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?
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.
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.
Nothing reminds me of the holidays more than spiced cookies. For this special Secret Recipe Club Cookie Carnival round-up for the winter, I was paired up with Cindy from Hun… What’s for Dinner?, a stay at home to 2 children. It was pretty much a no brainer when I saw her recipe for Ginger Molasses Cookies, a perfect way to take the edge off on a chilly day. My favorite way to eat these cookies are after they’ve been warmed over the a cup of tea — soft and chewy center with crispier outer edges.
These cookies bake uniformly and are pretty to look at with the crackly tops. Since we like our cookies on the softer side, we baked them for only 10 minutes and set them to cool on parchment paper. The molasses in these cookies keeps them soft for days after baking. My husband baked these for me one evening and I brought them into work 4 or 5 days later and they were still very soft and flavorful. This is also the first cookie I’ve heard of that used oil instead of butter; how these would bake into cookies seemed like a mystery to me.
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:
Macaroons are light, almost meringue-like cookies that originated in Italy, France, and Belgium. They were originally comprised of mainly almonds, similar to the Italian cookie amaretti. But once North America got its hands on the cookie, by way of Scotland, we swapped the nuts for coconut and made it our own. The coconut macaroon is popular in Australia, the United States, The Netherlands, and Germany.
Macaroons are a favorite treat in my parent’s household because they are on the lighter end of the sweet scale, especially when homemade. Made this way, they are also highly customize-able. You can choose different fillings (chocolate & almond spread for my in-laws, lemon curd for my side), to dip or drizzle with chocolate, or to eat them plain (my Dad’s favorite way). The shredded coconut I use is a little bit drier than the common “blue bag” (Baker’s Angel Flake) brand, and I also supplemented it with a little unsweetened shredded coconut to tamper the sugar level even more.
Besides decorating these to be cute nests, the best part was getting to snack on the leftover sweetened condensed milk, a tradition in my family. And since I was making these at my condo, I didn’t have to beat anyone at rock-paper-scissors for the rights to do so.
Cocoa Almond “Nutella” & Peanut Butter M&Ms
Lemon Curd & Gourmet Jelly Beans
I saw this recipe linked to in an Easter Dessert Recipe Round-up at Rachel Cooks, which led me to two different variations on Two Peas and Their Pod: Coconut Lemon Macaroon Nests & Nutella Macaroon Nests. My personal favorite was eating them plain, followed by the chocolate ones. It may have been the lemon curd I used, but the lemon versions were a bit too sweet. And, I almost killed my sister because I forgot that these were tropical jellybeans that had “strawberry” as one of the flavors! (She’s allergic to strawberries).
If you want an even easier version, you can look at Danny’s Macaroons, or a quick white-chocolate dipped version I made a while back for my Dad.
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.