12 Days of Candy! Mikey’s Chocolate Nut Clusters

This is my Uncle Mikey’s recipe, so I don’t have any pictures because, well, we ate last year’s batch and this year’s batch hasn’t come in the mail yet, but this a treat we look forward to all year long.

Even better, it’s super simple to make!

Which is great, because this is what my kitchen has looked like for a few days running: (Every time I get the dishes cleaned, I just dirty them all up again – but isn’t that what the holidays are about?)

My kitchen elves quit when they saw the mess we'd made together.  It's a well loved kitchen!

My kitchen elves quit when they saw the mess we’d made together.
It’s a well loved kitchen!

Ingredients:
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans or peanuts or almonds…)

What you do:
Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips in a large microwavable bowl. (Remember, 20 second increments, stir, 20 seconds, stir, until you have a nice, smooth mix.)

Add the nuts and stir again.

Use a large table spoon to scoop out the chocolate, nut mix and drop it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow the clusters to set completely.

Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve/gift/eat and ENJOY!

(Told you that was easy!)

12 Days of Candy! Turkish Delight!

turkish delight

Anyone who has ever read the Narnia books knows about Turkish Delight, but up until last year I thought it was just something that C.S. Lewis made up, I had no idea it was a real treat or what kind. (I actually always assumed it was similar to a turtle – chocolate and caramel and salty nuts…) Then last year I went in search of a recipe to make those aplet/cotlet things that I used to love as a child and I learned that they are basically a west coast version of Turkish Delight. I checked around my house for ingredients and saw that I was much closer to being able to make Turkish Delight than Cotlets, and so… Turkish Delight it was.

turkish delight

I can almost understand why Edmund threw Narnia under the bus for this stuff.

Personally, I loved this treat. It’s a wee burst of fresh flavor in a season smothered in chocolate. Plus – NARNIA!!! (Even if it was the treat the white witch used against Edmund.)

You don’t need any special equipment for this recipe, just the usual pots and pans and implements of kitchen destruction.

Ingredients:
3 cups pomegranate juice – divided (You can substitute cranberry juice in a pinch, I use Ocean Spray’s 100% juice, which still adds apple and grape juice as sweeteners I believe.)
4 envelopes (3 Tablespoons) unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons corn starch – divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon or so rose water
1 1/3 cups white sugar
1 cup almond slivers

What you do:
Place 1/2 cup of the juice in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and set aside to allow the gelatin to soften.

softening gelatin

Softened gelatin looks rather brainy, doesn’t it?

In another small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the corn starch, the lemon juice and the lime juice.

In a medium heavy sauce pan, combine the remaining 2 1/2 cups of juice and the sugar. Bring to a boil stirring with a long wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking for 15 more minutes to reduce and concentrate the juice.

boil the juice

Boil, boil, toil and trouble.
Okay, wrong book, but… You get the picture.

Remove from the heat, add the rose water and gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

stir in the gelatin mixture

Did I mention, ALL the stirring?

Return to the heat and add the citrus and cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil.

stir in the corn starch

When in doubt, keep stirring!

Boil, stirring constantly for 10 minutes. The mixture should be VERY thick.

Stir in your slivered almonds.

stir in the nuts

Still stirring.

Remove from the heat.

Rinse an 8×8 baking pan in cold water, shake to remove excess water and pour in your Turkish Delight mixture. Let the jelly harden at room temperature for at least 12 hours, or over night.

turkish delight

I can almost understand why Edmund threw Narnia under the bus for this stuff.

Use a lightly oiled knife to cut the jelly into 1 inch squares, remove from the pan with a soft offset spatula and toss the squares in the remaining 1/2 cup cornstarch coating them completely.

turkish delight

Turkish Delights all ready to serve.

Place the candies in baby muffin cups or fluted candy cups.

Store in an airtight container for 1 week at room temperature or up to 3 weeks in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.

ENJOY! (And use to trick gullible children into bringing everlasting winter to your fantasy lands! Mwa-ha-ha!)

BUT WAIT! What about flavor variations!?!

I’m so glad you asked!! Because of course you can change this recipe up – substitute apricot juice to make cotlets, apple juice to make aplets, raspberry juice to make raslets… Really any 100% juice flavor that you love can be used – omit the rose water! (Though you could substitute orange blossom water…) And substitute your favorite nuts to match – walnuts are the standard in aplets and cotlets (You can also stir some finely diced dried apricots into your cotlets if you’re so inclined) you can use pistachios instead of almonds in the Turkish Delight, or with the raslets…

I’ve even heard that you can use this recipe as a way to get rid of cheap red wine. Personally, I just drink it, but if that’s not your thing – voila! Winelets!! You’re welcome!

Get creative, HAVE FUN! You have the technique, now you get to experiment with the flavors and textures!

12 Days of Candy – Chocolate Mousse Cups!

accidental lavender mousse

The first year that I made these was completely on accident, I was trying to make chocolate lavender truffles for my kids, but I didn’t have food grade essential oil, so I used this lavender simple syrup that we had instead – the problem is, it took so much syrup to get the flavor right, that the truffle filling never set – I had created a light, fluffy chocolate lavender mousse instead.

accidental lavender mousse

An accidental mousse.

And then… Last year, I learned how to make a real mousse on purpose and it was perhaps the best thing I’ve put in my mouth.

So… This year, I used that recipe, and fiddled with the flavors because in case you haven’t noticed, fiddling with flavor is sort of my thing.

And now, I bring you – Chocolate Mousse Cups in multiple flavors!

Here’s what you need:
ALL the mixing bowls – at least two medium/large and one super large and one microwavable or double-boilerable.
Electric mixer with whisk attachment
Pastry brush
Small foil cupcake liners (At least 50)
Having the baby cupcake pans helps but is not required
Pastry bag with a large star tip

Ingredients:
16 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
3 eggs – separated
2 cups heavy cream
Flavor (I’m going to tell you how I made my most amazing fresh mint mousse cups this year, and then at the end I will tell you ways to substitute other flavors.) For mint mousse: 1 packed cup of fresh mint leaves, chopped.

An additional 6 – 8 oz of high quality dark (70% cocoa) chocolate, I recommend Lindt for this. Do not use chocolate chips as they will not temper correctly.

What you do:
Heat the cream in a medium sauce pan until just below a simmer, about 175 degrees F. Sprinkle the mint leaves on, cover and let steep for at least 20 minutes.

infusing cream with mint

Steep the mint leaves in the cream.

Taste the cream. If it isn’t minty enough for you, you can repeat this process with more fresh mint if you have it, or use a peppermint tea bag (Just make sure it is pure peppermint, not a mint green tea or anything like that.) or you can add a bit of mint extract. (As you can see from the picture above, I forgot to chop my mint, so I ended up having to re-steep my cream.)

Be careful not to let the cream get too hot at any point, you don’t want it going above the 175 mark because that will change how it whips up later.

Once you’ve got your cream as minty as you want your mousse to be, put it in a medium/large mixing bowl and return it to the fridge to cool completely. (I infused my cream the night before I wanted to make my mousse)

While that’s cooling – make your chocolate cups. Melt your 6-8 oz of quality dark chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring at each interval until you have a smooth, creamy, liquid chocolate.

Using the pastry brush, paint each baby cupcake foil with melted chocolate and place into the mini-muffin tin to help it keep its shape.

painting chocolate cups

You can also drop your chocolate painted liners into baby pie tins.

When you’ve finished painting all the cups, check the sides, often they will be thin as the chocolate tends to gravitate toward the bottom of the cup. Use any remaining chocolate to paint up the sides again to make them decently thick. (If you have to remelt the chocolate, do so – again at 20 second intervals.)

Allow the cups to harden completely.

Once the whipping cream and chocolate cups are both completely cooled – get out ALL your mixing bowls and your electric mixer and get ready to hustle!

In a small pan or microwavable bowl, melt the 16 oz of semi-sweet chocolate with the butter. (If using the microwave, use the standard 20 second interval, stir, 20 seconds, stir technique – if using a double boiler, make sure the pan with the chocolate rests above the water bath without actually touching it and stir often until the chocolate is smooth and creamy.)

In your largest bowl, combine the confectioner’s sugar and the egg yolks. Stir the melted chocolate into the eggs a little bit at a time.

Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.

Take about 1/4 of the whipped cream and whip it into the chocolate mixture to combine.

Gently fold in the rest of the whipped cream.

Wash your whisks well and dry them.

In a spotlessly clean medium bowl, whip the egg whites until just stiff. Be careful not to overbeat them.

Fold them into the chocolate mixture.

folding in egg whites to mousse

Fold in the egg whites gently until you have a soft, airy, silky smooth mousse.

Fill your pastry bag 1/2 full with mousse and gently squeeze it into your prepared chocolate cups. Refill your pastry bag as needed.

Once all your chocolate cups are filled*, pop them into the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.

chocolate mousse cups

Fill and chill your mousse cups.

You can also decorate these with things like white chocolate flowers, crushed candy canes, sprinkles, candied fruit, etc. to enhance flavors and make them extra gorgeous – or just put a wee dollop of fresh whipped cream on them just before serving.

NOTE: This treat is CRAZY rich – yet light and airy when fresh. The longer it sets the more dense it becomes, so make this one no more than a day before you want to serve it unless you’re okay serving more of a mint chocolate fudge cup. (Which is still super delicious!)

OKAY – VARIATIONS!! Because it’s no fun if you can only make one flavor, especially if it’s a flavor you don’t love!

So – Coffee Kahlua Mousse – this is the flavor that started it all.
First – don’t steep mint in the whipped cream. Clearly. Leave the cream plain. Add 4 Tablespoons of Kahlua and 1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the chocolate mix when you add it to the egg yolk. Do everything else the same.

Chocolate Amaretto Mousse- I bet you can guess…
Use plain whipped cream. Add 1/4 cup of amaretto and 1 teaspoon of almond extract to the chocolate when you add it to the egg yolk. Do everything else the same.

Chocolate Orange Mousse – Yup, you guessed, add 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier to the chocolate & egg yolk mixture.

If you don’t want to add booze to your chocolate for some reason, you can also add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any flavor of all natural simple syrup to the chocolate mix at the beginning to create those flavors.

Alternately, you can add any flavor extracts – vanilla, almond, mint, cinnamon, orange, etc. to the whipped cream and fold it in to the chocolate to create those flavor profiles.

I imagine you’re getting the idea – add most flavors to the chocolate mix at the beginning. For subtle flavors, infuse the cream and then allow to re-chill overnight before whipping and folding in to the chocolate.

Above all - HAVE FUN! Enjoy the creation process, and drop your favorite new flavor in the comments!

*If you have leftover mousse that does not fit into your prepared chocolate cups – DO. NOT. PANIC. Just get our some small wine glasses or other attractive small bowls and scoop leftover mousse into them (one for each family member living under your roof) cover them and pop them into the freezer for a special dessert tonight! Pull them out of the freezer about 5 minutes before you plan to serve them, top with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with crushed candy canes! (This is a CRAZY rich dessert. 3 oz is about all anyone in my family can eat in one sitting and I live with a couple of chocoholics!)

12 Days of Candy – Apple Cider Caramels!

apple cider caramels

These Apple Cider Caramels are the BEST!

I totally LOVE them and I want you to have some, so… I’m going to tell you how to make them.

I apologize in advance, I have exactly one picture of these right after they got poured into the pan and that is all because I was an idiot and decided that I could make two batches of caramel AT THE SAME TIME. Did I mention, I’m an idiot?

Dueling caramels

On your left – vegan coffee coconut caramels.
On your right – Apple Cider Caramels

My daughter tried to get a picture of me doing the double stir, but, em, her focus was a little off. It was mostly just a shot of my tuckus, which you don’t need to see.

I guess the good news is that I can now tell you all with some level of authority that making two separate batches of caramel at the same time is a terrible idea – aside from the stirring forever stage, which you then have to do with both arms simultaneously, there is also the very real risk that both batches will reach their optimal temperature at the same moment which forces you to choose which one to “save” and which one to allow to reach a harder crack stage in the candy making process.

I saved my vegan coconut caramels and let this batch go a little harder. They still came out great and my youngest even took a bunch in to her class as her birthday treat, that said they were an absolute bitch to cut. My hand is still bruised from pushing down on the knife.

I recommend making this batch all by itself, and paying close attention to the candy thermometer to get a nice chewy caramel out of it!

One final note – you have to reduce the cider down quite a lot, which takes time – so start this one in the morning!

Here’s what you need:
A candy thermometer
A heavy bottom pan, 8x10ish baking pan lined with oiled parchment paper (You can spray the parchment with cooking spray, paint it with veggie oil or paint it with melted coconut oil.), a wooden spoon, strong arms.

Ingredients:
1 quart of apple cider (If you’re spoiled like me, you can use your home pressed apple cider. But I’m sure store bought stuff works too!)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick cold, unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves

What you do:
Pour the cider into a small to medium sauce pan and put it on medium-low heat. Stir it occasionally. Allow it to reduce down to about 1/2 cup. (This will take about 2 hours.) Remove from heat once it is reduced.

Line your baking dish with parchment and spray or paint it with oil.y are ready to go.

Measure out your spices and put them in a small bowl so the

In a small sauce pan, combine the cream & condensed milk, bring to a simmer and then keep warm over low heat.

In a large sauce pan, combine the reduced apple cider, sugar, corn syrup, water and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Carefully whisk in the butter until it is melted.

Add the warm cream mixture and stir until combined.

Cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245 degrees on the candy thermometer, about 45 minutes.

Stir in the spices and scrape the caramel into your prepared pan.

Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, remove the caramel from the pan using the parchment paper. Lay it on a cutting board and cut into 1 inch x 1/2 inch rectangles and wrap in wax paper. (Brush your knife with veggie oil or coconut oil between cuts to keep the caramel from sticking.)

apple cider caramels

Lovely apple cider caramels ready for gifting!

Store in an airtight container until you are ready to serve, gift or eat and ENJOY!

 

12 Days of Candy – Festive Thumbprint Cookies

thumbprint cookies

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these Thumbprint Cookies! They are one of my most favorite treats to make – and to eat. The best part is that I get to use any kind of jam I like, which since I also LOVE making jam and jelly means I have a lot of awesome flavors to choose from. If you’re living in Colorado, I can sell you some of my homemade jams allowing you to make extra awesome flavors too!

My favorite flavors are – Lime Ginger Marmalade (Because it pairs perfectly with the coconut in the cookies!), Peach Habanero Jam, Bourbon Pumpkin Butter (It’s like eating a little pumpkin pie!), and plain old raspberry jam (the tart offsets the sweet cookie).

One of the things I love most about these little gems is that they have a festive wreath like appearance to them that makes them perfect for the winter holidays!

holiday treat plate

Don’t they look good surrounded by all that other deliciousness!

You don’t need any special equipment for these – just a couple of mixing bowls, a hand mixer and some baking sheets.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups shredded unsweetened coconut (I can’t always find this at my store, so if you have to use the sweetened stuff, just reduce the sugar to 1 cup. I also usually pulse the coconut in my food processor to make it just a little smaller. Also, if you or someone you’re baking for is allergic to coconut you can substitute hemp seeds for some nutrient rich YUM!)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 large egg yolk (If you’re making meringues today too, you can save the white for those!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

What you do:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, shredded coconut, baking soda & salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until light and fluffy (About 3 minutes using an electric mixer on medium speed – roughly infinity if using a fork.)
Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla, scraping the side and bottom of the bowl.
Beat in the dry ingredients at medium low-speed.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place them on the cookie sheets.
Bake for 5-6 minutes, pull them out and make a dent in each cookie using your thumb (thumbprint cookies and all) and fill the dent with jam*.

thumbprint cookies

Festive Raspberry Rose Thumbprints

Bake for about 3-4 minutes more until the cookies are crisp around the outside and the jelly is just set.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week before serving/gifting/eating and ENJOYING!

*You could also put those weird candied green & red cherries in the dent if you wanted to. Or a large chocolate chip or kiss or Nestle DelightFulls morsel… Have you noticed yet how flavor flexible these recipes are? I love that about my candies and cookies – once you have the basic method, you can change them up and make them your own particular shade of awesome!

12 Days of Candy – Melt in your Mouth Meringues!

flower scented meringues

A couple of years ago my daughters and I decided to try making meringues – just “plain”, light, crispy, melt in your mouth meringues. I’m not sure if these should be called cookies or candies. Either way, they belong in your holiday repertoire. (These are great for spring holidays as well, they are so light and fluffy and easy to make in the spring pastel palette!)

I know a lot of people who make these like to put nuts in them, personally I think that defeats the whole purpose of creating a treat that melts in your mouth. Then again, texture can be a nice thing – so I’ll leave that up to you, but you’ll have to go elsewhere to learn how to incorporate the nuts because it’s not my style. (I’m 99% sure you just fold them in at the end, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Our favorite flavor of meringues is lemon – we loved that bright, crisp flavor especially here in the dark cold days of winter. Peppermint is another standby this time of year and reminiscent of those lovely buttermints that my grandmother always had out in bowls at her house. Butterscotch sounds like perhaps the most divine thing ever… Except for espresso, of course. Or the two of them swirled…

Last year we also tried making lavender and rose scented meringues – they worked, but they weren’t my favorite – a little too perfumy and that’s coming from the woman who makes and LOVES wildflower jelly.)

The point is, once you know how to make meringues, the flavor possibilities are nearly endless.

So, Here’s what you need:
A dry day – seriously, trying to make these on a day when humidity is above 50% can really screw the whole thing up.
Large SPOTLESSLY CLEAN & DRY mixing bowl.
An electric beater with SPOTLESSLY CLEAN & DRY whisk attachments (For real, the tiniest bit of grease or oil will prevent the egg whites from fluffing properly, and you need properly fluffed egg whites to make meringues, since that is basically all they are.)
A pastry bag with a large star tip.
Baking sheets and parchment paper

Ingredients:
4 egg whites (At room temperature!)
1 pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups sugar (superfine is best, but you can use regular granulated sugar if you need – I do.)
Flavorings such as: citrus zest (about 1 teaspoon), pure flavor extracts (about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon), food grade essential oils (3-5 drops), instant espresso powder (2 teaspoons), green tea powder (2 teaspoons), Chai spices (1-2 teaspoons, finely ground) etc.

What you do:
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

Put the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar into the mixing bowl and whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar and continue whipping until all the sugar is incorporated and stiff, glossy peaks form. Add in your flavoring (start light, taste & add more if needed.)

whipping meringues

My kids love making these *almost* as much as they like eating them!

Gently fill your pastry bag with meringue and pipe out into your preferred shape – you can make “lady fingers,” “nests,” “kisses,” etc. – onto your prepared baking sheet.

flower scented meringues

Rose scented meringues

If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can also dollop these onto your prepared baking sheet by the spoonful.

Bake at 225 for 60-90 minutes, rotating the pans at the 30 minute marks, until the meringues are dry and crisp.

Turn the oven off and allow the meringues to cool completely in the oven.

Store them in an airtight container until you are ready to serve/gift/eat and ENJOY!

NOTE: If you are creating goodie plates to gift, you will want to wrap these separately otherwise they will absorb the moisture of the other treats and go gooey/mushy and GROSS! (Yes, I made that mistake, so you don’t have to!)

Sorry for the lack of photos on this one, the kids made this batch mostly without me while I was busy elsewhere.

12 Days of Candy! Easy Truffles!

Mayan Truffles

12 Days of Candy continues with Easy Truffles!

candy making with munchkins

So easy, your littlest kitchen munchkin can do it!

A couple of years ago now I came across this super simple truffle recipe to make with kids. Since I LOVE spending time in the kitchen with my girlgoyels, I couldn’t wait to try it out. It has since become a holiday staple in our house.

The best part is that it lends itself to nearly infinite variation. In fact, I don’t even have the original (BORING) recipe anymore because it got lost under the stacks of notecards holding our custom crafted innovations and improvisations – I’ll share a couple of our favorites with you below to give you an idea of all the MANY directions you can take this simple confection.

What you need:
A large mixing bowl
A small microwavable mixing bowl, or large microwavable soup bowl
A cookie sheet
Parchment paper
An electric mixer with beater attachments (As opposed to the whisk attachments)
Enough room in the fridge to fit the cookie sheet for a few hours.

Ingredients:
One 8oz block of cream cheese (Do not, for the sake of all that is good in the world, use the whipped cream cheese that comes in a tub. Please.)
8 oz. baker’s chocolate (depending on the flavor you end up wanting you can use dark chocolate, semi-sweet or white chocolate here.)
Your flavorings (Ideas & our favorite combinations below)
A separate 12 squares of high quality chocolate (dark, semi-sweet or white) for coating the truffles. (You CANNOT use chocolate chips for this stage because they have additional ingredients that help them hold their shape during baking but which will prevent them from tempering properly. You can, however use high quality plain chocolate bars. I started using Lindt chocolate bars, some of which have complimentary flavors, such as Chili for my Mayan truffles!)

good chocolate

Spoiled candy makers will use this opportunity to dip into their special stash of Costa Rican chocolate…

Decorations to match your flavors (or at least make them distinguishable from one another) such as – large colored sugar crystals, crushed candy canes, almond slivers, colored white chocolate shapes, etc. Cruise down the baking aisle at your store and look at the cupcake decorations for ideas.

What you do:
First – Beat the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl until it is light and fluffy.

Next – melt the 8 oz of chocolate in the microwave 20 seconds at a time, stirring each time the microwave beeps. (This is to keep the chocolate from “breaking” or separating out, if it does “break” it’s not the end of the world – taste it to make sure it is not burnt if it tastes okay and is all melted, go ahead and mix it into the cream cheese, it will smooth out.)

making truffles

Mix the cream cheese & chocolate together.

Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, then pour it over the cream cheese along with your flavoring (Ideas and suggestions are coming, I promise!) and beat them together until they are completely combined and smooth.

flavored truffles

Adding the Cherry & Amaretto to the truffle Filling

Refrigerate the filling at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Once the filling has reached a nice, firm stage, pull it out of the fridge and use a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon to scoop out balls of filling. Roll them between your hands to make them into nice little balls and then drop them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper (or parchment paper, for once you can use either one.) Once the cookie sheet is full, pop it back into the fridge to re-firm up the truffle balls (About an hour)

Truffle rolling

Rolling Truffles with Love

Once they are all firmed up, melt the other 12 ounces of chocolate either gently over a double boiler, or again in 20 second increments in the microwave. You want to get it super smooth.

tempering chocolate in microwave

Whisk first, if the chocolate doesn’t melt together, give it 20 more seconds.

Take the truffle balls out of the fridge and, one at a time, dunk them in the melted chocolate. Pull them out with a small forf and let the excess chocolate sheet off them.

coating truffles

Finally found a use for those cocktail forks!

Set them on a fresh cookie sheet lined with parchment (or wax) paper.

resting truffles

Let them rest

Decorate them while the chocolate coating is still warm & liquid so that your decorations will stick. Otherwise you’ll have to do what I did this year and melt up a fresh small batch of chocolate to decorate with.

cherry amaretto truffles

Just a little sliver of almond let’s you know what’s inside these lovely candies.

If the melted dipping chocolate begins to cool and thicken, place any remaining truffle centers back in the fridge and re-warm the chocolate in 20 second increments, whisking to make it smooth and creamy again.

If at any point your coating chocolate “breaks” separating out into oil and clumps of hard cocoa – throw it away, you can’t save it. If you’re using high quality chocolate, this is much less likely to happen!

Once all the truffle centers have been dipped and coated and decorated, allow them to harden and then store in the fridge until you’re ready to gift them out or share them. They are best if you allow them to come back up to room temperature before you eat them.

Favorite Flavor Combinations and how to make them! (Told you I’d get here!)
Mayan Chocolate: This is our MOST favorite truffle flavor.
Simply add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon extract (liquid, available in the spice section of your store) and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder to your cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate mixture. Coat in dark chocolate (Or 1 bar each Lindt chili chocolate & 1 bar of Lindt 70% cocoa chocolate.) and top with red sugar crystals.

Mayan Truffles

This year’s Mayan Truffles

White Chocolate Lavender (Note, we’ve also done lavender with semi-sweet chocolate and that was awesome too)
Add about 10 drops of food grade lavender essential oil to your cream cheese/white chocolate filling (or cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate filling) – Taste it after 5 drops & go slowly, you don’t want to overpower it or it will be like eating soap!! Coat in dark chocolate (you will need that bitterness to balance the soapy sweet lavender). Decorate with purple sugar or color some melted white chocolate to make it purple and use your pastry bag & tips to make white chocolate stars/flowers to put on top.

Bitter Sweet Orange Truffles
Add about 10 drops of food grade orange blossom essential oil to your cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate mixture, or if you can’t get your hands on that, use about 1/4 cup of Triple Sec or other orange liqueur. Coat in white or dark chocolate and garnish with orange sprinkles.

Cherry Amaretto (Think Cherry Garcia Truffle)
Add 1/2 cup of amaretto liqueur, 1/4 cup of minced maraschino cherries (without any of the liquid) to your cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate filling. Coat in milk or dark chocolate and garnish with a slivered almond. (Shown above)

Fresh Mint Because for some reason December is mint season.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of mint extract to your cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate filling. Coat in semi-sweet or milk chocolate, or in white chocolate for that cool, crisp sweet to punch up the spicy mint. Garnish with crushed candy canes.

Mocha Truffles because we all need a wee boost of caffeine this time of year
Add 2 shots of cooled espresso, or 1 tablespoon of instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of kahlua, to your cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate filling. Coat in semi-sweet or milk chocolate and garnish with a vanilla (or other sweet flavored) coffee bean.

Bourbon Truffles – You knew this was coming!
Simply add 1/2 cup of your favorite bourbon or whiskey, or rye to your cream cheese/semi-sweet chocolate filling. Coat in semi-sweet or dark chocolate and garnish with bourbon sugar!

Basically, think of any flavor you like with chocolate and add the essence of that flavor to the filling, coat with more chocolate and Enjoy!

12 Days of Candy! The Sugar Cookies post!

sugar cookies

It just wouldn’t be the holidays without sugar cookies. (She says as she realized this is the first time she has made sugar cookies with her kids in over 5 years…)

But wait… This is 12 days of candy, you say. To which I reply, what do you put on sugar cookies? Mwa-ha-ha!

(Also, on day 1 I am pretty sure I added an (and cookies) parenthesis somewhere in the text, so there.)

Okay – sugar cookies, which depending on your personality type are either THE BEST THING EVER ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS! or the bane of your existence. I waver between the two – they always seem like a great idea until I start making them and then I remember everything I loath about them…

sugar cookies

You can tell which munchkin decorated which cookies.

This is definitely a “Get your munchkin army” treat in my opinion.

Here’s what you need:
Infinite patience!
Cookie cutters
An electric mixer with beater paddles. (I use the hand-held little one)
Some cookie sheets, mixing bowls, the usual.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing to decorate (Recipe follows)
Decorations like colored sugar, holiday sprinkles, crushed candy cane, cinnamon imperials, mini-chocolate chips, M&Ms, etc. (We even used fruit flavored tic tacs because we’re sick like that, and we had them available in the requisite colors.)

What you do:
First, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl & set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

Reduce the beater speed to low and beat in the flour mixture in 2 batches until just incorporated. (Do NOT over beat/over work the dough, that will activate the gluten and make it tough and chewy!)

Shape the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Once the dough is firm, roll out 1 batch of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface (keeping the other batch in the fridge) until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out shapes with your cookie cutters and place them on the cookie sheets.

Gather the scraps and roll them together. Refrigerate until firm again, reroll and recut. Repeat until there isn’t enough dough to cut anymore or the cookie sheets are full.

Chill the cutout cookies for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake the cookies until they are slightly puffed & golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Once the cookies have cooled completely, it’s time to decorate!

decorating cookies with munchkins

Gather ye munchkins, it’s cookie decorating time!

Here’s what you need for the icing: (Note, this is easy icing, not royal icing.)
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 cups powdered sugar – sifted to help avoid clumping
3-5 Tablespoons of milk
food coloring (optional)

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until crumbles form. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until a smooth, silky icing is created.

Separate out some of the icing and color it with the food dye if you want. My girlgoyels poured a little food coloring into lids and used toothpicks to draw with it.

To ice the cookies, put a teaspoon of icing on each cookie, use a small rubber spatula to spread it evenly over the cookie, allowing any excess to fall back into the bowl.

I HIGHLY recommend placing the cookies on some wax paper so that extra icing and sugar and sprinkles will land on the paper not the table! It makes cleanup 500 times easier!

Decorate with sugar, sprinkles, candies, etc. and then set aside to dry.

Store the decorated cookies in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to eat/share/gift and ENJOY them!

(Sorry this post is short on pictures, my kids made these 90% without me while I worked on some of the more labor intensive stuff because I did not take my own advice to pace myself.)

12 Days of Candy! Peppermint Bark

peppermint bark

Welcome to a new edition of 12 days of candy – the Peppermint Bark post!

sweet peppermint presents

All ready for gift giving!

I made peppermint bark for the first time last year at the insistence of my oldest girlgoyel. This year, we made some improvements.

This is a SUPER simple recipe, totally – well, okay, mostly, kid friendly. (The not kid, or human, friendly part is the weaponized candy cane dust, but we’ll get to that.)

Here’s what you need:
1 medium size microwavable mixing bowl
1 rimmed cookie sheet
parchment paper
rubber spatula
variety of crushing tools such as – freezer bag & hammer or rolling pin, nut crusher, spice grinder, food processor…
Room in your fridge to store the cookie sheet for a few hours or over night.

Ingredients:
16 oz. bag of chocolate chips (dark chocolate, semi-sweet, milk chocolate – your pick.)
16 oz. bag of white chocolate chips (OR, even better, 16 oz. of good quality baking white chocolate.)
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (It is worth noting for the vegans, you can omit this and still have a good peppermint bark. It helps smooth the chocolates out during melting, but it is not an absolute necessity. We left it out the first year and it all worked just fine.)
8-12 peppermint candy canes (I HATE that I have to specify peppermint, but candy canes come in all sorts of weird flavors these days, so…)
Peppermint extract (optional)

What you do:
First, melt the chocolate and 1 Tablespoon of butter in your microwavable bowl in 20 second intervals, stirring each time the microwave beeps.

Once the chocolate has reached a smooth consistency, stir in 1 tablespoon of peppermint extract if using. Then, pour the chocolate onto the prepared, parchment lined cookie sheet and use a rubber spatula to spread it around to about a 1mm thickness. It might not cover the pan edge to edge, that is okay. No need to force it.

Pop it into the fridge to set – at least 1 hour, up to 3 hours.

Meanwhile, clean all your bowls/utensils and crush the candy canes. We tried using a thick plastic bag and a hammer – the bag broke. We tried a fresh plastic bag and a rolling pin – the bag broke. (Lesson: candy canes are sharp when broken.) Then we tried the spice grinder, it worked fairly well to make weaponized candy cane dust – still coughing peppermint oil – but we wanted some bigger shards. So, finally we tried a large mortar and pestle. That worked okay – still some weaponized candy cane dust, but we also got the shards we were looking for.

weaponized candy cane dust

We strongly recommend using a gas mask!

I used a fine sieve to separate the candy cane dust from the pieces, this is not required, but I like how we ended up using both portions. (Though I recommend having your kitchen munchkin leave the room while you do this. I’m really not kidding about the weaponized candy cane dust.)

Once the chocolate has set, use your cleaned microwaveable bowl and melt down your white chocolate and 1 Tablespoon of butter – again using 20 second increments. Once the white chocolate is nearly where you want it, switch to 10 second increments – white chocolate is more fragile than darker chocolate.

Once you get a smooth consistency, mix in some of the candy cane dust. I think we used about 1/4 cup – but I’m not positive. We shook some in, stirred, tasted, shook in some more, stirred, tasted, etc. I recommend you do the same.

NOTE: You will be sprinkling the candy cane pieces over the top, so you don’t need an overpowering candy cane flavor here, just a wee hint.

Once your white chocolate is where you want it in terms of consistency and peppermintiness, pour it over the darker chocolate and spread it around to cover. We decided to leave a small 2mm edge of darker chocolate around ours for no particular reason this time.

easy peppermint bark

Nearly there!

Next, sprinkle the candy cane pieces over the top and gently press them into the warm white chocolate.

peppermint bark

Candy cane goodness!

Then, pop the whole thing into the fridge to set for a couple of hours or over night.

When you’re ready, pull it out of the fridge, use the parchment paper to life the bark out of the cookie tray and drop it onto a cutting board. This is another candy where you want to embrace the random and feel confident in breaking it into irregular shapes and sizes. Though… It is soft enough that if the OCD in you needs to, you can take a ruler and a knife to it and cut out perfect, regular little squares.

sweet peppermint presents

All ready for gift giving!

Store in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to eat/share/gift and ENJOY!

12 Days of Candy! Vegan Coconut Caramels!

caramel gifts

Happy Holiday Candy Making – Day 2!

I can’t wait to share my vegan coconut caramels recipe with you all!

caramel gifts

Pretty little presents, all wrapped up!

A year and some ago my husband had to go off dairy and gluten for a while and I have to admit, it put a very serious, if temporary, damper on my cooking. On the other hand, it also pushed me to explore some new ground, like these amazing vegan caramels that I still make every year because – HOLY YUM BALLS!

This is another one of those recipes that seems easy on the surface, but which I wish had prepared me a little better for the reality of actually making these. Primarily – you will be stirring FOREVER!! Or until your arm falls off, and then you’ll have to switch arms and stir until that one falls off and then… LOTS of stirring. Be prepared. Go to the bathroom before you get started and have a glass of water nearby to keep you hydrated as you go, and maybe some snacks within reach – assuming you have the arm strength left to reach for anything…

This recipe makes 64 caramels, and I usually make 2-3 batches and flavor each one differently, because… Sanity about food is NOT my super power…

So here’s what you need:
One medium sauce pan, one large sauce pan.
A wooden spoon
An 8×8 baking dish
Parchment paper
A pastry brush
A candy thermometer (Told you you should buy one!)

Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons of coconut oil, melted
1 16oz can of full fat coconut milk (Not coconut cream, and NOT the coconut milk you buy in the refrigerator section)
3/4 cups light corn syrup (I’ve heard you can also use maple syrup, but that would completely change the flavor, so do keep that in mind if you choose to go that path. I’m not a corn syrup fan myself, but… Again we’re making candy not health food here. I suppose you might be able to use gave or honey as well, again, those choices will affect the flavor.)
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cups water
Flavoring such as: 1/4 cup of quality bourbon or rye whiskey. 4 shots of strong fresh brewed espresso or 3 Tablespoons of instant coffee granules. 1-2 tablespoons of vanilla, almond, orange, coffee or other extracts.

What you do:
First, line your baking dish with the parchment paper and brush with the melted coconut oil. (NOTE, the first time I made these I didn’t have parchment paper, so I used wax paper – DO NOT DO THAT! They are NOT the same!!)

Start by combining the water and sugar in the medium sauce pan. Stir to get all of the sugar wet. (This is CRUCIAL!)

Next, Place the pan over medium high heat and let cook, WITHOUT STIRRING*, until the sugar turns a light amber color and your candy thermometer reads 310 degrees (Or hard crack stage)

don't stir the sugar

Do NOT stir!

While you are waiting for the sugar to caramelize, combine the coconut milk, corn syrup and salt in your large (4 quart) sauce pan. Heat over medium-low heat stirring constantly for about 3 minutes until the mixture is just warm and all the coconut milk clumps have melted in.

cocnut milk caramels

Warm the coconut milk mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

AS SOON AS the sugar water has caramelized and reached 310 degrees, remove it from the heat and pour it gently into the warm coconut milk. BE CAREFUL, it WILL bubble, spit and splatter!

Return the large sauce pan to medium-low heat, stirring constantly with your wooden spoon. (Your caramelized sugar water WILL ball up in the coconut milk and you’ll think you’ve done something wrong, you haven’t, it will dissolve back into the mix as you stir, I promise!)

more stirring

Just keep stirring. And stirring.

Once the caramel sugar is all dissolved, raise the heat to medium high and – still stirring – cook the mixture until the coconut caramel becomes quite thick and your candy thermometer reads 240 degrees. (If you let it go a little higher, don’t panic, your caramel will simply set harder. The 240 reading makes soft, chewy caramels. 245 is a medium set and 250 comes out pretty hard.)

temperature check

Keep an eye on that candy thermometer!

Immediately remove your caramel from the heat and add your flavorings if desired, stir vigorously to incorporate and then pour the HOT caramel into the prepared parchment lined pan.

Allow to cool completely. (I usually just leave mine overnight)

gorgeous vegan caramel

Look at that gorgeous glossy sheen!

When you’re ready to cut them, use the parchment paper to pull the caramel out of the pan and place it on a cutting board. Cut the caramels into 1 inch squares. Brush your knife with melted coconut oil between each cut to keep the caramels from sticking to it.

cutting caramels

Let your kitchen munchkin do the wrapping while you cut!

Wrap each caramel in wax paper squares. (You can use regular wax paper that you cut into squares, or you can buy specialty candy wrappers at the store, I got mine at ACE Hardware!)

caramel gifts

Pretty little presents, all wrapped up!

I store my caramels in the fridge until I’m ready to gift them, but you don’t actually have to do that.

Share with friends and enjoy!

*Stirring the sugar water solution can cause the sugar to re-crystalize. This can do two things – first, make your caramel grainy – YUCK!
OR, worse, it can set off a chain reaction causing ever more sugar to crystalize and ruining your whole batch of caramel.
DO NOT STIR THE SUGAR WATER!