hot chocolate with cinnamon and whisky

cinnamon spiced hot chocolate with whisky

What would the winter holiday season be without a cup of rich hot chocolate! There's something comforting when you sip into a cup of steaming hot and sinfully indulgent rich chocolate merged into creamy milk. This hot chocolate is decadent and every bit indulgent with the goodness of dark chocolate, the warmth of freshly ground cinnamon and a dash of whisky.

Christmas tree

Whisky is another flavor that I love to use as an ingredient during the holidays. It infuses an extra level of warmth and richness to foods and I find it excellent when added to barbecues, desserts and sweet cocktails. So yes, I added some whisky in here! Chocolate and whisky with cinnamon, it's the perfect combination of rich, earthy rustic flavors. The whisky here is just the right amount to give it flavor without being boozy. If whisky isn't your thing, you can leave it out. 

hot chocolate with marshmallows

Have fun with the garnishes, it's the holidays treat yourself a little! 

peppermint hot chocolate with cinnamon and whisky

hot chocolate with cinnamon and whisky

yields : 4 servings

ingredients

4 cups whole milk
1 cup (5 3/4 ounces) dark chocolate chips, unsweetened
1 cup (6 1/8 ounces) milk chocolate chips, sweetened
1 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground + a little extra for dusting
1/4 cup whisky
a  few marshmallows for garnishing (optional)
4 peppermint sticks (optional)

1. Place the milk in a thick bottomed saucepan. Heat the mixture on medium-low flame until the milk begins to steam with constant stirring. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer.
2. Add the chocolate and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the hot milk and whisk constantly by hand until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove from the milk from the stove and mix in the whisky.
3. Pour the hot chocolate into serving mugs and top them off with a few marshmallows and dust with the extra ground cinnamon. Serve with the hot chocolate with the peppermint sticks and extra marshmallows on the side.

cocoa cinnamon sea salt cookies "nankhatais"

nankhatais cocoa sea salt and cinnamon

I'm placing the pies on the side right now because it's really time to focus on baking cookies and cakes. I love Christmas for the food and desserts but also because it has always been one of my favorite holidays of the year. Every year around this time, my mom would get together with her mother and sisters to prepare loads of holiday sweets. This is something they took very seriously and still do so much so that I know my mother would take time off from her job to bake and prepare tons of holiday desserts. 

sea salt crystals

We also had another tradition, where we'd take sweets to our neighbors and friends. This is something, I was never a big fan of and I always preferred sharing the sweets that were at the lower end of my "dessert-love scale". My mom on the other hand would reevalute the contents of the gift basket and undo all my hardwork, so the good stuff went back in. I am really not sure who benefited from this exercise but it clearly wasn't me! 

Salt sprinkling

These days, I make holiday desserts that I really, really love and make enough to gift to friends and family while keep enough to last us for a few weeks. These cookies are fall into this special category of holiday desserts that I must make every year. They bring back nostalgic childhood memories of baking with my mother and her family, memories laced with sugar, flour and above all things, love. Indian "

Nankhatais"

as these cookies are commonly known, are crispy and eggless. You will love them, the cookies are crisp all-throughout with a deep dark cocoa flavor with a hint of black pepper and cinnamon that will warm you up. The center of each cookie is topped with a generous sprinkling of sea salt crystals that will shock your tastebuds with a delicious amalgam of sensory wonder.

If you like the combination sea salt and chocolate, you will love my

mixed multigrain muffins

. They are a great addition to your breakfast table at Christmas.

cookies all salted
plate of cocoa cinnamon sea salt  nankhatais

This recipe calls for the use of Indian ghee or clarified butter. Ghee is super easy to make and has a wonderful fragrance and taste. You simply melt unsalted butter in a thick bottomed stock pot until all the fat has melted and the milk solids have separated. The butter is melted and cooked on a low flame to prevent burning of the solids (this is different from browned butter where you want to use the browned milk solids for flavor) but not boiled. The melted fat is then passed through a sieve lined with several layers of muslin/cheese cloth to filter out the separated solids. The resultant fat that is collected is ghee and stored in the refrigerator. It solidifies as it cools. I've been finding ghee in most grocery stores these days but if you need to prepare it at home, start with 3-31/2 sticks of butter to get around 2 cups of ghee using the instructions I just described. 

cocoa sea salt nankhatais

cocoa cinnamon sea salt cookies "nankhatais"

yields:

approximately 2 dozen 2 inch cookies

ingredients

4 cups ( 1lb 3/8 oz) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (2 ounces) dark cocoa, unsweetened

1 teaspoon instant dark roast coffee

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground 

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground

1 3/4 cups raw dark brown sugar

1 1/2 cup (12 ounces) ghee/clarified unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

2 to 3 tablespoons sea salt crystals

1. Whisk all the dry ingredients from the flour to the sugar in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. 

2. Add the ghee to the dry ingredients and mix on medium-high speed until combined. The mixture should acquire a fine crumb-like texture. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for at least two hours. 

There is no need to bring the dough together to form one large ball, just store the dough in the crumb-like phase.

3. Before baking the cookies, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 350F and place the baking rack in the middle section of the oven. Take some of the mix in your hands and press and mold together to form small one inch balls. The warmth from your hands will soften the ghee and help to bring the cookies together. Flatten the ball into discs that are about 2 inches in diameter. The cookie discs might crack a little on the edges so press and mold them gently. If they do crack a little, just push the cracked ends closer to seal the gap. (Personally, I don't mind a few minor cracked edges). Sprinkle a pinch of the sea-salt crystals over each cookie.

5. Place the cookie balls on cookie/baking sheet pre lined with parchment paper and bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges start to get crisp and appear a little darker than the color of the cocoa. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and store in air-tight container for up to two weeks. 

the great food blogger cookie swap 2012: rose and cardamom cookies

Holiday Rose and Cardamom Cookies

When I decided to participate in the The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap of 2012, I had no idea that this would be a huge and useful learning experience on cookie issues that I normally do not think much about. I mean the part about what cookies are great for shipping, their longevity, and how to package and ship them. But first let me tell you a little about this amazing swap, fellow food bloggers, Lindsay and Julie are the brains behind this wonderful cookie exchange party that takes place on the internet. The swap is open to food bloggers and this year there were several hundreds of us that participated. The idea is simple with a few rules to follow, you basically sign up and at some point in the weeks to follow, you are sent the names and address of three random food bloggers to each of whom you must ship out a dozen of your cookies. The cookie recipe must also be new to your blog and you have to publish the recipe on a particular date. You will also receive a dozen cookies each, from three other random food bloggers. Believe me, it was fun to send the cookies out to three random people that I did not know but it was equally exciting to receive three surprising cookie bundles in the mail. And the best part of it all, you get to meet some new wonderful food bloggers.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012 Cookie boxes

This year the Cookie Swap was very special and the hosts had partnered with the Cookies For Kid's Cancer organization. This was a great idea for a totally fantastic cause to raise money and awareness for children's cancer. Then a few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a cute orange colored silicone spatula in the mail, as a token for participating in the cookie swap from OXO (one of the sponsors). What a fun and creative idea for everyone involved in this awesome cookie project on every different level!

Cookie packing

The first part of this cookie swap was to select or develop a cookie that would stay fresh and of course travel well. I ruled out the delicate cookies that might crack or crumble during transportation such as tuiles.  Chocolate based cookies are quite popular during the holidays but still I kind of wanted to have something "holidayesque" and maybe with a little Indian flavor to it. Rose water is often used to lend a floral fragrance and flavor in several Indian and Middle Eastern desserts but trapping the rose notes in a cookie would be too hard. Thankfully, I recalled a wonderful sweet red syrup made from roses that we used to flavor cold sherbets and drinks with. Rose syrup has a more intense rose flavor and sweet floral fragrance and I felt that it would be a better ingredient to use than rose water in these cookies. If you can't find rose syrup at a store you can find several good brands on Amazon (Rooh Afzah, Darbur, and Kalvert brands are the brands I am familiar with and are all very good). To enhance the rose flavor, I used freshly ground green cardamom seeds after cracking the little green pods open. The cardamom and rose flavors pair very well in these cookies. 

Rose and Cardamom Cookies and Cookie Dough

Now that I had the flavors all worked out, I needed to find a cookie batter recipe that would result in a cookie with a relatively crisp yet slightly chewy texture, mainly because it would travel well and last fresher, just in case the post got delayed. I reworked an old cookie recipe that I used for my gingersnaps. After two batches of trial and experimentation in cookie manufacturing in the kitchen and a little frustration, I finally got the recipe ratios worked out and got the cookies to where I wanted them to be. I cut back a little on the syrup, added some extra refrigeration steps for the cookie dough to get the right texture that I envisioned my holiday rose and cardamom cookie to be, and reduced the baking temperature. 

Rose and Cardamom Cookies

Now came the final part, the packaging! Thankfully both Lindsay and Julie, had sent out several detailed instructions that were useful and informative on how to package cookies. I tried to personalize my packaging by using customized boxes for my recipients. I'd love to know what you think of them. The cookies were packed in little plastic bags before I put them into the boxes. I also tossed in a couple of edible dried rose petals into each box and then for an extra layer of safety put each box into an airtight Ziploc bag. Finally each cookie parcel was put into Priority mail boxes with some packaging peanuts and noodles. Since, I had some several cookies, I decided to share them with some of my friends, so I sent out two more shipments as surprises to two unexpected people. I love surprising people during the holidays, it is always so much fun! I hope that the three food bloggers who received my cookies, got them safe and sound.These are the three wonderful people that I sent my cookies to: Love U MadlySemi Homemade Mom, and What the Cupcake? The three amazing bloggers that sent me some delicious cookies were: Snappy GourmetStracciatella, and Kokocooks.

A boxful of cookies

rose and cardamom cookies

yields:  approximately 60 cookies

ingredients

2 1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup rose syrup 
1/2 cup granulated white sugar (for tossing the cookie dough balls)

1. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, baking soda, cardamom, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients for 15 seconds and keep aside.
2. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and the brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugar for about 4 to 5 minutes with the paddle attachment of the mixer. Beat the egg into the creamed mixture for about 2 minutes until completely blended. At this point add the rose syrup and cream the batter for another 2 minutes until the rose syrup is completely blended. The batter will appear pink in color.
3. Add half of the whisked dry ingredients to the creamed batter and mix with the paddle attachment of the stand mixer for about 5 minutes or until all the flecks of the flour have disappeared. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix completely until all the flour has disappeared.
4. The cookie dough will be soft and sticky. Transfer the cookie dough to a clean glass bowl, cover the lid with cling film, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 
5. The dough will become a slightly hard after refrigeration. Using a teaspoon scoop out a little dough to make balls that are about 0.5 inches in diameter using your palms. Place the balls about an inch apart from each other on baking trays that are lined with clean sheets of parchment paper. Refrigerate the dough balls for another 45 minutes to an hour (as they will have softened a little). If you run out of baking trays (like I did), prepare the cookie dough balls in batches and keep the rest of the dough refrigerated until needed. 
6. Heat the oven to 325F. Remove the chilled cookie dough balls that you prepared in the previous step. Toss each ball in the granulated sugar until completely coated. Place the balls back on the baking trays lined with parchment paper about an inch apart from each other (they will spread during baking). Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes in the center rack of the preheated oven. The cookies will be done when they start to appear slightly golden brown but will remain pinkish in color. Allow the cookies to cool in the baking trays and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool for another 10-15 minutes. The cookies should be crisp and slightly chewy in the center. Transfer the cookies and store in an airtight container for up to 2 to 3 weeks.

cinnamon raspberry buttermilk shake


Random things are reminding me of the holidays, some more so than others. Beyond the decorated stores, the T.V. commercials and the fact that the advent of December is only a few days away, random things  around D.C. remind me that the holidays are here. Do you feel the same way ?



I find December to be the best part of the beginning of winter, after that it all appears depressing until Spring. Needless to say, Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. If Christmas could be legally extended for a lengthy period of time, I would be thrilled. However, I doubt this dream will be fulfilled in this lifetime. Though, this does make me appreciate and long for the holidays a little more eagerly. I realize that this makes me sound a little crazy.


With finals coming up and the school semester ending, I have another reason to look forward to December. The good news is that my thesis is coming together and I have a complete data set with some good preliminary results. A month of no number crunching and regression analysis looks like a nice break right now.


I don't know if a shake is the appropriate recipe for the holidays but I am throwing tradition out of the window with this recipe. In my mind it has all the essential components except for the cold buttermilk and ice cream components but the red raspberries and cinnamon with a shot of the elderberry liquor,St.Germain bring this drink together.


I used less ice cream because I did not want the ice cream to dominate and overpower the taste of this shake but feel free to add some if you wish. Serve this ice-cold of course and if you keep it standing for too long as with all milk based drinks especially those that contain acidic components like buttermilk or yogurt, it can separate, so you might need to shake it a little before you drink it.


cinnamon raspberry buttermilk shake


ingredients


3 cups low fat buttermilk (1%)
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 cup low fat vanilla ice cream
5 tablespoon St. Germain
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
Extra raspberries and cinnamon sticks for garnishing


Blend all the ingredients together in a mixer till smooth. Pour into chilled glasses. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh whole raspberries and a stick of cinnamon in each glass.