Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Fasting

Every year I have great hopes of doing something meaningful for Advent, something marking the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. I have purchased advent wreaths with purple and pink candles and booklets with Advent readings. Great plan, but the problem is that the first Sunday of Advent always sneaks past me. Any attempt to do an Advent tradition after that seems lame and kind of like playing catch-up.

This year the first Sunday of Advent was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Right. I'm supposed to be aware of that when I'm still in a Turkey coma, recovering from my Black Friday 4 am shopping expedition? I didn't even think of it until I flipped the calendar to December and said, "Shoot, I missed it again!"

So, rather than trying to shoehorn another "better late than never" project into the schedule, one more "to do" item, I thought about taking something out of our schedule. If the point of Christmas is celebrating Jesus' birthday, why not give Him a gift this year? So instead of lighting candles and reading verses, yesterday, we tried a bold experiment. We fasted. Not a food fast. An electronics fast. No TV, no video games, no iPods, and, most painful of all, no computers. All that was allowed was Christmas music.

It was painful, but illuminating. The urge to "just go check that online" showed us just how dependent we are on our electronic infotainment. And the cow-out my son had when he couldn't watch a TV show clearly illustrated how desperately we needed this fast.

How did we do? There were tiny cheats (like looking at the new granddaughter pictures online), but we did pretty well. And the best part was sitting down to eat dinner, discussing plans for the coming year, and then clearing away the dishes and playing Taboo together. It felt like connecting with each other in a new and nice way. I don't know about the rest of the family, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes next week.

In the mean time, here are the cookies I made during the fast. They weren't perfect, which always bugs me, but they were fun to do with my son and they gave me some good ideas to try on other cookies. The glaze was a bit thick, so the cookies came out kind of clumpy looking and there wasn't enough to cover all the cookies. If you have a favorite dipping method or recipe, try that with these.

The options listed in the recipe for finishing the cookies were to drizzle with melted white chocolate (mine had the consistency of play dough, so didn't "drizzle," rather it laid tracks) or to sprinkle with coarse sugar. When I tasted the cookie it seemed a bit bland, so I decided to sprinkle on coarse sea salt instead. That combination worked really well. Chocolate plus salt is always a winner.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you do to keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs!

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies
- adapted from the International Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett

2-1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
5-1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 large eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely grated


1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp coffee
1 tsp shortening (I used coconut oil)
1 tsp light corn syrup
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped


1 to 2 Tbsp coarse decorative sugar
OR 1 to 2 Tbsp coarse sea salt
OR 1-1/2 oz white chocolate, melted

1- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

2- In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and corn syrup and beat until well blended and light. Add the eggs and vanilla and continue beating. Your batter may separate into curds at this point - don't be alarmed. It will all come together when you add the dry ingredients.

3- Gradually beat in about half of the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated. Beat in the ground walnuts and chocolate. Add in remaining dry ingredients and stir till smooth.

4- Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into an evenly thick 6-inch long log. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour until the dough is chilled, but not hard.

5- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center of the oven. Grease 2 or 3 baking sheets.

6- Working with one dough portion at a time, cut the log into 12 equal sections. Take one section, briefly knead it to soften it slightly, then roll it back and forth on a clean surface to make a rope 10 to 12 inches long that is evenly thick. Shape the rope into a pretzel and place the pretzel on the baking sheet.

7- Repeat the process for the remaining 11 pieces of dough and place the baking sheet in the oven for 9 to 11 minutes, or until edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and let stand for a minute or two before transferring the pretzels to a wire rack set over waxed paper.

8- While the first batch is baking, repeat the shaping process with the second batch of dough. Bake the second batch while the first batch is cooling.

9 - When all of the pretzels are cooled, make the glaze. Measure the powdered sugar into a medium, heavy saucepan Add the coffee, shortening (or coconut oil), and corn syrup. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate, and stir until melted and smooth.

10- Using tongs or two forks, dip the pretzels, one at a time into the glaze to coat all over. If the glaze seems too thick, thing it with a few drops of water or coffee. Shake off the excess glaze and place the pretzels, right side up, on wire rack to drain. Sprinkle with coarse sugar or salt at this point, if you're using either of those. Or let them stand until the glaze sets and then drizzle them lightly with melted white chocolate.

11- Let the pretzels stand for 5 minutes. Then carefully lift and reposition them so they don't stick to the rack. Let stand until the glaze is completely set, about 30 minutes longer.

The pretzels are the best the day they are made, but may be stored in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days. They may be frozen unglazed, then thawed completely and glazed prior to serving, if desired. Makes 24 pretzels.


Jennifer Jo said...

Good for you guys! It's soooo hard to give up electronics---thus the reason I have yet to do it. You're inspiring me, though.

We don't do any presents for Christmas (just stockings---mostly candy but it does add up) and try to do a family project. This year we're making cookies and handing them out at a local food pantry.

Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

You know I love it when we lose electricity cause we are totally unconnected. We play board games, we read by candlelight, we talk, tell stories, and bundle up with each other under snuggly blankets.

I love the idea of a day off. The only thing I couldn't do if we lost power would be that would be a bummer, but everything else is pretty darn good.

Your cookies look delicious, and delicious does not always look perfect. lol

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Baking Soda said...

I hear you!! and completely agree. When the kids were younger and not behaving I would sometimes install a no-electronics day or weekend. And you know what? Everybody loved it (after the initial hum hum of course), they would play, invent stuff, play board games... Such a nice atmosphere.
I think we should do that more. Althoug it might be a lot harder now they're older.

Ana Rita said...

Those cookies look terrific...



Anh said...

I’m learning something new today from your blog!
And pretzels + chocolate combo! I was very surprised by this combo when I was in the US. Very american I say? :D

Abby said...

My family decided last year to forgo gifts (except those for our little ones) and instead focus on spending time together. It's glorious. And it's amazing how much less stressful Christmas is without the need to shop and spend!

Love chocolate and salt together; my fave is chocolate and popcorn! Great post.

Sean Grey Hanson said...

It really turns out well. They were not as salty as I feared they'd be, right?
Food Channel

Elle said...

I'm impressed. The only time we forgo electronic infotainment is when the power goes out. Much better to do it as a fast.

Lovely cookies, especially with the salt added. I know too much salt is bad for us, but a little with chocolate is so good!

Happy cookie baking Lynn!

grace said...

i don't know that i'd survive without my electronics--i'm terribly dependent. kudos to you for your fast!

Barbara said...

I'm of the generation that had no cell phones and computers. We played games, did puzzles, read. TV was new when I was a kid and I can remember my grandmother glued to the set watching wrestling and roller derby. Funny!

I remember Advent without fail because years ago I downloaded the cutest advent screensaver. A tree in the snowy woods and every day, something new on the tree like birds, or a squirrel, or an animal under the tree.

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

Wow! I know I wouldn't be able to live without electronics, but it's awesome that you managed to!! Seriously awesome!

eatme_delicious said...

I love that you added some sea salt to these!