Tuesday, December 28, 2010

English Toffee

I love me some toffee!  I've been wanting to make it forever, but haven't until now.  Candy involving a candy thermometer can be temperamental.  Having attempted other types of candies, I knew that it was important to have all the ingredients measured and ready.  This technique is called mise en place and I should really do it with all my recipes, but most of the time I don't. 

My first attempt to make English Toffee went really well, until the very end.  When the candy was ready to be poured into the prepared pan, I removed the candy thermometer and dropped it into the molten liquid.  The glass of the thermometer broke, and I couldn't find any traces of it anywhere.  Not knowing what else to do at the moment, I transferred the candy to the pan and let it cool.  After breaking a piece off and examining it for glass, I tasted it, and it was excellent.  It's a real shame the batch was ruined by glass because for my first attempt, this toffee could not have turned out more perfect.  It was buttery, nutty and had a perfect sweet crunch.

I had enough butter and slivered almonds in the house to make another batch the next day.  I awkwardly used my digital thermometer (nothing to attach it to the pot like my candy thermometer had).  Other than the thermometer, I did everything the same as before, however the replacement batch did not turn out as well.  The second time around, near the end of the cooking process, the butter and sugar started separating.  I couldn't get it to come back together, but I soldiered on and spread it into the pan.  Once it cooled for a minute I took a few paper towels and tried to get rid of the excess butter that was pooling.   Before it cooled too much in the pan, I used a knife to score the candy to make more uniform pieces once broken apart.  The toffee ended up tasting fine, but the texture turned out a little grainy.  Not willing to waste another pound of butter, I decided that these were good enough and coated them in chocolate and chopped nuts.

Marilyn's English Toffee
From America's Test Kitchen
Yield: About 3 pounds

1 lb unsalted butter
1/2 tea. table salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tbsp. water
1 cup slivered almonds (do not use sliced almonds)
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine)
1 1/2 - 2 cups lightly toasted pecans (or walnuts), finely chopped

Melt 3/4 of chocolate over hot water or in a microwave oven at half power for 2-3 minutes. When melted, stir in remaining chocolate and set aside. Line a large jelly roll or half-sheet pan with heavy-duty foil and butter the foil.

Melt the butter with the salt in a heavy 3 quart saucepan over medium heat. Slowly add the sugar, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the water about halfway through this process. 

After all the sugar is added, begin testing the mixture to see if the sugar is dissolved. Place a drop of mixture on wax paper; allow it to cool and rub it between your fingers to make sure it doesn’t feel grainy. If it does, continue to cook and test again. The mixture will probably be boiling at this point.

When sugar is dissolved, add the almonds, and increase the heat to medium high. Cook to the hard-crack stage, or about 310-320 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring often to keep the candy from burning on the bottom. When it’s done, it should be a medium-dark amber color and have a caramel aroma. The almonds should have a toasted color but they should not burn. This is the tricky part, as there’s a thin line between perfect and overdone, and to some extent it’s a matter of taste.

Remove from heat and pour into the prepared pan, spreading as evenly as possible with an offset spatula. Be careful, this stuff is hot! Set the pan on a cooling rack. After 2-3 minutes, when toffee is just set, pour reserved chocolate on top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, and press them in gently with a spatula or bottom of a glass to anchor them in the chocolate.

Allow the toffee to harden at least 6-8 hours—overnight is better. Break into pieces using a sharp pointed knife with a rigid blade, or you can use your hands. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eggnog Fudge

I really like eggnog, so it's a good thing it's only in stores around the holidays.  As far as I know, I never had eggnog until high school.  I think I asked my mom to buy some so I could try it.  Maybe my parents don't like it?  Maybe it's just something they didn't have while they were growing up?  Neither my mom or dad's side of the family offer it during the holidays.  The first year I spent Christmas with Kevin's family, I had my first homemade eggnog, what a treat!

This fudge definitely tastes like eggnog, yum!  It was a complete success, and it was fairly quick and easy too.

Eggnog Fudge
Yield: 60 to 70 pieces

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup dairy eggnog
10.5 oz white chocolate bars, chopped into small pieces (I used an 11 oz package of Ghiradelli white chocolate chips)
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, plus a little more for the top of the fudge
7 oz jar marshmallow creme (I used 7.5 oz jar of Fluff)
1 tsp rum extract

Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil and let it hang over the sides. Butter the foil.

In a heavy, 3-quart saucepan combine sugar, butter and eggnog. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat or until a candy thermometer reaches 234°F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.

Using a wooden spoon, work quickly to stir in chopped white chocolate and nutmeg until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme and rum extract. Beat until well blended and then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle a little freshly ground nutmeg on top. Let stand at room temperature until cooled. Refrigerate if you’d like to speed up the process.

When completely cool, cut into squares. Store in a covered container.

*This fudge freezes well. Place in a covered container; it will keep for several weeks.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chocolate Mint Cookies

I hope everyone has at least started their Christmas baking by now.  I love this time of year because it gives me an excuse to try a bunch of new cookie and candy recipes (mixed in with some holiday standbys).  I always have these high hopes of making a ton of different things, but I run out of time to actually make everything.  

I'd been looking for Nestle's Mint Chips all season and when I finally found them I bought three bags.  I didn't really know what I was going to do with them.  Kevin has been craving Chocolate Crackles, but I decided against them because I needed to make them closer to Christmas so the confectioner's sugar wouldn't dissolve.  The Chocolate Mint Cookies are an adaptation of my Gram's Chocolate Crackle recipe.  These cookies are ridiculously quick and easy, and have the classic combination of chocolate and mint.  These are so good, I can guarantee you won't be sorry if you try them.

Chocolate Mint Cookies
Adapted from my Gram's recipe
Yield: About 4-5 dozen cookies

1 package Devil's Food cake mix
1 Tbsp water
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 (10 oz) package mint chips

Preheat oven to 375.  Combine all ingredients except chips in a bowl.  Mix with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Add the mint and chocolate chips and stir until combined.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place on greased baking sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pear Waffles

I love waffles!  They are probably my favorite warm breakfast food, but they have to be regular, crispy waffles, not the fluffy Belgian waffles.  And I'll tell you what, we had a heck of a time finding a regular waffle iron when we were registering for our wedding gifts.  Everything is of the Belgian variety these days.

Pear waffles are simply waffles topped with sliced pears and maple syrup.  It was a combo I randomly came up with a while back and it's just fabulous.  The waffle recipe is great on its own too, a little sweet with a hint of spice from the cinnamon and nutmeg.  

Adapted from
Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book
Yield:  10-12 waffles

1 3/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
3 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup milk (or substitute buttermilk)
1/2 cup oil

2 pears, sliced
Real maple syrup

Preheat a waffle iron.  In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.  In another bowl beat eggs slightly, then beat in milk and oil.  Add to flour mixture all at once.  Beat until just combined, but still slightly lumpy.

Pour batter onto grids of a lightly greased waffle iron.  Close lid quickly and do not open during baking.  Bake according to manufacturer's directions.  When done, use a fork to lift waffle off grid.  Repeat with remaining batter.

Top waffles with sliced pears and maple syrup, and enjoy.

*The best amount of batter for our waffle iron (
without over flows) is 1/3 to 1/2 cups and makes about 10-12 waffles.