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A woman of my word

December 22, 2011

My weekend of cookie baking and candy making was a smashing success. Why, you ask? Let me count the ways.

ONE: My friend Jen is an absolute darling and catching up with her is always so good. She loves me and my family and that makes me feel so warm and fuzzy.

TWO: Jen’s little baby (2 months old!) is a PEACH who could sleep through the apocalypse (as well as KitchenAid mixers running full speed, clanging pots and pans, and non-stop chattering followed by ringing laughter). He smiles and coos and basically is amazing every moment of the day.

THREE: Watching Jen mother her babe was such a wonderful sight. She is selfless, thoughtful, relaxed, and so proud of her boy… Motherhood is a tough job, but Jen handles it with such grace.

FOUR: I do believe that I set a record for most goodies made in a 24-hour period… Orangettes, almond joys, smokey cashews, ritz-peanut-butter-sandwich cookies, peanut toffee, salted caramels, espresso bark, lemon sandwich cookies, and marshmallows!

FIVE: Jen made supercute sugar cookies shaped like mittens and gingerbread men. Also, she mastered (after years of the two of us failing) royal icing… which means she’s pretty much a rockstar. Jen’s sugar cookies inspired me so much (and my lemon cookies disappointed me so much) that the day after she went home on her  merry way I whipped up a batch of sugar cookies myself. They are not nearly as cute as Jen’s, but I’m reasonably happy with the end result. But really – look at Jen’s cookies. They are incredible.

It’s taken a few days, but all of my treats are finally boxed up and I’ve started handing them out.

I’ve also started receiving recipe requests for some of the treats – which helped me determine recipes to post: salted caramels and espresso bark. But first things first – my favorite tip of the weekend.

Did you know – because I did not – that blanching orange peels removes the bitterness from them? I was shocked! What a fantastic trick! The orangettes that I made required me to blanch twice, rinse, and then simmer in a simple syrup. I was peeling and eating the thin strips of citrus off of the wax paper as they dried. Jen said it best when she observed that they tasted like those little gummy orange segments coated in sugar that you can buy at the store. ONLY BETTER.

Now that I’ve surely blown your mind with that little tidbit – onto the recipes.

Espresso Bark

I have been making this treat for at least 5 years now, and I have to admit that I’m a little over it. But heaven forbid I should quit distributing it, as there are faithful espresso bark followers who start asking for it the day the calendar rolls over to December. It’s ridiculously easy and requires very few ingredients – but because of that fact I think it’s incredibly important to use high quality chocolate and coffee beans.

Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a saucepan set over medium-low (or low) heat, combine one pound dark chocolate and one pound of milk chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted. Add one cup of whole coffee beans.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with 1/2 pound white chocolate chips. Set aside to let cool and harden. Break or cut into bite-sized pieces.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Adapted from Gourmet Today

So here’s a funny story… the recipe in my cookbook called for a teaspoon of fleur de sel. But somehow in my delirious candy-making state I though it called for a tablespoon. Which is how much I added. That being said, I think they taste amazing and have received more than one recipe request for them already. So I’m writing it below as a tablespoon… but next time might just try to see the difference a teaspoon makes. You do whatever your heart desires.

And a note: sometimes recipes requiring candy thermometers scare people off a bit. They shouldn’t, though! You can purchase a thermometer for a few dollars. They’re easy to use, and as long as you pay attention to the temperatures, they’ll result in win after candy win.

Also: caramel clean up can seem like a huge overwhelming mess as it’s sticky and  hardens quickly. Fear not, however! Simply run very hot water over whatever needs cleaning. The caramel will dissolve and you’ll be left with hardly any scrubbing at all.

One final thing I swear and then I’ll get on with the recipe already: If you are like me, you will fret while making candies like caramels and marshmallows. But fret not – because it almost always works out in the end, especially if you’re following a good recipe. Although it’s nearly torture for me to watch a pot of sugar boil on the stove without being able to stir it, it’s very important to follow that step, as if you incorporate an errant sugar crystal into your syrup, you’ll potentially ruin everything and have to start over. It’s very important to follow the directions below.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fleur de sel
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water

Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper, making sure all sides are covered. Lightly butter the parchment.

In a small saucepan, combine cream, butter and salt. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a 3-4 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Brush down sides of pan with pastry brush dipped in water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan (making sure not to let it touch the bottom) and let boil, WITHOUT STIRRING.

Once sugar mixture is a light golden color (the thermometer will read somewhere around 300 degrees, the temperature at this point is not really important), add the cream mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Use caution, as the mixture will bubble up. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until temperature reaches 248 degrees. Immediately remove from heat and pour into prepared pan. Set aside and let cool.

Once cool, cut into squares and wrap in pieces of wax paper.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. AmyB permalink
    December 22, 2011 10:51 am

    I will be making a pan of the caramels this weekend and plan on eating them all myself. Maybe I’ll let Dan have one or two. Maybe. It is Christmas and all. Can’t wait!

  2. Kendra M permalink
    December 23, 2011 7:18 am

    Can you two make room for one more next year? :). If it’s kids you want, I can bring two of those, too! And I would like to request the marshmallows & smoky cashew recipes. I miss your treats – and you, Miss Aimee!

  3. jaime napier permalink
    December 28, 2011 10:19 pm

    Amy, I am not a baker by any stretch of the imagination. So, I have all sorts of (silly) questions about the expresso bark. It’s dark chocolate, and milk chocolate.. not almond bark chocolate… right? and the coffee beans, you just add them right to the chocolate, and leave them there? Could you post a pic. of this expesso bark. I am so curious! I love your blog by the way!

  4. December 30, 2011 10:42 am

    Jaime –

    I’m so glad you like the blog!

    Actually, I have used both almond bark and milk chocolate. Either will work. You can use an entire block of almond bark.

    Yes, just add the coffee beans (whole, not ground) to the chocolate, mix them in, and leave them in there.

    I don’t have any picture of the completed espresso bark, but if you look in the second picture from the top it’s the chocolate candy with white dots on it. I’ll try to make it again sometime soon and post a picture, but in the meantime go ahead and give it a try – I promise that it’s very easy to make (and very hard to mess up!). Let me know how it goes!

  5. Jen Bourget permalink
    December 31, 2011 4:39 pm

    Had to come back and read over this post again…it’s what I like to call a “sure smile” – it’s sure to give you a smile. I can’t believe it was only 2 weeks ago, already looking forward to 2012. Miss you (hope to see you MUCH sooner than our next cookie bake/candy make)!

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