Bonnie’s Blog on Food and Grog

Cooking and life advice from a Nana.

BUTTERY CHOCOLATE TOFFEE November 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 6:40 pm

Anyone out there old enough to remember “Got a Nickel? Butter Brickle!”?  If you do, then you  probably also remember Black Jack gum,  Nut Goodies, and Mallo Cups.  A tiny bit of Googling just informed me that Butter Brickle candy bars were originally made in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which could explain why I get so many blank stares when I mention my old favorite.  The Fenn Bros. Ice Cream and Candy company of Sioux Falls sold the formula to the makers of Heath bar in the 1970’s.  This explains their uncanny similarity.  HOWEVER, to the toffee connoisseur  which I  apparently believe I am, there is a difference.  Heath bars have nuts in the toffee; Butter Brickle did not.  Heath bars are slightly thicker than Butter Brickle was.  This is an amazing amount of detail coming from a woman who consistently forgets why she has entered a room! 

This diatribe about Butter Brickle candy bars is just my way of introducing a recipe for something JUST as good as Butter Brickle AND Heath Bars!!  AND it is very easy to make.  It is a great candy to put in little boxes for small gifts for those people on your list who you want to remember, but don’t know well enough to buy something personal. 

Again, thanks to Grandma Alice who discovered this recipe!  It is slightly thinner even than my old Butter Brickle bar, and has pecans sprinkled on the chocolate covering.  Don’t care for nuts?  Have too many in your family already?  They are optional, obviously.

This recipe is not nearly so temperamental as my previous, somewhat frightening, recipe for chocolate frosting. (“See Cream Puffs aka Eclairs”)  It is one of those things that you make that AMAZES people, despite how easy and fast and nearly foolproof it is!  I like that in a recipe, don’t you? 

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter, slightly softened and cut into pieces

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds or NOTHING

1/4 tsp salt

I do not recommend that you double this recipe, unless you have a cookie sheet the size of a pool table to spread it on to cool.  It cooks quickly anyway, so making several batches is not that time-consuming. 

Combine sugar and butter and salt in 2 quart sauce pan.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees, or until a small amount of candy dropped into cold water forms brittle strands.  (It will be about the same color as a Kraft caramel)

Immediately pour the hot candy on cookie sheet lined with parchment (or wax) paper.  Spread with back of a large spoon until it is evenly spread across the cookie sheet.  It will be pretty thin, much like my beloved Butter Brickle. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the hot candy. Let the chips fall where they may (HA!)  and let set for about 5 minutes when they will begin to melt.  Spread melted chocolate evenly over candy and sprinkle with chopped nuts of your choice (or not).

When candy is completely cooled, break into irregular pieces.  You will be heaped with undeserved praise for making this candy, but consider it compensation for all the times you made something terribly difficult that no one appreciated.  See, feel better now?  It works for me.

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CREAM PUFFS, aka ECLAIRS

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 6:23 pm

 

If you enjoy hearing the following:  “OMIGOSH, you MADE these YOURSELF?” and delight in getting rave reviews for your culinary expertise, you NEED to add cream puffs (or eclairs, if you prefer) to your repertoire!  Contrary to popular belief, cream puffs themselves are NOT hard to make.  There are a few tricks to make them turn out perfect every time, but you do not have to be Martha Stewart to turn out a cream puff that will wow your guests! 

My Grandma Simon started this tradition, and my mom carried it on.  I started making them when the kids were little and ALWAYS make them for our Christmas Eve feast and any other time when the begging just gets too intense!  While we call them “cream” puffs, I do not fill them with whipped cream, although you can if you like.  I fill mine with pudding.  And we have two camps in our family: the Lemon Camp and the Vanilla Camp, and so I make two fillings in the endless effort to please everyone!  I can’t pick a camp, personally.  I love them equally.  The chocolate frosting recipe that has also been handed down from generations is probably what makes these eclairs/cream puffs ALWAYS a hit.  It is the BEST chocolate frosting I have found, or ever tasted for that matter.  So there are three parts to making this delectable dessert, and let’s get started.  

CREAM PUFFS

1 cup water

1 stick butter (never use whipped butter or a butter substitute)

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup flour

4 eggs – large or extra large, NEVER jumbo

You won’t believe how simple this is.  In a medium saucepan, boil water and salt.  When it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and add 1 cup of flour, all at once.  Stir to combine.  Place this “blob” of batter into the bowl of your mixer.  Mixing on low, add the eggs, ONE at a time, mixing after each addition until thoroughly combined.  Beat it briefly at a higher speed, until it breaks into strands as you mix it.  That is ALL there is to it. 

Drop by large spoonfuls (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of batter) onto a non-stick baking sheet, or better yet, a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  They don’t have to be tidy — just round little blobs of batter. 

If you have a double oven, set one to 425 and one to 350. (If you don’t, you will just turn your oven up and down during the baking process.)   Bake puffs at 425 for first 10 minutes.  Check them to see if they are getting puffy and golden.  When they are, switch them to the 350 degree oven (or turn your oven down).   Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.  You need to watch them carefully, as ovens vary.  When they are puffed up,  golden and “hollow”, take them out and let them cool on a rack.  After they have cooled, make a slit about 3/4 the way through each cream puff with a serrated knife. 

These are the key things to remember, and I discovered these the hard way:

        NEVER made a double batch.  It doesn’t work.  Make several individual

        batches.

        NEVER use butter or margarine that is whipped or comes in a tub.  TALK about

        a disaster!   That resulted in flat, hockey-puck-like “things” that have no

        name, and absolutely no use!

        NEVER use jumbo eggs!  The batter gets too runny.  Large to extra large is the

        limit! 

 

CREAM PUFF FILLING

THIS is the really easy part!  Buy Jello vanilla and/or lemon pudding mix (not instant) and follow box directions.  Make puddings ahead so they are completely cooled off for filling the puffs.  I have made my puddings from scratch, and came to the conclusion that it makes absolutely no difference in the quality of the finished product!   Spoon pudding into bottom of puff and replace tops.  Be generous with the filling!  What we are going for here is a cream puff that is so full of filling and so lavishly frosted  that it is impossible to eat without making a mess. 

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

This, in my humble opinion, is THE chocolate frosting which makes all others seem like poor impostors!  It is actually from the chocolate fudge recipe that used to be on the Hershey’s cocoa can.  My Mom, Grandma Alice, discovered that if you cook it not QUITE as long as you do the THE best chocolate fudge, you will get fantastic frosting.  The key to this is, obviously, learning to recognize the magic moment in time that separates frosting from fudge, and fudge from concrete.  SO, suck it up, and give this a try.  It is well worth every knuckle-cracking, stomach-wrenching, hand-wringing moment!  Of course, I exaggerate.  Somewhat.  A little.  But give it a try, and no hate-mail please!  It is well worth the effort!

3 cups white sugar

2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa

1 tsp salt

1-1/2 cup milk

1/2 stick butter

1 tsp vanilla

You CAN double this recipe without any adverse effects, and if you are making several batches of cream puff shells, you will want to do that.  Each batch makes about 12 cream puffs, and one batch of frosting will do about 20.  Since I usually make these for special occasions, I typically make at least 40 cream puffs and no, I never have any left over! 

Combine the sugar, cocoa, salt and milk in a medium to large sauce pan.  Bring to a slow boil over medium heat.  DO NOT STIR WHILE IT IS COOKING.  It will become “sugared” and grainy, instead of smooth and satiny.  You may take a spoon around the edges to bring it all together, but no SERIOUS stirring is allowed!!

Now comes the somewhat tricky part.  Start testing it after it has been gently boiling and is beginning to thicken.  Drop small amounts into a little bowl of cold water.  It is ready when it sets up quickly, in a soft/medium ball.  If it becomes brittle in the water, you have officially BLOWN it.  If it  dissipates in a cloud, it is not nearly ready.  “Perfect” is when it sort of piles up on its own, into a soft blob of chocolate heaven!

When this magic moment arrives, take the pan off the stove and put it in a cold water bath to cool.  Add the butter and vanilla and stir briefly to combine.  When it is slightly cool, you can start stirring!  Stir the frosting until it changes from shiny to dull and begins to thicken.  If it starts to become fudgy and difficult to stir, scream for someone to help and have them add small amounts of cream until the consistency seems perfect for spreading. 

It is my experience that you want to err on the side of cooking it just a TAD too long, certainly not too little.  If you don’t cook it enough, you could stir until pigs fly, and it will refuse to set up.  So have the cream handy, and you will be able to get it to the perfect consistency for spreading. This frosting doesn’t run, and dries to a shiny, velvet sheen. 

Frost the filled cream puffs with generous amounts of frosting. 

See?  That wasn’t so HARD, was it?   OKAY, maybe a little time-consuming, but you can make the puffs and the puddings the day before and finish filling and frosting them the following day if you wish.  Store in the fridge until ready to serve.   Sit back and get ready to say things like “Oh, it really isn’t that hard”, and “Of course I made them myself”, and “I found the recipe on Bonnie’s Blog on Food and Grog”.   

 

 

DECK THE HALLS WITH POPCORN BALLS November 11, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 6:44 pm

So as soon as Thanksgiving is over, and before the last turkey sandwich is devoured,  we are propelled forward into the frenzy of Christmas! 

We are Christmas Eve People.  That is, we do our BIG celebration on Christmas Eve, including opening all the gifts, except, of course, for the ones that Santa Claus brings while we sleep.  The world seems to be heavily weighted toward the Christmas Morning People, which actually works out nicely for us, as most everyone is available to come to our house on Christmas Eve.  

So basically, Christmas Eve consists of a  heathen ritual of heaping monstrous piles of gifts on children and adults, regardless of evaluations of their goodness or badness over the prior twelve months.  In the past this gift-giving  reached shameful excess,  with the unwrapping process lasting well into the early morning hours of Christmas Day.   One year I decided it would be lovely to also have a full sit-down  Christmas Eve dinner when we finished opening gifts.  This decision belongs in the same category as the infamous Thanksgiving From Hell of 1990.  (Refer to Blog “What Were We Thinking??”) 

Cooking an entire turkey dinner with all the trimmings WHILE opening piles of gifts in a house full of people is a very bad idea.   To bring things to a halt and herd everyone to the dinner table is like trying to stop a pack of bloodhounds on the scent.   Dinner actually got served well after midnight to an exhausted group of unenthused diners.  And the best part of all was cleaning up at 3 a.m.   Again, we learned from our errors, and never attempted this again.

Our Christmas Eve menu has evolved into a conglomeration of everyone’s favorites.  It is spread out in the dining room and can be accessed at any time during the evening.  We take short breaks, more easily tolerated by the excited children (ages 4 to 65).  The menu is as follows:

Greg’s Famous Chili with all the toppings

Potato Salad

Ham (a good spiral sliced one, usually from Costco, which is as good as Honey-Baked and 1/3 the cost)

Rolls and condiments for sandwiches

Homemade Popcorn Balls

Homemade Cream puffs – half  of them filled with lemon, half with vanilla

Let’s start with a really fun one … the POPCORN BALLS!

These are the GOOIEST, THE SYRUP-IEST, THE STICKIEST, MESSIEST AND THEREFORE THE BEST popcorn balls ever.  Grandma Alice taught me to make these, and the recipe goes way back to Ellendale, ND, and a lady named May Anderson.  I never think of her without remembering that every Christmas she gave me a gorgeous book…  I don’t know WHERE she got them!  Ellendale, pop. 1,500, circa 1950, did not have a Barnes and Noble!  They were always the classic stories  with the most beautiful illustrations and they were pure magic to me!  And here I am, sixty years later, still getting a good feeling from thinking about them!  AND her popcorn balls……

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup dark Karo syrup

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp white vinegar

1/4 cup butter

AND………….  POPCORN 

You can either pop your own popcorn, or buy a good quality popcorn at the market.  I try to find Cape Cod Brand Popcorn, which is the best, but if I can’t find that I get whatever looks like it has the biggest kernels, not a lot of little popcorn pieces.  I have also used microwave popcorn and that works fine as well.  You could also go to a movie theatre and buy fresh popped corn, if you budget allows for such extravagence!    I always double this recipe at Christmas, which makes about 30 to 35 popcorn balls.  If you double it, you will need about 4 large (not giant) bags of popcorn that you find in the market. 

Combine all ingredients EXCEPT the butter and cook in a very large pot over medium heat.  (the mixture with bubble up quite high as it cooks, hence the large pot)  Cook until it hits the “softball” stage or 230 degrees on  a candy thermometer.  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can test it two ways:  if it “spins a thread” or forms a “soft ball”.  Dip a regular spoon into the syrup and hold it over the pot.  If the syrup forms a thin thread as it drips off the spoon, it is probably ready.  To be sure, drop a small amount into a cup of cold water.  If it forms a very soft lump, but hanging together to form a ball, it is done.  The trick is to not overcook the syrup, as you will get hard popcorn balls.  On the other hand, if you undercook it, then you will have no balls!!  (I know that may seem overly judgmental for simply undercooking a syrup……)

When you have determined that the syrup is ready, remove from the heat and add the butter and a pinch of baking soda.  Stir just until butter melts and is combined.

Put part of the popcorn in a very large bowl and start drizzling the hot syrup over the popcorn.  Ideally, this is a two person operation, with one pouring, and one tossing the popcorn with two spoons to get syrup on every piece of popcorn…  Keep adding the syrup until the popcorn is all covered.  Add more popcorn and more syrup until you have used up all the syrup.  You want the mixture to be very wet and sticky.   Don’t add all the popcorn if you do not have enough syrup to keep it very very sticky. 

This is when the kids can get into the act, if you like.  You have to be careful though, as the mixture will still be pretty hot.  So everyone needs to wet their hands with water to avoid sticking,  and dig in to form popcorn balls.  We make them about the size of tennis balls.  Be sure to press them firmly together so that they will stay formed and not collapse as they cool.  Put them on a tray lined with  parchment or waxed paper to cool.  

You can make these a day or two before Christmas if you TRUST yourself to not eat them.  I personally make them Christmas Eve during the day.  I am powerless in the presence of these things and have been known to sneak to the kitchen in the middle of the night to eat two or three more. 

COMING UP NEXT:  THE CREAM PUFFS  — an absolute must at our house on Christmas Eve.  Sometimes these are called “eclairs”, but the recipe is identical, and the only difference is that elcairs are typically long and skinny, unlike those of us who EAT them.   So stay tuned and FA LA LA.