Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountains & A Ginger-Snap into my Christmas Past
As a young girl with an overactive imagination, I was always living in a magical world. Monsters constantly lurked under my bed, ghost men were stashed away in the shadows of my closet, prince charming was patiently waiting for me to realize that boys didn’t have cooties and come join him in the castle and, most importantly, Santa was always watching…
It’s officially holiday season and I am on a holiday magazine binge. I love looking at the decorations, crafts, and magazines, of course, and brainstorming my potluck contributions would be based on the featured roasts and cookie recipes.
In this December’s Chatelaine, editor Jane Francisco asked her colleagues to recount with their readers their favourite parts of the holiday season. As I read their thoughts on how Christmas ain’t Christmas without baked ham, stuffed stockings, family-filled menorah lighting and tree decorating rituals, the back of mind was taking a sleigh ride to my past in an attempt to place what it was that has always made Christmas the most wonderful time of the year for me. What activity, what story, what memory was it? Except, I couldn’t quite put my finger on one concrete example. I pushed the incomplete mission to the back of mind and I flipped forward to peruse the wine tips, holiday meal ideas and Christmas cookies.
For several days I revisited the thought, but still nothing significant hit me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I have no good Christmas memories, in fact, probably the opposite. I was just struggling to decided which one meant the most–which one would make or break the whole season for me.
Tonight it hit me.
I decided to join my mom and sister to evening mass. An odd venture for me, honestly. However, as soon as I stepped foot into the church, it swept over me like an eggnog tidal wave of realization–a streaming video in my mind of all of my Christmas childhood ghosts of past. Going to Saturday mass every week, singing carols in the choir, the words to all the hymns, the colour of our song-list binder, the annual bake sale, anxiously waiting to give the priest a high-five on the way out, the Advent crafts, uncomfortably doing my homework in the living room, just so I would be as close to the tree as possible, anxiously watching the sun slowly set to dusk, my hand gripping the light plug in anticipation, forcing my dad and uncle to come watch the midnight screening Christmas Eve play, the fish fry I would crave for weeks, the feeling of apprehension that pulsed through me every December 24th as I tried to keep my eyes shut long enough to fall asleep, the heat of the warmth from our wood burning fireplace, the feel of the snow on my padded mittens, the trickle down your face of a neglected runny nose, that spicy smell of cinnamon and ginger and chocolate in the abundance of baked treats…
…but what hit me the hardest, the most vividly, was not a memory at all, but rather a feeling, an emotion. It was that same energy, that magical energy that the holiday bestows upon you, that fills you from the tingle in your frozen toes to the warmth in your heart. That is my favourite part of the holidays. The emotion whose power knows no end, that transports you to the North Pole, that makes every snowflake twinkle, that pulls your mouth into a permanent grin, that most importantly makes you realize just how easy to believe and question why the rest of the year you seem to make it always so hard.
After owning it for almost a year, yesterday I finally got to the end of the Polar Express (one of my favourite Christmas books growing up). I must admit that, as sad as it sounds, in the end I felt a strong pang of jealousy for the main little boy. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but I’ll just say that I wish we lived in a world where we could all still here the ring of the sleigh bells..
Today we also started putting out our Christmas decorations. Treats for our hard work of lugging boxes and bags of ornaments and wreaths were in order.
I decided it would only be fitting to pick a recipe from the same pages of words that were responsible for filling me with this overwhelming sense of holiday spirit. I chose to create a winter wonderland and my oven with the Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountains featured in the Holiday Cookie Collection from this year’s holiday edition of Chatelaine.
I made a few adjustments–a bit of spice here, a bit of cinnamon there–and the instant aroma that filled my kitchen simultaneously cured my nostalgic blues and infused a bit of magic back into my soul.
Flourless Chocolate Snow Mountains
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I put a bit less cocoa in to make room for a bunch of cinnamon and a bit of ground ginger…I didn’t measure how much I added of the latter two, though, just kind of gauged it with my eyes and nose)
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
112 g dark chocolate, about 4 squares, chopped, melted and cooled
1/4 granulated sugar
1/2 cup icing sugar
Whisk almonds with cocoa, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter with brown sugar in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, until light and fluffy, about 3 min. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in cooled chocolate. Fold in almond mixture until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm enough to roll, about 10 min.
Position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of over. Preheat oven to 350Ff. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place granulated and icing sugars in 2 separate small bowls. Scoop dough and roll into tbsp-sized balls. Coat with granulated sugar, then icing sugar. Place on prepared sheets 1 in. apart. Bake in top and bottom thirds of oven, switching and rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies crack, 12 to 14 mind. Remove sheets to a rack and leave for 2 min. Cookies will look undercooked but will continue to bake as they sit. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Store in airtight contained at room temperature up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.