December 5, 2014

Make-Ahead Holiday Treats

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

As much as we love the holidays, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  With work, and shopping, and family, and travel, and so on and so on, it’s easy to find yourself rushing to make cookies in a mad dash on the one free Saturday you have in December.  To avoid that (and to give you something to snack on throughout the season) I’ve included three recipes for treats that will last through to New Years (assuming they don’t get eaten up)

**Note:  All of these recipes include cooking sugar in one way or another.  This is one of the most dangerous things you can do in a kitchen, so keep the kids safe and out of the way, use caution and keep a bowl of ice water handy to dip burnt fingers into in case of an accident**

Nut Brittle

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Ingredients:
1 cup white sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
1 cup mixed nuts
2 T butter
1 t baking soda
Fleur de sel, or your favorite finishing salt

Directions:

Grease a cookie sheet with butter and then line with parchment paper.  Or (if you have one) put down a silpat.  Then you don’t need to grease anything.  Measure out your butter and baking soda and set aside, because you won’t want to be messing with it later on.

In a medium sized sauce pan, heat the sugar, corn syrup, and water until the sugar dissolves and it forms a clear syrup.

Put the cup of mixed nuts in the syrup and mix to thoroughly cover.  If you can find it, use unsalted mixed nuts, but if you can’t, don’t sweat it.

Attach your candy thermometer to your sauce pan and cook the sugar to 300 degrees.  If you want, you can take it even higher (until the syrup starts turning a golden, caramel color).  Just make sure you do it slowly, on a medium/medium-high.  The temp of your sugar can spike really easily.  Mix occasionally with a rubber spatula, but don’t fiddle with it too much or your sugar will break.

When it hits 300 degrees (or turns a nice caramel color) mix in your butter and baking soda into the syrup and pour onto your cookie sheet.

Spread it out flat with your rubber spat, but don’t mess with it too much because it’ll get sticky in a hurry.  Sprinkle the surface with your finishing salt.  I like fleur de sel for the flavor and its sparkly appearance, but any salt will work—Hawaiian black salt or Himalayan pink salt are good options.  Press the salt lightly into the surface with the back of a lightly greased spoon.

Let it harden, and then break it into a bite sized pieces.  If you seal it in a large plastic bag, the brittle will last quite a long time so you’ll be covered for snacks all Christmas long.

 

Fudge

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Ingredients:
1 cup butter
2 cup chocolate chips
2 t vanilla extract
2 oz liquid*
4 cups sugar
10 oz evaporated milk
24 large marshmallows (the kind you’d use for toasting around a campfire)
2 cups fixins**
Finishing salt (same as above)

Directions:

*Similar to my brownie recipe, I recommend using an ounce of coffee for the magic it works on chocolate.  But anything will work.  Try a Fat Tire, because that stuff goes with almost everything.

**Toasted, chopped nuts will work, but you can put anything solid or semi-solid.  Dried fruit works really well—try soaking it in liqueur for an hour beforehand.  It’s pretty rockin, if not-so-kid-friendly.

Prep your cookie sheet same as above.

Put the butter (cut into cubes), chocolate chips, and vanilla into a large mixing bowl.  Set aside for later.  If you have a stand mixer, use the bowl for that.

Put your sugar, milk, marshmallows, and liquid into a medium saucepan.  On medium heat, slowly bring to a boil, mixing frequently with a rubber spat.  Reduce to low and cook an additional 5 minutes or so, stirring constantly.

Pour this mix over your chocolate, butter, and vanilla.  Mix for about five minutes, until the chocolate and butter are totally melted and the chocolate goes from glossy to matte.  Fold in your fixins and then pour/press into your cookie sheet.  Same as with the brittle, sprinkle the top lightly with finishing salt.  You’ll want to go lighter with the fudge than with the brittle.  If it’s not sparkly enough for you, you can also sprinkle the top with finishing sugar.

Refrigerate overnight and then cut into squares.  Since this is mostly sugar and chocolate, the fudge will last quite a while.

 

Caramels

Sea Salt Caramels

30 oz sugar
1 cup water
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
8 oz unsalted butter (cubed)
1 T finishing salt (same as before)

Directions:

Prep your cookie sheet, same as before.

Combine your sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium sauce pan and start cooking on medium.  Once the contents go totally clear, you can crank the heat to medium-high, but keep a close eye on it.  Same with the brittle, your heat can spike on you in a hurry.

While the sugar is cooking, set your cream in a small saucepan over low heat, just to warm it up.

When your sugar starts to go amber in places, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until you get it to a dark amber color.  Use your judgement, and your nose, because if you start smelling anything burning, turn off the heat and carefully ladle a few ounces of water over the cooking concoction.  This will cause your sugar to seize, but also diffuse the heat and stop the burning.

**Safety warning reminder**  The sugar starts turning amber at around 300 degrees.  As you can guess, this is INCREDIBLY dangerous if you’re not careful.  Remember to keep a bowl of ice water handy if you get any on you, and you’ll want to keep any munchkins out of the kitchen while you’re working on this.

Once your sugar reaches the desired color (or you’ve seized it with the water as described above), turn off the heat and drop in your cubes of butter.  Mix until its incorporated, and then pour your warm cream into the mix.  These two actions will probably cause your mix to foam and spit and make a big commotion and probably a huge mess, but don’t let that scare you.  Mix it with a heatproof spoon over medium heat and the sugar will re-melt and incorporate the cream and butter.

Cook this to the “firm ball” stage (which, in Colorado, will probably be around 260).  Once it reaches this stage, pour it into your cookie sheet.  Tape the edges to release as many air bubbles as you can, and let sit for about 30 minutes on a cooling rack.  Sprinkle the top with the finishing salt, same as above, but do not press the salt into the surface.  The cooled caramel should still be really hot, and the weight of the salt will press the grains into the caramel on its own.

Let sit overnight, and then cut it into squares.  The caramels will still be pretty sticky when they’re warm, so if you refrigerate them and then wrap them in plastic or parchment paper, they can be stored in a plastic bag for quite some time (since it’s almost all sugar).