Update on Christmas Confections Part III

I have attempted a third batch of apple cider caramels, this time taking some advice from this site. This is where I got the information for increasing the temperature of the initial syrup heating to 300°F. It also told me not to stir it. I was very concerned about that, as I was convinced it would explode in a ball of burnt sads.

So far, it hasn’t. It is currently sitting in its pan, chilling out on the counter. I am letting it cool as much as possible before covering it with plastic wrap for the night. I’m hoping that it sets to a nice consistency, but that it isn’t too hard. That was my main worry.

We will see. I will likely issue another small update, either a hey-lookie-I-have-awesome-caramels dance or a there-will-be-a-fourth-trial /sigh.

UPDATE: This batch didn’t turn out at all. I attempted to use the same recipe I had been using because it tasted so good, but there were a couple of differences in method beyond the temperature thing. First of all, the second recipe has you save all your cream to add at once, rather than putting 1/3c in the sugar syrup; additionally, it has you melt the butter in the cream so that it can be added all together gradually, as it does bubble up. I will do a bit more research on it, perhaps try the second recipe and see if that works. I checked the CIA version, and it uses sweetened condensed milk rather than whipping cream, and it adds everything at once and uses similar temperatures to the initial recipe, so I don’t know if they will come out too soft again. Will have to look and see.

Christmas Confections – Part III

At some point last week, I realized that these random non-baking bits I have been doing – the not-quite almond roca, marshmallows, etc. – are all items I will be able to feature as part of my sellables on the main cocofancy site. This particular realization was very exciting, and very…. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I was excited/anxious/surprised. It’s as if this whole blogging and baking and doing things thing is actually getting somewhere. It’s an interesting feeling.

In the gift boxes I sent to people, I included the following item, though in a sad form. I had recently purchased a new thermometer from the CIA, and it’s pretty amazing. There are only two things I would change about it – put the sensor about a quarter inch further down the stem toward the tip; and include calibration instructions in the packaging. You see, it has the nifty ability to adjust the temperature to calibrate it correctly should anything happen to make it a bit out of whack. Unfortunately… it didn’t come properly calibrated. Thus, when I attempted to make my caramels the first time, I brought the mixture to the recommended 248°F and took it off the heat… only to find that the caramels came out quite a bit on the soft side. I have had to keep them in the fridge in order for them to maintain their shape. Why did I keep them, and why did I send them if they were a bit of a failure? Because they are frickin amazing. I can only say that I really don’t tend to like caramels – way too sweet – but these have such a wonderful flavor, and they came out so smooth! zomg. Really amazing.

I am attempting the recipe a second time, this time with a rather expensive digital thermometer I received as a gift. This one is from Williams Sonoma, and it has a gigantically large stem, but the sensor seems to be the whole bottom inch of the stem. We will see how that goes.

Apple Cider Caramels

2 cup high-quality apple cider
1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream, divided
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup agave or light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter, cubed

Pour cider into a medium saucepan and boil on high for about 20 minutes or until the cider is reduced to 1/3 c. Keep an eye on it…it might try to run away. Set aside to cool. (I put it on simmer and it took… about 30-45 minutes? The first time I tried this I totally went too far and kind of burnt the cider. I tend to be cautious after that sort of thing.)

Line an 8″ square pan (if you want 1″ tall caramels – I attempted the second batch with a smaller rectangular pan, probably 9″x11″ pan) with parchment paper, making sure to leave about 1″ hanging over the edges for easy removal. Coat with a bit of vegetable oil and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine 2/3 c. cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and reduced apple cider. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/3 c. whipping cream + enough water to reach the 1/2 c. line on the measuring cup, and agave/corn syrup. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Insert the candy thermometer and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees.

Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Add the cubed butter and stir until the cream and butter are fully incorporated. Return the pan to heat and re-insert the candy thermometer. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 248°F. (I don’t know if my thermometer was off a bit, but I ended up heating mine to a reading of 253°F. Because I’m paranoid, I ended up reading up on various ways to test caramel – the Culinary Institute of America’s Chocolates and Confections mentions an ice-bath test. When the caramel is around the right temperature, you dip a spoon into the caramel mixture, then stick the spoon into a bowl of ice-water for a few seconds. This will bring it to its normal temperature and you will be able to gauge the hardness of the caramels when they are set. I attempted a few spoon-dips, and got it to a hardness that is definitely a step up from what it was.)

Remove from heat and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let the mixture cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator. I covered the top of the pan loosely with saran wrap and left it out overnight. You could cut the caramels into 1/2″ squares and wrap each caramel in wax paper, but I’m lazy so I cut the caramel into 1/2″ logs, which meant that I had exponentially fewer pieces to individually wrap. Store in an airtight container or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

So… My second batch isn’t terrible, but still isn’t quite as firm as I want it to be. It’s definitely firmer than the last batch, but it still somewhat soft. I have been doing a bit more research, and it seems that the initial part of sugar-heating is where a lot of people disagree, and where a lot of the variation of the texture and form is realized. I will be making another batch tomorrow and heating the initial sugar syrup to 300°F. Yay for experimentation!

Christmas Confections – Part II

The one candy I know my mother loves is Almond Roca. It’s pretty awesome, if you ask me. In my perusing of Pinterest, I came across a recipe for Almond Roca – though it’s more like almond-toffee-brittle-bark. Or something.

Anyway, a while ago I invested in a silicone baking mold with 1-inch square cavities, which I never ended up using. I figured it would be a wonderful way to make the not-Roca, as opposed to the irregular/jagged pieces. Turns out the recipe I used makes just the perfect amount to measure 1 tbsp of toffee into the cavities and leave room for a healthy dose of chocolate on top.


Almond Toffee Squares

3/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped/smashed
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
6 oz. chocolate

Butter a 7 x 11 inch baking pan, or use a similar silicone pan. Sprinkle half the almonds on the bottom of the pan.

Heat butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Keep stirring gently until boiling. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring until it reaches 300°F. Don’t let it go to over 320°F – it won’t stay solid.

Pour the hot liquid into the pan over the almonds. It will set decently quickly – within five or ten minutes (not sure about larger pans).

You can go a couple of ways with the chocolate. If you use chocolate chips or chop your chocolate up, you could immediately put the chocolate on top of the toffee once you put it in the pan. Once the chocolate melts you spread it smooth. Sprinkle more almonds on top.

You can also choose to melt your chocolate and pour it over once it’s completely melted. I find that to be a bit more no-fuss as far as smoothing out.

I stuck them in the fridge for about 30 minutes, and found that the chocolate had set and didn’t melt once it came out. Totally awesome.

Christmas Confections

I recently sent some boxes of baked goods out to people as a quick “Hello, I’m thinking of you!” sort of thing. I came to find that the box I sent to my mother in Wyoming took a week to get to her. I’m sorry, Mom, but you live in the middle of nowhere! Even the postal service says so.

So I decided to change my usual baking box sets to something a little less perishable. A couple of years ago I attempted to send truffles – worst idea ever. I don’t know if I have disclosed this, but I have become quite the Pinterest addict in the last couple of months. I keep seeing pictures of …

bundt cakes turned into pumpkins,

espresso bark,

peppermint marshmallows,

peppermint bark,

and apple cider caramels.

Really? Aren’t those just awesome-looking? And they’re not as perishable! That way, if my mom gets blizzarded-in and can’t get to the post office for a week or so, it’s ok.

My boss threw a small holiday party over the weekend, and she asked me to bring a little something. I had initially hoped to do more, but I worked that day and this week has been seriously busy. I ended up doing some chocolate crackle cookies with sprinkles, which Mikal called Reindeer Poop, as well as a batch of the peppermint marshmallows. It was amazingly easy. I’m really glad I decided to read the comments first, because there was one in particular that gave me all the extra guidance I needed to make this shit awesome.

Peppermint Marshmallows

2 cups sugar
1 tbsp light agave or corn syrup
4 pkgs unflavored gelatin
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
2 large egg whites
2 tsp red food coloring
1 1/2 cups water, divided

The instructions I found said to use an 8×8 inch square pan; in the comments, someone said to use a 9×13 inch pan. Let me tell you now – unless you want gargantuan marshmallows, go for a cookie sheet. Seriously. The marshmallows in that photo are over an inch tall. It was a pain trying to get the red food coloring incorporated – as you can see it only goes perhaps a third of the way through the mallow.

Anyway, take your cookie sheet, oil it in some way, then line it with parchment paper and oil that. I didn’t, and they didn’t stick too horribly, but I have a feeling it would have been easier had I done so. Set aside.

Dissolve the gelatin 3/4 cup water. Set aside.

Put sugar, syrup, and 3/4 cup water in thick-bottomed pan on the stove. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring; let mixture come to a boil. Raise heat to medium-high; cook until mixture registers 255°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add extract. Set aside.

Beat egg whites in mixer until stiff-but-not-dry peaks form. Whisk gelatin mixture into sugar mixture, and gradually add to the egg whites. Mix on high speed until very thick. Pretty much keep whipping until you think it’ll start pouring out of your mixing bowl – at least that’s what it seems like. It pretty much should triple in volume.

Balk at the size of the fluff momentarily, then quickly put fluff into the cookie sheet. Be sure to spread it out very quickly – it will start to set and do its thing before you’re ready for it. Once you have it spread, drop bits of red food coloring around the pan and use a toothpick to swirl it. I don’t know if this will get the coloring all the way through, but it should work better than having random pink ends.

Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for the day or overnight. When going to cut it, I would recommend a pizza cutter with some oil and powdered sugar on it. I did it without the oil, but with a bowl of powdered sugar at my elbow and once I had built up enough fluff-goo on the blade so that the powdered sugar could stick, things went swimmingly. Also, you might want to coat the cut edges with powdered sugar so that they don’t stick. The next time I make this I will try setting them out on parchment paper for a while after cutting to see if they develop a similar skin to what develops while they’re setting without plastic wrap over them.

Enjoy in hot chocolate (I hear it’s pretty awesome), or just pop them in your mouth occasionally.

Wait, it’s December WHAT?!

That’s pretty much been my reaction since…. about a week before Thanksgiving. I totally thought I had another two weeks to get ready for everything, including Mikal’s dad coming down for the week. Three days before Mikal’s dad was due to arrive, I was speaking with a client and they said something about Thanksgiving being the following week. I said, “You mean in two weeks then, right?” and they agreed with me, and then we both looked at the calendar to verify and I ended up having a mild panic attack in front of my boss. It was quite amusing, really.

Between that sense of not really knowing what day it is, and the complete lack of “slow” season in the office, I’ve been stumbling through the last three weeks or so just trying to get my bearings. I don’t think I’ve ever had the holidays sneak up on me, so to speak, but I understand what that phrase means, now.

In the mean time, I have still been baking, though not as frequently as I may like. I made my first Baked Alaska by request, and it didn’t turn out totally horrible. It had a great taste, even if it looked more like a rendition of Global Warming Alaska. I’ll post that on here at some point – it’s an awesome recipe.

Additionally, I have been plotting out my gift boxes. Last year I started a somewhat-tradition of sending boxes of baked goods to people I wouldn’t see over the holidays. The days and my timing got away from me last year – two weekends before Christmas I pulled a bakathon over the course of two days so that I could everything sent out on time. It was after twenty hours of baking and decorating, and feeling amazingly exhilarated, that I realized that this baking thing is pretty amazing. It is actually from that realization and moment that this blog was born, as a way to keep me baking and thinking about what I do. Holy buttons, it’s been a year, or close enough to one. I kind of have to process that.

More posts to come, specifically around the goodie boxes.