Category Archives: Confections and Candies

Ultimate S’mores

We are living in a time of some amazing culinary experimentation. While culinary mashups are nothing new, witness the Turducken, which has it’s roots in ancient Roman times, some creations have gone a bit too far.

While I love nothing better than a bowl of Cheetos and a glass of wine for dinner, I am not keen to give Cheetos Macarons a try anytime soon. Nor will Goat Cheese and Peanut Buttercup Fries be passing these lips… not ever!

However, I firmly stand behind Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches, and will even stand in line for the Cronut (and anything else that genius Dominique Ansel dreams up!).

So, in the spirit of culinary creativity, I bring you The Ultimate S’moretoasted 2 625 sqready for smores 1Because it’s summer! Because it’s crazy delicious! Do I really need an excuse for taking my favourite Passover snack, Matzoh Crunch and turning it into that summertime staple, the s’more? Instead of using matzoh, I substituted Saltine crackers.saltinesI cooked butter and brown sugar until it resembled molten hot lava and poured it over a layer of saltines.molten gold spreading caramelI baked it until it was bubbling and then I covered it in bittersweet chocolate and marbled in some white chocolate, just because it’s so freaking beautiful.chocolate

Then I toasted some marshmallows and sandwiched them between the caramel chocolate coated crackers.  toasted 625 sqIf you are a purist, like my youngest son, you may prefer them raw!raw 3If you are watching your carbs, perhaps an open faced sandwich is the way to go.open facedHowever you enjoy summer, including the Ultimate S’mores in your celebrations is bound to make it a lot sweeter.

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate S,mores.

stacked smores 1

Dark Salty Caramels – A Labour of Love

cut caramel 625 sq 2 with labelI can not imagine anything more lovely than being presented with a box of these dark salty caramels from your valentine. They are unbelievably deep, dark and delicious, hovering ever so closely to the edge of bitter but narrowly escaping, thanks to the judicious addition of salt.  These are adult caramels, for grown ups with a mature palate that no longer desires cloying sweets.

We have Alton Brown (and my sister Bonnie) to thank for this genius recipe. Reading through the ingredient list I did a double take when I came to the 6th ingredient…soy sauce!  Soy sauce brings the funk to these caramels. It adds to the deep dark colour and provides a salty element as well as contributing umami, that savoury flavour that makes your mouth water.

If you are a fly by the seat of your pants baker, the kind who likes to bake free form, without any recipes or directions, and you know who you are, then this recipe is not for you.

If you are faint of heart and don’t like danger or risk taking, then this recipe is not for you either.

Making these caramels requires precision and nerves of steel. You need to stand over that pot and watch the candy thermometer. When it looks like the caramel is very dark and you are convinced it is going to burn any second now, do not remove it from the heat until the temperature registers 350°F. Have faith that Alton Brown knows what he is talking about. He is wise. If you remove the caramel too soon, you will end up with your grandma’s insipid blah caramels. If you are patient, you will be rewarded with caramels that have a depth and complexity of flavour that you have never experienced before.

That being said, please do not bypass the first step of the recipe where I instruct you to test your candy thermometer. Candy thermometers are not infallible.boiling sugaradding creamThis molten caramel is VERY hot so wear oven mitts and resist the urge to lick the pot. It will take a good 3-4 hours to cool to room temperature so again, patience is required. After 3 hours I refrigerated them so they would firm up even more, making it much easier to get nice clean square cuts with a very sharp knife. carefully pouring caramel into lined panI found this pretty little box at Target last week. It is part of the Nate Berkus Collection and is intended to be used as a jewellery box. I tarted it up with some pretty ribbon and turned it into a bon bon box.beautiful gift boxopened box 625 F sqFor storing the caramels, it is best to wrap each one individually in parchment paper.wrapping 1wrapping 2wrapping 3

Click here to print recipe for Dark Salty Caramels.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Three chocolate peanut butter cups 1Peanut Butter Cups and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. I love to eat them, but sadly my hips and thighs protest quite loudly when I inhale too many. My hatred of Halloween likely stems from what I refer to the “Peanut Butter Cup Incident of 1985.” It was my first time giving out treats as an official grown up. I bought several large bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the snack size a week before Halloween. They disappeared within 2 days. I purchased several more replacement bags and discovered that I suffer from a chromosomal abnormality that affects my ability to control my willpower.

Luckily, now that “Big Butts” are back in style, we can all eat Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups with abandon!

These chocolate peanut butter cups are a variation on the original. When I saw Anna Olson make them on her Food Network show, Sugar, I knew I had to try them. The cups themselves are crafted from chocolate cookie dough. Once baked these cookie cups become a crunchy vehicle to hold the chocolate ganache filling and the peanut butter and cream cheese mousse topping. These are a very decadent, sophisticated peanut butter cup. mise en placelining mini muffin tinsfolding whipped cream into peanut butter creamcheesepipingon wood and marble tray 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

chocolate peanut butter cup on server

Caramel Chocolate Dipped Pretzels and a Labour of Love!

on tray 625a sqAbout 6 months ago, my sister Jody asked me to make caramel dipped pretzels for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She wanted to use them as place cards for lunch. Of course I quickly agreed. I love my niece and my sister very much. Besides, when it was my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah, 10 years ago, she laboriously snipped twigs from her garden and fashioned them, with a hot glue gun and incredible manual dexterity, into numbers for the table cards for our dinner.

Another sister (I have four of them plus one bother!), Bo, baked and iced 225 of these adorable sugar cookies to give out to guests. They were created to look like the Bar Mitzvah boy! My siblings and I hail from a genetic pool of hard working and deeply creative folks! table numbersNicky cookies 2With the long lead time she had given me, I had ample time to research and test recipes so that we would have the perfect pretzel. My sister has a finely developed sense of aesthetics and we spent many hours discussing the appropriate colour shape and size of the tag to tie onto the pretzel bag and the colour of the ribbon. We debated fonts as well as font weights and sizes. We looked at the pros and cons of dipping all in dark chocolate or half in milk and half in dark. We contemplated coloured sprinkles vs. Skor bits. No option was left unconsidered.in brown vase 3Fast forward to a week before the Bat Mitzvah and I had yet to produce a single dipped pretzel. Somehow I just hadn’t gotten around to it. There was no shortage of caramel chocolate dipped pretzel rods on the Internet for inspiration.  I found these and  these and these. However, most of them used ready-made caramels and just melted them for dipping. I needed to make 140 pretzels! By the time I finished unwrapping enough tiny caramels for melting, the Bat Mitzvah would be over. Besides, my niece deserved better than store bought caramel.

During my research I discovered that most recipes for homemade caramel followed a fairly similar ingredient list and methodology. I settled on a caramel recipe from Mrs. Fields’ blog (of the cookie fame).  Following the methodology of most of the recipes I found, I dumped butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk into the pot, brought it to a boil and started stirring. I ended up burning the bottom of the pot.  Dumped that mess out and started over again. Here is an excellent tip to remove burnt debris from the bottom of your pot: fill pot halfway with water, add a few tablespoons of powdered dishwasher detergent and bring to a boil. Rinse and scrub and most of it should come off.

Attempt # 2: I melted the butter, and then stirred in brown sugar until it dissolved. Then I added the corn syrup and condensed milk and boiled until my candy thermometer read 245°F. Once I started working with the caramel and it began to cool, it hardened too much for dipping.

At this point I suspected that my candy thermometer was off. I decided to test it by bringing a pot of cold water to a boil. Once the water was at a rolling boil, I checked my thermometer. It read 202°F.  If you recall from science class, water boils at 212°F. My thermometer was off by 10°F!

For my third attempt, I made the mental math adjustments and took the caramel off the heat at 235°F. Perfect!

making caramelspooning on caramel

I prepared a little video to show the coating and decorating process.

My sister and niece were thrilled with the finished pretzels. My sister ended up labelling them with beautiful kraft brown tags and purple raffia ribbon. She displayed them in glass ginger jars, All the guests gobbled them up very quickly.

pretzels for Em 3 pretzels for Em 2 in shot glasses 1

Click here to print recipe for Caramel Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Rods.

in brown vase 1

A Ride in the Irish Countryside

mug and marshmallows 3

This morning I had the opportunity to bike the countryside of the Emerald Isle (Ireland). The lush pastoral landscape offered endless hills in 40 shades of green. The climbs were steep, with very little opportunity for cruising. My heart rate went into the red-line zone (gasping for air and unable to speak a coherent word) and I was dripping in sweat.

Sadly, this was just a virtual tour of the Irish countryside. Our instructor at today’s spin class, the very funny Roger, has quite the active imagination. He took us for a ride in the stunning Irish countryside and promised us that if we pedaled hard, there would be a pub at the end of the ride with a cold pint waiting as our reward. About halfway through the ride Roger sang out, “put your arms up in the air”. I raised both arms and gave him fist pumps. My husband and daughter looked the other way and pretended they did not know me. Apparently instructors always yell out these instructions, but no one ever follows them. Oops!

Roger kept talking about a bonus track. I had no clue what he was referring to until 45 minutes into the class, when we normally begin the cool down, he told us to ratchet up the tension on our bikes for one final hill. This was a special 60 minute class. Lucky me! I survived. Sadly there was no pub at the end of the ride. Just the dregs of my now lukewarm water bottle.

Annoyed that I didn’t get my visit to the pub, I decided that I deserved a treat when I got home. Hot chocolate and marshmallows seemed like the perfect way to cap off my morning.

To be honest, growing up,  I was never really a marshmallow fan. At overnight camp I would stick my marshmallow into the camp fire and set it on fire. I would remove it, blow it out and eat the carcinogenic burned crispy part and throw the fluffy inside away. I never did have the patience for toasting them golden brown. Yet another quality I admire in my husband. He will wait until the fire has burned down to low embers and hold his marshmallow just at the right height to obtain that perfect burnished bronzed colour.

I only recently began a love affair with marshmallows several years ago, after a lunch at Jean Georges in New York City. The meal was delicious but my favourite memory of that lunch was the Bon Bon trolley that they wheeled to our table at the end of our lunch. As the waiter approached our table with the trolley  he opened a huge glass jar filled with handmade pink marshmallows and lifted one out with tongs.  Then he proceeded to cut each one in half with very fancy silver scissors.  I inquired whether marshmallow cutting was a position you had to be promoted to.  He responded that it was an entry-level job. I am still thinking about applying! Just in case you are wondering, the Bon Bon trolley also held cotton candy, salted caramels and assorted chocolates. It was a pretty special day for me! Ever since that day I have wanted to try my hand at making my own marshmallows.

I knew that making marshmallows requires precision and a candy thermometer. I turned to my favourite culinary scientist for the how to, Alton Brown. Gelatin and ice-cold water are placed in the bowl of the stand mixer. Then sugar, water, corn syrup and salt are placed in a heavy bottom pot and brought up to 240° F. The mixture should then be allowed to cool to 210° F and then poured into the stand mixer bowl while it is mixing on low-speed.

adding gelatinadding cold water

boiling sugaradding sugar syrup

Then you turn the machine up to high-speed and mix for 12-15 minutes until the mixture cools to lukewarm. In the last minute of mixing you can add any flavourings you like. I added some vanilla bean paste. While it is mixing, prepare a 9 x 13 inch pan by spraying it with Pam and then coating it with a mixture of cornstarch and icing sugar. Then tip the goo into the pan and spread it out with an oiled spatula. This is a very gooey mixture. Dust the top with more cornstarch and icing sugar and put it aside to set for at least 4 hours or overnight. Resist the urge to lay your head down on this pillowy softness. It will not end well.

icing sugar and cornstarch

marshmallow mix pouring into pan

spreading marshmallow smooth

I topped half of my mixture with some toasted coconut.

half plain half coconut

A serrated knife does an excellent job cutting the marshmallows, once they have set up. You will have to wash the knife off fairly often while cutting.

cutting marshmallows

Now, onto the hot chocolate:

mug and marshmallows 2

When my kids were little the only way I could get them to go outside to play in the winter was to bribe them with hot chocolate when they came back in.

They would indulge me and play for about 20 minutes and then come inside on the pretext of having to go to the bathroom. After helping them struggle out of their snowsuits we were all sweating and no one was anxious for the dance that required getting back into all those layers. And then it was time for hot chocolate.

I will admit that I resorted to a packaged hot chocolate mix. Truthfully, the kids didn’t even like the hot chocolate either. It was really all about the marshmallows. They would scarf down the marshmallows I let them heap in the hot chocolate and I would end up pouring the hot chocolate down the drain.

At the time, it never occurred to me that you could make your own hot chocolate mix. But you can, and it’s spectacular! This recipe, from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, makes enough powdered mix for about 20 cups of hot chocolate. It can be stored in the cupboard for about three months, so when the craving for a cup hits you, simply stir 1/3 cup of the mix into some hot milk!

The uniqueness of this mix is that it contains two kinds of chocolate. The first, of course, is cocoa powder. There are two types of cocoa powder, natural and dutched, (also known as Dutch processed). For this recipe you want to seek out the Dutch processed kind. Camino makes an excellent dutched process cocoa powder that is available in the organic section of the supermarket.

Dutched cocoa powder has gone through an alkalizing process, which gives it a darker color and makes it less acidic.  The result is a richer, more intense chocolate flavor and a nice deep chocolate color.  You will sometimes see Dutched cocoa powder called for in recipes for beverages or desserts that aren’t baked since the flavor is less bitter than regular cocoa powder.

The mix also contains white chocolate, which gives the final drink a soft creamy texture.

The final ingredients in the mix include skim milk powder, which adds a sweet dairy flavour, confectioners’ sugar, which dissolves more easily than regular granulated sugar and cornstarch, which is added to the powdered sugar to help thicken the cocoa. All the ingredients get pulverized in the food processor.

hot choc ingredients

jar and marshmallows

Click here to print recipe for Homemade Marshmallows.

Click here to print recipe for Best Ever Hot Chocolate Mix.

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