I’m taking to the streets this afternoon to road trip it home for the holidays with a rental car packed full of pressies, pastries, cousins Frankie and Lindsay, Mr. Mixologist and my travel-tested kitty cat, Taleggio, in tow. I’ve come to expect a seven-hour journey over the bridge and through the tunnel to blustery Buffalo via snowy Syracuse that I dauntingly look forward to each December. Armed with clementines for snacking and Christmas carols for singing, come blizzards or breakdowns or even break-ups, I’ve made this trek homeward for the past fourteen years with some combination of friends and family and over-stuffed suitcases by my side. I think of it as my annual pilgrimage to the promise land of Mamma’s Jewish Christmas cookies and Tony’s G’s player piano performance in the Buffalo basement I’ve spent Christmas Eve in every year of my thirty-two years on the planet. It’s not paradise, but it’s home.
This year is no exception, except that I’m bringing my man home to meet my nearest and dearest and see a side of me that will be truly unmasked and un-Manhattaned! I don’t have single worry about how seamlessly I imagine him mingling among my fam, and I’m eager to take him on a “No Reservations” style tasting tour of my hometown, complete with pit stops at Duff’s, Volker’s, Jim’s, Mother’s, Anderson’s, Chef’s and Mighty Taco (of course!). But the most important meals he’ll eat in the Buff, will be the ones we share in Mamma’s kitchen and ‘round Aunt Susie’s dining table. Aside from all the cooking and eating we’ll lovingly endure, I’m picturing little else but board game nights and sledding and sleeping in and snowmen and double dates and drinks at The Gate, and hot tubbing with my Maple Manhattans in one hand, Mamma’s peanut butter blossoms in the other.
We haven’t even baked our cookies yet, but I’ve already got visions of Sicilian Stuffed Brownies (a la mode!) dancing in my head. These brownies are my yearly contribution to Mamma’s cookie platter, though they are really more like dense chocolatey fudge than cakey brownie. Three chocolate varieties compose these bad boys stuffed with Sicilian pistachios, candied orange peel and hazelnut cream, finished with a white-chocolate drizzle, a garnish of warm dark chocolate ganache and a scoop of ice cold vanilla gelato. This recipe is perfect for chocolate lovers looking to leave Santa a special treat under the chimney, though I’ve also been known to serve them fireside on New Year’s Eve. As a final ode to the holidays and the year that is about to pass us by, I find triple chocolate stuffed brownies a perfect pair with champagne toasts and midnight kisses. So whether you serve them at your Christmas table or alongside coupes of bubbly as we usher in 2011, Make Merry and Happy Baking, FOOD Mavens! I’ll catch back up with ya on the blog next year.
Sicilian Stuffed Brownies a la Mode (serves a crowd on Christmas)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with an extra large piece of foil, leaving a foil overhang that you can use to pick up the brownies once baked and cooled. Butter foil.
Place butter, 1 cup chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until mixture is smooth. Remove and cool to room temperature.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar, brown sugar, kosher salt and orange zest in a large bowl until light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). On low speed, gradually beat in chocolate mixture, then add most (but not all) of the cranberries, pistachis, hazelnuts and candied orange peel. Add flour and beat just until blended. Don’t over mix! Fold in 1½ cups chocolate chips and spread the batter in the pan.
Bake brownies until a toothpick inserted into their center comes out with moist crumbs attached (about 20 minutes). Remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with your remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips. Let stand 2 minutes for chips to soften, then spread hazelnut cream evenly over brownies. You’re still not done! Sprinkle cranberries, pistachios, hazelnut, candied orange peel and gray salt atop the hazelnut cream. Now, to gild the lilly: melt the white chocolate over a water bath on the stovetop and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and drizzle white chocolate over brownies with a spoon or squeeze bottle, then chill until topping sets…at least 1 hour and up to 1 day (if you can wait that long).
Using the foil overhang as an aid, lift the brownie sheet from pan and cut into squares. Make chocolate ganache and use along with extra nuts as garnish for your plate. Warm the brownies in an oven before serving, plate them a la mode with a scoop of your favorite Italian gelato, and enjoy a Merry Christmas FOOD Mavens!