We all love a good challenge! So here is a chance to try one! I am one of the judges in the December Challenge at Very Good Recipes where the theme is “White Christmas”.
To kick things off, all the judges have led the way, and we’ve turned our hands to creating something new – you can check out the creations in the links below, but here is my attempt – a festive take on the Mexican/Spanish drink horchata – based on almonds and with lots of traditional Christmas spices.
What led me to create this recipe? Well, I wanted to try something that was a little less obvious – I love all the cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates and puddings at this time of the year – but this was a chance to do something a little different. When leafing through a cookbook, I saw a recipe for horchata based on rice, and thought this could be easily adapted to suit the White Christmas theme.
The most obvious thing was the white colour. However, I thought it would be nice to make this snowy-white beverage, but round out the flavour with all manner of warming festive spices. This would – in theory – result in something quite fitting for those drinks parties at this time of year. Personally I love a good glass of mulled wine, but sometimes it is nice to try something else, especially for guests who are not quite so keen on the strong stuff.
I moved away from using rice to using almonds, so that this version of horchata can be drunk chilled over ice, or warm with a dash of rum if you’re a fan of something a little stronger. I can assure you – warmed, with a spoonful of rum, a dash of orange zest and a dusting of cinnamon – it’s divine!
If you’re wondering what that is in the drink, it’s a gilded almond!
This recipe also plays with festive flavours in a number of levels. First of all, the base is made with almonds and pine nuts, the former being a festive classic, and the latter adding an extra creaminess to the mixture and a slight pine aroma.
The drink is also sweetened not with plain sugar, but a syrup that has been infused with a range of spices – cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and even a couple of jaunty red peppercorns! There is also some sweet vanilla and, in place of the classic lime zest, some orange zest for warmth and sweetness. But no need to stick to my list – adjust the spices according that what you like, or add other things that take your fancy (maybe a little syrup from preserved ginger, a dusting of nutmeg or a dash of mace?).
So all in all, rather a sophisticated little treat! And also useful to know that this drink, while being rich and creamy, is vegan, so also idea for those that are avoiding dairy at this time of year.
I hope that the idea and the pictures above are proving rather tempting, and that you are interested in entering the recipe challenge!
All the details can be found here, but basically the idea is to come up with something that covers the theme “White Christmas” – it can be sweet or savoury, a new dish to a new take on a traditional recipe. The colour can be snowy-white, or it can be something that just typifies the feeling of being wrapped up next to a wood fire while the snow is falling outside. Let your imagination go wild!
There are also some great prizes to be won, courtesy of the kind folks over at Savoury Spice Shop.
If you are just a little bit curious and would like to get some inspiration, have a look at the blogs of the other judges and see what each of us has done with the theme:
• Alex from Food 4 Thought
• Anne from Les Recettes du Panier
• Han Ker from Hankerie
• Kristina from Knuckle Salad
• Quay Po from Quay Po Cooks
• Rachel from Blissfully Scrumptious
• Suzy from Suzy Eats
• Vanessa from Vane Valentine
Best of luck!
To make White Christmas Horchata:
• 1 cup (150g) skinned almonds (*)
• 2 handfuls pine nuts
• 1 stick of cinnamon or some cassia bark
• 2 cloves
• 3 cardamom pods, crushed
• 2-3 strips orange peel
• 1/3 vanilla pod
• 1/2 cup (100g) white sugar
Grind the almonds and pine nuts as finely as you can. Put them in a large bowl and add three cups (720ml) boiling water. Stir well, cover, and leave to sit for several hours – overnight is ideal.
At the same time, make the sweet spiced syrup. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar (100g) with 1 cup (240ml) water, the spices, vanilla and orange peel. Bring the boil and simmer for five minutes. Remove the vanilla, and leave to sit for several hours – again, overnight is ideal.
To finish the horchata, put the almond mixture in a blender and process until very smooth (it will change from slightly yellow to very white).
Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth – all those ground almonds can clog the cloth, so get in there and use your (clean) hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can. If you like, you can take the nuts from the cheesecloth, whizz them up again in the blender with another cup of water, and strain again. You should end up with around 4 cups (1 litre) of liquid.
Next, strain the spice mixture.
Now the fun bit – mix the almond milk with the spice mixture! Adjust the amount of sugar to taste – I didn’t add any extra, but go with what you like. This horchata will keep in a sealed bottle in the fridge for two days – make sure to shake well before serving.
To serve, there are a couple of ways to let your imagination run wild:
- Chilled – serve over ice, topped with flaked almonds, or go for glamour as I did and float a single almond that has been coated in gold leaf (decadent – but fun!).
- Warm – heat the horchata, add orange zest and white rum to taste, and serve with a light dusting of cinnamon.
(*) If you need to remove the skin from almonds, it’s very easy – just bring a pan of water to the boil, throw in the nuts, and boil for around a minute until they start to float. Drain, allow to cook, and you should be able to squeeze the nuts out of their skins. Voila!
Worth making? Delicious, easy and very, very festive. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? Now, go forth and come up with your own take on “White Christmas”!