There’s nothing more pleasing that receiving a holiday gift of culinary proportions, so we called on the experts at The Clarke Culinary Center in South Norwalk for their take on wonderful holiday tips and gifts.
Clarke Corporate Chef Regina Dvorak says that it’s easy to create personalized culinary gifts if you use your memory and imagination. “Try to remember what family and friends commented on when you were together during the past year,” she said. “If Uncle Jim and Aunt Kathy loved the dip you served at the pool party last summer, then assemble the ingredients and package them with a wonderful chip and dip platter. Did your neighbor rave about the homemade sauce you served during an intimate dinner? Create an artisanal recipe card with all the directions, and attach it to a fabulous pasta pot, a package of gourmet pasta and bottle of wine.”
“Gourmet gifts are a special way to share an experience with friends and family,” said Clarke’s Sandra Lashway, who was trained as a home economist and loves to cook. “You may want to give a gift certificate to a favorite local restaurant or to one of The Clarke Culinary Center classes, which gives the recipient the opportunity to do something special when it’s convenient for them.”
Dvorak and Lashway also suggest preparing food gifts as a personal way to enhance a friend’s holiday season. Here are a few great recipes that the Clarke staff loves to make. Add a lovely plate, some festive wrap and ribbon and you have a holiday gift to be remembered (or a wonderful dessert for your own holiday table)….
Pastry: (for two tarts)
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
1 cup well chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 ½ pounds McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire Apples
¼ teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Pulse to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube
of butter with the flour. Pulse 12-15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add ¼ cup ice water all at once. Pulse to combine, stopping just before the dough comes together. Turn onto lightly floured surface and form 2 disks. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate one of the disks for at least an hour. Freeze the rest.
Preheat oven in convection bake to 425°F. Roll the pastry into an 11 inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
For the filling, peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Cover the tart dough with the apples, leaving 1½ inch border. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in the bowl of a processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter, pulse until crumbly. Remove blade and rub mixture with your fingers until it starts to hold together. Sprinkle evenly on apples. Gently fold and pleat border over apples. Bake 15-20 or until golden.
Classic Chocolate Truffles
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-teaspoon light corn syrup
8 oz. chopped, semi-sweet chocolate plus 6 oz. for dipping
about 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
1. Mix the cream, butter, and corn syrup together in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a full boil. Turn off the heat.
2. Add 8 ounces of the chopped chocolate, and gently swirl the pan. Do not stir. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
3. After 5 minutes, whisk slowly to combine.
4. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. In the meantime, line baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
5. After 45 minutes the mixture will start to thicken quickly, keep refrigerated another 11 – 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
6. Using a mini ice cream scoop, form the mixture into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared sheets.
7. Chill until firm, about 10 –15 minutes. While the balls are chilling; melt the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate. After is it completely melted, allow to cool slightly before continuing.
8. Place cocoa in small bowl. Remove the ball from the refrigerator. Using one hand, dip the balls into the melted chocolate. Roll it around in your hand; allow the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place the truffle in the cocoa. With your clean hand, cover the truffle with cocoa. (Try other toppings to include: chopped nuts, coconut, powdered sugar, crushed Heath bars)
9. Lift the truffle out and place on the baking sheet. Repeat. Place back into the refrigerator for 5- 8 minutes to set.
Yield: 2 dozen Truffles
Swiss Walnut Cookies
¾ cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 ¾ cups flour
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
Chill for approx. 1-2 hours
Roll dough 1/8” thick and cut with round cookie cutter.
Bake in convection mode 8-10 minutes 325 degrees
Do not let brown.
Cool and place a teaspoon dollop of apricot jam between 2 cookies.
Sprinkle sifted powdered confectioners sugar on top
For more information on The Clarke Culinary Center or to purchase a gift certificate to one of their 2011 classes, simply call 800-842-5275, ext. 206 or visit their website at clarkecorp.com