Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chocolate Covered Caramels

The first Christmas after Ann was born, I started dipping my own chocolates.  They make a wonderful gift and are a lot of fun to make.  Some of my friends and family know of my obsession with See's Candies.  Their chocolates are my absolute favorites ( I turn up my nose at Godiva and others that try to be fancy, but just don't taste as good).  But sadly my closest See's is in Chicago, a quick 5 hour drive away.  So I try to make a couple on my own.  Jared's and my favorite are the vanilla caramels with almonds in them.  They so yummy and chewy, I can sit down and eat them all.  This recipe in and of itself can explain my holiday weight gain so far this year.  So this recipe is my attempt to make something delicious for my family.  I've discovered that Ann isn't a fan of the caramel if it has nuts in it, but loves them plain.  Evelyn will eat anything if it's covered in chocolate. 
Learning how to do my own chocolates has been a work in progress and I feel like I've learned a little more each time I do it.  I think the best piece of advice I can give is to use the best ingredients you can.  That especially goes for the chocolate you dip them in too.  I have been using Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate, but would use Guittard if I coud find it out here.  Using good quality ingredients makes a surprising difference. 
Things you will need- Candy Thermometer, and if you want, a Chocolate Thermometer, and Parchment Paper.

Vanilla Almond Caramels
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 C light corn syrup
1 C granulated sugar
1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C butter
1/4 t salt
2 t vanilla
1 C almonds (roasted, salted, I prefer Diamond brand)
Tempered dipping chocolate

Place parchment paper in 13x9 in pan and spray with pam.  Set aside.
In a heavy 4 quart saucepan, combine milk, corn syrup, sugars, butter, and salt.  Place over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil.
Clip on candy thermometer.  Stirring constantly to precent scorching, cook to 242 degrees or soft ball stage.  remove from heat and immediately pour in vanilla and nuts, stirring quickly.  Pour into prepared pan.  Cool at room temperature until firm. 
Remove from pan and cut with a good strong knife into squares.  Dip into tempered chocolate.
For an extra touch, sprinkle on a little kosher salt before the chocolate cools.

Store in a cool dry place or else they will 'bloom' (when they get streaky or grey).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday drinks

Well, obviously I have taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging recently.  I've been taking a class online this semester which required me to post to a class blog three times a week.  So I've been all blogged out, which is a shame because this time of year is such a great time for baking! 

So let's see if I can catch up a bit and to start things off, I'm going to share a couple of my favorite drinks.  There's nothing better than enjoying a hot cup of something delicious when it's cold outside.  Hot Mulled Apple Cider makes the whole house smell amazing and couldn't be easier.  I've also recently discovered a new hot chocolate recipe that I'm really enjoying.  It's a bit untraditional, but I love it.  Having a drink like one of these just seems to make any evening or get-together that much more special.  The girls love it and have been very spoiled with excellent hot chocolate, no water and carnation instant packets for us! 

Hot Mulled Apple Cider
3 whole cloves
2 strips of orange peel
2 whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1 piece (1/2 in) peeled fresh ginger
12 Cups of apple cider
1/2 C apple jelly
1/4 t nutmeg

Place first five ingredients in a piece of cheesecloth and tie to close.  Add everything to a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours.  Tastes wonderful and serves a crowd!

Nutella Hot Chocolate
1 1/3 C whole milk
3 T Nutella

Yup, that's it.  Heat the milk until almost boiling( I will also often use half and half) then add the Nutella and whisk until creamy.  To make it even more decadent add a handful of dark chocolate chips, such as Ghiradelli 60% cacao.  Let them sit for a few minutes in the hot milk, then whisk together. 

The Nutella adds a great hazelnut flavor that I'm really loving lately.  Just try not to think about the calories!
This recipes serves one or two.

Also, I know I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely love to use a blender or immersion blender when making hot chocolate.  It makes it so creamy and frothy, it seems like you got it at a cafe.  Just put the nutella or chocolate chips in the blender, then when the milk is fully heated, pour it over the chocolate and turn on the blender for a full minute.  Simple, but makes a huge difference!

Eating Nutella makes me think of when Jared and I were in Paris.  After going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, we found this great crepe stand and got a huge banana-nutella crepe.  It was amazing, and became a great memory.  A lot of my favorite memories are attached to food...