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HOLIDAY SWEETS

Nifty Gifting

December 22, 1996|BETTY ROSBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of "American Favorites" (Chapters Publishing, 1996)

During the holiday season, I like to make gifts of food for my friends. Typically, I take such presents to the hosts of parties. When entertaining, I often give homemade Christmas treats to guests as they leave. Every year I seem to have less and less time for such cooking, and this year, in particular, I am more harried than ever.

Several days ago I started looking for a simple recipe for a sweet confection. I went through my files but could not find any dish that suited my needs. Then I remembered a delectable nibble I had savored in France last summer. At an outdoor food market there, I bought some chocolate-coated walnut halves. A merchant was offering samples and, after one taste, I bought several bags.

You need only four ingredients (plus nonfat cooking spray) to make these confections, and the whole process takes about an hour. You could give these special nuts as gifts or you could serve them with coffee at the end of a meal.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE WALNUTS

40 unbroken walnut halves (about 1/4 pound) or equivalent number of large pieces of walnuts

1/4 pound good-quality semisweet chocolate, broken into chunks (do not use chocolate chips)

1 tablespoon shortening

Nonstick cooking spray

1/4 cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Place nuts on rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Toast walnuts at 350 degrees on center rack until lightly browned and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan. When cool enough to handle, gently rub several nuts at a time between hands to remove loosened bits of nut skins. Gently but firmly press 1 toothpick into side of each walnut half. Set nuts aside.

Melt chocolate and shortening in top of double boiler set over simmering water. Stir to combine well. Remove from heat but keep chocolate mixture warm by leaving in top of double boiler.

Line another baking sheet with wax paper and spray wax paper with nonstick vegetable spray. Using toothpick as handle, dip and swirl 1 walnut half in chocolate. Tap toothpick gently against rim of pan to allow excess chocolate to drip back into pan. Place coated nut on baking sheet. Repeat with rest of walnuts. Refrigerate nuts about 30 minutes to harden chocolate.

Place cocoa powder in small bowl. Dip each nut into powder, holding each by toothpick. Gently shake off excess cocoa so that just dusting adheres to each nut. Place nuts on serving tray. Twist toothpicks to loosen and remove. Store nuts, loosely covered with plastic wrap, at cool room temperature, or in gift boxes or tins between layers of wax paper. (Nuts can be prepared 2 days ahead if kept at cool room temperature, or they will last 1 week if kept covered and refrigerated.)

Makes 40 chocolate walnuts.

Each of 8 servings contains about:

186 calories; 2 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.80 gram fiber.

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