Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

Posts Tagged ‘almond confections’


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on March 3, 2011

Once again, the inimitable Chef AJ set the ultimate challenge to her students to create the most delicious ball ever using nuts, fruits, seasonings and spices, and a good measure of innovation and creativity.

The stage was set. The evening had arrived. The judges had cleansed their palates and were readying their taste buds. One could almost feel the electric charge mounting in the cozy room. The crowd was large, the contestants were many and anxiously waiting for the judging to begin. The Great Ball-off was under way!

Sixteen contestants spent the previous week blending pounds of nuts of every variety with all manner of innovative ingredients to present their creations to the panel of judges. Their goal was to win the contest and bring home an autographed copy of my cookbook, The Nut Gourmet. I was privileged to be included as one the six judges of this wild and wacky contest created by Chef AJ to encourage her cooking students to leap into the creative world of the kitchen for some fun and perhaps a little mayhem.

Each of the judges was given a rating sheet and was asked to judge using four distinct categories for their criteria: appearance, creativity, texture, and taste. The challenge was on!

The balls were presented one at a time, beginning with Hawaiian Truffles. Then came Apricot Pineapples, followed by Tricky Treats, Goji Crunch Pop, Mud Bites, Pumpkin Fudgy, and Mommie’s Minty Mounds. Even the names of the balls had an inventive flair as did their presentations. Some were shaped in unique ways, while others were coated with an imaginative array of ingredients to catch the attention of the judges.

When the tasting and rating of all sixteen balls was completed, the judges gathered in a huddle to choose their top three finalists. Full of nutty balls and a little nutty spirit, we quickly came to a consensus.

Taking the top prize was the sister team Melony Jorenson and Belle Temkin with their Old Hairy Belle Peckers that were the sensation of the evening, not only for their exceptional flavor, but also because of their daring, belly-laugh producing, and shocking appearance!

Second place went to Brenda and Doug Cohen for their Helluva Hallava Bitty Balls. Landing a third place was Pam Leelayuwapan with her Goji Berry Crunch Pops.

You, too, can prepare these tasty First and Second Place prize-winning sensations in your own kitchen because the convivial sisters, Melony and Belle, and the husband and wife team, Brenda and Doug, have generously shared their recipe:


1 6-ounce package of dried Bartlett pears
1 cup spiced apple cider

2 cups whole almonds

1 1/2 cups dried figs
1 1/2 cups dried dates
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon caramel extract

Shredded coconut

1. Soak the dried pears in the spiced apple cider until soft. Reserve any liquid remaining.
2. Combine the nuts in the food processor with the S blade and process until they are finely ground. Add the dried figs, dates, nutmeg, and cinnamon and process until well incorporated.
3. Add the vanilla and caramel extracts and process until the mixture has the consistency of a soft dough. If needed, add some or all of the reserved cider to achieve a moist, yet firm consistency.
4. Roll the mixture into balls, then, flatten them out to make a disk. Use a penis cookie cutter or a knife to create the intended shape. Alternatively, use other cookie cutters to create your desired shape. For the finishing touch, dip the surface into the shredded coconut.


1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
2 teaspoons raw cacao or carob powder
1/2 teaspoon maca powder
Dash cinnamon
2 tablespoons yacon syrup or date syrup
1 tablespoon raw tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in the food processor one at a time and process until a cohesive mass forms. Roll into bitty balls and enjoy!

Well, there you have it. These sensational little treats left us breathless and almost speechless!

Posted in almonds, Nut Recipes, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on May 10, 2010

Chef AJ held her 4th Ball-Off Contest on the evening of May 1, 2010, engaging her cooking class students in a wild and raucous competition to see who would win the two top prizes for having the best balls (confections). It was the destiny of six fortunate and discriminating judges to taste 19 amazing entries and arrive at a consensus to choose only the top two winners who would wear the royal crown until the next Ball-Off.

The challenge the students were given involved creating a confection approximately 1-inch in diameter that included only natural, healthful ingredients. The only restrictions were the balls could not contain any animal products, refined, processed ingredients, oils, or refined sugar.

Judges devour balls
I was among the lucky six on the judging panel, whose task it was to award the two top prizes. Judging was based on three factors: creativity, taste, and appearance. It probably sounds like a snap, but can you imagine cramming in 19 confections in approximately one hour and retaining one’s sanity? Assessing that many balls for extraordinary qualities is a challenge for anyone, even the judges who each have discerning palates and years of experience in the food arena.

While some were easy rejections because they lacked desirable taste, others were shunned because they were so mushy it was nearly impossible to pick them up. However, the six-judge panel formed a team of stouthearted souls who persevered until the last morsel was consumed.

In addition to the contestants and judges, there were several others who came to cheer on the winners or console the friends or spouses who put forth a grand effort. It was a lively bunch contributing to the scene with plenty of shout outs and no shortage of humor.

Finally, the judges decision gave the 1st place award to the very deserving Michelle Wolf, a creative and conscientious home chef who submitted her Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles, a truly inspired creation with a surprise in the middle. Brenda Cohen took second prize for her Almond Overjoy Balls whose almond-rich chocolate confections made the judges ecstatic.

Following are the two winning recipes and Michelle’s inspiration for her entry:

Background Story:
At the age of sixteen, I had the unique opportunity to take a student trip to Europe. While the museums and architecture were feasts for the eyes, the cuisine was a feast for the taste buds. During our stay in Rome, my friends and I discovered a new love, named gelato, and proceeded to dine on this rich Italian ice cream six times per day! One of my favorite flavors was Gianduia (pronounced: zhahn-DOO-yuh) which was a blend of chocolate and hazelnut. The memory of this delicious flavor was my inspiration for the “Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles” that I created for Chef AJ’s  Ball-off competition.

(Pronunciation: zhahn-DOO-yuh)

Two great tastes, that taste great together!

Recipe by Michelle Wolf Consulting Taster: Husband, Alan Raz

Yield: 25 truffles

1-1/2 cups raw hazelnuts, divided
18 (or more for added sweetness) Deglet Noor pitted dates soaked overnight in unsweetened chocolate almond milk.
2 Tablespoons Ultimate brand Raw Cacao Powder (for dark chocolate flavor)
Alcohol-free Vanilla Extract (optional)
Alcohol-free Almond Extract (optional)

1. Place 1/2 cup of hazelnuts into the food processor and process until ground into coarse powder. Place into a bowl and set aside. (To be used later to coat the outside of the truffles.)
2. Place remaining 1 cup of hazelnuts into the food processor and process until ground into coarse powder.
3. Add cacao powder and the soaked dates (without excess soaking liquid). To enhance the subtle flavor blend, you can try adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract. Process until the mixture becomes a thick paste.
4. Remove by rounded teaspoon and place a whole hazelnut into the center of the chocolate nut mixture. Roll in palm of hands to form small round balls approximately 1-inch in diameter. (To avoid sticking, slightly wet palms of hands before rolling each ball.)
5. Roll each ball in bowl of ground hazelnuts until outside is even coated.
6. Place into container and store in freezer until ready to serve.

Definition: Gianduia is the name given to a European style of chocolate made from chocolate and nut paste. Hazelnut paste is most common, but gianduia can also be made with almond paste. It comes in milk or dark chocolate varieties. Alternate Spelling: Gianduja



By Brenda Cohen

Yield: 35 one-inch balls

2 cups raw almonds
1/4 cup raw cacao powder
2 cups pitted deglet noor dates
1/4 cup raw shredded coconut (macaroon cut)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon alcohol-free vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (or to taste)

Equal parts cacao and shredded coconut for rolling

1. In a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, process the almonds until they are almost nut butter consistency. Add cacao powder and process again until fully incorporated.
2. Add dates and process again until mixture almost comes together. Add coconut and process again until thoroughly combined.
3. Add raisins and extracts until the mixture will stick together and form a ball if rolled (clumped) in your hand. Roll into balls, and then roll in cacao and coconut mixture. Enjoy!

Posted in almonds, hazelnuts, Nut Desserts, Nut Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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