Chocolate Peppermint Caramels

It’s official – I am in the middle of the high anxiety holiday weeks that lead to much less sleep and thoughts of “why didn’t I start my projects much, much earlier?”  Yet another weekend has come and gone, and I have carefully orchestrated what needs to get done.  I still give a few things up here and there, but se la vie…

There are a couple things that I am really bad at when it comes to this blogging thing.  I am REALLY bad about taking pictures to explain steps as I go, and there are very, very few times that I follow a recipe exactly.   I cook by feel and instincts, and I almost need to schedule a post-cook wrap up meeting with myself so that I can take notes on what I did that worked (or didn’t work for that matter).

I stumbled across this recipe for Salted Chocolate Caramels a few weeks ago, and while I adore a sweet and salty collabo*, I just didn’t think it was right for the upcoming holiday season.  What goes well with chocolate?  Why peppermint, of course!  And it is festive to boot!

I’ve made caramels before – not documented yet of course, but if you are looking for a failproof recipe, look no further.  It is here.  I’ve made it several times, and the caramels have turned out A-MAH-ZING every time.  Once you get the hang of it, you can start to play around with the consistency.  I made softer onces last Christmas and dipped them in chocolate, but taking the caramel recipe one step further and adding the chocolate into the caramel…game on!

The Salted Chocolate recipe mentioned above seemed straight-forward enough.  I decided to follow that one more closely for my experiment today.  I’ve updated my modified version below, but I am interested in experimenting with different flavors with either of the caramel recipes above in the future.

Chocolate Peppermint Caramels

yes, please!

modified from Salted Chocolate Caramel recipe at www.epicurious.com

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3 candy canes, broken into small pieces (I put it in a quart ziploc and take my meat tenderizing hammer-thing to it)
  • Vegetable oil for greasing
  1. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.
  2. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.
  3. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F** on thermometer, about 15 minutes. Add butter and extract, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with broken candy cane pieces. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.
  4. Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.

This recipe is a keeper in my book.  There are not many dessert/sweets recipes that aren’t, but I like that the chocolate isn’t overpowering.  The consistency of the candy melts in your mouth in that fun way that caramel should.  I am still trying to figure out the best way to deliver these goods…I’m not into individually wrapping, but that is another story for another day.

_________

*yes, I realize I am shortening the word collaboration.  I use it way to much to pronounce the whole thing all the time.

**Make sure you are calibrating your candy thermometer before doing ANY candy-making.  For those of us at higher altitude, water boils at a lower temperature and so does candy – meaning that if you blindly follow directions to bring it to 255°F, you are going to end up with candy that you can’t cut with a handsaw, let alone that oiled knife.  Here is a really good tutorial on how to calibrate your thermometer, but it is as easy as figuring out at what temperature water boils for you and adjusting your instructions as necessary.  Today, my water boiled right around 200°F instead of a normal 212°F.  I took my caramel off the stove just after it hit 240°F…

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Cozy Weekend of Crochet

I mentioned our new nephew that made his appearance this week, but that is actually our third nephew, with another soon to be niece or nephew scheduled to make an appearance at the beginning of January.

Here are a couple of snapshots of hats I have been crocheting this weekend.  Hats have become super quick for me to make because I have done so many.

There are some great free patterns online.  For one of my toddler age nephews, I made this hat at the toddler size and then added these great dinosaur spikes.

toddler dinosaur hat
Orange and Green Dino Hat

For my newborn nephew, I used the same hat pattern mentioned above, but moved the monkey ears up top to make them teddy bear ears.

Newborn Bear Hat

Blue Bear Hat

I apologize for the quality of these photos – they were taken on my lap from my phone as my husband drove down the street when I realized I didn’t photograph them earlier.

Yay for gifts for nephews!

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Thanksgiving Leftovers – Stuffed in an Acorn Squash

Another year, and another pile of things to be thankful for – my husband, my sweet pup,my darling friends, my family, and, in particular, our new nephew who made his appearance just in time for Thanksgiving!   We had a wonderful meal and conversation at our house, and then brought pie to the hospital to meet him for the first time.

I like leftovers…for a short period of time.  Eating the same thing over and over again just gets boring!  My father-in-law brought over an acorn squash on Thanksgiving day, and I decided tonight to make my own version of a mini-Thanksgiving casserole in a roasted acorn squash – just for fun.

I cut the acorn squash in half removed the seeds and pulp.   I placed it cut side down in a 9×13 baking dish with about a half an inch of water and baked for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When I removed the squash from the oven, I first drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled some salt and pepper.  Then, I layered what leftovers I had – mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and a little gravy in the middle.  I sprinkled a little parmesan cheese for good measure.  I threw it back in the oven (stuffed side up) for about 15 minutes, and voila!

Acorn Squash Stuffed

That's yummy Thanksgiving goodness inside

This may be a new Thanksgiving tradition.  My only regret is that we were out of my most recent favorite – Brussel Sprouts – to throw in there.  Next time…

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MIA

I’ve made sweeping proclamations before, but my hope to start posting more.  I blame traveling for work and being busy in general.  Sometimes though, words don’t come so easily, and I think I was in that place.  At any rate, life has slowed down for me (amazingly enough since it IS the holiday season officially).

A few highlights of what I have been up to include making my dog wear my Minnie Mouse ears:

Zopi as Minne

I'll do anything for a treat!

This was all in preparation for a quick trip to Disney World for a conference.  Not a bad place to be stuck for a couple of days, but they had just put up their Holiday decorations, and it definitely got me in the mood for the season!

Epcot at Christmas

'Tis the Season at Disney

I have a few more posts in my back pocket.  Hopefully, my addition to Pinterest won’t get in my way of checking in more often…also, I didn’t mean for this to be a Disney-centric post.

Oh well – As Tigger would say, TTFN – ta ta for now!  🙂

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Iggys get cold too

It’s a shame, but all I can find is one picture of the cute scarves I made for my mom’s and my brother’s iggys (that’s Italian Greyhounds for those that don’t know) – Sadie, Jitterbug, Piper, and Zita.  If you make a small scarf (about 6-7 stitches across) and then attach it crossways to make a head hole for them.  Super easy!!

Piper is a model

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Nutella Cookies – High Altitude Challenged

It’s been a big cooking weekend for me.  I owe a few people for helping me out at work…big time.   Additionally, Floyd has a friend that lives near us that gets produce delivered weekly, and he was unable to use the PILE of produce he gets.  I am not kidding – I couldn’t see my kitchen island all weekend, which is very stressful for me.  How in the world does one guy cook and eat all of this food??!!

Regardless, I took on a tri-baking challenge.  Two types of cookies and something sweet for breakfast. I am always nervous to try recipes for the first time, but I couldn’t pass up the thought of chocolate nutella cookies coming from my kitchen.  This recipe popped up over the weekend in my blog reader from Simply Recipes, and it was immediately starred and tagged.

Like the author of the original post, my memories of nutella are tied to college, but mine are dipping graham crackers in large jars during movie days in Italian class.  By my third year of Italiano, I was full on taking actual classes in another language – poetry, literature, and history.  In my history class, every other week, we would watch an old movie in Italian, and it was my favorite thing ever.  I felt so immersed in the language by that point that sometimes my dreams were in Italian.  I wish I still knew the language that well…for now, I just go around saying random words that I think are fun to say.

Ciao (Hello!)

Grazie! (Thank you!)

Buona Fortuna (Good Luck!)

Cucchiaio (Spoon)

Totally fun, right?  🙂  Cucchiaio comes in handy ALL the time, btw.

On to the cookies.  They aren’t a total disaster – the taste is there, but the came out so flat for me…like most cookies do before my high altitude modification come in.  I am going to try a little more flour a little less sugar and maybe baking powder instead of soda…oh, and a pinch more salt.  (Is that IT?! you ask. – yes, this is a recipe I want to work with.  It has potential of great things).

Check out the flatness of the cookies though…sad face.  Do you not agree?  There are a total of 4 cookies pictured below.

flat but delicious cookies

Here was the recipe as it was originally posted, and how I plan to change for next time to get this to work a mile high up in the air.

Chocolate Nutella Cookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar (I am going to start by reducing this to 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup of white sugar
  • 1 cup of Nutella
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour  (next, increase this to a total of 2 1/3 – 2 1/2 cups of flour…depending on how it looks)
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda  (maybe baking powder instead for me…depends on my mood that day, I suppose)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (increasing to 3/4 tsp salt)
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of chopped hazelnuts

METHOD

1 Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter in an electric mixer for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and Nutella and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

2 Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each. Add the vanilla and mix for 10 seconds.

3 Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda (do not skip this step as sifting eliminates clumps of cocoa). Mix into the butter mixture on low speed until fully incorporated, scraping down the bottom and sides at least once to ensure even mixing. Fold in the chocolate chips and hazelnuts and refrigerate the dough for ten minutes.

4 Spoon tablespoon-sized drops of cough onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on the sheets for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes 6 dozen.

I’ll post my findings when I try this again with the changes.  Promise.  😉

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Stylish Headbands

I’m not gone.  I am really, really bad about keeping up with this though.  Or, when I do craft, cook, or do fun things, I am REALLY bad about taking pictures as I go, which makes it difficult to put up a tutorial or steps to do anything.  However, I have high ambitions to recreate these two beauties this weekend and show you steps on how to do it.

I was looking for a birthday gift for a friend earlier today, which I never do unless I run out of time like what happened today.  Similar headbands in a chic boutique will cost you…wait for it…$32.  Thirty-two dollars!  I mean, really?  Lucky for me, I did these on my own last weekend.

I bought the metal headbands plain in a pack of 6 at the Dollar Tree, for a $1. The fabric below for the rosettes was another $1 (tea towel at the Dollar Tree), and the ribbon was left over from another project.  Glue and time does not cost $30, but maybe someone else’s time is worth far more than mine?  Or the glue is made of solid gold.

I am going to be honest – at times, I thought I was going to throw them out, but I think they turned out pretty nice (particularly for a first attempt).  Let’s see what I can come up with this weekend during my recreation?!

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