Eat with Pleasure

Stories and Recipes by Jenny Holm

Posts tagged ‘dessert’

Georgian Honey Nut Brittle (Gozinaki)

Walnuts candied in honey are traditionally enjoyed on New Year’s Eve and throughout the holiday season in Georgia. (Most Georgians who celebrate Christmas do so on January 7, when it falls according to the Orthodox Church (Julian) calendar.) The crisp brittle keeps well and doesn’t require too much space in stomachs already stretched from days of feasting. When I make gozinaki, I like to mix the walnuts with hazelnuts, pecans, or almonds and use single-flower honey to lend each batch a distinctive character. As the honey caramelizes, it fills the house with its warm, sweet perfume, somewhere between orange blossoms and gingerbread. By the time I’ve turned the brittle onto my cutting board to cool, everyone is already waiting by the kitchen door, clambering for a piece.

Snack on a square of this to get you through the mid-afternoon slump at work, pair it with a shot of espresso for a sweet treat you won’t feel guilty about eating, or bring a bag of it along on your next hiking trip to keep you energized.

Georgian Honey Nut Brittle (Gozinaki)
Makes about 36 pieces

1 ½ cups walnut halves
1 ½ cups hazelnuts
1 cup good-quality honey
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt, divided

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil and bake for 8-10 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Allow to cool slightly, then coarsely chop the nuts. (It is best to roast nuts whole and chop them later, because pre-chopped pieces burn easily. Warm nuts are also easier to chop without shards flying everywhere.)
  2. Heat the honey and sugar in a heavy-bottomed skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Let it boil for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the chopped nuts and ¼ tsp. of sea salt to the boiling honey. Reduce the heat to medium: continue to stir frequently to ensure the honey and nuts do not burn as they caramelize.
  4. When the honey has thickened and turned a shiny tawny brown color (about 5 minutes), turn the honey-nut mixture out onto a moistened wooden cutting board or granite countertop. Spread the nuts into a ½ inch thick layer with a rubber spatula or the back of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ tsp. of sea salt on top. Allow to cool ten minutes, then chop into 2-in. squares or diamonds. Transfer the pieces to a sheet of parchment paper and allow to cool completely—the brittle will harden as it cools. Store in an airtight container or in the freezer.

Like most us, I eat not only when I’m hungry, but also when I’m bored, when I’m sad or lonely or drunk, when I’m angry or anxious or feel like I deserve a reward. In almost all of these cases, what I want most is dark, dense, not-too-sweet cake. For that very reason, I almost never make such a cake. One must wear pants, after all, and I am not in a position to buy new ones every other month.

Still, there are times. I recently forgot about a bunch of black lentils I had left boiling away on the stove. All the water evaporated and they had burnt to a crisp by the time the biting stench reached my room. I started over with new lentils and managed to salvage the pot I’d been using, but no matter how many fans I turned on and how many windows I opened, I couldn’t get the bitter, charred smell out of the house. I had a friend coming over for dinner whom I didn’t want to repulse. Acrid lentil fumes begone: I would shoo them out, or at least mask them, with the warm and spicy aroma of fresh gingerbread, the ultimate snacking cake.

I found this recipe, which sounded exactly like what I was looking for–almost. I didn’t have the applesauce it called for, but I figured plain yogurt would do. I also didn’t have whole wheat flour but wanted the same dense, nutty quality it imparts, so I replaced it with a mixture of white and rye flour. I misread the recipe and thought it said only ¼ cup each molasses and maple syrup. That seemed like very little sweetener for a whole batch of muffins, so I dumped in some brown sugar. The other gingerbread recipes I had looked at all called for eggs, but this one didn’t—I cracked one in. I was in too much of a hurry to measure spices, so I tossed in a bit of this and a bit of that and hoped it would taste good.

When I pulled the muffins out of the oven twenty-odd minutes later, no trace of the lentil debacle remained. The muffins were a deep caramel brown, bounced back at the touch, and smelled like Christmas. Unfortunately it turned out that my guest doesn’t like ginger, but I devoured mine with fervor enough for two.

Gingerbread (for the Hungry, the Sad, and the Smelly)
Makes about 16 muffins or 1 8×8 pan

*Note: if you don’t have rye flour, you can use whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or another whole-grain flour.

¼ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
¼ cup real maple syrup
½ cup plain yogurt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup brown sugar, packed down
1 ½ cup rye flour
1 cup all-purpose white flour
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 cup hot water
1 tsp. powdered sugar for dusting, if desired

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin cups with paper liners or butter and flour an 8×8 in. baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the molasses, maple syrup, yogurt, butter, egg, and brown sugar. Mix until well blended.
  3. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones, stirring until just combined. Stir in the hot water. Pour into prepared muffin cups or pan.
  4. Bake 20-25 minutes for muffins or 35-50 minutes for cake, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Sift powdered sugar over the top if desired. (Jiggling the sugar through a fine-mesh sieve works well for this.) Allow to cool before serving.
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Though you wouldn’t know it judging from the procession of cakes, cookies, and starchy delights of all sorts that passed through our digestive systems in the month surrounding Diana’s wedding, Georgian desserts traditionally take their flavor from fruit and nuts rather than butter and eggs. Shushana made one of my favorites the other night out of preserved grape juice from last year’s harvest. It’s fruity,  puddinglike, and vibrant maroon purple. Its name, pelamushi, makes it sound like some sort of psychedelic Asian fusion restaurant or a wonky Japanese puppet. What’s not to love?

The recipe calls for only three ingredients: grape juice, sugar, and flour. Like any spare recipe, the result depends almost entirely on the quality of the raw ingredients. I don’t think I’d bother making this dish out of store-bought grape juice or from the sourish grapes available in most US grocery stores. As it turns out, the not-very-pleasant astringency I’d come to accept as an unfortunate downside to the otherwise crowd-pleasing grape is not intrinsic at all. Even the sweetest grapes I’ve found in the store back at home cannot compare to those I buy at the sidewalk market on my street corner here. They’may be small (marble-sized), may contain seeds, and may not take well to traveling long distances in an 18-wheeler, but darnit, they’re delicious.

Shushana pulled a 2-liter canning jar from one of the many nooks and crannies where these things hide around here. She’d boiled down bunches of the Odessa grapes that hang over her mother-in-law’s home just outside Batumi last year, then strained and sweetened them with extra sugar: this was the last remains of that juice, being used just in time to make space for the fruits of this autumn’s harvest.

She brought the sweetened juice to boil in a cast-iron pot, meanwhile mixing flour (mostly corn flour, but partly wheat, which sets up thicker as it cools) with enough grape juice to make a lumpless pink paste. When the juice in the pot hit a boil, she stirred in the flour paste, then let it boil about 2 minutes more until she could no longer smell the flour. (That’s how she described it. I’m afraid my nose for flour is not yet as highly developed as hers.) Voila! She poured the thickened, glistening “pudding” into dessert cups and onto lunch plates where it gently set in a matter of a minute or two.

We enjoyed the pelamushi still steaming that evening, and out of the refrigerator the next day at breakfast. The grandkids got it joyfully all over their faces, the way American kids do with chocolate cake and spaghetti sauce. I love to suck this stuff off a spoon in a long, slow slurp. And I don’t feel a bit guilty doing it.


If you happen to have a source for the delectably sweet grapes that this recipe demands, go ahead and boil them down into a thick sauce, then strain it to remove any stems, seeds, and skins. Add sugar to taste. If you try it with store-bought juice or not-so-sweet grapes, let me know how it turns out.

2 L. grape juice (red or white)

sugar to taste

1.5 cups corn flour + 0.5 cups all-purpose white flour

Bring sweetened grape juice to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, mix the two flours together in a bowl and stir in enough grape juice from the pot to create a smooth, thick paste. Use the back of a spoon to squelch any lumps.

When the juice boils, add this paste to it and stir to combine. Boil 2 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until desired thickness is reached and you no longer smell any flour aroma. Pour into individual serving dishes. Serve hot, chilled, or at room temperature.

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