In the corner of our living room where a vase of flowers used to stand, now proudly resides our store-bought Christmas tree, the one that at one-and-a-half meters tall is just a head shorter than me.
We put up the tree about a week ago, when a trip to the supermarket saw us leaving happily with the first Christmas tree we’ve ever bought; and despite the fact that it isn’t even a real pine tree, but is made of plastic instead, seeing it in our living room makes it feel more like Christmas. Along with the tree, we also left the store with a set of string lights, you know, the twinkly kind made specifically for hanging on Christmas trees?
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So that Sunday, we draped the lights around our not-so-small-yet-not-so-big tree, and an arts-and-crafts session later, our tree was shining with little lights and wearing a ribbon fashioned out of burlap. Below it lay a rectangle burlap mat, on which we laid out small wooden boxes, make-pretend presents.
And because decorating can be quite addictive, a few days later, I found myself carrying home small golden ball ornaments to decorate our little tree some more. I’d also bought another set of lights, the sort that come in a clear transparent tube, that was long enough to go around our entire balcony, and now, I’ll say, our house finally looks ready for Christmas.
In the four years since I moved to Argentina, this year is the first year that I actually put in thought and effort into decorating our place, mostly because this is the first time we’re living in our own apartment.
Setting the lights in place and Christina Aguilera’s Christmas album on the stereo makes me feel slightly closer to home, which will always be Singapore, where my friends and family are.
It’s hard being apart from loved ones during the festive season, and despite what people say, it’s not true that these feelings of homesickness diminish with the years abroad.
Don’t ever believe that. Or at least it’s not true for me.
Holiday season, especially Christmas, is difficult far away from home.
Mostly I miss hanging out with my family and my cousins, with whom I used to countdown to Christmas in a hotel lounge, with sparklers and whistles and plenty of good-humored laughter. This was where we’d sit all squashed together in the plush hotel sofa, eating cakes and snacks and sipping our teas or cocktails.
In some comforting way, biscotti is one of those foods that not only remind me of Christmas, but especially, Christmas with my family.
Crunchy and fragrant, biscotti has a way of making me feel loved and closer to home.
“Biscotti” means “twice-baked”, but don’t be put off by its Italian name nor its seemingly tedious definition.
While baking the dough twice is necessary in making biscotti, I’ve found that biscotti is really one of the most flexible and forgiving recipes one can possibly make.
And the dough, oh the dough! It’s just so incredibly easy.
Begin by beating eggs and sugar together, until the point where the mixture becomes pale yellow and frothy. Now’s the cue to add in your vanilla extract, then beat a little more. Sift in flour, baking powder and salt and then stir well to combine the ingredients. When you soon get a homogeneous dough, here’s when your creativity knows no limits – you can add nuts, dried fruits, chocolate or whatever suits your fancy; some people even add crushed candy canes! Fold them in until evenly distributed, and there you go!
All that’s left to do is to transfer the dough onto a very well-floured, cool, flat surface (i.e. your kitchen counter). The trick is to flour your hands very well before shaping the dough into a rectangular log (the dough can be very sticky). Once that sticky part’s done, transfer the log onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and then let it bake until firm to the touch. (If you’ve followed me till here, this is the first time the dough is being baked.)
Remove the log, now firm to your touch, and allow it to cool for a while before cutting it into finger-thick slices, or really, whichever thickness you like. Place the slices cut-side down on a baking tray and return to the oven, until they are crunchy and golden brown. (This is the second time the dough is baked, hence “biscotti” – “twice-baked”).
The best part? Munching on these chocolate and almond-filled biscotti with a cup of freshly brewed tea. Feels just like Christmas at home.
CHOCOLATE ALMOND BISCOTTI (Makes 12 – 14 biscotti)
Source: Joy of Baking
1) ¾ cup (about 110g) of blanched whole almonds (which can be either bought or made by soaking whole almonds in hot water for 15 minutes until the skins can be easily slipped off)
2) 2/3 cup of sugar
3) 2 large eggs
4) 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
5) 1 teaspoon of baking powder
6) ¼ teaspoon of salt
7) 1 ¾ cup of all-purpose flour
8) 2/3 cup (about 110g) of chocolate, chopped into small pieces (you can also use chocolate chips)
1) Blanch the almonds if necessary (this will take a while)
2) Chop chocolate into small pieces
3) Pre-heat oven to 180 deg cel
4) In a dry skillet, toast almond over low heat until they start to brown and turn fragrant. Allow toasted almonds to cool and then chop coarsely.
5) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
6) Beat eggs and sugar on high speed until thick, pale and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and beat some more.
7) Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl
8) Add flour mixture to egg mixture and beat until combined
9) Fold in the chopped almonds and chocolate pieces until evenly distributed
10) Transfer the biscotti dough onto a well-floured, cool, flat surface, and shape it into a log. Make sure to flour your hands well before shaping as the dough can be quite sticky.
11) Transfer the log of dough onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and then flatten it out a little more to look like a rectangle(for as much as your baking sheet will allow)
12) Bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch, then remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce temperature to 165 deg cel.
13) Transfer the log to a cutting board and slice into pieces (with thickness of about one large finger).
14) Place biscotti cut side down, on the baking sheet, and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, then flip slices over to the other side, and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown and crunchy.
15) Remove from oven and cool before serving with freshly-brewed tea