Season’s Greetings with Gourmet Garnishes

There's nothing better than taking a few days off work, away from errands and to-do lists, to kick-back, relax and spend some time doing whatever it is we never do. Time that's free from deadlines, pressures, diet restrictions, and sleep deprivation.

Whether you're able to take one day or a week, give yourself the gift of a miniature, Lemax-esque, winter vacation and treat that time like a vacation. Whether you're looking for a low-key activity or a new experience, these homemade Cocoa-Powdered Almond-Filled Pine Cones make the perfect activity to do both. And what’s better than an edible holiday garnish that’s easy, fabulous, and delicious? 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup Cloister Honey's Wildflower Honey
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons water
  • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons blanched, whole, almonds
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Kirsch or simple syrup, optional
  • Scant 1/4 cup butter 
  • 4 cups sliced almonds
  • Dark cocoa powder for dusting

Making the Almond Paste

 


Place the sugar, honey and water in a saucepan and bring to a strong boil. Place the almonds in the food processor and grind until coarse. Remove the boiling sugar from the heat and pour over the coarse almonds. Blend until smooth. This may take 10 minutes or more, depending on the strength of the food processor. Remember, food processors are not usually strong enough to yield the same consistency as the almond paste that you can buy. If your mixture is too thick and the food processor is straining, you can add a little Kirsch or simple syrup to the processor. Add the liquid slowly and stop when the processor is moving more freely. The quality of almond paste is determined by how smooth the consistency is. Wrap the almond paste in plastic wrap and allow it to cool. When you are ready to use it, knead in the butter. The butter makes it smooth and not so sticky.

Rolling the Dough

Turn the dough out onto a piece of waxed paper and roll into a log. Use the paste immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator (make sure to bring the paste to room temperature before using).

Forming the Dough

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then roll two tablespoons (about 2 ounces) of almond paste between your palms to make a ball. Form one end of the ball into a narrower curve to create an egg shape. Cut away one third of the egg-shaped ball with a small knife so it lays flat, then transfer to the baking sheet; the leftover paste can be used to start the next ball. Repeat the process until you have used all of the paste. (When you’ve finished, you should have about 16 pieces.) Cover the dough shapes with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.

Adding the Almonds & Dusting with Cocoa

Pour the almond slices into a large bowl or scatter on a plate so you can easily pick out whole slices; avoid using the broken pieces for your decorative scales.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, press an almond slice into the center of the pointed end. Continue pressing almond slices into the paste on a slight angle, working back from where you started and staggering the pieces so they overlap.
When all of the pinecones are complete, dust with dark cocoa powder and gently dust off the excess with a soft pastry brush.

Storing & Displaying
Store the pinecones in an airtight container until you’re ready to display them. Think décor for the dinner table, embellishment on a winter dessert, or placed alongside appetizers and beverages.

*This image and recipe was adapted from Heather Baird's Elegant Almond Pinecones for the Holiday Table and Jacques Torres' Almond Paste recipes, where you can find more food inspiration and other great recipes to try at home.