Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

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Anything involving a candy thermometer is intimidating. I dipped my toe into the pool of candy-making with toffee, which I’ve now made several times. This holiday season wasn’t looking promising — I had planned on trying my hand at marshmallows for the first time but had just burned my first attempt at toffee. Was I doomed to melted sugar doom?

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Thankfully the hardest part of making these marshmallows was getting them out of the pan after they had cooled overnight. Well, that and cleaning the corn syrup-gelatin-covered dishes (note to self: clean right away when the sugar is still warm).

It was amazing watching the clear sugar mixture drizzle down the side of the bowl, soon to be steaming, frothy liquid and then fluffy, magical fluff. After waiting for the sugar syrup to come to 240°, these candies are actually done after 3-5 minutes of whisking. Just pour into a greased and powdered pan, top with more powder and wait overnight.

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The original recipe states to merely grease the pan that the marshmallow mixture goes into. On my second batch (this time absinthe marshmallows) I greased then sugared the pan with confectioner’s sugar. The removal of the marshmallows was much easier. I like to roll the cut edges in more confectioner’s sugar so they don’t stick together, then shake off the excess.

Homemade marshmallows are much softer, flavorful, and decadent. I’ve added them to coffee, cocoa, and lattes as well as plain. My brother picked up on the fact that I used vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract; he doesn’t like vanilla generally but approved of these. These are blank canvases for whatever flavor you’d like: coconut, cocoa, coffee, peppermint, or citrus. They also make great gifts since they travel and keep well.

Easy & Decadent Hot Cocoa Mix

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Each year during the holiday season, I prefer to give comestibles. These edible gifts have the bonus of not only not arriving with a price tag, but it’s a reflection of time and effort instead of just checking someone off of a gift list.

Hot chocolate and s’mores are some of my favorite things to consume. Nothing like sitting by a fire (or a video of a fireplace) and sipping cocoa or chomping on a burnt marshmallow. This recipe is incredibly easy and customize-able. I like to use higher-quality, locally made marshmallows, but you can also drink with mini-marshmallows. I filled each jar with 5 servings (180g) and the larger with 8 servings. Some have peppermint marshmallows from Bread Furst and some have vanilla marshmallows from Fleurir.

Here are some different packaging styles I’m gifting:

Rollin’ Off Rolo® Cupcakes

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With every ending there’s a new beginning. Or so they say. At work we had some interns that were returning back to school. A large project was coming to an end and we were all “rollin’ off” to new things. One of the intern’s favorite candies was Rolos® and she told me one day how she used to make candies out of pretzels and Rolo® candies. I decided for the end of project celebration to make these cupcakes, especially for her.

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I had not remembered eating Rolos®, but there have been commercials about them recently. I wanted to get the Rolo® Minis (no un-wrapping required) and was surprised that they were a bit hard to find; in spite of or because it was around Halloween season.

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Baked goods had become the standard accompaniment to my visits in to the office and these did not disappoint. In fact, I had under-estimated how many people would be in the office that day and there was a mini-riot at the lack of cupcakes. Thankfully I was able to pacify them with the leftover Rolo® candies that I had brought in case such a situation would arise.

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This treat used my standard go-to chocolate cake recipe, paired with a graham cracker crust and filled with chopped Rolos®. The topping is a cream cheese frosting to keep bites from getting too sweet. I topped the whole cupcake with a single candy and drizzled it with salted caramel.

Pistachio Dark Chocolate Toffee

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I live about a block from a Williams Sonoma store. I often pop in while walking to the grocery store or shopping at the stores nearby to see what they have that is new or sampling. I rarely buy anything there since it is very expensive and seems to be catering to those “Semi-Homemade” type homemakers (exceptions include: Fiona’s Sweet Shoppe candies & Peppermint Bark). Around the holidays they were sampling their Handcrafted Toffee which tasted absolutely amazing but at over $30 a tin, I couldn’t justify taking it home. I kept making laps around the store and sneaking more samples while my fiancé swapped our Sodastream CO2 canister.

When we got home we were determined to satisfy our toffee craving. Toffee always seemed so daunting and complicated to make, but it’s actually pretty easy if you have patience and a candy thermometer.  The best thing about making toffee yourself is that you can control what goes in it and customize it in a variety of ways. The caramel-y toffee layer only has butter, sugar, water, and a dash of salt. The top is whatever percentage chocolate you desire sprinkled with toppings of your choice. I used a darker chocolate (70% Trader Joe’s Pound Plus) because it offsets the sweetness of the toffee, but you can use a lighter, semi-sweet chocolate. I wouldn’t go lower than 54%.

This was also my handmade gift for the holidays. We made two batches and were able to customize it based on the audience. Chopped pistachios were the “traditional” recipe; for my more adventurous friends I mixed crystallized ginger, pistachios, and cashews. The toffee tastes better the next day when the moisture from the top layer has had time to soften up the sugar layer. I opted to break the pieces by hand and package them up into little bags since I liked the homemade look, but portion-ing out into a mini square pan would look more professional. Plus, with the shard style there are always little pieces left over you can sprinkle into your morning coffee.

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Homemade Truffles

truffles_featureMy best friend Stephanie moved to Pittsburgh a few years ago. Even though I don’t see her as often as I used to, we make it a tradition to get together and make truffles every year (See: 2010, 2011). This was our third year, and we spent the weeks before deciding on flavors, shopping, and picking up packaging materials.

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No matter how much you plan in advance though, there are always some snags. We had a few last minute shopping trips, a recipe mis-calculation, and a slight shortage of boxes, but everything turned out great. I chose to make a Dark Chocolate Crunchy Biscoff truffle and Stephanie chose a Deep Milk Chocolate Earl Grey and Lavender truffle. Both were delicious (I’m not biased at all).

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This year we even remembered to print off some labels to put on the inside of the boxes so that recipients would know what they were eating. Extra truffles that didn’t fit in boxes were placed in bags. We also made just enough peppermint bark – some made in a cute rilakkuma chocolate mold, and some made in a brownie bite pan.

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The base recipe for these truffles are from a truffle making class that Stephanie and I attended at ACKC in Washington, DC on 5/25/10. These truffle recipes have served us well for the past three years, and we’ll continue to use them in the future.

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