Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Candy

Our wedding is four days away! I am now experiencing a roller coaster of emotions that range from excited anticipation, loving tenderness, and barely controlled panic. So much to do and so little time left to do it.
Oh, and Christmas is the day afterwards. Just when I have a handle on the wedding stuff, the holiday stuff reminds me there is more to do.

So I take a lot of deep breaths and vow to enjoy these next few days of celebration.

My Christmas gift to all of you are my favorite holiday candy recipes. The peanut brittle, broken glass candy, and raisin-peanut clusters are old family favorites. The truffle recipe is perhaps the easiest one I’ve ever come across. Plus, I’ve added instructions for easy chocolate tempering I received years ago from Granite State Candies in Concord, New Hampshire, a candy shop that has been in existence for almost 90 years!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I’ll see you after the holidays with stories of the wedding and my honeymoon to Branson, Missouri.

Classic Chocolate Truffles
From Truffles, Candies & Confections: Techniques and Recipes for Candymaking by Carole Bloom ($24.95, Ten Speed Press, 2004)
Makes 60 1-inch truffles

2 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 to 4 tablespoons cocoa powder

Place 1 pound of the chocolate in a 2-quart mixing bowl. In a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil. Pour the cream into the bowl with the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for 1 minute, then stir together with a rubber spatula, whisk or immersion blender until thoroughly blended. Cover the truffle cream, let cool to room temperature, and chill in the refrigerator until thick but not stiff (2 to 3 hours). Or let the truffle cream sit at room temperature for several hours or overnight until completely set and thick.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Fit a 12-inch pastry bag with a large, plain round pastry tip with a 1/2-inch opening and fill partway with the truffle cream. Holding the pastry bag 1 inch above the paper, pipe out mounds about 1 inch in diameter. Or use a small ice cream scoop to form the mounds. Cover the mounds with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 2 hours or in the refrigerator for 6 hours.

Dust your hands with cocoa powder and roll the mounds into balls. These will be the truffle centers. Cover and chill the centers for another 2 hours in the freezer.

Remove the truffle centers from the freezer and bring to cool-room temperature so the outer coating won’t crack when they are dipped. Line 2 more baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Melt and temper the remaining 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate. Place a truffle center into the tempered chocolate, coating it completely. With a dipper or fork, remove the center from the chocolate, carefully shake off the excess chocolate, and turn the truffle out onto the paper. After dipping each sheet of truffles, dip the fork into the chocolate coating and form lines across the tops of the truffles by moving the fork from one side of the baking sheet to the other, letting the chocolate drip off.

Let the truffles set up at room temperature, or chill them in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. When the truffles are set, place them in paper candy cups. In a tightly covered container wrapped in several layers of aluminum foil, the truffles will keep for 1 month in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer. The truffles are best served at room temperature.

Variations: Instead of dipping the truffle centers into tempered chocolate, roll them in a small bowl of cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, finely chopped toasted nuts, or toasted coconut as soon as they are rolled into balls.

Peanut Brittle

2 cup sugar
1 cup white (Karo) syrup
1/4 cup water
Pinch of salt
2 cups of raw, unsalted roasted or cocktail peanuts
1 Tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering pan
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter a large cookie sheet and set aside. Place the sugar, syrup, water, and salt in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 260° on a candy thermometer (hard ball stage). Add the butter along with the raw peanuts, if using. Continue to cook until the temperature reaches 300° and the mixture is golden. If using roasted or cocktail peanuts, add them now. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well and pour on to cookie sheet. When cook, break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Broken Glass Candy
3 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup white (Karo) syrup
Food coloring

Dust a large cookie sheet with powdered sugar and set aside. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan mix well the sugar and syrup. Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 300° on a candy thermometer. Set off the heat immediately and add 3 to 4 drops of flavoring oil or 1 teaspoon of a flavoring extract. Then add food coloring until you get the desired color. Pour mixture onto the cookie sheet. Let set until hard and clear, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Easy Raisin-Peanut Clusters

1 12-ounce package of chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup peanuts
1 cup raisins
Cover two cookie sheets with waxed paper and set aside. Melt chocolate chips in either a double boiler or in a microwave on a 50 percent power setting. Mix in the can of sweetened condensed milk, peanuts and raisins. Drop teaspoon sized portions of the mixture in clusters onto the cookie sheets, cool and let stand overnight in a cool place. Store in an airtight container.

Easy Chocolate Tempering
The folks at Granite State Candy Shoppe in Concord, New Hampshire have come up with two simple ways for the home cook to temper chocolate.
Microwave Method: Break chocolate into small pieces. Put 2/3 of chocolate into a bowl and melt on 50 percent power in one-minute intervals, stirring in between. Temperatures should be around 110°. Add remaining chocolate in small amounts while stirring. Be sure that pieces are completely melted before adding more. The chocolate will thicken and become cool, shiny and smooth. When the temperature is around 90° the chocolate has been tempered and is ready to use.

Table Top Method: Break chocolate into small pieces. Melt chocolate over a very low heat using a double boiler, stirring constantly. Do not let the water in the bottom of the double boiler come to a boil. When the chocolate has completely melted, remove from heat. Pour 1/3 of the chocolate onto a smooth surface (preferable a marble slab) and work with a spatula to spread out the scrape together until the chocolate cools to around 84°. Then add the cooled chocolate to remaining warm chocolate in the bowl and stir until smooth. Chocolate should then be at around 90° and ready to use.

To check if chocolate has been properly tempered, drop a spoonful onto wax paper and cool. If the chocolate is shiny and not streaky, it is ready.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Naughty or Nice Apple Cake

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post featuring an apple cake recipe from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. I noted in the post the cake didn’t turn out quite the way I imagined. Since the notes with the recipe said it would be good for breakfast, I was expecting a cake that was more like a quick bread or coffee cake, especially since it was baked in a tube pan. What I got was—well, cake! It was very sweet—too sweet for my taste, which for those of you who know me is a big surprise. It also had too much oil for my liking.

So I decided to create a healthier version of the cake. One I would eat for breakfast. Besides trading out one cup of all-purpose flour for the whole wheat variety, I also cut the sugar in half, and I cut the oil in half and replaced it with unsweetened applesauce. (After all, it is an apple cake.)

The result was more to my liking. Sweet but not too sweet. And yummy toasted with a bit of butter. The perfect apple cake for breakfast or a snack. It could also be dressed up for dessert by baking it in a bundt pan and drizzling a vanilla icing glaze over the top. (Next time I may trade the raisins for dried cranberries.)

So now you have a choice—the original “naughty” version or the new “nice” version. If you try either, let me know what you think.

Naughty or Nice Apple Cake
Adapted from Teddie’s Apple Cake recipe in The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled, cored, and diced apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.

Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer with a paddle (or in a bowl with a hand mixer) for 5 minutes. Add the applesauce and eggs. Beat until the mixture is creamy. Stir in the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts, and raisins and stir until combined.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hot Chocolate and Eggnog

When the holidays and cold weather arrive, my thoughts turn to hot chocolate and eggnog. The first is a cup of warm comfort and the second is a rich, luscious treat mysteriously only available this time of year.

Eggnog is thought to be a descendant of a medieval European beverage called posset, which was made with hot milk and strong ale. Nog was an old English term used to describe the ale. Eggnog as we know it was enjoyed first by the upper classes in England since milk, eggs and brandy were expensive. However, here in America, eggnog was enjoyed by everyone because dairy products were abundant and people used rum from the Caribbean instead of expensive European spirits.

Warm chocolate beverages have been consumed for centuries, though these drinks were not the type we know and love. The Mayans and Aztecs drank a bitter beverage made of crushed cacao seeds (the key ingredient of chocolate) mixed with water. Sometimes crushed chili peppers were added. Aztec king Montezuma used the beverage as an aphrodisiac and consumed 50 goblets full each day.

Hot chocolate as we know it came about when the Europeans brought cacao to their homeland. They added sugar and hot milk to make the beverage more drinkable, and at times added spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Hot chocolate—also called cocoa and drinking chocolate—was the only form of chocolate people enjoyed until the mid-1800s when a British company created the solid chocolate bar.

Hot chocolate and hot cocoa are actually two different drinks. One is made with solid chocolate that is melted into the beverage, while the other is made with cocoa powder, sugar and hot milk. However, some recipes use both cocoa powder and solid chocolate.
Why not make homemade eggnog and hot chocolate? I have to confess—I’ve never attempted homemade eggnog since many of the ready-made varieties available in the grocery store are so tasty. I’ve had it made by friends, and it’s delicious. And I’ve made homemade hot chocolate many times, usually from the recipe found on the Hershey’s cocoa package.

For eggnog, perhaps it’s fear that keeps cooks from making it at home since the traditional recipe uses raw eggs, which can be a source of salmonella bacteria on the eggshells. Don’t worry. There are a couple of ways around this problem. First is to use pasteurized eggs, which can be found with the regular eggs in most grocery stores. Or follow a cooked eggnog recipe. The egg and milk mixture will need to reach at least 160 degrees—it will coat the back of a spoon. You will want to refrigerate the eggnog immediately to keep it safe and a large batch will need to be divided into smaller amounts to allow for quick cooling.

Of course vanilla and a little nutmeg will make the eggnog quite flavorful. But many people enjoy a little liquor added to their drink. Like the early Americans, rum is a good choice, as is brandy and whiskey. Kahlua and Baileys Irish Cream are also popular.

Additions to dress up hot chocolate include crushed candy canes, whipped cream, marshmallows, or chocolate shavings. A little malt will give the drink a malted-milk ball taste. If you have an espresso machine, a little steamed milk will add to the richness. And for grown-ups, a bit of liquor would be a nice twist—Kalhua, Frangelico, Amaretto, and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Here are a few recipes to get you started.  

Cooked Eggnog

From The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (Scribner, 2006 edition)

For nonalcoholic alternative, 2 teaspoons vanilla or 1 1/2 cups strong coffee can replace the spirits. Do not double this recipe.

1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream

Whisk in a medium bowl just until blended:
12 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg

Heat in a large saucepan over medium-low heat:
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
While whisking, slowly add part of the hot milk and cream mixture to the egg yolks. Then slowly pour the cream and egg mixture back into the saucepan, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes a little thicker and reaches a temperature of about 175 degrees. Do not overheat or the mixture will curdle. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the combined 1 cup milk and 1 cup heavy cream. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a storage container and cool.

Chill thoroughly, uncovered, then stir in:
1/2 cup brandy, Cognac, dark rum, or bourbon

Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days. Serve sprinkled with:
Ground nutmeg

Chocolate Eggnog
From eggnogrecipe.net

8 eggs
3 cups chocolate milk
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1 cup Kahlua liqueur (or freshly brewed strong coffee)
1 cup dark rum
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
Pinch cinnamon, as garnish
Pinch grated chocolate, as garnish

In a large saucepan over medium heat, pour the milk and chocolate milk. Heat the milks, but do not boil.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and brown sugar until they are well combined and of a reasonably thick consistency.

When the milk mixture is hot, add approximately half of it to the bowl containing the beaten eggs and brown sugar, whisking well. Pour all of the egg, sugar and milk mixture back into the large saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Slowly and gently, add in the Kahlua and cream. Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened enough to be able to coat the back of a spoon. Do not ever let the mixture boil.

Remove the eggnog from the heat. Stir in the dark rum, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled (at least 3 hours.) To serve, ladle the eggnog into individual glasses and garnish with grated chocolate or cinnamon.

Hot Chocolate
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a heavy saucepan, whisk milk, cream and sugar together over medium heat until it begins to simmer. Reduce the heat and add the cocoa powder and chocolate. Whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla.

Mexican Hot Chocolate
From The Good Home Cookbook edited by Richard J. Perry (Collectors Press, 2006)
Serves 6

6 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 squares (3 ounces) baking chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whipped cream, to serve

Combine one cup of milk, the sugar, chocolate and cinnamon in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted. Gradually stir in the remaining 5 cups milk. Cook, stirring, until the milk is very hot. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Gradually stir 1 cup of hot milk mixture into the eggs, then transfer the entire mixture to a saucepan. Cook and stir for 2 minutes over low heat.

Remove the pan from the heat ans stir in the vanilla extract. Beat with a hand beater until very frothy. Pour the hot chocolate into mugs, dollop each with whipped cream, and serve.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shipping Holiday Treats

If you’re like me, not long after the holiday season begins, thoughts turn to all of the treats we plan to create—cookies, breads, candy, cakes—either to consume ourselves, serve to guests, or give away as gifts. (Or all of the above.) Some of those holiday goodies may be destined for far away places. Homemade food gifts are some of the most cherished presents, especially for loved ones who would enjoy a reminder of home and holidays past.

It’s not too early to plan the shipping of holiday food gifts (or any other gift, for that matter.) According to the United States Postal Service, all overseas gifts should start shipping by December 7th, with the last day being the 19th; packages to military destination should be shipped by December 17th; and December 21st is the last day to send Priority Mail to arrive by Christmas.    

To package up your gift goodies so your hard work doesn’t turn into a pile of crumbs upon arrival, first choose sturdy food items that will withstand the rigors of shipping. My favorites are breads and candies. I also like to send sturdy cookies and cookie bars. Some other good suggestions include spiced nuts, muffins, and fudge.

Movement is the enemy of gift foods. If the treats shift around too much inside their packaging, they will crumble during shipment. To prevent this from happening, package the food in an airtight container and then place that container inside a well-cushioned, heavy-duty shipping carton.

I like to line a decorative box, tin or plastic container with a layer of tissue paper and then waxed paper. Next go in the cookies, bars, candies, etc. To keep them in place, I tuck small pieces of crumpled parchment paper around the food to take up any excess space. Also, small paper candy cups both look nice and serve as cushions and I like to place a sheet of wax paper between layers of cookies or candies.

Sturdy items are even easier to package. Hard candies and nuts can be placed in a decorative plastic bag tied with a ribbon. Breads can be baked in disposable foil pans. Then, just wrap the bread, pan and all, in plastic wrap. (For a more elegant gift, bake the bread in a decorative metal or ceramic pan, though the later will require extra cushioning to prevent breakage.)

For liquid items such as homemade oils and vinegars, be sure the bottles are tightly closed. Then place the bottle in a zippered plastic bag and wrap in bubble wrap. This should help prevent both breaking and leaking.

Once you have the food individually packaged, place those containers inside a shipping carton with heavier items toward the bottom. Cushion around the gifts with wadded-up newspaper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam or cornstarch peanuts. Air-popped popcorn also works well. Just be sure not to use popcorn popped in oil or your packages will be greasy. For a more festive look, try using old wrapping paper, either wadded-up or shredded with a paper shredder.

Do not leave any empty space in the carton. Once you have everything inside, close the lid and give the package a shake. If you hear anything moving around, repack the box and try again.  

Here are recipes for two of my favorite holiday breads, both of which ship very well.

Banana Nut Oatmeal Bread

Makes 1 loaf
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl or on a sheet of parchment paper, sift together the flours, soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, until blended, and then add the bananas. Add the flour mixture and mix well. Add the oatmeal and walnuts and stir until just blended.

Place batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cranberry Walnut Bread

Makes 2 loaves or 1 Bundt pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup orange juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bread pans or Bundt pan.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add eggs, orange juice and butter to the well; stir liquid ingredients just until blended. Add cranberries and walnuts to the well. Stir together liquid and dry ingredients just until combined.

Spread batter into prepared pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes depending on the size of pan until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and finish cooling. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Let the Countdown Begin!

Our wedding is just 3 weeks and 1 day away! The event that seemed sooooo very far distant on the calendar for so long is fast approaching. On Christmas Eve morning my sweetheart and chief food taster, Michael, and I will begin our new journey as husband and wife.  

I’m thrilled!

I’m also a bit overwhelmed. What made me think a wedding at Christmas time is a good idea? Talk about busy, busy, busy!

So, for the next few weeks, I’m taking a break from the Friday posting of the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world that I and a number of fellow food bloggers are paying tribute to by posting a recipe from each week. I’ll still be making regular posts, including one on tips for shipping your holiday goodies to family and friends far away. And, of course, I have to post about my wedding reception—and NFL celebration (yes, it was my idea!) featuring a soup bar that will work well for any upcoming Super Bowl parties. I will join the group again for the first Friday of the New Year.

Until then, check out my fellow bloggers’ sites. This week features Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, founders of the River CafĂ© in London, which put British food on the map. (The also helped launch the career of Jamie Oliver.)

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook