Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Candy

A lot of Christmas candy comes from the mall, beautifully wrapped in cheerful red paper, in handy one pound boxes.
It makes a lovely present.
You can set the box out when company comes.
You pick through it and eat just the ones you like, and leave the ones you don't with tiny bites taken out of them.

Or (my personal favorite), you can re-gift it*.

The other kind of Christmas candy comes from somebody's kitchen, hand-wrapped in wax paper, lovingly bundled and tied with a ribbon or two.

It makes an awesome present.
You can hide it when company comes.
You can eat a piece now and stash the rest for later.
And (my personal mantra), you never, ever, re-gift it.

Jody's Christmas Fleur de Sel Caramels
One of the highlights of my book club is the December meeting, hosted by Jody.  Not only do we enjoy liberally spiced egg nog, Christmas cookies, wine and cheese, but she also makes homemade marshmallows and these incredible salted caramels.  They're soft and buttery and melt in your mouth, and as a caramel fanatic I can tell you they are among the best I've ever eaten.  She was kind enough to send me the recipe, and, in the spirit of the season, I'm passing it along to you!

1 c. heavy cream
5 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 heaping tsp. fleur de sel
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.  Have about 50 4 inch squares of wax paper handy.

Bring cream, butter and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, whisking constantly, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on a candy thermometer, about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours.

Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.  Unwrap and enjoy!

Click to Print this recipe!

Do-It-Yourself Almond Roca
When I was younger, my "special occasion" candy treat was Almond Roca.  As soon as I saw that pink package, with the gold foil wrapped nuggets of buttery-crunchy toffee, crushed almonds and chocolate, I just knew I'd done something good to deserve such richness.  To this day I consider it a genius candy invention.  So when I saw this post over on Recipe Girl, I was beyond skeptical.  Almond Roca was fancy. Almond Roca, therefore, could not possibly be a cinch to make at home.   But guess what?  Almond Roca is fancy AND a cinch to make at home.  And it's still my very favorite "special occasion" candy treat.

1 1/2 c. chopped toasted almonds, divided
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) butter
A little cocoa powder
4 bars of chocolate (I used Trader Joe's dark chocolate bars)

Butter a 7x11 pan, or 9x12 for thinner roca.  Sprinkle 1 c. of the toasted almond pieces over the bottom of the pan and set aside.

Put butter and brown sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir gently until butter has melted and the sugar and butter are combined.  Bring mixture to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and boil for 12 minutes exactly, stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat, stir one more time, then pour over almonds in prepared pan.  Sprinkle a little cocoa powder on top of the toffee**, then place the chocolate bars on top.   After a minute or two, when the chocolate has melted, spread it out with a spatula, and sprinkle remaining chopped almonds onto the chocolate.  Press almonds gently into the chocolate.

Allow to cool for several hours at room temperature or in the fridge.  Turn candy out onto a cutting board, and using a sharp knife or a mallet, break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container.

Click to Print this recipe!

* But you have to a) not open it and eat the molasses crisps out of the box and b) make sure it didn't have one of those stickered gift tags on it, since it's pretty darn obvious when you rip that off and try to cover the tear with a new bow or something.  Not to say it's not worth a shot in a pinch.
** The author added this cocoa powder tip after I made the recipe, since the original version was so buttery that the chocolate tended to slip off when cooled.   I didn't mind, but would definitely try it her way the next time.

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