Just when I thought I couldn’t top last year’s Gingerbread Ice Cream Cake I have a new favourite Christmas dessert. These incredible ‘candles’ are actually Italian biscuit tubes filled with hazelnuts and a mascarpone nutella cream. They are then covered in white chocolate with little caramel flames. They look incredible and would definitely impress even your toughest Christmas critics.
With a departure from my usual Italian Christmas recipe last year, this year I decided it was time to make something Italian again in a nod to my ancestry. Christmas food in Italy is certainly hard to beat!
It’s difficult to ascertain if Candele dolci di Natale (sweet Christmas candles) are a new Italian trend or have been around for ages. The directions and ingredients seem to change entirely from recipe to recipe (I even came across savoury versions with little tomato flames). This gave me comfort that I could experiment with the filling. My version are filed with whipped mascarpone, nutella and toasted hazelnuts!
The first step is to make a sweet Italian biscuit dough and wrap it around tubes to bake in rolls. I used a combination of empty toilet roll and paper towel roll tubes which were wrapped in aluminium foil (no need for fancy moulds here!). Then, you bake them until golden and set them aside to cool.
Once cool simply whisk together mascarpone, cream and nutella until fluffy and then pop in the biscuit tubes with some toasted hazelnuts. Set aside in the fridge to set a little and then pour melted white chocolate over the tubes (I added white gel food colouring to the white chocolate to make it a brighter white like candles are). I did this in a two stage process: First I coated the tubes and used a palette knife to ensure it is coated completely, then I popped some melted white chocolate into a squeeze bottle and made drips along the top edge of all of the ‘candles’ to simulate melted wax.
To make the flames, you just combine water and sugar and boil until golden then take spoonfuls of the caramel and pour it over toothpicks leaving it until set. Then pop them in the tops and voila. You can make the candles well in advance and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. I served mine on a cake stand with desiccated coconut to simulate the candles sitting in snow.
Candele Dolci di Natale | Sweet Christmas Candles
Sweet Biscuit Tubes
- 330g Italian '00' flour (or plain flour, sifted)
- 100g caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Zest 1/2 orange
- 2 eggs
- 80ml rice bran oil
- 250g mascarpone cheese
- 200ml thickened cream
- 1/2 cup nutella
- 90g hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- 300g white chocolate
- White gel food colouring (optional)
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- Dessicated coconut
To make the biscuit dough, combine flour, caster sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a bowl and whisk until combined. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and oil. Using a fork begin to mix the ingredients together incorporating more flour from the edges as you go. When the mixture has formed a crumbly texture, tip the contents out one a floured work bench and begin to kneed together with your hands until the dough comes together and is soft and pliable (will take about 4-5 minutes of kneading). Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
Prepare the biscuit molds by taking toilet roll tubes and paper towel roll tubes and cutting them at various heights until you have 7 tubes*. Wrap the tubes in alfoil and set aside until the pastry has rested.
Preheat oven to 180° celsius (350° Fahrenheit).
Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to 3-4mm thick. Cut rectangles of pastry to fit around your moulds and wrap the dough around pressing the edge firmly onto itself to form a tube. Place the tubes on a lined baking tray lying down sideways with the pastry seams on the underneath and bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is just beginning to colour. The size of your pastry tubes will determine the cook time, some tubes may need a little more time. Remove and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, make the mascarpone nutella cream. Combine mascarpone, nutella and thickened cream in a bowl and using a baloon whisk, whisk until completely combined and the mixture is becoming fluffy (you don't want to over whisk or the mixture will become grainy).
Once the tubes are cool, gently remove the moulds from the tubes. You will need to gently twist the moulds from side to side to release them from the pastry. If some of them crack a little when you release the moulds we will cover them in white chocolate so you won't know. If a couple of them fall apart entirely... dont worry, we only need five so you have two spare!
Stand the tubes up on a plate vertically and fill them all halfway with the nutella cream. Top that with a sprinkling of the toasted hazelnuts and then fill to the top with the remaining cream. Sprinkle with more hazelnuts and set aside in the fridge.
To make the caramel flames, line a baking sheet with baking paper and top with 6 toothpicks evenly spaced. combine sugar and water in a saucepan and boil (without stirring) until the mixture begins to change colour and become golden. Once golden remove from heat and working quickly take a teaspoon of the caramel and pour over the top part of the toothpick. Flick your spoon upwards as you pour the caramel out to simulate the top of a flame and repeat with the remaining toothpicks. Set aside to cool. They will harden very quickly.
Place 220g white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30sec increments, stirring well between each, until the chocolate is completely melted. Add a touch of white food colouring and stir until incorporated. Place the filled biscuit tubes on a wire rack and pour over the white chocolate. Use a small palate knife to ensure the pastry is completely covered and pop back in the fridge for 5 minutes.
Melt the remaining chocolate in the microwave in small increments, then add in white food colour gel again, mix and transfer to a squeeze bottle. Gently run the squeeze bottle around the top of the 'candles' to let drip down the edges and look like dripping wax. Place in the fridge until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, push the caramel flames in the tops of the candles, place on a cake stand and scatter desiccated coconut around the candles.
*My advice is to make more pastry tubes then you will need because when you try and remove the tubes from their molds, sometimes 1 or 2 of them can break. You always want options!