Some New January Treats

We may have turned the corner on the shortest day of the year, and we may have had a pretty mild Winter to date (today's little dusting excepted), but January is still the darkest month for me. I think I'm suffering from the post-Holiday Season blues.

You'd think that after all the hard work, long hours and hectic rushing around at the bakery last month, I'd actually relish a little quiet time. But it's just too quiet for me and I'm having a hard time focusing and getting motivated; it's the baker's January existential question, "What is the meaning of being a baker in January?" Well, really, the answer is, "There isn't much!"

Christmas and New Year's tend to sate customers of any desire to shop more and eat more. And Valentine's Day, the next best holiday for bakers, is still too far down the road. Right now it's  j u s t  t o o  b o r i n g        h e r e ....

So, aside from doing a lot of cleaning in our kitchen, something we always do more of in January because a) we have the time and b) it really needs some TLC after the holiday rush, I thought it would be fun to try out some chocolate inspired treats in preparation for Valentines Day. Now, there's no guarantee that either of these products will make it to February, but for now, there's something about these short days and long dark nights that makes me want to bake something equally dark and 'short' (which refers to the crumb, of course).

Our first item came to me in a dream (literally) or in that first, semi-lucid moment when one emerges from a dream. Either way, it was inspired rather than invented. It's a Pear/Chocolate Sour Cream Coffeecake, and it's sensational.

Dark and deep, like our cold New England woods this time of year, it's a tea time dessert that, quite frankly, you just want to get lost in. The 'short' chocolate sour cream cake, studded with pecan crumble, is contrasted perfectly with  the soft and moist pear slices sunken into the top. Like all our desserts, it is full-bodied, satisfying, but not overly sweet.

Gratuitously, I've added one more picture of this dessert, because I, personally, find it irresistible. Maybe you will too.

Our second new treat is a lot less seductive than the first and far more straight forward. It is our Chocolate Shortbread with Cocoa Nibs.

These shortbread squares are dark and buttery with the added moistness of honey. They are less cake-like than a brownie because, like all shortbread, they do not contain eggs. The addition of cocoa nibs adds a pleasant crunch to the texture. Cocoa nibs are the crushed bits of the roasted cocoa beans. To quote the website , cocoa nibs are packed with "powerful nutrients and natural mood lifters" and are a "crunchy antioxidant pick me up." Now, who couldn't use all this to fight the post holiday blues.

Galette des Rois

This weekend, in honor of the Feast of the Epiphany, we will be baking a Galette des Rois. This is a splendid all-butter puff pastry dessert, light and flaky, with a sweet frangipan (almond cream) filling. The galette is approximately 8" in diameter and will serve 8-10 people nicely. The Epiphany is the Twelfth Day of Christmas when the three Wise Men from the East arrived with gifts for the Christ child. In the Eastern Orthodox Church it is day on which its followers actually celebrate Christmas. Our version of the King's Cake is made in the Northern French tradition. A variation using brioche dough and fruit, called a G√Ęteau des Rois, is more common in Provence. Our Swiss Christmas Knot would certainly fall into that category.

Traditionally, a bean or small trinket is hidden in the galette. This custom goes back to the Roman Saturnalia festival, and the person lucky enough to be served the piece of cake with the bean was crowned king of the feast and awarded special privileges. In today's litigious America we have decided to eschew the placement of any small choking hazard in our dessert.

Our galette is crowned with an intricate scored design, which, in itself, should be a prize worthy of all your guests lucky enough to sample a slice of this special dessert.

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