush that arrives with the snow. My curtains are drawn, and I can see into our tree-covered backyard where cold birds flee - magpies mostly, but occasionally doves and woodpeckers - seeking a bit of shelter beneath the snow-covered branches as they peck at the seeds and tallow in our neighbors' bird feeders. It's days like these, hushed and dampened by the snow, that I can hear the beating of their wings as they fly in and away.
Winter leaves me sleepy, quiet and isolated. Self-isolated, anyway. I treasure the quiet. I avoid the furor of the holidays, even sneaking away with my husband and son to mountain hideaways where neither cell phones nor internet works (yes, these places do still exist, thankfully).
One recipe has lurked obsessively in my head for the last two weeks: Super Boozy Chocolate, Hazelnut and Orange Truffles. I worked the recipe out in random thoughts as I drove to our favorite farm or sat in the winding line at the post office. Honey or unrefined cane sugar, or both? Orange zest or juice? Is a quarter cup of Frangelico and a quarter cup of Grand Marnier too much? Of course not!
I played with the recipe, wanting each truffle to smack the tongue with a not-so-subtle shot of booze. It's the holidays after all, and a time of sweetness and celebration and special treats. The truffles are delightfully gooey, with the texture of a softened Tootsie Roll candy. I use blanched hazelnuts in this recipe (available here), for two reasons: their texture is smoother, and they also are more easily digested as they lack the papery skin surrounding most nuts that contains enzyme inhibitors which make nuts difficult to digest for some people (you can learn more about soaking nuts and seeds and grains here).
It's wonderful little truffle: not too strikingly sweet, but deliciously boozy and spiked with orange, hazelnut and cocoa. If I were heading to holiday parties, I'd bring these, but I'm sitting in the quiet cold of my home where I'll sip tea and nibble one on my own, in solitude.
Boozy Chocolate Hazelnut and Orange Truffles
- 3 ½ cups blanched hazelnuts available here
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
- 1 ¾ cups whole unrefined cane sugar (available here)
- ¼ cup honey available here
- ½ cup water
- 4 tablespoons Frangelico
- 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- 1 tablespoon hazelnut extract available here
- ¼ cup baking cocoa
- powdered sugar for dredging the Chocolate Hazelnut Snowballs
- Dump the hazelnuts and orange zest into a food processor and process until very finely ground.
- Pour sugar, honey and water into a saucepan set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Allow it to bubble and foam, stirring continuously, for 6 minutes, or until all the sugar granules dissolve completely and the mixture thickens to a foamy syrup. Turn off the heat.
- Pour the still hot sugar syrup over the ground hazelnuts, close up the food processor, and process for two to three minutes. Continue processing, and pour the Frangelico, Grand Marnier and hazelnut extract into the food processor's feeder tube one tablespoon at a time or until the mixture thins and becomes slightly liquid. Dump in the cocoa powder, and continue processing a further 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture becomes completely smooth and uniform.
- Transfer the sweetened and seasoned hazelnut mixture into a bowl, cover it tightly, and refrigerate overnight, 8 to 12 hours.
- Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and scoop out 1 tablespoon of the hazelnut mixture, form into a ball and dredge it in confectioner's sugar or cocoa powder. Continue working until you've exhausted the batter. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, and serve chilled.