Friday, December 23, 2011

Candy Man!

  One thing I absolutely love to do around the holidays is make candy. When I say I love making it, I mean I love that once it's made, I have homemade candy to eat. 
  A must around this house is English Toffee, and as of last year, Idle Isle Nut Balls. Idle Isle is a small restaurant and candy store (now two separate buildings) that have been here in Brigham City for 90 years. Their Nut Balls are a toffee-flavored creme center that is dipped in chocolate and rolled in crushed, toasted almonds. I'm sure the hate mail will soon be rolling in after what I am about to say, but Idle Isle Nut Balls don't really do much for me. Their creme centers are very sweet (too sweet for me) and don't have a lot of toffee flavor. I love the concept of the candy, however, so I began a quest to create my own Nut Balls. My sister came across a recipe last year which we used, and enjoyed very much. To my dismay, I was unable to find my copy of the recipe this year (she had given her copy to my father) and we couldn't find it online anywhere. In my search, I came across a recipe on this blog called McEwen and McEwen. The recipe has all the key factors to re-creating Idle Isle Nut Balls except one particular flavor I believe Idle Isle uses in their creme center, rum extract. So, I set to work making the creme filling, testing for flavor as I went. After the filling had time to chill sufficiently in the fridge,  I tasted again; perfection! The filling set perfectly and had just the right amount of flavor, without being over-the-top sweet.
  Rachel's (at McEwen and McEwen) recipes on her blog read as more of a novel, so I have typed the recipe in standard format for you. I would encourage you to visit her blog though, because she has a great sense of humor and it's a lot of fun reading her posts. With that, I leave you to enjoy your holiday season as much as I plan to enjoy mine! 

Merry Christmas!

English Butter Toffee

2 sticks unsalted butter 
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sugar 
6 oz. (1 ¼ cups) semi- sweet and/or milk chocolate chips
1 T. light corn syrup 
¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted & divided
3 T. water  
  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
  In a large, heavy 4 ½-quart saucepan combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon until butter melts. Cover and heat to boiling over medium high heat; boil 1 minute. Remove cover, place candy thermometer in pan and cook over medium high heat until syrup reaches 290-300 degrees F (candy should be a caramel brown color), stirring often after mixture reaches 250 degrees F. to prevent scorching. If mixture begins to darken at sides of pan, reduce heat to medium to prevent candy from taking on a burnt taste. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and half cup almonds.
 Working quickly, pour toffee onto prepared parchment-lined pan. Spread out until candy is evenly distributed, about ¼-inch thick. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. As chips begin to melt, spread melted chocolate evenly over toffee. Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup almonds on top. Let cool until chocolate sets. Break up toffee with the point of a sharp knife. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Yield: about 1 pound.

Note: The chocolate will become white and powdery after a few days, so if making for a gift it is best to make and give the same day.  
  Alternatively, sometime you can find Ghiradelli candy-making chocolate bars at Sam’s Club and other stores around the holidays. This chocolate is designed to keep well without turning white and powdery. Just melt a portion of the chocolate and spread over toffee.

Not Idle Isle Nut Balls

1 lb. light brown sugar
6 Tbsp. milk
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (or more, or less, depending on your tastes)
1/8 tsp. almond extract (or more, or less, depending on your tastes)
1 tsp. rum extract (or more, or less, depending on your tastes)
2 lb. powdered sugar
approx. 2 lb. Ghiradelli Melting Chocolate
1 lb. whole almonds, toasted and crushed (I pulsed the nuts in my food processor)
   Place brown sugar and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until sugar begins to dissolve; add butter and corn syrup and turn the heat up to medium-high. Bring to a full, rolling boil and boil about 80 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in sweetened, condensed milk and extracts. Pour sauce into the bowl of a stand mixer and slowly beat in powdered sugar. Once all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, turn up the speed on the mixer and beat until smooth and slightly cooled (about 2 minutes). The mixture will be slightly runny at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 3 hours. 
  Remove from the fridge and beat until fluffy (mixture should be the consistency of very stiff cookie dough). Using a small cookie scoop, scoop mounds of mixture onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Using your hands, roll mounds into round balls. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 4 hours or over-night.
  Melt half the chocolate in a deep bowl, let cool about 20 minutes. Place the toasted almonds in a shallow bowl. Prepare a cookie sheet with fresh parchment paper. 
  Working in small batches so the centers remain frozen, dip the balls in melted chocolate (I use chopsticks for this part. Just stick the sharp end of the chopstick halfway into the creme center. Once the candy is coated with nuts, it should slide nicely off the chopstick), then roll in nuts and place on cookie sheet. 
  Continue the process, melting additional chocolate as needed.
  Yields: 85 Nut Balls

Monday, December 19, 2011

Who Needs Mistletoe?!

  One of my family's long-standing Christmas cookie traditions is "Kiss Cookies". There is a variety of cookies we make every year around the holidays, and "Kiss Cookies" is always one of them. This is a basic peanut butter cookie that is rolled in sugar and topped with a Hershey's Kiss.
  I would recommend devouring as many of these delicious cookies as you can handle while they are warm from the oven. Once you've had your fill, they keep nicely for up to a week (I would recommend storing in a tin lined with parchment or wax paper) at room temperature, or several months in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.
  So, bake enough to have some now and later!

  I use the cookie recipe found here, but bake the cookies for about 12-14 minutes (Do not over-bake or they won't have a nice chewy center), then top each cookie (pressing lightly into the cookie) with a chocolate kiss, once removing the pan from the oven; remove cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely before storing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

There's Something In the Air

  I absolutely love Christmas-time and the Holiday Season. I love the smells that fill my home as I bake, and I love making candy around the holidays. 
  I recently was asked to bring a dessert to a gathering. I was torn between taking cookies and cupcakes (I have my favorite holiday cookie recipes, which I'll soon be sharing). I have a favorite cookie recipe that involves a chewy chocolate cookie rolled in crushed peppermint. I decided to morph that with a recipe I saw on "Baker's Royale" for Toffee Crunch Cupcakes; the result was Peppermint Crunch Cupcakes.
I actually baked these in mini muffin pans.

-First, bake up a batch of Devil's Food Cupcakes
-Then, follow the instructions in the Toffee Crunch Cupcake recipe for making ganache.
-Follow the instructions in the Toffee Crunch Cupcake recipe for making Caramel Frosting, but omit the caramel sauce. In place of the caramel sauce add 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract.
-Crush peppermints to equal about 1 cup.
-Follow the remainder of the instructions in the Toffee Crunch Cupcake recipe for assembling the cupcakes.

Note: The Devil's Food Cake recipe makes almost four dozen cupcakes. The frosting and ganache recipes will cover about two dozen cupcakes. 
  I took two dozen Peppermint Crunch Cupcakes to our event and frosted the other two dozen with my Buttercream Frosting recipe (the recipe is listed beneath the recipe for "Granny Cookies"), to which I added about an 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract. I then topped these cupcakes with crushed peppermints. These cupcakes were taken to a special event for our niece who just turned eight years old. I wanted something simple for her, with just a slight touch of Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Caramel Apple Deliciousness!

Sorry about the lighting, I used my in-laws camera.
  I began my weekend intending on making an apple pie (something I didn't get to have over Thanksgiving). By Sunday I realized I had neglected to buy vanilla ice cream to go with the pie I would be making that day-I am the type who simply can not eat apple pie unless it is "a la mode". Being unable to go to the grocery store, I set out on a cyber-hunt for apple recipes. My hunt yielded dozens of delicious-looking results, but at last I settled on one; a variation on Annie's (from Annie's Eats) Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie. I varied the recipe by making little tartlettes instead of one large 9" pie. I did not have graham crackers so I made my traditional double pie crust, rolled the crust out, then used a cookie cutter to cut disks to fit my tartlette pan. I also changed the recipe a bit by omitting the pecans (I simply didn't have the time to worry about them, but they would have been delicious on it), and using only 4 apples since I knew I couldn't fit that many into each tartlette. Aside from those very minor changes, I followed her directions exactly (right down to the homemade caramel). Delicious!!!
  Now, because I did not use all the apples I had purchased for my pie, I decided this morning to tackle one of the other yummy-looking recipes I found on "Annie's Eats"; Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls. As I type this post, I'm still drooling from the roll I helped myself to not twenty minutes ago. If you like apples at all, or even if you don't, you must try this recipe! There is so much deliciousness baked into these rolls, it's amazing! I must admit, I used my own cinnamon roll dough recipe (mostly because it's familiar and I know I can't mess it up), and I doubled the apple filling because my dough recipe makes almost double the amount of rolls as hers. That aside, I again followed all her directions (using some of my leftover caramel from last night).
  I'm crazy over apples and after all the recipes I found yesterday, you better believe there will be more apple recipes coming your way soon (once I drop the pounds I gained from the last two days and can afford to put some back on)!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Disappointment

  Remember my affinity for all things pumpkin? Well, when I found this recipe for Pumpkin Cake Doughnuts, I was determined to try them. I did, and was sadly disappointed. The doughnuts didn't have really any pumpkin flavor to them at all. They tasted alright, but like what? A sweet deep-fried something?
  So why am I posting about this recipe? Because I am now on a quest to find a delicious pumpkin cake doughnut. A doughnut I can devour and share with others who are equally in love with pumpkin!
  I'm asking for your help. If you have a favorite pumpkin doughnut recipe, PLEASE share it with me! If you have a recipe others have tried and say is incredible, PLEASE share it with me!