Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nut Brittles

It’s so embarrassing. I’ve probably made fifty batches of nut brittles over the years, but this weekend I tried to make peanut brittle – and I failed miserably. It was yummy, but the texture was gross. The nuts were actually chewy. Not good. So, I’m determined to redeem myself. This is the recipe I usually use. I tried a different one this weekend, so maybe that was the problem?

You can change this up endless ways, using different nuts or seeds. I’m a huge fan of pecan brittle, but if you’ve never made it before, try peanut first. It’s more forgiving. Pecans go from deliciously toasted to open-the-window-to-clear-the-room-of-smoke black so quickly. If you want to get really fancy, you could add herbs or spices to the mixture. Just be careful of the quantities here. Remember while cooking is an art, baking (and candy making) are also a science. I’m thinking pinenuts and rosemary? That might be awesome.

Here is the recipe I’ve used a million times. Use this one. It rocks. It’s from – who else?—Martha Stewart.

·         Nonstick cooking spray
·         1 1/2 cups sugar
·         1/2 cup light corn syrup
·         3/4 teaspoon salt
·         2 tablespoons butter
·         1 1/2 cups mixed nuts, such as pecan halves, cashews, pistachios, coarsely chopped if large
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • Spray a rimmed baking sheet and a wide metal spatula with cooking spray; set aside. 

  • In a 2-quart glass measuring cup, combine sugar, corn syrup, and salt, stirring until sugar is moistened. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Stir in butter and nuts; return to microwave for about 5 minutes, until the sugar mixture is thick, bubbly, and very pale brown in color. Mixture is very hot; use handle when holding and pouring. (Alternatively… and this is the way I do it… place everything in a pot and on the stove.) I’ve found I can monitor things better and avoid scorching the sugar and burning everything.)

  • Remove from microwave, stir in vanilla and baking soda (mixture may foam up). Immediately pour onto prepared baking sheet, spreading mixture as thinly as possible with the prepared spatula. Let stand 20 minutes until hardened, then lift off sheet, and break brittle into bite-size pieces.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peppermint Bark

:209/365: I've been on a roll with Christmas treats this year. Peppermint Bark is always on the menu at our house in December. I mean, seriously. It's the easiest thing to make in the whole world. Never, ever buy it. We actually saw it in a tiny box at the store today for $5.99. You can get a box of candy canes for 99 cents and a bag of chocolate chips for less than two dollars. And I'm guessing you can make at least twice (if not three times) as much as there was in the box.

  • Candy canes (or peppermint candies). I've actually seen this with other hard candies, like butterscotch and Lifesavers, but I'm sort of a traditional gal. 
  • A bag of chocolate chips. I go with Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet, but Harrison loves milk chocolate. And while I'm not a fan of white chocolate, that is also an option. 

  • This is also your chance to be creative. Basically anything that will stick in melted chocolate (and seriously, what doesn't?), you can add. Some suggestions: nuts, cookies, candies, cereal, marshmallows, crystallized ginger, crystallized citrus peel, chilies, dried fruit, pretzels, caramels, chips. I'm thinking....pretzels and toasted pecans in dark chocolate. Or what about dried cherries and chilies in bittersweet? Or crystallized ginger and almonds in milk. Sigh. So much bark, so little time.

  • Start by melting the chocolate. This is best done over very low heat in a heavy pot, but you can use the microwave. Just be sure to monitor it carefully. It'll scorch if you walk away.
  • Unwrap the candies and put them all in a heavy ziploc bag. I let Harrison do this part. He loves it. Then just start bashing them with a rolling pin or even a hammer. I usually have him do this on a towel to protect the counter. 
  • Spread the melted chocolate on a parchment lined baking sheet. You can use Silpat, but it gets messy. 
  • Sprinkle with the crunched up peppermint candy. Then using a metal spatula, press the candy into the melted chocolate. 
  • Let cool.
  • Then break it up into pieces and eat.
Options to consider: Different chocolates or even a marbling of a couple of chocolates would be yummy. You might also try to add nuts or dried fruit. I've seen white chocolate, almond and dried cranberry bark. Another good one might include crystallized ginger or dried chili peppers. You can really use whatever would stick to the chocolate -- sprinkles or sugar decorations might be fun. And seriously -- M&M's or chocolate covered nuts or chunks of other candy bars or cookies or pretzels or chips. Yum.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reindeer Cookies

Every once in a while we manage to make something that is even better than the inspiration. I think this is one of those times. We needed to make some cookies for the school Christmas party. And we wanted them to be awesome, so of course we turned to Pintrest for inspiration. So cute and so easy! I'll give you both the uber-easy way and the "I have a little more time today" way.


The Easy Way

This makes fifteen good sized cookies.
  • One package of cookie mix (the original recipe called for peanut butter, but one of the kids in Harrison's class is allergic to nuts, so we used sugar cookie dough which I tinted with about 1/4 c of baking cocoa. (You will also need the ingredients for the cookie dough -- for the sugar cookie dough, you'll need one stick of butter and an egg. For the peanut butter, you'll need 3T of vegetable oil and an egg.)
  • Hershey's Chocolate drops.
  • Milk chocolate Flips -- or other chocolate covered pretzels.
  • Edible sugar googly eyes. (If you can't find these... use M&M's like the original version, but I think the googly eyes make these really special.)
  • Mix the dough together, then shape into fifteen balls. For the reindeer shape, make the balls slightly narrower on one end, forming a cone. Chill in the freezer for about five minutes.
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes.
  • Remove the cookies from the oven. Working quickly, press the pretzels, the drops, and the eyes into the cookies.
  • Let them cool slightly, then transfer them carefully to a wire rack. Be careful. The chocolate is very soft at this point. But it will firm up once the cookies cool.
The "I Have More Time Way"


  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Chocolate-covered mini pretzels
  • Edible googly eyes or M&M's
  • Hershey's chocolate drops

  •  Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Combine brown sugar, peanut butter, shortening, milk, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Add egg; beat until just blended.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix just until blended.
  • Form dough into 1-inch balls. To make reindeer-shaped cookies, pinch the bottom of the ball slightly to form a point, then gently flatten with your hand. Space cookies about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until set or just beginning to brown. 
  • Remove from oven and immediately (and gently) press two mini pretzels into the tops of the cookies for the reindeer's antlers. Press two googly eyes or M&M's into the reindeer for the eyes. Then press one chocolate drop for the nose.
  • Allow to cool 2 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack or paper towel to cool completely.

Makes about 40 reindeer cookies.

Source: Peanut butter cookie recipe from Jif.
This is the original photo. I really do think we nailed this one.Pinned Image
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Week Eighteen -- Santa Hat Brownies

I always have such high hopes for the holidays. I imagine days of baking and making cute gift bags with homemade treats. The reality is a little less, well, Martha-ish. However, I do firmly believe in making time for a few fun (and new projects)….. hence the Santa Hat Brownies.

Santa Hat Brownies
Adapted from this recipe found on Erica’s Sweet Tooth
Yields 12-16 brownies
·         1 pan of your favorite brownies, cooled and cut into desired size and shape (I used a round cutter) – or for the really rushed baker – those two-bite brownies they sell in the bakery department of every grocery store. (Shhh. I won’t tell.)
·         12-16 small strawberries, cleaned and hulled – Try to find smallish ones. The usual ones are enormous and way too big for this project.
·         Vanilla frosting. Either use the recipe below or just buy a can of white frosting. I mean, seriously. These are so cute, no one will notice.
To assemble, pipe a ring of vanilla buttercream on top of each brownie.  Cut off the base of a strawberry so it is flat and place it upside down on each brownie, pushing slightly to secure in place.  Top the tip of the strawberry with a dot of buttercream to finish the Santa hat.
Mascarpone Buttercream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2-1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and mascarpone cheese until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla extract and salt.  Add 2-1/2 cups of sugar, half a cup at a time and continue beating until smooth.  Add more sugar, if needed to reach desired consistency and sweetness.