Monday, December 24, 2007

English Toffee

A friend at work started a toffee making business called Bellstone Toffee. It is fabulous, and I had to give it a try for myself. This isn't her recipe, but one inspired by the Saveur article I read (see Peppermint Patties post).

Pecan Toffee
printer friendly
Makes About 2 1⁄2 Pounds

2 tsp. plus 2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups chopped toasted pecans
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips*

1. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10"×15" jelly roll pan with 2 tsp. butter and set aside. Put remaining butter, sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1⁄2 cup water into a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring constantly. Attach a candy thermometer to inside edge of pot and cook, continuing to stir constantly, until sugar mixture is deep golden brown and registers 310°, about 20 minutes. This feels like it takes forever, but COOK ON!

2. Pour the hot toffee onto the prepared pan and, using oven mitts, tilt and turn the pan to fill it evenly. Let the toffee cool for 5 minutes, then sprinkle 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips over the top. Let sit for 1 minute, then use a rubber spatula to gently spread the melted chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle the pecans over the chocolate and gently press them down.

3. Refrigerate toffee until it hardens, about 1 hour, then break into bite-size pieces. Serve toffee immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Note - don't line the container with paper towel like I did. It will stick!

* next year, I will try to top it with tempered chocolate. It got a little streaky if you make some without nuts, like I did, for my nut allergy family members.

Peppermint Patties

This year, instead of cookies, I made candies for Christmas. I was inspired by an article in this month's Saveur magazine, which is a really fine cooking and food mag - one of my favorites. I ended up getting this candy making cookbook (long out of print) called "The Candy Cookbook" by Mildred Brand.

Peppermint Patties


2 1⁄2 cups sugar
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
2 tbsp. butter
1⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar
1⁄2 tsp. peppermint oil
6 drops green food coloring
2 1⁄2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, melted in a bowl*

1. Stir together sugar, cream, milk, butter, and cream of tartar in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, without stirring; reduce heat to medium. Attach a candy thermometer to inside edge of pot; cook, without stirring, until it registers 236°, 12–14 minutes.

2. Pour sugar mixture onto a marble slab. Using 2 heatproof spatulas, scrape mixture back and forth to make a fondant, moving it across the marble quickly until it becomes thick and just cool enough to touch, 3–4 minutes. Toward the end, completely work in the oil and coloring.

3. Gather fondant into a ball; knead until it resembles smooth dough, 3–4 minutes. (If it becomes powdery, work in a few drops of water.) Shape fondant into thirty-six 1 1⁄2"-wide disks, each about 1⁄3" thick. (Keep unshaped fondant covered while you work.)

4. Working with one fondant disk at a time, dip them into chocolate using a fork; let excess drip off. Transfer to a wax paper–lined sheet pan. Let set in a cool spot. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool spot for up to a week.

* my second batch, I used tempered chocolate instead of melting the chips and they came out better.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Forcing Bulbs

How to force spring bulbs for Christmas

In the fall, when spring flowering bulbs are being sold everywhere, buy some extra. Traditionally, the bulbs are supposed to spend 12 weeks in the cold, but I have found that even less than 12 weeks will work out fine.

Buy some polished rocks in the houseplant area of any store. Decorate with permanent markers or paint pens terra cotta plant saucers (the kind you put under a terra cotta pot). You can seal them with some brush on sealant found at craft stores.

Then, put an odd number of bulbs in the saucer (odd numbers look better, like 3 or 5, depending on the saucer size) and surround them with the rocks. Keep their noses out of the rocks and pointed up. I write out instructions for forcing on an index card and put the card in a plastic bag and tie with a ribbon. If you are doing paperwhites, they get kind of tall and sometimes I tie them to some chopsticks, you could include. Lately, I've been sticking to hyacinths, because I love the smell of them.

Here are the instructions for forcing:
Instant Spring - just add water
1. Keep this saucer in a cool spot until New Year's - your refrigerator or garage is good.
2. Put the saucer in a warm spot in your house or office
3. Keep the rocks wet
4. It will be spring by February!

By the way, in January, when you are really sick of winter, if you have a forsythia bush in your yard, you can cut some of the branches and then make an "X" in the bottom of the branch with a knife and put them in some warm water in a vase. Change the water every day if you can, and you can force it to bloom, which is really nice, too.