Christmas Wreaths

Tonight we are taking down our tree. Three days into 2012, I’m ready for all vestiges of Christmas decorations to be gone so that I can focus on all that I can accomplish in the new year.

One thing I can accomplish? Telling you more about what I cooked for Christmas, mostly as gifts.

We still have a couple of Christmas Wreaths left, so we’ll have to make them disappear soon, too. I thought these cookies looked incredibly fun when I saw them. They’ll be perfect gifts! Since I ship my edible gifts, I am constantly on the lookout for recipes that travel well, and these seemed to fit the bill.

Christmas Wreaths

Continue reading Christmas Wreaths

Alton Brown’s Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade hot chocolate, made from milk or rich cream, is nearly impossible to beat. Unfortunately, it takes a little time to make. I prefer hot cocoa mixes for sheer convenience.

I’ve been making my own cocoa mix for a few years. Packets of hot cocoa mix that you get in the grocery store are way too sweet for me now! I tried one about a month ago, and it’s never a good sign when you grimace while you’re trying to eat or drink something. It was so sweet and gross. Some hot cocoa mixes have weird (and not-so-weird) additives – corn syrup solids and the like. The same goes for powdered non-dairy creamer, which I also won’t use in hot cocoa mix.

I made a lot of hot cocoa and cocoa mixes during the past two years, but I keep returning to the same recipe, which I compare all mix recipes to. I want to add the caveat that I haven’t tried mixes made with actual chocolate – only cocoa powder. [I still have 7 canisters of cocoa left from when I ordered a case of 12 but ended up with 23 canisters of the stuff.]

The best hot cocoa mix recipe that I’ve found is still Alton Brown’s Hot Cocoa Mix recipe.

This mix is for a dark hot cocoa. It’s not particularly sweet. I like to think of it as an everyday hot cocoa mix; the Mocha Hot Cocoa I made last year is different (and not for everyone) with the addition of instant coffee, and other Hot Cocoa Mix is definitely much sweeter than this one. Alton Brown’s recipe is a solid, go-to recipe.

Alton Brown’s hot cocoa mix – you can see how full your mug will be with the measurements I give below

I make this with non-fat powdered milk, powdered sugar, cocoa powder (mine right now is a Dutch/regular blend), salt, and cornstarch. The cornstarch thickens things up a little bit, but not too much. I also blend this together to make it dissolve better. The recipe originally calls for a pinch of cayenne, but I found it overwhelming when I added it to the mix the first time I made it – I probably added too big of a pinch.

I have a bullet blender, so here’s the portions I use:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
5/8 cup powdered milk (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons, if you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Blend mixture together. Store with vanilla bean if desired. Use roughly 3 tablespoons mix per 8 ounces hot/boiling water.

I would say that this would probably yield 7 mugs of cocoa, but honestly, I forget to keep count. Alex and I combined can’t drink 7 mugs of cocoa in one sitting.

This cocoa thickens up a little after a minute or two, but it isn’t thick. If the flavor is too dark for you, you can add a few marshmallows to lighten it up. You could also add a little more sugar to your mug. It’s also nice if you put a little vanilla extract in it. I’ve slipped a vanilla bean in my container of it before and I think that it gives it a nice, rounder flavor. You could blend in some cinnamon, or add almond extract.

Even better: you can add a few chocolate chips to your mug when you add the cocoa mix to give the cocoa a richer, more velvety texture.

Trust me, though – it’s delicious without all those little additions too.

I’ve had good luck with using 3 tablespoons of mix for each 8 ounces of water, but if you don’t blend yours you’ll need to make adjustments, and stir extra well.

Spiced Apple Cookies

I’ve been attempting to write 50,000 words of fiction for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for anyone who’s curious), while still applying for jobs and not neglecting this blog. I can’t help but bake, and so I wanted to make a cookie to take to one of the write-ins that happen this month. My friend Jen is one of the municipal liaisons for the St. Louis area and she likes apples, and so I knew she would love Spiced Apple Cookies.

Apples are another of those fruits which I keep around but sometimes forget to eat, so I was doubly excited to try this cookie. The recipe is from Savory Simple (she has other cool-looking recipes – lavender shortbread! make your own almond milk!). She uses weights and I did weigh my ingredients, but I wrote down the equivalent measurements to share with you.

Spiced Apple Cookies (from Savory Simple) Continue reading Spiced Apple Cookies

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.

325: Hot Chocolate (Food Network)

It’s cold outside, and since it’s after Thanksgiving, I finally have a Christmas tree in my house. That means there’s nothing better for an evening than to light a candle, make hot cocoa, and sit in front of the tree (while blogging about hot chocolate, of course).

I’ve tried a few different recipes for hot cocoa and hot chocolate made from actual milk (as opposed to a powdered mix, which I also make sometimes). This time I decided to try the Ellie Krieger Hot Chocolate recipe from Food Network. How does this compare to the Hot Cocoa recipe I made at the beginning of November? This one took a full cup of milk, 2 teaspoons each cocoa powder, sugar, and water, and a tiny amount of vanilla extract. The other Hot Cocoa recipe took 3/4 cup milk, a full tablespoon each of cocoa powder, sugar, and milk or cream, and no vanilla.

So, tonight’s recipe has more milk, less cocoa and sugar, and a little vanilla. And a cinnamon stick. I heated 1% milk on the stove with a cinnamon stick. While I waited for it to begin to bubble around the edges, I mixed together the cocoa powder, sugar, and water in a mug. I poured the hot milk over the chocolate slurry, stirred well, and added a quarter teaspoon of vanilla.

Hot Chocolate (Food Network)

This was fine. This is a good everyday cup of hot chocolate, since it doesn’t have too much extra sugar. I liked the amount of sweetness in this mug of chocolate. It’s a good cup of cocoa to have if you don’t want your cocoa too chocolatey. I liked the depth the vanilla extract gave it. The hint of cinnamon was subtle, and I’m not sure if I’d go through the trouble of using a cinnamon stick next time. This was an unobtrusive cup of hot chocolate, but for a real chocolate fix I’d try doubling or perhaps even tripling the amount of cocoa powder in it.

312: Hot Cocoa Mix

I like making my own hot cocoa mix. I haven’t done the math on it, but I generally assume that it’s less expensive to make my own, given the quantities of it I drink during the year. I also like that I can control what goes into it if I make the mix myself. I have one box of flavored cocoa mix here, and the first two ingredients on it are sugar and corn syrup solids. While I don’t always mind having sugar, I’d rather not have corn syrup solids, which are primarily used to mimic the mouthfeel of milk or cream. They’re really just more sugars anyway, and I’d rather have the fat that might accompany powdered milk. Corn syrup solids are also a primary ingredient in non-dairy creamer, which I don’t particularly like the taste of. And honestly, at least milk has a little nutritional value.

I’ve had trouble finding hot cocoa mix recipes that I want to make because so many of them call for non-dairy creamer to make sure that they’re creamy. I do have one recipe that I make (a hot cocoa mix recipe by Alton Brown), and I like it a lot, but I would like to and am willing to try other recipes in case there’s a better one out there somewhere.

I got an email from Johnson and Johnson that had a recipe for Hot Cocoa Mix in it. The idea was that you make the mix and give it as a gift. Gifting food is something that I would love to do in the future, but this recipe was exciting because it called for non-fat powdered milk. This is only the second hot cocoa mix recipe I’ve ever found that uses only powdered milk!

I decided I had to try it. The recipe made four servings, so I halved it so that Alex and I could each have a cup, with no leftovers. The recipe also said that you would boil water on the stove and add the mix to the pan. Quite honestly, the appeal of hot cocoa mix for me is that you don’t mess up a pan; rather, you add hot water to your mug of mix. If I’m going to mix something on the stove, I might as well make hot cocoa with real milk. So, I decided to test it like how I would actually make it – by boiling water and adding it to the mix in a mug.

I blended together the sugar, powdered milk, and cocoa. I added about 4 teaspoons worth (a little more than a tablespoon) of chocolate chips to each mug and split the mix between it. I added 3/4 cup of boiling water to each mug, mixed, and topped with marshmallows.

I was skeptical about how this would turn out, but it was actually rather nice. It mixes up well if you put it in individual mugs and then add boiling/steaming water. You just have to be sure to mix well to mix in the chocolate chips at the bottom.

The combination of cocoa and chocolate chips means that the hot cocoa has a great chocolate flavor; the cocoa powder blends in easily while the chocolate chips give the hot cocoa a smooth texture. This seemed incredibly sweet to me. I think it was the combination of sugar plus sugar in the chocolate chips plus sugar from the marshmallows. If I were to make this again for me, I’d cut back on the sugar (and potentially the marshmallows). I think I’ll still make my usual hot cocoa mix, but the addition of chocolate chips to this made it a nice change, and I might use the chocolate chips in other mixes as well.

298: Hot Cocoa (Joy of Baking)

Another cold night, another Hot Cocoa recipe. I chose this particular recipe tonight because it was a single serving, and I was only making it for myself.

Very simple recipe, really. Heat milk on the stove. Meanwhile, combine sugar, dutched cocoa powder, and cream or milk in a mug. Add hot milk to mug and stir until blended. Add marshmallows or whipped cream. I used a blend of Dutched and regular cocoa (specifically, I ordered Saco cocoa a while ago, when I got it for a bit cheaper). I heated 2% milk on the stove, and mixed heavy cream with the cocoa and sugar. I topped with marshmallows.

I actually made this again later in the week to try it with Splenda rather than sugar, and milk in place of cream.

Hot Cocoa (Joy of Baking)

This was tasty enough. It had a smooth texture. In general, I think I prefer a stronger/darker cocoa flavor, but this was a nice balance of sweet and chocolate. Using milk instead of cream was fine, but the Splenda (and other artificial sweeteners) lacked the substance that the sugar gave to hot cocoa. I expected to say that this needed a little vanilla extract or a dash of salt to round out the flavors, but I don’t actually think it does. I’d make this again, but for one person, I’d like to try to figure out how to make it in the microwave rather than on the stove.

9: Thick & Rich Drinking Chocolate

I keep my house pretty cool in the winter, which means I often like to have a warm beverage in the evening. Most of the time this is tea, but I love hot cocoa as well.

I like to make hot chocolate from scratch to use up milk when I get close to the end date on it. This usually means adapting the recipe in my cookbook to use cocoa and low-fat milk, but I had a new recipe to try.

Having Thick and Rich Drinking Chocolate was like sipping on hot chocolate pudding. It’s okay if you’re into that kind of thing. I like dark chocolate a lot, but I wish this chocolate had a roundness to it. It wasn’t bad by any means. I think it could have been improved if I’d added a dash of salt to it, or a little vanilla. I think it was just a little too thick for my liking.

This recipe was fine, but I really think I prefer regular hot chocolate, either from a mix or from scratch.