chocolate

Bittersweet Chocolate Fleur de Sel Caramels

By Lisa

Christmas baking around here is more seat-of-the-pants and less ambitious than at Caroline’s, but we do bake some things every season to give as gifts to our children’s beloved teachers, principle, and school staff.  Also, we live in a really lovely, diverse neighborhood, with many childless couples, older couples, older single people, and young families, and Ella has a made a point of delivering cards and cookies to those we know best every year.  It’s a tradition she started, and which makes me really proud of her.

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This year’s boxes, ready to go…

This year, something possessed me to add caramels to our batch of cookies. I’m not sure what transpired or why our more traditional plans got hijacked, but I found myself one afternoon doing some cooking science with the kids and whipping up a batch of these Fleur de Sel Caramels.

They were totally delicious, and aside from the tedium of wrapping each by hand, very fast and easy to make.

The one problem is that they were too soft, and while they were stable at room temperature, they were better stored in the refrigerator.  I figured they’d be even better coated in bittersweet chocolate and coated with more fleur de sel. Which they were.  I strongly encourage you to try it.  It’s fun,  a little messy,and totally delicious.

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The trick was figuring out how to temper chocolate, which can be a tricky and time consuming process.  But first time was charm, and soon Kory and I were dipping and swirling those caramels in a dark, sweet chocolate that had just the right gloss, sheen, and snap. We gave some of those caramels away, but we kept a good batch for ourselves. Sadly, all we have left is this picture.   But they have entered a permanent place in our holiday repertoire.

To temper your own chocolate I’d strongly advise not just following my lead, but reading here and here.   Basically, to temper your chocolate you must slowly (SLOWLY) heat 2/3 of your finely chopped chocolate in a double boiler, then when the chocolate reaches about 105 degrees, take it off the heat and add the remaining 1/3 (also finely chopped chocloate). Then, stir, stir, stir, stir, until the chocolate reaches 88-90 degrees, at which point it should be tempered. This can take a long time.  You can tell partly by the consistency, which is quite viscous and sticky.

The chocolate kept the caramels better at room temperature, but that was almost too much temptation…

Christmas Candy: Salted Chocolate Pecan Toffee

by Caroline

In his recent New Yorker piece about cookbooks, Adam Gopnik writes, “…cookbooks have two overt passions right now: one is simplicity, the other is salt.” This recipe, originally published in Sunset magazine, offers both. The boiling sugar makes it a poor choice to make with the kids’ assistance; just let them stand back and watch in awe as you put more sticks of butter into one pot than they have ever seen you do before.

2 cups pecan halves
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or coarse sea salt

Have all the ingredients prepped and ready before you begin, because once the sugar reaches candy temperature, you need to move quickly. Also, keep a bowl of ice water near the stove just in case of accidents; sugar burns badly.

Preheat oven to 350°. Put pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop roughly. Divide into 2 batches; chop 1 batch finely. Set both batches aside.

chopped nuts

Put sugar, butter, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. If you have any doubt about the size of your pan, go with a bigger one; you want to let the sugar bubble up quite a bit without having to worry about it boiling over.

bubbling butter

When butter and sugar are melted, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden brown and measures 310° on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.
cooked sugar

Remove from heat and carefully stir in vanilla (mixture will bubble up, so stand back as you pour, and/or wear oven mitts, just in case) and finely chopped pecans. Pour into a 10- by 15-in. rimmed baking sheet.

cooling toffee

Let toffee cool until set, at least 30 minutes. (For even pieces, you can score the toffee by cutting it with a sharp knife after it has set for about 10 minutes, scoring into 5 strips lengthwise and 8 strips crosswise to yield 40 pieces. Wipe knife clean with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.)

Chop chocolate and melt gently in a double boiler (this is where I break out my late mother-in-law’s beautiful copper and ceramic double boiler), but a metal bowl set over a saucepan of water, or the microwave, both work just fine, too.

melting chocolate

Pour melted chocolate over toffee; spread evenly with a knife or offset spatula. Sprinkle the chocolate with roughly chopped pecans. Let sit 20 minutes, or until chocolate is cool but still a bit soft. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

salt

Gently twist the pan to release toffee, then chop or break into chunks. Store in the fridge, if it lasts that long.
toffee

Christmas Candy: Spicy Pumpkin Seed & Cherry Chocolate Bark

by Caroline

I discovered this recipe last year in Catherine Newman’s Wondertime column, and now the only problem is making enough both to give away and keep some in the house for ourselves. I’ve made two batches already, and expect to make at least that much more before this holiday season is over. It is so easy the kids can do it without much supervision (just caution them about the baking pan, which is hot when it first comes out of the oven), and of course you can vary it any number of ways (I might make a semi-sweet version next, with raisins and peanuts), but the spicy pumpkin seeds are my favorite.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds (the green kind)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 (11- or 12-ounce) bags semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried, pitted sour cherries (we get ours at Trader Joe’s)

Heat oven to 250. Line a 12-by-17-inch jelly roll pan (or rimmed baking sheet) with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil until a drop of water sizzles on contact, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring constantly until the seeds are fragrant, starting to brown, and making popping sounds, about 3 or 4 minutes (sometimes the pumpkin seeds fly right out of the pan, so be careful!). Turn off the heat, stir in the salt and cayenne, and leave to cool about 5 minutes.

pumpkin

Scatter the chocolate chips evenly in the prepared pan. This is a great job for an enthusiastic helper:

dumping chocolate

spreading chocolate

Place pan in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove and spread chocolate with a rubber spatula.

melty chocolate

Scatter the cherries over the top of the melted chocolate, then scatter the pumpkin seeds; push them in a bit so that they really stick.
bark with seeds and berries

Chill at least 2 hours, until firm enough to break into pieces, then store in the refrigerator until ready for gifting.

packages of bark

Nutella Almond Macaroons

by Caroline

macaroons

I own over a hundred cookbooks, and yet still subscribe to several magazines containing recipes and visit food websites frequently. My usual route through a magazine is read and tear, read and tear, saving those torn-out recipes to (eventually) file in one of my recipe binders and (someday) try. When I find good-looking recipes on line, I email the link to myself (and often, too, my sister and mom) and save it in a “recipes” folder on my computer. It is rare that a recipe arrives in my inbox and I just make it, right then.

But Friday night, it was less than an hour from “oh, that looks good” to cookies coming out of the oven — a new land speed record for me. Chalk it up to having a well-stocked pantry, two kids as busily occupied by LEGO as Lisa’s, a recent stroll past Paulette, San Francisco’s new source for Parisian macaroons, and one really easy recipe. Don’t be put off by the need to separate eggs; it’s only two, and you can keep the yolks to throw into an omelette the next day.

I found the original recipe over at Svelte Gourmand, following a link from my new favorite source for everything food-related, The Food News Journal. It’s a delicious cookie: crisp on the outside, chewy inside, the sweetness of the coconut and nutella wonderfully offset by the salt. It would be good spread with dark chocolate ganache instead of the nutella, of course, but I don’t keep a jar of dark chocolate ganache in my pantry. No matter what, it’s much more delicate and delicious than those giant softball macaroons you find most places. I tinkered with the recipe slightly (I can’t help myself), so here’s how I did it:

Pichet’s Coconut Nutella Almond Macaroons

2 egg whites
½ c granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 T all-purpose flour
1-1/2 c shredded coconut, unsweetened
1/3 c nutella
1/4 c almonds, toasted
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325.

Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually add the sugar and salt, continuing to beat until just stiff.

Whisk in vanilla and flour until well combined, then fold in coconut.

Pour the batter onto a baking pan lined with parchment and spread it with an off-set spatula so it is about 1/4” thick.

Bake until the top is toasted and dry to touch, about 30 minutes.

While macaroon is still warm, cut into rectangular pieces.

Let cool until room temperature and then spread nutella on the cookies. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top of the nutella, then finish with a sprinkle of sea salt.

The San Francisco Treat

by Caroline

It’s not, despite the jingle, Rice-a-Roni. No, the true, old school, San Francisco treat is an It’s-It, a chocolate-covered oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich, originally invented by George Whitney in 1928, and sold for decades at San Francisco’s Playland-at-the-Beach. Now that the playground is gone, It’s-Its are made in a small factory near San Francisco airport. We’ve been driving past the factory for years, and finally the other day I looked at the website to see if they offer factory tours. Sadly, no. We drowned our sorrows in homemade It’s-Its:

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Want a closer look? I thought so:

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