It would be really easy to absolutely detest Marianne Elliott. She's incredibly smart, brave, astute, writes like a dream, runs a clever online yoga programme - the list is endless. If that wasn't enough, she and her partner Lucas Putnam have brought a little bit of Mexico (and a lot of tequila) to Miramar (home of Peter Jackson's film empire).
Even better, Marianne is now sort of merging her human rights side with the restaurant by seeking out ethically sourced Mexican ingredients. The two that have caught my eye are the piloncillo sugar - made from raw, unfermented sugar cane juice, and the stoneground chocolate - a disc a bit like a hockey puck made from toasted 70 per cent cacao hand-ground with piloncillo sugar and cinnamon. The sugar is gorgeous - all smoky and caramelly - and you could just about eat it by the spoonful. The chocolate isn't the sort of thing you could bite chunks out of (believe me, I tried) but it's great in baking. It's particularly great in these Mexican cookies.
I made these with a bit of advice from Martha Stewart (Martha, always so right and yet so wrong!), Alice Medrich (always right) and a bit of my own ingenuity (the jury's still out on that one). They are so good - not too sweet, with a short, crisp texture. If you can't get piloncillo sugar, try lightly packed muscovado/brown sugar instead. Use a good, bitter chocolate.
100g walnut halves
150g white spelt flour
4 Tbsp piloncillo sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
125g butter, diced
70g stoneground chocolate, crumbled into small chunks
about 100g icing sugar
Put the nuts, flour, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and whiz until the nuts are pulverised and the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
Add the butter and vanilla and whiz again until it just about forms a ball. Knead in the chocolate, then wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight (this is an Alice Medrich trick) - or for at least two hours.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 170C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Take the dough out of the fridge and let soften a bit - you need to be able to pinch off tablespoons of it and roll them into balls. Use light hands - don't compress the dough too much.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until they are starting to turn golden around the edges. Let cool for five minutes on the tray, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Dredge with icing sugar and serve. Any leftovers keep well in a tin for up to a week (they won't last that long though, trust me). They will continue to absorb the icing sugar, so keep some handy to dust them with if you want them to look all snowy.
Speaking of snow, it's going to be a cold weekend here so I hope you've got some indoors fun planned. Our first task is dealing with the massive tree that came down in our back garden last night thanks to some 140km wind gusts. We're yet to see if our barbecue, outdoor furniture and the dwarf papaya trees have survived, but it's not looking good.
Have a great weekend, everyone x