An Ottolenghi Christmas: Shortbread, Caramels, Amaretti, Meringues, and Chocolate Panforte

Somehow it is already February and I've fallen so behind on blogging that I'm still talking about my holiday baking. But sigh, here I am. I made five recipes from Ottolenghi's Sweet for our holiday party. I'll cover them quickly in this post in order from my most to least favorite.

The Orange and Star Anise Shortbread were my favorite recipe of the bunch. I added these cookies to my to-bake list after Helen Goh mentioned them during a talk with Yotam Ottelenghi that I attended at 6th & I back in October. She explained that you really do need both 00 flour and grainy rice flour to get the right texture and I was intrigued. The recipe also calls for ground star anise and I first tried to grind it with a mortar and pestle. I didn't work at all -- it was like trying to grind a pine cone and I couldn't make any progress. So I put the star anise in an electric spice grinder and that worked fine -- except that whatever was released while grinding the star anise permanently etched the plastic lid of my grinder. Other than a couple of unusual ingredients, the recipe is straightforward. You combine 00 flour, rice flour, sugar, baking powder, ground star anise, salt, orange zest, and some scraped vanilla seeds; rub in cold cubed butter; mix in a beaten egg until the dough comes together; and chill. I rolled out the dough and cut it with a Christmas tree-shaped cutter and it was very easy to handle. The finished cookies kept their shape and had a marvelous flavor with just the right touch of heat from the star anise. The distinctive flavor really stood out without being overpowering and I found these cookies to be addictive.
My next favorite recipe was the Honey, Macadamia, and Coconut Caramels. The base caramel is made from butter, cream, honey, glucose, brown sugar, vanilla seeds, and salt. After you cook the caramel to firm ball stage, you mix in toasted macadamia nuts and toasted unsweetened coconut flakes. I used the big, wide variety of coconut flakes and the finished caramels were chock full of nuts and coconut. The caramels had a soft but chewy texture and were absolutely delicious.

The Amaretti with Honey and Orange Blossom (pictured below with the caramels) are made from ground almonds, sugar, lemon and orange zest, salt, egg whites, honey, almond extract, and orange blossom water. The recipe requires making a egg white meringue stabilized with hot honey syrup. You chill the dough, divide it into four pieces, roll each one into a long rope, coat each rope with sliced almonds, and chill the dough again. Then you cut each rope into pieces, roll each piece in powdered sugar, and bake. I'm a fan of amaretti in general and I liked the strong almond flavor and chewy texture of these cookies. However, I have never particularly liked floral flavors and I didn't love the orange blossom component. In the future, I would leave it out and stick with just almonds.
I had high hopes for the Spiced Praline Meringues, which include a homemade almond praline. You heat sugar with water until the mixture turns golden brown; add the almonds and cook until dark; pour out the praline to cool; and blitz it into a powder in a food processor. You make the meringues from egg whites and hot sugar (heated in the oven). I used a #16 scoop to form the meringues and sprinkled each with a mixture of the praline powder, cinnamon, ground cloves, orange zest, and salt before baking. My meringues came out dry as a bone after baking and even though I prefer a chewy center, they were crispy throughout. But that's not the main reason I didn't like them; I could fix the texture problem by just pulling them from the oven sooner. My major complaint is that after a few hours in a low oven, the orange zest was burnt. See those black bits of stuff on the meringues in the photo below? That's orange zest that ended up tasting burned and unpleasant. It overshadowed the praline and ruined the meringue for me.
The last recipe I made was the Chocolate Panforte with Oranges and Figs. I have no photo of it because I ended up not serving it and throwing it out -- but the fault is definitely mine and not with the recipe. You're supposed to toast hazelnuts and almonds and hold them in a low oven while you make the hot honey-sugar syrup. Unfortunately I got distracted while the nuts were in the oven and turned my attention to some other tasks before I made the syrup. By the time the syrup was ready and I pulled the nuts out of the oven to mix them with the syrup and other ingredients, they were very dark. I proceeded with the recipe anyway, and after aging the panforte for a few days I gave it a try. The nuts were burnt and I just pitched the whole thing. But I would definitely give the recipe a try again in the future -- when I have time to dedicate 100% of my attention to the project!

Recipes: "Orange and Star Anise Shortbread," "Honey, Macadamia, and Coconut Caramels," "Amaretti with Honey and Orange Blossom," "Spiced Praline Meringues," and "Chocolate Panforte with Oranges and Figs" from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh.


Louise said…
I just printed this blog entry for notes in my copy of "Sweet". Thanks so much.
hailey said…
I appreciate your reviews of these recipes. Would you mind sharing the quantities in the UK version of the recipe for the caramels? I have the NA version of the book and it doesn't have glucose. It asks for corn syrup in its place. I have some glucose (which I much prefer as it has a more neutral flavour) and just want to make sure the swap is 1:1. Thank you!
Hi Hailey! It's 100g liquid glucose (and the other ingredients by weight are: 160g macadamia nuts, 70g unsweetened coconut, 100g unsalted butter, 250ml double cream, 100g honey, 160g light brown sugar).
hailey said…
Thank you! I appreciate your response. It looks like it is just a 1:1 swap! I'll give it a go!