I’ve accumulated so many backlog material to write this week entirely beyond my intention. I spent far more time in the kitchen or with my camera than in front of my computer in the last few days. Due to a malicious virus attack, I lost my entire hard drive in one fell swoop and I’ve been busy recovering files since. The damage of lost data is kept to minimal since I did a thorough back up in early August and incremental back ups are available online. It’s tedious work but the silver lining is an oddly liberating feeling of ridding my computer of many outtakes from photo shoots. Though not by choice, I now only have files of the best shots from a large collection.
So much for misleading you into thinking about holiday cheers! Well, actually, I do have plenty of that to share. As per my annual tradition, I prepared homemade gifts for friends and families. I’m still feeling the aftermath of cookie burnout from my fundraiser effort of 70+ dozens. Rather than a huge production of baking extravaganza, I scaled back this year to five recipes of homemade candies. My success with confectionary last year gave me confidence and experience to make a few crowd pleasers on short notice. Welcome back, Candy By Candy!
Starting from top left corner, this year’s selection included:
- Hazelnut Chocolate Buttercrunch: crunchy toffee with lots of toasted hazelnuts and covered with dark chocolate, fleur de sel, and cocoa nibs
- Black Russian Soft Caramel Chew: chocolate espresso caramel candies with soft chewy texture. A beginner’s caramel made with condensed milk.
- Toffee Almond: roasted almond coated with crunchy toffee and fleur de sel
- Coffee Nanaimo Bonbon: this Canadian delicacy is a stack of distinctive layers. Cocoa coconut graham cookie base and chocolate ganache sandwich a thin layer of coffee custard frosting.
- Peanut Brittle with Chocolate & Pretzel: marriage of sweet and salty but it’s all crunchy!
I am proud of the stellar results of this year’s selection. However, if you did not find peanut brittle in your box, rest assure I did not short change you. You see, I learned my lesson from last year’s bacon praline fiasco. While I assumed pairing sweet and salty is de rigeur and has not been adventurous since ten years ago, this was not the case among my friends. The bacon praline that I so enjoyed elicited love or hate and nothing in between. I want the recipients of my gifts to truly enjoy the candies rather than being subjected to my culinary whims. That is why I stayed with more traditional flavours for the most part. I only bundled in the peanut brittle to friends who enjoy the intersection of sweet and salty. The recipe is inspired by David Lebovitz’s buttercrunch and I’ll post my recipe next week.
Speaking of the buttercrunch, this recipe is really an old faithful. It was among my first foray into confectionary and taught me there is little to fear about playing with sugar at high temperature. It certainly helps that this is addictively lipsmacking good! I especially like the sprinkling of cocoa nibs and fleur de sel. Although they do not play starring roles, they add a bit of depth to the background. If you have a candy or digital thermometer, I highly recommend that you give this a try. That sense of accomplishment of munching on a piece of homemade candy is equally addictive.
The toffee almonds are another standby in my confection repertoire. If you’ve ever made caramel before, you know the danger of one stray sugar crystal that can turn your entire pot unusable. Making these toffee almonds requires you to do exactly the opposite. In fact, you want to agitate the sugar so much that it turns sandy from crystalizing. This is another recipe that I absolutely love because of its simplicity. The hardest and most tedious part was blanching the almonds.
I can’t possibly limit myself to only old recipes. I love soft chewy homemade caramels but they can be finicky to get the texture just right. Enter Dan Lepard and his introduction to Russian Caramel. Butter, sugar, and condensed milk. Wait, condensed milk? That ingredient alone was enough to stop me in my tracks and did a double take.
The principal of cooking is the same. If you want the caramel candies to be soft and chewy, you cook it up to 248F-257F. If you like them hard, 266F is about right. Dan Lepard’s recipe from Short & Sweet added a great twist with dark chocolate, muscavado sugar, and espresso. It was so incredibly fun to wrap the individual pieces of caramel in parchment squares and twist both ends to form the classic candy look. Each one looked like little gems that could have come from a store instead of my home kitchen. That sense of magic is exactly why I’m drawn to confectionary.
Lately I’m fascinated by Canadian cuisine. As a nation, we do not have a clear defining picture of culinary tradition. Instead, we have a few clichés including maple syrup and poutine. However, if you take a closer look, there are many uniquely Canadian food that I certainly miss when I travel abroad. Butter tarts, tarte au sucre, tourtiere, smoked meat sandwiches, ice wine, and even the ubiquitous Nanaimo Bars found in every grocery store. Nanaimo bars are notorious for being toothachingly sweet. It’s no wonder. It has a base made of graham cracker crumbs, coconut, cocoa, and lots of butter. The filling is custard flavour frosting made with loads of icing sugar and butter. The whole thing is glazed with chocolate ganache made of, guess what, more butter. This sugar and fat treat packs a wallop. I can’t stand eating more than a couple of bites but that first bite sure is heavenly. That was my epiphany. This dessert is a misguided bar cookie. It ought to be a bonbon! I followed the recipe from Canadian Living and added a bit of salt and espresso to give the treat more depth. Each bonbon is a diminutive one inch square which is exactly the right size to fully enjoy its indulgence. It sure doesn’t hurt that the three distinctive layers look so pretty!
Happy Holidays everyone! May your holiday season fill with great friends and great food!