Archive for the 'Dessert' Category

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

My cousin has a daughter who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, in addition to the nut allergy the family has been aware of for years. She’s adjusting well, and there are lots of great gluten-free products these days, but it’s still not easy for a kid to have to be so careful about the things that she eats.

Easter sugar cookies were our tradition previously, but this year, I wanted to make a dessert that everyone could enjoy. After carefully checking my list of potential ingredients to make sure there wasn’t any risk of gluten cross-contamination, I decided to pull out a marshmallow recipe I’ve used previously and then dip the marshmallows in chocolate and toasted coconut. They were a great hit with the children and the adults (and would have been with the family dog, had he succeeded in his quest) – a perfect mix of sweet, chewy, and crunchy.

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut
Makes about 60 (depending on how you cut them)

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 packages unflavored gelatin (or 3 tablespoons)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (use unsweetened, if desired)
6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate

To make marshmallows:
Brush a 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom of the dish and to overhang the longer sides. Place the parchment in the dish, brush with oil, and set dish aside.

Pour 3/4 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let stand 5 minutes.

Place granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Set saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer, and cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238° at sea level, 228° at my house at 5900 feet, about 9 minutes).

Using the whisk attachment, beat hot syrup into gelatin on low speed. Gradually increasing speed to high, beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Set dish aside, uncovered, until marshmallow becomes firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Place 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar in a fine strainer, and sift onto a clean work surface. Invert large marshmallow onto the sugar-coated surface, and peel off the parchment paper. Lightly brush a sharp knife with vegetable oil, and cut marshmallow into 1-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, and roll marshmallows in sugar to coat. Set aside.

To dip marshmallows:
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake coconut until toasted and golden brown, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully because coconut will burn quickly!) Place toasted coconut in a bowl and set aside.

Melt chocolate in a small bowl in microwave according to package instructions. (You could also melt chocolate using a double boiler, if desired.)

Dip one side of each marshmallow first in chocolate and then in toasted coconut. Place chocolate-side up on a rimmed baking sheet.

Once all the marshmallows are dipped, place baking sheet in refrigerator for 15 minutes to allow chocolate to set. Cover loosely with foil until ready to serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to one week.

Marshmallow adapted from MarthaStewart.com

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

Holy cow, are these ever good. What really makes them awesome is the combination of the soft marshmallow with the crunchy, sweet coconut – it’s textural heaven. I love chocolate, so that certainly doesn’t hurt things either. They’re the perfect little size – just a bite, which is great for kids or adults who struggle with dessert guilt.  (I am not one of those adults.)

The dipped marshmallows are definitely best day they’re made, before they’ve spent any time in an airtight container. As we discovered in the backyard fire pit, they’re good toasted, too, though you have to be careful about the coconut catching fire. Never fear if you have leftovers… Even though the coconut lost its crunch in airtight storage, Dr. O still couldn’t stop eating them.

Chocolate Panforte Candies

Our gourmet club theme was really fun this month: lucky foods for the new year. We met last night and had a wonderful spread filled with all kinds of foods that should bring good fortune in 2013, including bacon jam (pigs symbolize progress and “the fat of the land”), smoked salmon dip (fish represent abundance), roasted grapes with rosemary (grapes are part of a Spanish tradition), Hoppin’ John risotto (black-eyed peas represent coins/prosperity), cooked greens (greens look like money), and honey cornbread (cornbread is the color of gold).

I was on dessert duty, and since there aren’t too many sweet foods that fall on the lucky list, I decided to explore the “round” theme for dessert. Round or ring-shaped foods represent prosperity (coins are round) and the idea of coming full circle. Bundt cake was a natural choice since it’s a popular ring-shaped dessert (I went with Martha’s Tangerine Cake with Citrus Glaze), but I wanted to add another element. Since chocolate and orange go so well together, I knew I wanted to make some kind of chocolate candy. Today’s recipe – Chocolate Panforte Candies – fit the bill perfectly. They pull together chocolate, orange, and several other unexpected flavors that work together wonderfully. Everyone liked the cake, for sure, but I think they loved these.

Chocolate Panforte Candies
Active time: 40 min. | Total time: 2 hours
Makes 14

Ingredients:
1/2 cup quartered dried black Mission figs
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 teaspoons grated orange peel, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup (scant) hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
14 standard paper muffin baking cups

Method:
Cook first 5 ingredients and 1 teaspoon orange peel in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until liquid forms thick syrup that coats figs, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat; mix in cinnamon, remaining 1/4 teaspoon orange peel, and nuts.

Melt chocolate in microwave-safe bowl on medium power until melted and warm to touch, stopping once to stir, about 1 1/2 minutes. Arrange paper cups on rimmed baking sheet. Spoon 1 mounded teaspoon chocolate onto bottom of each paper cup. Tap baking sheet on work surface to spread chocolate over bottom of cups. Top center of each with about 1 mounded teaspoon fig mixture. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Peel off paper. Let chocolates stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Source: Bon Appétit, December 2008

My notes:

  • I chopped the figs instead of quartering them and chopped the hazelnuts instead of leaving them whole.
  • I found hazelnuts in the bulk section at Whole Foods. I roasted them for 9 minutes at 350°F and then rubbed the skins off before chopping them. Some skins didn’t rub off entirely, which wasn’t a big deal.
  • The recipe makes about twice the amount of topping that you need, so I would recommend halving the topping or doubling the chocolate.
  • The microwave instructions in the recipe won’t completely melt the chocolate. Just stir, stir, stir until the chocolate is smooth.
  • I’ve made these with both semisweet and bittersweet chocolate; Dr. O and I like the bittersweet the best.

Chocolate Panforte Candies

These candies are ridiculously good. Who knew figs and chocolate went so well together? The crunch of the hazelnuts is pretty special as well. Like one of the recipe reviewers, I was worried that the clove and nutmeg might be overwhelming, but everything blends together beautifully in the finished product. And I do mean beautifully… Both times I’ve served these, people wondered how I created such a gorgeous edge on these chocolates. Muffin cups work wonders!

These probably aren’t going to satisfy a crowd that wants Oreo balls and peanut butter fudge, but they’re perfect for foodies, adventurous eaters, or anyone who enjoys a little something unexpected. I’ll be making them again next December (if not sooner!) for sure.

Recipe link: Chocolate Panforte Candies

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies

“Mayhem” (the only way I can describe my May!) is almost over. Hallelujah. It’s been fun, but traveling every weekend really puts a damper on my cooking, and I’m ready to get back to it.

Today’s recipe – Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies – is a treat I’ve enjoyed at my friend Christopher’s house numerous times. Until I actively sought out the recipe, though, I didn’t realize that (a) I’ve had it in my possession since September 2009, and (b) it’s been on my list of must-try recipes for months and months.

The cookies are super simple to make; there’s only six ingredients, and prep time is minimal. The first time I made a batch, though, they did not look like the cookies I’d enjoyed before. Christopher’s had relatively smooth but still slightly crackly tops, while mine were very uneven. I had ignored my kitchen instincts when I made the batter and didn’t beat the egg whites before adding them to the dry mixture (the recipe said nothing about it), so I figured this must have been my problem. This time, with lightly beaten egg whites, the cookies turned out perfectly.

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies
Makes 12

Ingredients:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (sub chocolate chips if desired)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other type of nut)
4 large egg whites, room temperature (I say lightly beaten)

Method:
Preheat oven to 325°. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir until just incorporated (do not overmix).

Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 3 days.)

Source: Everyday Food, September 2009

Image

These are one of my top three favorite cookies, easy. The crisp, crackly outside gives way to a chewy, brownie-like center and the combination is absolutely out of this world. The cookies are large (about the size of my palm) and visually impressive, which makes them great for gifts or entertaining.

The quality of cocoa powder used definitely affects the flavor of the cookie, so if you try the recipe, go with the best. I’ve had good results with Savory Spice Shop’s cocoa (I mixed their basic Dutch-process cocoa with their Black Onyx) and with Ghirardelli; Christopher swears by Droste.

Recipe link: Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies

Chocolate Stout Cake (aka My Best Denver Cake Yet!)

The luck o’ the Irish was with me in the kitchen today, because I made my best high-altitude cake yet. Not my most beautiful, mind you, but definitely the most delicious. I tore this recipe out of the March 2012 issue of 5280 with some trepidation… While I’ve had some success with the recipes they’ve shared in the past (Fuel Cafe’s Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies, for instance), 5280 isn’t a cooking magazine. There’s no test kitchen. I figured, however, that a cake recipe from a Boulder bakery was worth a gamble. (Thanks, Kim & Jake’s Cakes!)

My initial game plan was to make a half recipe (which I thought would result in a single 9-inch round layer of cake, according to the recipe instructions) to make sure the cake itself behaved at high altitude and tasted good. Once I whipped up a half recipe of batter, though, I realized that it was enough to make two 9-inch round layers. My cake pans are 1 1/2-inch-deep Wilton pans; I imagine you’d have to have super deep pans to bake the entire original recipe as only two layers. Since I was going to have a full cake, I decided I might as well frost it. The cake recipe below is as I baked it (double it for the original recipe and extend baking time to 50 minutes); I made a full recipe of frosting, though. If you’re not a frosting person, feel free to cut that in half as well.

Chocolate Stout Cake
Makes a 2-layer 9-inch cake

Ingredients:
3 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 cup oil (I used vegetable)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (I used a combination of Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx and regular Ghirardelli)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups stout beer (I used Breckenridge Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout; 1 1/2 cups is one bottle)

Method:
Preheat oven to 300°F. Cut two 9-inch circles of parchment paper. (Use the bottom of a cake pan as a guide.) Butter the cake pans, place a circle of parchment in the bottom of each, and butter over the parchment. Set pans aside.

Mix eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, salt, and baking soda together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour, alternating with the beer, 3 to 4 times, until completely incorporated into the egg mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 35 – 40 minutes. (My cakes were perfect at 37 minutes.) Remove from oven, cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Remove parchment and frost before serving.

Milk Chocolate Malt Frosting

Ingredients:
1 pound butter, softened
2 pounds powdered sugar
3/4 cup dark cocoa (I used a combination of Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx and regular Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup malt powder (I used Carnation Malted Milk Powder, which I found at SuperTarget)
Splash of vanilla

Method:
Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, malt powder, and vanilla.  Incorporate completely.

Source: 5280/Kim & Jake’s Cakes

Chocolate Stout Cake

This is a phenomenal dessert.  The cake is moist with a nice springy crumb, and there was absolutely none of the center sinking I so often see with cakes at high altitude.  It has a nice level of chocolate flavor (far better than the chocolate cupcakes I posted before), though I couldn’t really taste the stout.  The frosting didn’t end up being super smooth (hence the slightly ugly cake), but the flavor is to die for; the malt powder really makes it.  Overall, the cake and frosting make an amazing combination.

So this is going to be my go-to chocolate cake recipe from here on out…  I think I’ll have some fun with it by turning it into cupcakes next time and maybe trying some other chocolate frostings.  I’ll be sure to post any updates!

TIPS: If you make this frosting (highly recommended, it’s delicious!), I’d suggest smoothing it out with a hot, slightly wet icing spatula after you get the initial layer on. Doing so improved the appearance of my cake immensely.

Ice Cream Truffles

Here’s another easy, make-ahead dessert for Valentine’s Day (or any day, really). Combine your sweetie’s favorite ice cream with their favorite candy bar and serve up some customized ice cream truffles.

Ice Cream Truffles
Adapted from Real Simple

Ingredients:
1 1/2 quarts ice cream (I used Breyers Smooth and Dreamy Chocolate Chocolate Chip)
8 – 12 ounces candy bars, chopped or processed in the food processor (smaller ice cream shapes will have more surface area and will require more candy; I used 4 ounces each of Butterfinger and Take 5)

For round truffles:
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or foil.  Freeze for 10 minutes.  Remove one sheet.

Using a melon baller or ice cream scoop, scoop the ice cream and place individual balls on baking sheet.  Return sheet to freezer.  Repeat this process with second sheet.  Freeze the balls for 30 minutes, or until firm.

Place the chopped candy on a small plate.  (Use multiple plates for multiple candies.) Working with 1 baking sheet at a time, roll the ice cream balls in the toppings, using your hands to gently press in the toppings.  Freeze for 30 minutes before serving. For longer storage, place in a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze.

For heart-shaped truffles:
Allow ice cream to soften on the countertop until it has a spreadable consistency (or microwave on low until spreadable).  Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with parchment or foil.  Place ice cream in baking pan, smooth top, and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for 6o minutes, or until firm.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or foil.  Freeze for 10 minutes.  Remove one sheet.

Remove ice cream from freezer.  Remove plastic wrap.  Invert over a cutting board and peel away parchment or foil.  Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter (mine was 2 1/2 inches wide at its widest point), cut heart shapes and place hearts on baking sheet.  Return sheet to freezer.  Repeat process with second baking sheet.  If desired, scoop ice cream scraps into balls and place on baking sheet as well.  Freeze for 30 minutes, or until firm.

Place the chopped candy on a small plate.  (Use multiple plates for multiple candies.) Working with 1 baking sheet at a time, gently roll the hearts (and balls, if you scooped the scraps) in the toppings, using your hands to gently press in the toppings.  Freeze for 30 minutes before serving.  For longer storage, place in a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze.

Ice Cream Truffles

The easy way...

Individual Ice Cream Truffle

Take 5... Yum!

Heart-Shaped Ice Cream Truffles

The hard(er) way...

This is one of those recipes (though it’s barely a recipe, I’ll admit!) that really can’t go wrong as long as you start with delicious ingredients.  Plus, I love that the work is already done and these truffles will taste just as good after dinner on Tuesday as they did the day I made them.  Happy (early) Valentine’s Day, everyone!

TIPS:  I suspect that drier candy bars (like the ones I used, or Heath, Toblerone, etc.) work best with this recipe because they won’t bond into lumps due to an excess of caramel, peanut butter, or other delicious ooey-gooey elements.  If you try a gooey candy bar with these, though, let me know how it goes.  Also, I initially intended to make mini heart truffles, but my mini heart cutter was too shallow to cut through the ice cream in the 8 x 8-inch block.  If you want to make minis, put the ice cream in a 9 x 13-inch pan instead.

Recipe link: Ice Cream Truffles

Nutella Hot Chocolate

Today was a cold one here in Denver (it’s 17°F now), and I’ve been under the weather lately with a scratchy throat.  Feeling chilly and a little bit sorry for myself, I decided I deserved a treat: Nutella Hot Chocolate, or the most delicious, bare-minimum effort dessert ever.  I first had it at my friend Christopher’s (on the recommendation of his cousin, Nicole), but we thought it could have been more chocolatey.  I’ve played with the proportions, and I think I have it just right.

Nutella Hot Chocolate
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%; use whole for a richer drink)
3 tablespoons Nutella

Method:
Place milk in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat.  Whisk in Nutella until completely incorporated.

Nutella Hot Chocolate

That’s it!  It’s so easy, but so delicious.  With these proportions, you get a perfect amount of chocolately, nutty Nutella flavor.  This would be an ideal dessert for Valentine’s Day if you’re looking for something warm and comforting but super easy (especially served with heart marshmallows, which I cut from large store-bought marshmallows using a mini heart cookie cutter).

TIPS:  The first time I made this at home, I used Nutella that had been in the pantry for a while.  Fresh Nutella dissolves much better than Nutella that’s past its prime.

Crispy Chocolate-Marshmallow Treats

I’m a big dessert person, but I don’t always want to make a big effort in order to have it.  When my friend Christopher came over for dinner recently, I was looking for something that would be fun, delicious, and easy.  The answer?  Crispy Chocolate-Marshmallow Treats from the October 2008 issue of Everyday Food.  I love Rice Krispies treats – they so remind me of my childhood – and the chocolate element of this recipe elevates the flavor to something adults can really appreciate. Plus, the treats came together in 10 minutes flat.  Perfection!

Crispy Chocolate-Marshmallow Treats
Makes 16

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 bag (10.5 ounces) mini marshmallows
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (spooned and leveled)
6 cups crisp rice cereal
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Method:
Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.  Line bottom and two sides with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides.  Butter paper; set pan aside.

In a large saucepan, combine butter, marshmallows, and cocoa.  Cook over medium, stirring frequently, until melted, about 6 minutes; stir in rice cereal.  Press rice mixture into prepared pan; drizzle with melted chocolate.  Let cool to room temperature; cut into 16 bars.  (To store, keep in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.)

Source: Everyday Food, October 2008

Crispy Chocolate-Marshmallow Treats

These are so good!  I’ve never really been a chocolate Rice Krispies treat kind of girl (I love the original recipe), but I’ll totally make these again.  The texture is perfect, with just the right amount of butter and marshmallow, and I love, love, love the rich flavor of the chocolate drizzle on top.  This would be such a fun dessert for a dressed-up comfort food dinner party.

TIPS:  I was always under the impression that Rice Krispies treats got pretty stale if you didn’t eat them the day they were made, but these keep beautifully.

Recipe link: Crispy Chocolate-Marshmallow Treats

Vanilla Caramels

Here’s another edible holiday gift!

I love Bequet’s Celtic sea salt caramels, and I went through a phase back in March when I made several different recipes in an attempt to duplicate their amazing flavor and texture.  One recipe was a total failure, and one had pretty amazing textural results but tasted really strongly of brown sugar (good, but not what I was going for). I dropped my pursuit of perfect caramels until I came across Grace Parisi’s recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels last week; I’ve had so much luck with Food and Wine recipes that I figured I might as well give them a try.  These have the more delicate, sophisticated flavor I was looking for, and the texture is just fantastic. They’re not quite Bequets, but they’re close enough!

I skipped the chocolate part of Ms. Parisi’s recipe, so click the link to the original recipe at the bottom of the post if you want the whole thing.

Vanilla Caramels
Adapted from FoodandWine.com

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup (I ran out of light, so I used 3/4 cup light and 1/4 cup dark)
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, crumbled

Method:
Line a 9-x-13-inch pan with foil; spray it with vegetable oil.  In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the sugar, corn syrup and cream and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Add the vanilla seeds.  Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245°F on a candy thermometer, 1 hour.  Stir in the sea salt and scrape the caramel into the prepared pan.  Let cool and set completely overnight.

Invert the caramel onto a cutting board and peel off the foil.  Using a sharp, lightly oiled knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch wide strips and then into 1-inch squares. Wrap the individual caramel squares in wax paper.

My modifications:

  • I lined my 9-x-13-inch pan with parchment paper, not foil, since that’s what I used when I made all those caramels back in March.
  • I periodically washed down the sides of my pan with a silicone brush and water to make sure there weren’t any undissolved sugar grains.  A single unincorporated sugar crystal can crystallize the candy mixture and ruin your whole batch.  The corn syrup in the recipe helps prevent crystallization, but I figured it was better to be overly cautious.
  • The recipe is kind of ambiguous about how much stirring you should do.  I just stirred mine periodically and very carefully.  (Sloshing the mixture around, especially early in the recipe, can lead to crystallization.)
  • Since high altitude affects candy making temperatures, I cooked my mixture to 235°F instead of 245°F.  (At my house, water boils at 202°F instead of 212°F, which is why I subtracted 10 degrees.  If you don’t live at sea level, you can do the test yourself by sticking a candy thermometer in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil.)
  • Once the mixture hit 235°F, I removed it from the heat and waited 1 minute before stirring in the sea salt.  I think waiting a beat helps the salt maintain its crunch in the finished caramels.

Vanilla Caramels

Aren’t these absolutely adorable?  I cut my caramels much smaller and did the more traditional wax-paper-with-twisted-ends packaging in the spring, but bigger cuts with bows are so much better for gifting.

I’m so pleased with the results of this recipe!  The flavor is wonderful, and the sea salt maintained its crunch in the finished product (one of my favorite elements of the Bequet caramels).  Cooked to 235°F, the caramels are firm enough to hold their shape but definitely soft and chewy.  The Bequet caramels are softer (they might start to puddle ever so slightly if you unwrapped one and let it sit for a few minutes), so I might try taking these off the heat at 230°F next time to see if I can get even closer to a Bequet-like result.  This is definitely my new go-to caramel recipe.

Update 1/19/13: I made these for Christmas last month and lined my pan with non-stick foil without any vegetable oil or spray. The foil worked perfectly! I’m going to use this method from here on out to prevent the vegetable oil problems a few of you have mentioned.

Recipe link: Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels

I made candied orange peel for the first time last year and loved it.  This year, I decided to make a double batch and use it for Christmas stollen, today’s recipe (Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels), and general nibbling.

Today’s recipe has its own instructions for making candied orange peel, but I just went with the tried-and-true process from last year.  If you already have candied orange peel (homemade or store-bought, really), this recipe is a fast way to turn out a really elegant, edible holiday gift.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels
Adapted from FoodandWine.com

Ingredients:
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bars)
3/4 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup shelled, salted pistachios

Method:
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a double boiler set over a pot of simmering water, heat the bittersweet chocolate until two-thirds melted.  Remove from the heat.  Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it is completely melted and registers about 90°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Spread the warm chocolate on the parchment paper to a rough 9-x-13-inch rectangle.  Working quickly, so the chocolate doesn’t set, scatter the orange peels and pistachios evenly over the melted chocolate.  Gently tap the cookie sheet on the work surface to flatten the chocolate and allow the toppings to sink in slightly. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, just until firm.  Cut or break the bark into 2-inch pieces and serve.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels

Heavenly!  This bark is a chocolate-y, salty, and sweet treat.  The original recipe calls for unsalted pistachios, but the salt adds so much to the flavor profile.  Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Plus, the bark is just gorgeous for gift giving.  I didn’t think it would break very evenly since the orange peel is chewy, so I cut mine with a santoku knife.  I really like the look of the hard edges.  I’m making this one again!

TIPS:  I was worried that my chocolate wouldn’t melt completely (we’ve all been there, right?), so I think I let it melt a bit too long in the double boiler.  This didn’t hurt the chocolate, but it did get pretty warm (about 120°F) and took some time to come down in temperature.  After extended stirring and letting it fall in ribbons to cool it down, my patience ended when the chocolate hit 97°F.  I was afraid that it might be a bit too loose and spread too far, but everything turned out just fine.

Also, if you don’t know what a double boiler is or want to rig up your own at home, check out this post.

Recipe links: Candied Orange Peel and Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peel (the original)

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings

Let the holiday baking begin!  I certainly started mine off on the wrong foot yesterday evening when I got (really!) distracted and left the flour, baking powder, and salt out of today’s recipe…  As you can imagine, my cookies melted into a puddle in the oven.  I’m always one to try, try again, though, so I gave the recipe another shot this morning.  Success!

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings (originally Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows)
Makes about 6 dozen 2-inch rings

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (light – not nonfat – is fine if that’s what you have)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely chopped (mine was grated with a microplane grater)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder (I used a scant teaspoon as a high-altitude adjustment)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

Method:
Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until creamy.  Mix in granulated sugar.  Add egg, lemon zest, and lemon juice; mix well.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; mix into butter mixture on low speed.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place a small amount of the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.  Holding tip very close to the surface, pipe 2-inch rings onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper; space 1 inch apart.  Gently push down any peaks in the piped dough.  Refill pastry bag as needed with remaining dough.  Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom, about 10 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Source: Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies 2005 (My version is slightly modified for technique and baking time.)

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings

What a great cookie!  I’m especially excited that the recipe worked at high altitude with only one minor modification (the scant teaspoon of baking powder instead of a whole, and I’m not sure the change was even necessary).  The dough really doesn’t expand much.  The flavor of the cookie is wonderful; it isn’t too sweet, even with the confectioners’ sugar sprinkling, and you definitely get the citrus from the lemon (though it isn’t overpowering).  The texture is somewhere between a sugar cookie and shortbread – crisp, but not dry – and I think these cookies would stand up well when transported (perfect for a cookie exchange).

The only downside to the recipe is that it does take some time and effort to pipe the cookies; the dough is pretty firm, so it’s a bit of a workout.  I tried putting the dough in a cookie press after reading a comment on the original recipe, but that was a grand failure.  The upside to piping is you can do pretty much whatever shape you want.  I tried bows (per the original recipe), rings, squiggles, hearts, and spirals, but liked the rings the best.  If you try a different shape or size, just be sure to watch them in the oven.  I burnt the heck out of my first batch because I left my 2-inch cookies in for the 12 minutes recommended in the original recipe; that baking time was intended for 3 1/2-inch cookies.

Recipe link: Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows




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