Spiced fudge

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I know posts have been sparse lately. Preparation for the holidays, recovery from the holidays, and the simple fact that it’s winter have made it hard for me to give two shits about the blog. I feel like I’ve been in a constant fight to stay awake for the last few weeks. My brain has also been extremely foggy, making it virtually impossible to make good words for those things that put good words together for the looking at words by the people. But I’m sitting on something that makes my body like an L and those pointy things on my hands are touching those squiggly things that make words. And I can’t close my eyes for sleepybys because I have to go see the lady who will fix the seeing part on my face because something is stuck and it gives me the ouchies. So let’s talk about yummy chocolate squares I make during the cold time, when people put up green, pointy triangles and blinky, shiny things.

(No, my fog isn’t that bad. But I did have a meltdown because I couldn’t remember what to call gelato bowls. So that was fun.)

Cookie-making is a big deal in my family. It was a fun tradition my siblings and I had with my mom every Christmas, and it’s a tradition I’m passing on to my girls. I feel horribly that I didn’t manage to make as many Christmas cookies as I normally do. I still have all the ingredients. Peanut butter kiss cookies in May? Why not?
One of the desserts I did manage to make was fudge from the recipe my mom gave me. It makes a lot of fudge, it’s edible straight out of the freezer, (and sometimes is even better that way) and it’s perfect for a nice, homemade Christmas gift for someone. A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to give the fudge some more dimension. I took my cue from the ancient Mayans and added spices, specifically cinnamon and cayenne. It gives the fudge a nice kick and dials down the sweetness so you don’t immediately go into a sugar coma. I put in the amount of spice that makes me happy, but you may certainly adjust the recipe to suit your taste.

Spiced Fantasy Fudge
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into chunks
2/3 cup (5 1/3 oz) evaporated milk
1 12 oz pkg milk chocolate chips
7 oz marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a 2 1/2 qrt heavy saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat to medium and continue to boil, stirring constantly, for approximately 5 minutes or until a candy thermometer reaches 234 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until melted. Pour into a large bowl and add the marshmallow creme, vanilla, and spices. Beat the mixture until well-blended. Pour the mixture into a 13×9″ pan/dish. Cool at room temperature.

Once set, (it will take a few hours to overnight) slice into cubes. For less mess, easier slicing, and better structural integrity, freeze before slicing. Fudge is best stored in a zip top bag in the fridge or the freezer.

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Salted Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake

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Last week I lamented over my choice to order layer cake for dessert when Mike and I had a date night. I believe this cake more than makes up for that dried out, caramel deficient disappointment of a cake. The cake is moist all on its own. The caramel is thick, rich, and oozy, but doesn’t make the cake overly sweet. Sprinkling sea salt on whipped chocolate ganache-like frosting adds dimension to each bite, giving the sweet cake a salty kick. The cake is heavy without being dense. And when I say heavy, I mean wielding a two-handed weapon heavy, -2 to diabetics.

The components can be made ahead, stored in the fridge, and assembled up to three days later. You’ll need to warm up the caramel a bit prior to spreading it in between the layers. I warmed mine over a pot of boiling water in a heat proof bowl for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. You will want a consistency that is spreadable enough to not rip up the cake, but not super thin and liquidy. You may also use the microwave to warm it in short 10-30 second bursts. It’s faster, but less precise.
If you made the frosting ahead of time and refrigerated it, you will need to whip it with electric beaters before frosting the cake. (Whip it good.) Let the bowl sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then break up the frosting with a spoon, if needed. Beat frosting until it is smooth, light, and fluffy.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake

Ingredients

Cake

Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablepoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Caramel

4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

Frosting

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
12 ounces semisweet chocolate + 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
Garnish: sea salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Add buttermilk, water, vanilla, and oil; beat on low until just combined. Raise speed to medium and add eggs one at a time. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and let cool completely.

Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. During this time, don’t stir the mixture. However, you will need to gently move and fold the mixture on the edges into the middle, allowing the mixture on the top and middle to cook evenly. It will also prevent the mixture on the bottom and side from scorching. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will bubble violently); let mixture settle for a minute; stir until smooth. Return to medium-high heat and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 5 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. It is easiest to fold the caramel over the butter to allow it to melt quickly. Let cool completely.

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Beginning of caramelization

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Not quite yet

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Ready for the heavy cream

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Make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture. Beat frosting for a few minutes, until smooth, fluffy, and lightened in color. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.

Assembly

Cut each cake in half using a large serrated knife. Except for the top layer, cut the rounded part of the other layers off, leaving a flat surface for stacking. Top each layer with 1/2 – 3/4 cup of caramel, using an offset spatula to spread the caramel toward the edges. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Frost cake.

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Useful to maintain even layers when cutting in half

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Broken middle layer leads to hot mess

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A gooey, gooey hot mess. Frosting redubbed “caramel containment mechanism”.

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Also, a cake goiter.

And if you have leftover caramel….
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BOOM!

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Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart

Christmas giving

It’s only December 4th, and I’m already exhausted by Christmas and all that it entails. Parties and shopping and baking; it’s all piling on like the tinsel that you still find strands of in your house in mid-March. I realized today that I’m already tired of buying shit, and I’ve only just begun Christmas shopping. I’m also overwhelmed by all the charities that need help. I want to pick them all up and squish them in a big hug that absolutely fixes everything. I hate the idea of choosing, knowing that giving my money one place means that someone elsewhere may go without. SOLUTION: Do nothing and hide under the covers until December 26th!

*peeks out from under covers* No. Of course not. A choice needs to be made. Perhaps you are on the same quandary and need assistance in choosing where you’d like to help this holiday season? The list below is by no means comprehensive, but is a good place to start.

World Vision
You can do more than sponsor children through World Vision. You can donate to help provide medicine, clothing, food, clean water, and micro loans. There is even a special category for giving to women and girls who need education, career training, and help because of sexual exploitation. Last year Mike and I each gave our parents chickens. Or, rather, we donated chickens in their honor. Just think of the possibilities! You can tell people that you gave someone a goat for Christmas!

Hill Country Hill Tribers
“Hill Country Hill Tribers works primarily with refugees from Burma, members of various Burmese hill tribes who now starting new lives in the Hill Country of Texas. Forced to leave their farms and villages, sometimes with very little warning, these artisans carried bamboo looms through the jungle to safety, dedicated to continuing the traditional art of backstrap weaving that has been passed down for generations from mother to daughter.
In Austin, these weavers are joined by other skilled artisans to make up Hill Country Hill Tribers. By crafting beautiful products in their homes and gathering together often, these artisans are weaving a community in Austin that is rooted in their past and reaching toward a new future.”

Check out the work of these women. It’s absolutely gorgeous! You can give someone, (or get yourself) a fabulous gift and help others.
You can also find some amazing things through the fair trade organization, Ten Thousand Villages.

Thistle Farms
If you have someone on your list who loves bath and body products, consider Thistle Farms. Women recovering from prostitution and trafficking make these products. All proceeds go directly back to the women who make them.

Project Night Night
This organization provides homeless children with security blankets, books, and a stuffed animal. So often, the focus is on providing solely physical and material needs. This organization takes it a step further by providing for the cognitive and emotional needs of children.

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I found these while shopping for Christmas cards today at Hallmark. Purchase of these cards donates to UNICEF to provide 108 doses of Vitamin A to boost the eyesight and immune systems of children.

Finally, chocolate. I have to admit that it was really hard to walk past all of the gorgeous gems of Christmas candy at the mall today and not snag some for stockings. Our family is slowly making the switch to fair trade chocolate. And to be honest, it’s not easy. Unless someone knows where to find fair trade mini M & M look alikes with which to decorate sugar cookies? It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s worth a try. I had no idea until last year that the cacao harvested for companies like Hershey and Nestlé is generally done through the use of child slave labor. I know it costs more to buy fair trade, but clearly there’s a reason for that.
Where can you buy fair trade? A lot of American markets are beginning to carry fair trade chocolate bars. I usually find it in my market’s specialty organic section. But you can also find it online on a company’s website or even Amazon.

Divine Chocolate
The great thing about them, aside from being fair trade, is that they actually have baking bars, too! Christmas confection is saved! And they’re really not any more expensive than buying bars of, say, Ghiradelli baking chocolate.

Green and Black’s
Really delicious, with a lot of unique flavor combinations. I can personally recommend the milk chocolate, the mint, and the dark currant and hazelnut.

So, what’s your favorite charity?

ETA: Found M&Mish candies!

Mint hot chocolate pie

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I’m sorry I’m late with this pie post. I made it on Friday, but haven’t had a chance to blog about it. I’ve been busy with planning decorations for the school costume dance and getting Girl Scout ducks in a row. We also finally had a chance to go to the local farm Fall Festival this weekend. It was rained out last weekend, so pretty much every young family in Northern Virginia was there. Fortunately, we had absolutely gorgeous weather. The irresistible smell of kettle corn permeated the cool breeze while bluegrass and honky tonk played over well-hidden speakers. We gave loves to bunnies, baby chickens, and cows. Those milking cows are super patient. They have a cow you can just walk up to and milk, (under supervision, of course.) I think random people walking up to me and squeezing my boobs would make me….cranky. The girls had fun on giant slides, a hay ride, and inside a hay fort, (and I only lost Zoë once) while I was roped into a do si do with one of the farmers while he sang Thank God I’m a Country Boy. We ended the day with buying giant pumpkins. I’m going to Pinterest project at least one of those bitches!
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And now for something completely different…

So…..pie. The flavors of Christmas inspired this pie. Peppermint and chocolate fill our stockings and candy bowls in a nod to the first meal Mary ate after birthing the baby Jesus. One of my favorite things to do is to sip hot chocolate through peppermint straws while watching claymation Rudolph and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I wanted to make a pie that brought those flavors together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really find any recipes that did what I wanted. I initially thought I’d somehow incorporate peppermint candies into an Oreo crust. But just like John Boehner, I decided that was just going to be too dangerous for the public and pulled the plan from consideration at the last minute.

So I turned to a cookie I make every year for Christmas, chocolate Andes mint cookies. I knew I was going to make the crust from Oreos, and decided to add melted Andes mints on top of the crust. But what to do for the filling? Mousse seemed too light. I then remembered a pie I had made a couple of years ago that had a chocolate pudding-like thickness that seemed like it would be perfect. The results were not quite what I had envisioned, but were delicious nonetheless. The crust was crunchy and minty, thanks to the mint Oreos and layer of Andes mints. The chocolate custard filling is thick and creamy, adding to the textural experience and complimenting the flavor of the crust. The crust is definitely the star of this pie.

Mint hot chocolate pie

Crust

25 Oreos, original or mint (35 for a 9 1/2 inch pie plate)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (5 Tbsp for a 9 1/2 inch pie plate)

Pulse cookies until you achieve a fine crumb and the filling has been fully incorporated into the cookie crumbs. Place crumbs in a bowl. Melt butter and add melted butter to cookie crumbs. Mix with a fork until well incorporated. Press crumbs into the pie plate bottom and up the sides. Bake at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Turn off oven. Place 20-25 Andes mint candies on the bottom of the crust. Place the pie back in the oven for about two minutes. Spread melted candies evenly over the bottom of the crust. Let crust cool completely on a cooling rack. Candies will harden as they cool.
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Filling

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp instant espresso
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 3/4 cup 2% milk
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Whisk together sugar through the egg yolk in a bowl. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium-high; cook until the milk forms tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan. Do not boil. Stir frequently to avoid scalding the milk. Very slowly, add the hot milk to the egg mixture. (You’re tempering the eggs so they don’t cook while you add the milk. Otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.) Return the milk mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat until it becomes thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in dark chocolate until smooth. Pour into crust and let it cool for 20 minutes. Cover surface of filling with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours, until set.
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Crust adapted from Pioneer Woman. Filling adapted from Cooking Light.

Pumpkin chocolate chip bread pudding

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It’s that time of year! The time to bake everything pumpkin. I can’t think of any other time of year that would be better for making pumpkin treats.

…..November. November would be better.

Really, it boils down to me needing to clean the frozen pumpkin purée out of my freezer before I bring in more pumpkins for new purée.
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Last year I told Mike that this pumpkin bread would make a fantasmic bread pudding. I’ve never met a bread pudding I haven’t liked, and this was no exception. It was soft, without being mushy. The top had a nice crunchy texture from the caramelization of the sugar sprinkled on top just before baking. The chocolate combined well with the pumpkin, but I believe it would have been just as scrumptious without it.

Pumpkin chocolate chip bread pudding

Pumpkin bread recipe, doubled
Make sure you do a really good job buttering your loaf pans. When you think you’ve buttered the pans enough, butter them some more.
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Oh Hannah Hart, you’re so wise.
You may even want to put some parchment on the bottom of the pan. I’ve tried doing butter and flour, and that didn’t stop the massive breakage.
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I made the bread yesterday, so it was all nice and ready to go today. Usually bread pudding is made with old, crusty bread. Since our pumpkin bread is neither old nor crusty, you need to make it crusty so it will absorb all the yummy custard mixture we’re going to pour onto it.

Cut up loaves into 1 inch cubes. Place cubes on baking sheets that have been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until bread feels toasted. Set aside on cooling racks.

Custard

4 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground red (cayenne) pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray.
Place bread cubes in baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips.
Using electric mixer, beat eggs, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups cream and milk. Mix in cinnamon and red pepper. Add cream mixture to bread mixture. Let stand 30 minutes. Gently press on bread to make sure the bread has absorbed the custard.
Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup cream. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Bake pudding until edges are golden and custard is set in center, about 1 hour. Cool pudding slightly.
Adapted from Epicurious

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Clearly, it was awful.