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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Grown-up Christmas List

By Alison, writing from Pennsylvania, USA

Part One

My list is not what you think. It is not a list of wants, but rather a list of needs. It contains the things I need personally to have a very merry Christmas.

Christmastime is my favorite time of year. I don't think it is because of one thing. I think it is EVERYTHING - the Christmas shopping, the holiday baking, decorating my Christmas tree, setting up the Nativity, turning on some holiday music and so on. I even think I love it as much as I did when I was a kid, and I don't get nearly as many presents now as I did then. But then again, that is not what Christmas is about now is it?

In the USA, the holiday shopping season begins on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving). As it gets closer and closer to Christmas Day, the shopping malls open earlier, and close later for those last minute shoppers. I have learned over the last few years, to do my shopping right after work. Most of the shoppers (other women) are at home preparing dinner, so I can find a parking space somewhat easily. This makes running in and out of the mall a fairly quick task, as long as I know what I am looking for.

Knowing what I am looking for has become quite the challenge this year. I usually love to shop during the holidays. My goal is to find THE present that each person wants, but not necessarily needs, since someone is bound to get them that. To see a smile of pure happiness on their face when they open their gift is the biggest present I could get. I have accepted the fact that with some members of my family that will never happen, no matter if I bought the thing they wanted most on the face of the earth. The children are also getting harder and harder to buy for. I have eleven children, ages 13 down to 9 months, to buy presents for. The older they get, the more expensive their toys become. Unfortunately, they don't see it that way, so we all do what we can to make the most of our individual budgets. I can't complain that much. My younger cousin has 21 children to buy for between her and her husband's family.

Another favorite tradition of mine is holiday baking. I started this tradition three years ago. I have my mother's old recipes that she has been making for years, but I decided to add a new one to my repertoire each year. Eventually, I will have my own cookie list, with a good balance of old and new traditional recipes. The new cookie for 2006 is the Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti.

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti (recipe courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis)

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Yield: 36 cookies

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl combine the butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, sugar, and brown sugar. Using an electric mixer, cream the ingredients together, about 4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the hazelnuts and stir until just combined.

Using a tablespoon measure, spoon out the cookie dough onto a cookie sheet, spacing the mounds about 4 inches apart. Use the tines of a fork to flatten the cookie dough. Bake until lightly golden around the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

Dobos TorteIn addition to adding a new cookie each year, I also usually bake one cake for the Christmas Eve festivities. Two years ago, I made a Chocolate Amaretti Cake, and last year it was the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake.

This year, I will be making a family recipe as requested by my step-grandmother. The cake was originally only made by her sister. Her sister passed away a few years ago, and I have been the only brave soul to attempt to make it. Why do I say brave? The cake is a Dobos Torte and it has 8 layers. I am hoping that this attempt goes a lot smoother than the first.

End of part one | Part two

Main | Chapter one | Chapter two | Chapter three

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