Chocolate Covered Pretzels, Fruit, etc.

Chocolate Coated Pretzel and Dried Apricot

Chocolate Covered Pretzels, Fruit, etc.
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack, Candy, Gift
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: Varies by size and type of dippers
 
During the holiday season, a favorite gift is chocolate coated pretzels, dried fruit, maraschino cherries or fresh fruit such as strawberries. The trick to making chocolate covered anything is to temper the chocolate. Once you have tempered the chocolate, you can dip whatever tasty treats you care to dip and place them on trays to cool completely and solidify. Properly tempered chocolate sets up easily into a glossy coating for your treats. While the process seemed scary to me for many years, it is a simple matter of controlling the temperature of the chocolate and mixing in unmelted chocolate to provide the seeds of the crystalline structure required for the glossy coat and snap of tempered chocolate.
Ingredients
  • Approximately 1 pound block or bar of good quality eating chocolate (Do not use chips as they don’t seem to temper the same way.)
  • Goodies to dip
Instructions
  1. To temper the chocolate use a serrated knife to make cuts that shave thin slices off the corners of the bar or block. Turn the block to get fairly small surfaces to cut and continue until the entire bar is cut up into small pieces.
  2. Put half the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or in a double boiler. If you are using a double boiler, do not allow boiling water to touch the bottom of the upper pot or get into the chocolate, which will make the chocolate seize up into a hard mass that cannot be tempered and will have to be used in a recipe that calls for a lot of liquid. If you are using the microwave oven, cook on high power for 30-60 seconds and stir to equalize the temperature throughout the chocolate. Cook for another 30-60 seconds and stir again until all of the chocolate is melted and the temperature reaches 105-115 degrees F. If you need to, cook again in 10 second increments, stirring after each increment until you get a uniform temperature and all the chocolate is melted. If you are using a double boiler, stir over hot water just until the chocolate is all melted and reaches temperature. Remove from the heat. If you overshoot on the temperature, stir and let the chocolate cool at room temperature until it reaches 115 degrees F or less.
  3. Add the remaining half of the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is uniformly melted and the temperature reaches 88 degrees F. At this point the chocolate is tempered and can be used for dipping.
  4. When I dip pretzels, I use the hook end of a large unbent paper clip to hold the pretzel. I dip it into the chocolate and drag it on a non-stick silicone sheet lined pan to remove excess chocolate and then place it on a clean non-stick silicone sheet or parchment paper to set. At this point you can garnish with sprinkles, colored or plain sugar crystals, or other decorations. You need to garnish before the chocolate sets, so work quickly. Fresh fruit such as strawberries can be held by their hulls and things like dried apricots can be held with tongs or fingers and dipped only half-way. When you dip things like fresh fruit or maraschino cherries, make sure that you have dried the surface before attempting to dip so that the chocolate will adhere.
  5. Leftover tempered chocolate and the drips you have on your “excess” pan can be gently reheated to 88 degrees if they get too solid to work with.

English Toffee

Toffee topped with chocolate or chocolate and almonds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Toffee
Author: 
Recipe type: Candy, Snacks, Gifts, Vegetarian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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Yield: 2+ pounds
 
This recipe makes a crunchy, nutty, chocolate-covered toffee that is perfect for holiday gifts and parties. You will probably have to make more than one batch as it is pretty irresistible. Candy gets very hot when it is cooking, so this is not a good recipe to make with children. Store the candy in an airtight container or it will tend to get sticky. If you use salted butter, omit the salt in the recipe. This is the kind of recipe where having the right tools can make a big difference in how easily the job is accomplished, but you can make this uncomplicated candy even if you have none of these tools. A candy thermometer, offset spatula, non-stick silicone spatula and non-stick silicone pan liner make this so simple any cook can be successful with little effort. I prefer to prepare the candy with small nut pieces/nut dust on top of the chocolate layer, as it is neater to break and eat. You can put chocolate on both sides of the candy by leaving about 1/3 of the chocolate aside and melting it for application once the first side has set, but I find that unnecessary.
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (bar broken into small pieces or 1 1/3 cups chocolate chips)
Instructions
  1. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes or until they are slightly darker throughout. Do not over-toast or the nuts will taste bitter. Using a silicone pan liner such as Silpat reduces the chances of burning the bottoms of the nuts and allows you to toast the nuts without any stirring. Let the nuts cool. Using a rocking motion, chop them into small pieces with a chef’s knife, holding the point of the knife against the cutting board and lifting the handle slightly and rotating the knife to a new position for the next cut. Set aside about 1/4 cup of the smaller pieces and 'dust' to use for topping the candy.
  2. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil or use a silicone pan liner such as Silpat.
  3. Place the butter, sugar, salt and water in a heavy pan on medium heat. The mixture will foam up as it cooks, so the pan should be at least twice as deep as the ingredients. Place a candy thermometer in the mixture. Cook, swirling the mixture occasionally until the foaming subsides. At this point, the candy will cook rapidly. Continue to cook, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon until the candy reaches the hard-crack stage at 300 degrees (see Note). The candy will be a golden brown caramel color. Remove the pan from the heat immediately. The temperature will continue to rise. Working quickly, stir in the vanilla and the larger quantity of nuts. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet and spread and smooth the surface with your spatula or spoon to about 1/4 inch. Distribute the chocolate pieces over the candy and allow them to melt for two minutes. Spread the chocolate over the surface. An offset spatula will help spread it evenly. Sprinkle the almond dust/nuts that you put aside onto the chocolate, pressing them in lightly to help them adhere. Cool the candy until the chocolate is set, break it into pieces and store in an airtight container with waxed or parchment paper between the layers. You can also put the candy in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the chocolate.
  4. Note: If you are not using a candy thermometer, you can test for the hard crack stage by dropping a little of the molten syrup into very cold water that you have standing by next to the stove. At hard crack it will form brittle threads that break when bent. Be careful not to touch thick pieces of candy in the water as they are likely to be hot. You cannot leave the candy on the heat while you are testing or it will burn the sugar and cause the caramel to be bitter.

 

Caramel Popcorn


Caramel Popcorn
Author: 
Recipe type: Snacks, Gifts, Vegetarian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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Yield: 8 quarts
 
Whether you think of caramel corn as a Halloween treat, an inexpensive holiday gift or a delicious snack, this recipe is easier to prepare than recipes that have you cook the syrup to a higher temperature before covering the popped corn. The oven heat finishes cooking the candy, while stirring the warm corn helps distribute the syrup evenly. Fill decorated holiday cellophane bags with cooled caramel corn and tie with ribbons or raffia to make great trick or treat favors or stocking stuffers for family, friends and coworkers. Fill a large tin with caramel popcorn to make a substantial holiday present that is fresher and more personal than mail order popcorn.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups brown sugar, packed firmly
  • 1/2 pound (1 cup) butter
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup (Karo)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
  • 7 to 8 quarts popcorn (see Note)
  • 1 cup of salted peanuts (optional)
Instructions
Note:
  1. One (1) ounce or 1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons of unpopped popcorn will make approximately a quart of popped corn; therefore you will need to pop about 1 cup popcorn kernels. I prefer the electric poppers that have a stirrer in the bottom which make up to 6 quarts at a time because I find that air-popped corn sometimes has a scorched taste. Depending on your popper, you might need to pop the corn in two batches. Of course if you don’t have a special appliance, you can pop corn in a large pot. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil per half cup of kernels and shake the pot as you hear the kernels popping to avoid burning the corn. When the popping slows down, remove the pot from the heat and transfer the popped corn to your baking pan.
PREPARATION:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Use a large, non-stick roasting pan or lightly oil a large baking pan or roasting pan. If you have a silicone liner such as Silpat, you can also line your pan with that. Check the capacity of your pan before you find yourself with a lot of popcorn and a pot of hot syrup. If one pan is not large enough, plan to split the ingredients between two pans. Pop enough corn kernels to get 7 to 8 quarts of popped corn (about one cup). Place the popped corn (and the peanuts if you are using them) into your baking pan. You can leave the popped corn in the oven in your baking pan while you make the second batch and prepare the syrup. Boil sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt to the soft ball stage, 234° to 238° on a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Add the baking soda (and vanilla if you are using it) and stir well. Be careful, as the hot sugar syrup will foam up when you add the soda. Pour the syrup over the popcorn and stir. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. If your oven doesn’t go that low, check the popcorn and stir more frequently. The caramel corn should be golden in color and feel less sticky when it is done. Slightly underdone is better than overdone. Remove from the oven and cool. When it is cool, break into pieces if necessary and store in airtight containers.

Pralined Almonds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pralined Almonds
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack, Gift, Vegetarian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 1/2 cups
 
Pralined almonds, also known as candied almonds, are a sweet treat that can be eaten whole as a snack, crushed for decorating frosted cakes or adding to ice cream sundaes, or chopped coarsely to add to salads. They make a great hostess or holiday gift in a pretty jar with a ribbon or in a decorative can. The recipe itself is very easy, but I do not recommend trying to cook more than one batch at a time as stirring the sandy, sugar-coated nuts can take a bit of effort until the sugar re-liquefies.
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups whole almonds (untoasted)
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
Instructions
  1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner such as Silpat or aluminum foil to use later for cooling the nuts. In a medium saucepan with a handle you will be able to hold onto securely, heat the water and the sugar over medium heat without stirring until the temperature reaches approximately 248F degrees on a candy thermometer. If the thermometer is not completely submerged in the syrup, tilt the pan a bit to get an accurate reading. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the almonds with a wooden spoon or other strong, heat-proof utensil. Continue to stir until the sugar crystallizes and appears sandy. Return the pan to the stove top and cook the almonds over medium heat, stirring constantly until the crystallized sugar liquefies and coats the nuts. This will take about 10 minutes. Be careful to not overcook at this point or you’ll risk burning the nuts and the caramel, which can taste bitter if it burns. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Spread the nuts on the lined baking sheet and working quickly with two forks, separate the nuts from each other. Allow to cool. If you find that you have too much butter coating the cool nuts, blot with paper towels. Store the almonds in an airtight container for up to two weeks.