Microwave Peanut Brittle

As I was preparing to do my holiday baking and cooking, King Arthur Flour posted a recipe for Microwave Peanut Brittle. The recipe sounded perfect. I love making candy to gift for the holidays because it ships well and stays good for a long time. However, although candy-making can deceptively simple – you boil sugar water to a given temperature, then add things – it can also be time-consuming and prone to failure. I did not want time-consuming when I would make 3 batches of brittle to include with my other baking, but this recipe took no more than 20 minutes to make. Perfect.

I’ve made peanut brittle a few times, since it happens to be a favorite of my dad’s. This recipe is my favorite one yet.

microwavepeanutbrittle2

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Homemade Chocolate Marshmallows

I’ve made three batches of marshmallows this year – vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate swirl with chocolate chips. I have the ingredients to make a fourth batch, but… I’m stopping for now. How many marshmallows does a person need?

Making marshmallows is very easy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it! You have to spend time in the kitchen monitoring the stove and stand mixer, but honestly, I haven’t messed up a batch yet. I practically have the recipe memorized. The chocolate swirl are my favorite. The chocolate chips melt but don’t fully incorporate, so they have layers and bits of chocolate in them!

Chocolate Swirl Marshmallows
Chocolate Swirl Marshmallows
Homemade Marshmallows
Homemade Marshmallows

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Caramel Brownies

I really, really wanted to try Salted Caramel Brownies.

Often I make recipes because I need to use up some ingredient. I did actually need to use up the heavy cream that I used in this caramel, but let’s face it – that’s just the excuse I used to finally try these brownies  I’m really not a salted caramel person, so I decided these would just be caramel brownies.

Making your own caramel is the only potentially daunting part of this recipe, but I’ve made candy often enough that I wasn’t intimidated. In fact, making my own caramel was what drew me to the recipe!

Caramel Brownies
Caramel Brownies

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355: Glazed Almonds

I decided to make candied almonds as a part of all my gift packages. The Glazed Almonds recipe I came across was pretty simple. It involved cooking sugar, almonds (which should have been blanched, but I used raw), and butter (I always use real butter to make candy) on the stove for 9 minutes in an 8-inch skillet, until the sugar is melted and starting to brown. Stir in vanilla and pour onto a buttered sheet pan to let it cool. The syrup was thin, so that the almonds along the edge had brittle running out from them, rather than just coating them. The nuts were pretty easy to break apart after they cooled.

I wish I had a picture to show you. This seemed much more like almond brittle than candied almonds. I wish that I hadn’t cooked the syrup quite as much, because I browned it more than I had wanted to. It was still delicious, though, and was very simple to make. I’d recommend this tasty recipe due to its simplicity, but do realize that you’re getting something more akin to a candy brittle than just candy coated almonds.

345: Old-Fashioned Peanut Brittle

[Edit: I would, and do, make Microwave Peanut Brittle instead of this recipe.]

My dad loves peanut brittle. I’ve made him peanut brittle for a few years by using a recipe that I got from the New York Times (one that resembles the recipe for Glazed Almonds a little, in fact). I wanted to try something a little more involved this year, though. I even bought raw peanuts, since I know that some recipes take those. I decided to make peanut brittle to include in my gift packages though, and I originally couldn’t find a recipe that took raw nuts. I decided to make the Old-Fashioned Peanut Brittle instead, since it took the chopped nuts that I already had around.

I really had to commit to this recipe, since I knew it was going to take a long time to make. You cook the syrup for at least 40 minutes.

The recipe says to cook in a large heavy saucepan; I wasn’t entirely sure how large, but if I make it again, I’ll try my stockpot to make sure that I’ve got enough room for the mixture to bubble up when I add baking soda at the end. You mix together sugar, water, and corn syrup (dark and light corn syrup, but I could only find the light corn syrup in my pantry when I made it). Dissolve the sugar while stirring over medium heat; then, turn the heat up to high and boil until the temperature reaches 260F. The recipe says this will take about 40 minutes, and it did. Add peanuts and butter, and cook until temperature reaches 295F, which takes about 15 minutes.

Next, you remove it from heat and add the vanilla and baking soda. Baking soda lightens the color and flavor of the brittle. I knew it was going to foam up, but it didn’t immediately. Just as I said, “this isn’t so bad,” it really began foaming up over the sides of the pan. I poured it onto 2 buttered baking sheets and let it cool overnight. Alex and I broke it up and made little gift bags out of it. This recipe said it would make 3.5 pounds of candy, and I believe it. We got over a dozen baggies out of this recipe.

Old-Fashioned Peanut Brittle

I’m not actually a huge fan of brittle, but this brittle was pretty good. I kept going over to snack on it.  It wasn’t too hard to bite into. It had a nice peanut flavor and a light flavor. In general, though, I think I preferred the candy (that didn’t take baking soda) in the Candied Almonds that I made later on. Given the length of time this took, I’m not sure that I’ll make it again, though.

344: Homemade Marshmallows

Last year my coworker Megan brought homemade marshmallows to work that her husband Jason had made. I’m not really a marshmallow person, but these were pretty good, different from store-bought, and I ended up having a few. Since then, I’ve wanted to make Homemade Marshmallows myself, but I never got around to it until now, when I’m trying to do a lot of baking and candy making (for gifting and for eating). [Edit: You can see my recipe here, as well as a chocolate/chocolate chip adaptation.]

Homemade Marshmallows

Surprisingly, marshmallows were not hard to make at all. Not difficult as long as you have a candy thermometer and a stand mixer, that is. The corresponding blog for the recipe says that you could whisk the marshmallows with a hand mixer, except that it would take longer and perhaps not be as fluffy. Perhaps I’d try it sometime with a hand mixer, but a candy thermometer is essential.

Marshmallows are basically gelatin that you pour a candy syrup into and whip the heck out of. You start by soaking gelatin in water (in your stand mixer bowl, or another large bowl if you’re going to use a hand mixer). Meanwhile, you heat water, sugar, salt, and corn syrup over medium heat. You stir until the sugar dissolves, and then you cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 240F. I’m not sure how you’d know when it reaches 240F without a candy thermometer, so that’s why it’s so important.

Next, you put the stand mixer on low speed and slowly add the hot syrup to the bloomed gelatin; this will generate a ton of steam. Crank the stand mixer to high and whip the marshmallows for 8-10 minutes (I did mine for 8), until the mixture is fluffy. Add the vanilla toward the end of mixing time – I did this at about minute 7, but the blog accompanying the recipe says that she did it around minute 5.

Once you’re done whipping the marshmallow mixture, it should be cool enough that you can spread it into a greased (glass or ceramic) 9×13 inch pan. Smooth the marshmallows over with wet hands to smooth them. The recipe says to sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, but I did this and honestly didn’t like the sugar on top of them. Perhaps I got too much, but I don’t think there’s a good amount to put on there. Alex wanted me to emphasize that he didn’t like it either.

Homemade Marshmallow in cocoa

Overall, the marshmallows were good. They’re tasty and fluffy. I enjoy them, which I can’t really say about store-bought marshmallows. These go really well in hot cocoa, but they’re pretty good on their own. The recipe was very simple as far as candy goes, and I recommend it before making something like a toffee or brittle.

343: Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark

At some point I saw bit of a special on a cooking channel where the hosts made chocolate bark for a party. I realized it would probably be a good thing to make to include in the gift packages I wanted to send out for Christmas. When I came across the recipe for Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark on the King Arthur Flour website, I decided that the combination of cranberries, pecans, and white and dark chocolate would be nice, different recipe to make and gift.

This was pretty easy to make. I think I used a mixture of semisweet and Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate chips for the chocolate layer, and white chocolate chips for the white chocolate layer. [I’m writing about this almost 3 weeks later, but I think that’s accurate.] I put a piece of foil in a 9×13 pan so that I wouldn’t have to worry about chocolate spreading beyond the edges as I made an 8×12 oval. While I waited for the dark chocolate to set, I mixed together the pecans and cranberries. I put part of them in the white chocolate after I melted it, and poured it on the set dark chocolate. I sprinkled the rest of the fruit and nuts on the chocolate and patted them into it. We broke the bark later that night or the next day.

Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark

This was pretty tasty. It’s hard to go wrong with the combination of white and dark chocolate, or cranberries and pecans. It looked really nice too. I let the chocolate set too long before I poured the white chocolate on it because I was waiting for the center to seem dry; as a result, the white and dark chocolate layers separated when you bit it. I also must not have patted the toppings on well enough because they came off. I think in general I’d prefer to make my chocolate bark a little thinner, so next time I might spread it out a little more. I also think I’d add more cranberries and pecans to the white chocolate before I pour it, and only sprinkle a little bit on top of the bark, to minimize fruit and nuts coming off as we break it or eat it. Overall this was pretty good, though, and I’ll probably try it or a variation again next year.

305: Candied Ginger

My ultimate goal is to make Lebkuchen, which are delicious German cookies, but the recipe called for crystallized ginger. Rather than buy an expensive but small amount of it, I decided to just make the candied ginger myself.

I had to halve the recipe because I only had about a half a pound of ginger, which is much more ginger than I’d ever bought before. [Actually, I bought a pound of ginger, but some of it fell into the trash as I was peeling it.] I don’t have a mandoline, but I tried to slice it thinly and evenly using a ruler as my guide.

First I simmered the ginger in water on the stove. Not all of my pieces were even, so I simmered the ginger a few extra minutes until it was all tender. I drained the ginger and kept a couple of tablespoons of the liquid to combine with sugar. [Theoretically, I should be able to drink the rest of the ginger tea that was made when I simmered the ginger. I didn’t get a chance to, but it’s in the fridge waiting for me to reheat it.]

I weighed the ginger, put it back in the pan with the liquid, and added an equal weight of sugar to it. I brought it to a boil on the stove and let it cook for 20 minutes. What I should have done was stir it constantly while it boiled, but I didn’t read the instructions closely enough. The syrup began to turn brown and caramelize while I wasn’t paying attention to it. Once the 20 minutes were up and I saw what was happening, I stirred the ginger vigorously to try to make the sugar crystallize as it cooked. I poured it onto a rack to cool, and stored it the next day.

Candied Ginger

I don’t think I’ve ever had candied ginger before, so I don’t have a reference to compare this to. The ginger is chewy but not too chewy. Definitely still very gingery and intense, but sweet. I haven’t put it in anything yet, but I’m looking forward to. This was simple enough to do, and I’ll definitely make my own candied ginger again. Next time I’ll be sure to pay attention to the ginger as it cooks in the ginger syrup.

223: Pecan Pralines

My friend Molly sent me a postcard last year with a recipe on it for Pecan Pralines. I’ve had it on my fridge for the past year and a half, waiting until I had the perfect combination of ingredients (I had to have whole milk and pecans in the house) and time (candy making isn’t fast).

I decided I just had to make them! So I bought the ingredients, and decided to make them on the weekend.

Pecan Pralines

3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups pecan halves

Combine sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and milk in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Wipe crystals occasionally from side of pan. Cook to 238 degrees or until mixture forms soft ball in a cup of tap water. Cool to 220 degrees. Add butter, vanilla, and pecans. Beat until creamy. Drop from a large spoon onto waxed paper. Makes 18-24 pralines. Store individually wrapped in an airtight container.

*****

This process took a while. I cooked the batch over low heat the entire time. Luckily, I was patient. I’m not sure how long the entire process took, but I know that I beat the mixture for about 5 minutes after it had cooled to make it creamy. I think I got 25 pralines out of this recipe, although some were larger than others.

Pecan Pralines

These were delicious, and very sweet. The soft and creamy candy just melted in your mouth when you ate it. They were well worth the amount of time it took to make them. These are definitely not chewy pralines, but I suggest you give them a try anyway.