Tis' the season to gorge yourself on sweets and high-calorie cakes. Save the skinny jeans and the commendable promises of a healthy new regime for January 1. Everyone will be too schnockered on high-octane punch at the holiday party to notice that you are hiding your holiday heft with a sparkly new moo-moo-- so indulge!
I offer you two recipes to help get you in the holiday spirit. Tie a bow around them and buy your co-worker's silence about your clichéd bad behavior at the holiday-hiccup or, in my case, give the goodies to your neighbors in hopes that they will start picking up their dog's shit from my front "yard".
My Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Chocolate Bark is a tasty treat to spice up any fiesta or light up a lucky recipient's tired holiday palate. I often make this easy dessert when I have friends coming for dinner who love wine. I know that we will sit at the table well after the meal is over and continue talking and drinking for hours. I serve this on one plate and put it in the middle of the table. It is a casual dessert, so easy to make and great with a good Cabernet. I first wrapped this up for an edible gift a few years ago while conceiving of a delectable present that would not be tossed aside amongst the mountains of cloying Christmas sugar. With so many sweets being passed out, this subtle spicy and salty chocolate makes for a nice surprise. Use good chocolate when making this; it will make all of the difference. And, of course, feel free to substitute your favorite nuts and fruits.
Not a chocolate person? (Really! Do those people actually exist?). The second recipe I am gifting you, my dear readers, is Sniff's and I's Grandma's Caramels. I grew up on these caramels. From the moment I had two front teeth that met in the middle, I was chomping down on their wonderfully buttery taste. Grandma made sheets and sheets of them every Christmas to give away to family and friends and the wrap, twist, warp, twist, EAT, wrap, unwrap, EAT would go on for hours. I am slightly reluctant to publish this recipe, because if any of you are in the mood for mass production, these caramels will definitely make you very very rich.
The recipe itself is nothing short of brilliant. If you have ever tried to make caramel sauce, you may be familiar with deflating terms such as "crystallization" or "seizing", neither of these are a good thing when combining sugar and water. This caramel recipe eliminates any possibility of that dreaded moment when the whole bubbling sugary pot goes to Whoville. Honestly, try it. It is almost impossible to not end up with a perfectly gooey, mouth-watering caramel.
I made second batch of these caramels and added 2 teaspoons ground ginger and 2 teaspoons ground green cardamom. If you are feeling like adding a little zip to a classic, go for it. You will not be disappointed.
ANCHO CHILI-CINNAMON CHOCOLATE BARK
Makes about 3 gifts1 large ancho chili
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
2" cinnamon stick
2/3 cup pistachios
2/3 cup cashews, very lightly crushed
12 oz dark bittersweet chocolate, cut into very small pieces
1/2 cup dried cherries
Kosher salt, or sea salt
- To make the spice mix, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place first 5 ingredients on a baking sheet and place in oven. Toast until fragrant or about 10 min.
- Remove stems and majority of seeds from the anchos. Place all spices in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and pulverize. You may need to grind spices in batches.
- Toast the nuts by placing them on the baking sheet and put in the oven. Check after 10 minutes. When done, remove from oven and let cool.
- Place ¾ of the chocolate in a bowl and slowly melt the chocolate, either in the microwave checking and stirring it every 25 seconds or over a double broiler on the stovetop.
- When all of the chocolate is melted, take it off of the heat and add in the remaining chocolate, stir until it is completely melted.
- Add one to two teaspoons of the spice mix. Add one at a time and taste; add more if you want it to be spicier. I like a subtle spice flavor, it keeps those eating it wondering what the secret spice could be.
- Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Spread out the nuts and cherries, reserving a few of the nuts to decorate the top.
- Sprinkle salt over the nuts and cherries.
- Pour the chocolate onto the pan, covering the nuts and cherries in an even layer. Add remaining nuts to the top of chocolate and press them into the chocolate.
- Put in fridge and allow to cool for 45 min. Break into pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge.
2 pounds light brown sugar
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
16 oz light Karo corn syrup
1 pound butter (minus 1 slice)
Special Equipment: candy thermometer, wax paper
Makes about 200 1" x 1" squares
- Combine all ingredients, except vanilla, in a pot over medium heat. Stir often.
- Bring to 248 degrees. This will take about 15 minutes. Large frothy bubbles will start to appear. NOTE: adjust temperature if you are not at sea level.
- Stir in vanilla and turn out onto a very well buttered sheet pan or a sheet pan lined with a silpat.
- Let cool for at least 4 hours on the counter top. Then measure and cut into 1" x 1" squares. Cut wax paper and start wrapping and twisting!