Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crockpot Chocolate Clusters

If you want a simple chocolate candy recipe that takes very little effort and can make about 100 candies, you've found the right place! This mint, nut and chocolate combo hits the spot for your holiday candy-making sessions.

This recipe was inspired by blogger My Messy Thrilling Life's candy recipe.

Set a crockpot on "low" and layer in the following ingredients:
1 lb of cashew halves (roasted preferred)
1 lb of chopped pecans
2 (12oz) bags of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate
1 (12 oz) bag of Andes Mint chopped pieces
1 (12 oz) bag of milk chocolate chips
2 lbs Vanilla (white) Almond Bark (also known as candy coating)

1) Cover the crockpot with the lid and cook for one hour.
2) After one hour stir all ingredients and allow to cook another 30 minutes or longer until all chocolate and almond bark pieces have melted.
3) Place parchment paper down on a flat surface, and spoon the chocolate/ nut mixture by the tablespoon (or smaller) into mounds on the paper to dry (I use a small cookie scoop from Pampered Chef to get a good chocolate cluster shape).

Variation Ideas
-You can add any variety of ingredients to tailor this recipe to your tastes- you can use puffed rice cereal, various nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, or any combination you like), mini-marshmallows, or anything to give the chocolate some structure. 
-Try substituting peanut butter chips for the andes mint candy pieces.
-Use your favorite sprinkles to decorate the tops of the candies, or drizzle a contrasting color (such as white, red, green, etc to theme it for various holidays)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Creme Brulee Cupcakes

I love Creme Brulee...then again, who wouldn't love the stuff? It has a nice but not overly sweet flavor, and crunchy sugar topping that has been caramelized using fire (you can't go wrong with fire and dessert- as long as the fire was a planned part of the dessert process and not an unhappy consequence of course). 

Now, stick that crunchy caramely custardy goodness in a cupcake, and you have a little cup of heaven that pleases the masses (or even just your husband, your BFF on their birthday, or yourself when you're really in the mood to just indulge). FYI- I adapted this recipe from the I Heart Cuppycakes blog.

For cupcakes
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch for the egg whites
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk (I used Heavy Whipping Cream or you could use half and half too)
3 tablespoons caramel syrup (I used homemade salted caramel- but Mrs. Robinson's caramel syrup or Hershey's caramel syrup work great too)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Steps: Prep: Preheat oven to 340 degrees F and line cupcake pan with liners.
1) Mix together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the two egg yolks until incorporated.
2) Add in the vanilla, caramel and milk or heavy whipping cream.
3) Make a dry mixture with the flour, salt and baking powder, then slowly incorporate into the wet mixture.
4) In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, then fold the egg whites into the batter, or mix them in on "slow" in your stand mixer.
5) Scoop batter into cupcake liners and bake from 15-20 minutes until cupcakes have a golden brown crust.
Note- cupcakes will be slightly porous but that's ok- you still need to add the frosting! Sometimes if they do not bake long enough they will slightly cave in the middle, but that is still ok because you will fill with the frosting to make the creme brulee!

For Frosting
1 stick butter (1/2 C), softened
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened (I usually buy pre-whipped)
4 C powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 C brown sugar (to taste)

1) Blend together the butter and cream cheese until well combined and smooth.
2) Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth.
3) Add in the brown sugar and beat until smooth and slightly fluffy.

Combining the two:
1) Once cupcakes have cooled, using a piping bag fitted with a plain coupler- no tip is needed (or ziploc bag that has been cut), pipe some of the filling into the cupcake (by sticking the coupler slightly under the surface of the crust), and slightly squeeze until the filling rises above the surface, then continue to squeeze until you get a little mound of frosting on top of the cupcake (see photo above).
2) Sprinkle a little bit of sugar (about 1/2-1 teaspoon) on top of the frosting.
3) Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar- it may turn dark or look like it is turning into beads of sugar, but keep going a little longer until you get a nice caramelized sugar topping.
4) Serve warm or cool- either way these are super yummy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hot Cocoa on a Stick

I love the "winter"- now in Southern California, winter typically includes a couple of days of rain, a couple of days of drizzling waters, and sub-50 temperatures... horrible right? Well- my version of winter typically includes chilly evenings, baking and peppermint hot cocoa.  Throw in some homemade marshmallows and now we're talking!

Last year I made hot chocolate on a stick with homemade marshmallows- and I had to do it again this year- with a twist!  I flavored my marshmallows and added fun stuff to the fudge to make it a little more festive. Chopped pecans, chopped up candy canes and plain ol' chocolate were the variations of the season... so far :)

Here is the recipe again so you don't have to search through last year's posts:
Marshmallow Ingredients:

.75-oz unflavored gelatin (3 envelopes of Knox gelatin- 1 envelope = 1 Tbsp so .75 oz = 3 Tbsp)
1/2 C cold water
2 C granulated sugar
2/3 C light corn syrup
1/4 C water
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)
Confectioners’ sugar (for coating the outside)

1) Line 9 x 9-inch or 8 x 8-inch pan with plastic wrap and lightly oil it using your fingers or non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for about 10 minutes.

3) Meanwhile, combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil. As soon as it is boiling, set the timer and allow to boil hard for 1 minute.

4) Carefully pour the boiling syrup into soaked gelatin and turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, starting on low and moving up to high speed (this keeps the boiling candy from splashing and scalding you). Add the salt and beat for approximately 15-20 minutes (the mixture will be fluffy like the consistency of marshmallow fluff, and will be cooled to almost room temperature). After it reaches that stage, add in the extract and beat to incorporate. I prefer to use concentrated extracts to decrease the amount of additional liquid I am adding to the recipe, and I typically beat for about 2 minutes after the extract has been incorporated.

5) Grease your hands and a rubber or silicone scraper with neutral oil and transfer marshmallow into the prepared pan. Use your greased hands to press the marshmallow into the pan evenly. Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set.

6) Once marshmallows have set, turn the block-o-mallow out onto a cutting board that has been covered with powdered sugar. Generously cover the top of the solid piece of marshmallow (I use a flour sifter or a powdered sugar shaker), and cut into 1" squares. It is best to use a heated knife (it can be run under water then dried) to cut the substance more easily. Cover with plastic wrap, or place in plastic bags or another air-tight container after cutting- leaving them exposed to the air can help them to dry out and become rubbery within a couple of hours.

Fudge Ingredients: (Originally from the King Arthur Flour Company, adapted by Foodie with Family blog)
½ C heavy cream ($3.29 / Quart) (Cost ~$.41)
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (1 1/4 cups) ($1.49 / can) (Cost~$1.49)
3 C semisweet chocolate (~1.5 bags) ($1.99 / bag) (Cost~$3) 
3/4 C 60% Cocoa Chocolate Chips (~1/2 bag) ($1.99 / bag) (Cost~$1) (=Total Cost to make ~$5.90 + tax)
wooden sticks, lollipop sticks, candy canes or bamboo skewers ($4 / 50 bags, $3 / 50 sticks at Michael's)
optional, crushed candy canes, marshmallows and/or cocoa powder

1) Line an 8 x 8-inch pan or a 9 x 9-inch pan with foil and set aside.

2) Combine the cream and sweetened condensed milk in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Heat until it is steaming, but not boiling, stirring occasionally to keep from scorching.

3) Add all of the chocolate and remove from the heat. Allow the chocolate to melt, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.

4) After 10 minutes, whisk firmly until it is thick and shiny. You can add a few drops of flavoring extract or oil at this point, or add some powdered espresso or vanilla. Whisk vigorously again to incorporate the flavoring (if used.)

5) Use a rubber or silicone spatula to spread the mixture out evenly in your prepared, foil-lined pan. Allow to cool at room temperature 12 hours or overnight so that it firms slowly.

6) Take the fudge from the pan and remove the foil. Place on a cutting board. Using a knife heated with hot water and wiped dry, cut the fudge into 1" cubes.

Assembling the Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows... On a Stick

1) Skewer the marshmallow with a lollipop stick or whatever you are using to assemble your treat. Next skewer the block of cocoa (cocoa blocks can have candy decorations (peppermint, cocoa powder, coconut, etc) on them already, or be decorated after skewering them with the marshmallow).

2) Place on top of a parchment square, or place directly into a treat bag, then tie the bag to seal out additional air.

3) The treats will keep without getting stale for about 3 days at room temperature, about 2 weeks when saved in the fridge, or for up to 3 months when frozen in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Salted Caramels

I love caramel. It is safe to say that I love caramel even more than I love chocolate. But- when you combine the two, the taste is what I can describe as joy... add sea salt to the combo and it is a combo you can't even explain- but you find that you just keep wanting more!

I found a wonderful and easy salted caramel candy recipe on About.com that I made tonight. It was so simple and very tasty! The caramel was very easy to cut using small cookie cutters once it set- or you could use a knife to score while it is still warm, then continue cutting once it has set.

For a simple caramel recipe- look no further than this blog post! This recipe was modified from the Sea Salt Caramels Candy recipe on About.com

1 1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup honey (cane syrup can also be substituted)
6 tbsp butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use pure homemade vanilla extract)
3 tsp sea salt (e.g. Fleur de Sel, or I prefer Mediterranean Sea Salt)
1 lb Dark (60%+) chocolate, chopped


1. Prepare an 8-inch baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place the cream in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup and honey and stir until it begins to boil. Periodically wipe down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
3. Cook the candy, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 257 degrees F on a candy thermometer.*If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can take it just past the soft ball stage. The color turned a nice "caramel" color once the temperature hit around 255 degrees F. So if you continue to stir until you see a golden caramel color, you are probably around 255-260 degrees F. Be very careful at this stage because the temperature increases quickly and you are much more likely to burn the mixture at this point. 
4. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and stir in the butter, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons of salt.
5. Pour into prepared pan and let set at room temperature until firm enough to cut.
6. Cut the caramel into small squares or strips with a chef’s knife.
7. Temperate the chocolate and dip the caramels in the chocolate one at a time. Place them on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper or foil to set. While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on the remaining salt and allow to set completely.