Gingerbread Roasted Almonds…and the word ‘zhuzh’

Well, it’s almost here. I certainly wouldn’t know it by the weather – needed the A/C in the car today (!), but the checkout line at World Market that snaked around the store and reached the back wall certainly clued me in that Christmas was near (one look at that line and I hightailed it out of there pronto – totally didn’t need cellophane bags that badly).

Instead, I could think of a million ways I’d rather spend those forty minutes I saved by not standing in line. Making my Grandma’s sugar cookies, playing around with royal icing recipes, zhuzhing up some almonds, wrapping gifts…even throwing in a load of laundry. Regarding the royal icing, I think this one by Alton Brown may be my favorite. I’m still a royal icing newbie, but I’ll take any opportunity to make practice batches of cookies before Christmas 🙂

Plain sugar cookies

Trees

(And regarding the word zhuzh – please tell me I can’t be the only one who uses that word on the regular. I mean, it does have a entry in some dictionary that isn’t the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy glossary, so that’s got to count for something, right?)

Anyway, gingerbread roasted almonds happened around here recently, and with Christmas fast-approaching, I guess the spotlight on gingerbread is fleeting, so I better tell you about them now. In an effort to use more of the molasses jar than the quarter-cup needed for these delicious gingerbread chai biscotti (before it sits on the shelf until next holiday season), I wanted to make something to bring to a party that was a) festive and b) protein-packed. Of course I love Christmas cookies, but I do much better when I eat something with protein and have a cookie or two (rather than Hoover the carbs off the table and still be left hungry.)

These don’t take long at all and will make your kitchen smell amazing. One word of caution is to closely watch the almonds in the oven as you don’t want them to burn. I was so caught up in the wonderful aroma that I kept my test batch in just a few minutes too long:

Whoops

Yeah, bad. You don’t want that. These however…

Roasted Almonds

These you want. Crunchy almonds with a slightly-sweet-and-spicy gingerbread coating. They pop easily off of the parchment paper (and pop easily into your mouth).

Gingerbread Roasted Almonds

3 cups raw almonds
3 tbsp agave nectar
2 1/4 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
More cinnamon (for sprinkling)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray cooking spray onto baking sheets and then line with parchment paper.
Side note about the parchment paper: I typically fight with parchment paper when lining something as the edges curl and it shifts around without something weighing it down. One time I was taking an edgeless cookie sheet out of the oven and the parchment paper partially slid off the the sheet and a few cookies met their demise on the bottom of the oven. Oof. Bad memories aside, for this recipe, I sprayed the actual baking sheet with a quick hit of cooking spray and then pressed the parchment paper to the bottom of the sheet. No curling, no unexpected movement…I take pleasure in the small victories 🙂

2. Pour almonds into a large bowl. Add agave, molasses, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Using a spatula sprayed with cooking spray, mix all ingredients together so that the almonds are evenly coated.

3. Using a scoop, place almonds in a single-layer on baking sheets. I used a scoop instead of just pouring because there was excess agave/molasses mixture at the bottom and I didn’t want the almonds to be too goopy on the baking sheets.

Almonds pre-baking

Pre-bake

4. Sprinkle almonds with a bit more cinnamon and bake for about 15 minutes. They make take more/less time depending on how your oven runs (mine runs a bit hot), so keep a close eye to prevent burning (you saw that warning picture, right?)

5. Let cool completely on tray so they crisp up.

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Mini Gingerbread Chai Biscotti

‘Tis the season for all things gingerbread and a whole lot of cookies. For some reason though this year I’ve been putting off devising my Christmas cookie game plan. I’m not quite sure why, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with The Voice being on twice weekly, another season of White Collar hitting Netflix, and the urge to binge-watch anything with Aubrey Plaza in it. Couple having something on the TV with a cozy blanket and Pinterest, and in a flash my “Oh I’ll start planning after this episode” turns into a “WHEN DID IT BECOME 10:45 PM!?” – in which case it’s Go directly to bed. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

As we’re already hurtling into mid-December I realized I better get myself in gear, and what better way to do so than with the aroma of baking gingerbread wafting through the house? Only one near hiccup happened when the supermarket appeared to be out of molasses, which really would have been game over on the gingerbread that night, but I reached a hopeful hand up on the top shelf and found one jar pushed towards the back. Whew. Let there be biscotti.

Gingerbread Chai Biscotti
Some notes on these cookies: They certainly are crispy, but they’re not rock-hard-break-your-teeth crispy. In other words, you won’t need to dunk them in coffee in order to chew through (but I bet that would taste delicious). They require a little extra baking time, as they take two shifts in the oven (as biscotti do), and the dough is sticky. You’ll see in the pictures that follow, but please flour your hands, work surface, and spatulas judiciously or else you’ll be more Bah humbug than Christmas cheer.

Mini Gingerbread Chai Biscotti

Yields 52 mini cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp chai tea latte mix (dry), plus more for pressing onto outsides
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spices, and 2 tbsp of the chai tea latte mix.
3. In a medium bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add canola oil, vanilla extract, and molasses. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until well-integrated.

Batter
4. The batter will be very sticky, so flour your hands, spatula, and work surface before removing the dough to work with. Lightly knead dough on floured surface, adding more flour as you need. I worked about 2-3 tbsp of flour into the dough during this process.

Dough Before

Before: The Blob vs. The Flour

IMG_1151

After: The tamed beast

5. Once dough is workable, separate into four equal sections. Working one section at a time, roll into a cylinder. Depending on the stickiness of your dough, you still may need to roll in more flour. Place on baking sheet and lightly pat down so that thickness is even throughout the cylinder. Repeat for 3 remaining sections.

6. Rub some more of the chai tea latte mix onto outside of four sections and lightly press to adhere.

Dough Cylinders
7. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove. Cut each log into 3/4-inch strips, then place each cookie onto its side. Bake for an additional 5-7 minutes so that the edges crisp up.

After first bake
IMG_1171
IMG_1179
8. Once edges are toasty brown, remove from oven and let cool.

I almost forgot to mention – the great thing about mini biscotti is that there’s no need to fret over having multiple in one sitting. They just add up to one regular-sized cookie, anyway. 🙂