I was feeling industrious a couple of weeks ago when my parents had some people over for pre-Christmas dinner. As well as making the main meal (rack of lamb with flageolet gratin …again) I decided to put together some nibbles for when people arrived.
The first thing I knew I had to make was David Lebovitz’s sweet, salty and spicy Pretzel and Nut Mix which I had tried a week or so before. Let’s just say the huge batch didn’t make it through one evening of ‘Come Dine With Me!’ I originally saw this recipe in David’s book: The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious–And Perplexing–City, which I highly recommend, but saw that he had also posted it on his blog.
The recipe actually makes a shedload of the mix, so I put some in individual cellpohane bags and added them to a Christmas gift hamper I made. I think they made a lovely present!
David Lebovitz’s Pretzel and Nut Mix
2 cups (200 gr) mixed raw nuts (untoasted); any combination of cashews, whole almonds, peanuts, pecan halves, and hazelnuts
1 tablespoon (15 gr) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons (45 gr) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or another red pepper)
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups (100 gr) small pretzel twists
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F (180C) oven for 10 minutes, stirring once for even toasting.
In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and maple syrup.
Add the warm nuts, stirring until coated. Then mix in the salt and pretzels, and stir until the nuts and pretzels are completely coated.
Spread the mixture back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 12-18 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. Remove from oven and cool completely, separating the nuts and pretzels as they cool.
Next up was a platter of red and white chicory (endive), dressed simply with some toasted walnut pieces, crumbled stilton and honey. This was lovely and light despite the richness from the cheese.
Finally, as it was Christmas after all, I made some incredibly ingulgent cheese biscuits from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Rolled in poppy seeds and with an incredible amount of butter and cheese, these were so delicious. I mean, just imagine cheese shortbread with some subtle chilli and paprika spice… mmmmmm…
Parmesan and Poppy Biscuits
adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
210g plain flour, plus plenty extra for dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp paprika
a pinch of cayenne pepper (I used chilli flakes)
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
165g unsalted butter, at room temperature
165g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (I used pecorino – delicious!)
80g poppy seeds
1 egg, beaten
The original recipe calls for everything to be mixed by hand but instead I just stuck the cheese (crumbled into large bits) and butter in the magimix and whizzed until smooth and light, then added the rest of the biscuit ingredients and whizzed again to make the dough. As the butter and cheese were fridge-cold to start with, the dough was cool and firm straightaway so only needed minimal fridge time. Anyway, the original recipe follows:
Sift the flour, baking powder, paprika and cayenne into a bowl and add the salt and pepper.
Mix the softened butter with the Parmesan until they are well blended. Add the dry ingredients and continue mixing until a soft dough is formed.
Put the dough on a well-floured work surface and divide it in half. Use plenty of flour, both on your hands and on the work surface, to roll each piece into a log, 3-4cm in diameter. Wrap each log in cling film and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm it up.
Scatter the poppy seeds over a flat plate or tray. Brush the logs with the beaten egg and then roll them in the poppy seeds until covered. Refrigerate again for an hour (at this stage you can also wrap the logs and freeze them).
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut the logs into slices 5-8mm thick and arrange them on the tray, spaced 3 cm apart.
Bake for 12 minutes. The biscuits should be dark golden and smell amazing! Leave to cool completely before serving, or storing in a tightly sealed container.