Chestnuts, walnuts, pecans make holiday foods special

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Nuts are a holiday food. They add that extra fillip to make a dish special. It may surprise us to remember that they are among our most ancient forms of nourishment, a staple that has sustained us in times of famine.

Nuts can be ground into flour, pressed into oil, cooked with all kinds of foods into sweet or savory dishes. Their uses are manifold.

For desserts alone, the list of those based on nuts is impressive, and many are Eastern European in origin. Nesselrode pudding, that Russian chestnut cream concoction, comes to mind, or Linzer torte, the Austrian hazelnut cake filled with raspberry jam.

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Then there is dacquoise, the French meringue of ground almonds and hazelnuts, or black walnut cake. The list is endless and conjures up fantasies from childhood.

During the holidays nuts are helpful to have on hand for impromptu gatherings and unexpected guests. They also make excellent presents, especially for the person who seems to have everything.

Here are four recipes to use in the season ahead. First are simple directions on how to roast any type of nut to intensify the flavor for which we prize them. Serve these for hors d'oeuvres, or cook them in combination with other foods. Roasted Nuts

Put the nuts, blanched or unblanched, in one layer on a flat pan or baking sheet. Place them in a slow oven, about 250 to 300 degrees F., and check them often. Once they begin to brown, watch closely so they don't burn. Turn them for even color.

You may brush them with a little butter or oil, or a combination of the two, and with salt, either plain or flavored. When you remove them from the oven, remove from the baking pan immediately. Store in a tightly closed jar or tin. Apple Walnut Squares 3 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 11/2 cups brown sugar, lumps broken 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon allspice 2 sticks butter, cut into pieces 3 eggs 1/2 cup apple cider or juice 1 cup chopped walnuts 1/2 cup raisins 3 cups apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

In large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix in brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. With pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into mixture until it is as fine as oatmeal.

In another small bowl, lightly beat eggs and add cider. Stir into batter until well combined. Fold in walnuts, raisins, and apples. The batter will be very heavy.

Butter a 9-by-12-inch baking pan and spoon batter in, smoothing out surface. Bake in preheated 325-degree F. oven for 1 hour, or until golden brown and done. Cool and cut into squares to serve. Chocolate Pecan Truffles 1 cup chocolate morsels 1/2 cup sour cream 1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped fairly fine but not pulverized 2 1/2 cups vanilla wafers or cake crumbs, finely crushed 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted 1 tablespoon grated orange rind 1/3 cup orange juice, approximately 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Melt chocolate and sour cream in top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until smooth, then chill until mixture is barely pliable.

Take a small amount, about half a teaspoon, and roll into a ball with your fin'ers. If chocolate is chilled enough, this is easy. Continue to make balls of all the chocolate, then refrigerate until firm. These are the centers of the truffles.

Mix together pecans, vanilla wafers, confectioners' sugar, grated orange rind , and juice, using a food processor if possible. Use just enough orange juice to moisten and hold together mixture, no more.

Roll chocolate balls in it and then between your palms to make them firm. Roll finally in cocoa powder, shaking off excess. Refrigerate until serving time. Makes about 48 truffles. Chocolate Genoise Cake 3/4 stick sweet butter 6 large eggs, at room temperature 2/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2/3 cup flour, sifted 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Melt butter slowly, without letting it color or separate. Allow it to cool again, but make sure it does not solidify. Have all other ingredients ready.

Put eggs in a large bowl with sugar and vanilla. Place bowl in warm spot, such as top of stove or over hot water, to warm ingredients slightly.

With an electric beater mix on low speed. As eggs become frothy with air, turn beater speed to medium, then high.

Beat for about 10 minutes, until batter turns pale in color, forms ribbons, and at least triples in volume. Air bubbles will gradually get very small and batter will be billowy. If in doubt, keep on beating.

Sift in combined flour and cocoa, folding in with circular motion. Similarly fold in butter in a slow steady stream. Pour batter into two 8-inch cake pans, buttered and floured, and bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven about 25 minutes, until cake leaves edges of pans.

Cool 5 to 10 minutes, no longer, then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely. Wrap in plastic to store in refrigerator or freezer. Chestnut cream icing 1 10-ounce jar marron chestnuts in syrup 21/2 cups heavy cream 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, or to taste

Drain chestnuts, reserving syrup. Set aside three or four chestnuts and chop or puree others. Moisten with enough syrup to make a paste. Cut both cakes across in half. Spread inside of each with pureed chestnut. Replace each top half.

Whip cream until stiff and fold in confectioners' sugar. Spread over one cake and place other on top. Ice cake thoroughly, using pastry tube to pipe rosettes or whatever you choose. Halve reserved chestnuts and garnish cake with them. Refrigerate until serving time.

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