Gourmet S’mores

Homemade Marshmallows

Today’s Musings:
It’s a new year. Time to shove 2020 out the window and welcome a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter One

Peeling the skin back from my eyes
I felt surprised
That the time on the clock was the time
I usually retired
To the place where I cleared my head of you
But just for today, I think I’ll lie here and dream of you.
 – Matt Johnson

This is a food blog.  I am a food blogger.  As a food blogger, writing a food blog, I’m expected to write about, um, er…food; I’m expected to be light and bubbly and happy, bringing baked goods and witty banter to your world.  But, larger than this blogger’s persona, I am decidedly human with human emotions and, this morning, I am the antithesis of happy.  I’m trying…I’m truly trying to wiggle out of this melancholy, but today, I’ve lost the battle.

This morning, the kitty sprawled across my desk lacks softness, the candle flickering in front of my nose is scentless, my French-pressed coffee is water in my mouth.   Where is the sun? This morning, I am bereft, hollow, yearning for a missing piece of joy that darted from my gentle fingers. I’m trying to move my mind to other things, but a shower to refresh my thoughts brings him to my mind, a walk to clear my head recalls our evening strolls, the music from my speakers is the soundtrack of us.  Even my baking doesn’t distract…and I mourn.

Allow me my melancholy today.  Tomorrow, I will be better.

Today’s Recipe:
Making marshmallows is messy business.  Around step 3, and covered with goo, I was wondering if they were worth the trouble.  However, after toasting my first sample, no more convincing was needed.  Toasted homemade marshmallows are soft and gooey and not too sweet, adding refinement to this ubiquitous campfire treat.  


Gourmet S’mores

Toasted homemade marshmallows are soft and gooey and not too sweet, adding refinement to this ubiquitous campfire treat. Ghirardelli chocolate squares in various flavors such as caramel or raspberry add sophistication.


Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • 32 Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares in various flavors (milk, dark, caramel, raspberry, mint, etc.)
  • 1 box graham crackers

Directions

  1. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan with canola oil. In a medium heatproof bowl, mix the gelatin with ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes and then microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until gelatin is completely melted. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and ⅓ cup plus 2 Tablespoons water. Bring the syrup to boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until syrup registers 250⁰ on a candy thermometer. Immediately pour the hot syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the gelatin and vanilla and beat at high speed until mixture is fluffy, glossy and sticky, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Spread the marshmallow in the prepared pan and smooth the surface. It helps to smooth the surface by using a slightly damp hand to avoid sticking. Press a lightly greased sheet of parchment paper on the surface and set aside for 3 hours.
  4. Run a sharp knife around the marshmallow. Lightly dust top of marshmallow and work surface with confectioner’s sugar. Add more confectioner’s sugar as needed to avoid sticking. Invert marshmallow onto work surface and cut into 16 2” squares. Cut each square in half horizontally into 32 marshmallows. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
  5. To make S’mores, break graham crackers in half. Cover the lower half with a Ghirardelli square of your choice, cover with a toasted marshmallow (either toasted over a campfire or by blowtorch), and sandwich with remaining graham cracker half.

Recipe adapted from Dominique Ansel.

Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

A plate of ginger pecan balls

Today’s Musings:

My sister and I were debating the merits of holiday Eccles Cakes vs. Mince Pies last weekend.  I voted for the mince, since they’re easier to make.  Each year, Christmas cheer comes hesitantly for me.  When I tear off the second to last page on the calendar, I dread the work that lies ahead over the next 24 days.  2019 was a snap; we packed our bags on the 15th and headed to London, not returning until the holiday rush and festivities were over.  This year, I was even undecided about exchanging gifts with the family.  Then, perhaps with the help of some holiday magic (or spiked eggnog), my mood began to change.  In the first few days of December, I agreed to the gifts and the hosting (I’m the only one who can).  By mid-month, my Christmas spirit was beginning to stir. We trekked to Santiago Canyon to select our freshly-cut tree (no parking-lot version for us!), sang carols as we decorated, and drove about town to four different stores looking for lights (My new pro tip:  Not Target; your neighborhood Walgreens).  As I write this, I’ve devoured two panettone, baked mince pies and panforte, and have my recipes ready for Christmas morning stollen, Christmas Eve dinner, and mulled wine.  I’ve also volunteered to assemble luminaries to decorate our street on Christmas Eve and, last weekend, drove through the neighborhoods looking at holiday lights.  My house smells of pine and crackling logs (I ALMOST spent $30 for 4 Irish peat briquettes).  I’ve watched A Christmas Carol (although not my favorite version with George C. Scott) and invited some friends (within my bubble) for Christmas Day ham.  Today’s to-do list includes a trip to the butchers (not for a goose, Mrs. Cratchet, but a boneless lamb roast), gift wrapping, and these easy Ginger Pecan Rum Balls.  With less than one week to go, I’ve found my holiday spirit after all, as I always do.  So, Happy Holiday from my (hesitant) house to yours.  

Today’s Recipe:


Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

  • Servings: About 24 Balls
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Easy spicy ginger holiday treats spiked with a good dose of dark rum. Feel free to play with the ingredients – different crumbs, nuts, or spirits can provide an array of flavors.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups ginger snap crumbs
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
  • 3 Tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until pecans are finely ground and dough forms into a ball.
  2. Roll dough into small balls (about 13-15 grams each) and roll in powdered sugar
  3. Store in an airtight container. Let sit for at least one day to allow flavors to meld; they will get more flavorful with each day.

Panforte

Panforte di Siena

Today’s Musings:
His drawings are dark, Schielesque (if I can make that a word), his dissonant music even more so; his lips a vertical line without hint of teeth below intense eyes.  He’s a loner, surrounded by his art and words and noise.  Before, I would have grasped after his complicated darkness – my preternatural talent to home in on the damaged and the wounded.  Beautiful, exquisite danger.

I’ve always been drawn to broken and frayed things.  Not to fix them, oh no, but to love them, for all their splendid flaws.  I cradle them tightly against my vulnerability and whisper, “I see your shadows and I love you for them, just as you are,” like my habit of gathering discarded objects from the sidewalks and the gutters, holding them up to the light, searching for their unique worth.  I find beauty in the things others judge as trash.

We are all broken.  We all have value. The darkness that resides in me sees the masked shadows in you. 

This time, though, my heart said, “No, Enough. You have learned your lesson.”  I have learned it well this time. I can love his art without gifting my heart to the marred soul that created it.  No, I will not walk in the woods with him today. A tear escapes from my eye.  This education is not without pain.

Today’s Recipe:
Somehow I’ve equated candied orange peel with holiday baking.  All of my annual holiday bakes, including gibassier, stollen, and eccles cakes, require candied orange peel.  This year, I’ve added mince pies and panforte to my repertoire, requiring even more peel. With nightmares of dreaded fruitcake in your head, you probably believe you’re not a fan of candied citrus peel. You most likely only know those chewy, tooth sticking, flavorless, processed nuggets that come in a grocery store tub. That’s what I thought candied peel was all about, too – until I made my own. Then, ooohhhh, I fell in love. Hand-crafted candied peel is pliant and juicy with the perfect balance between bitter peel and sweet syrup. Making your own takes a bit more work, but it’s the difference between a frozen beef patty and aged rib eye steak.

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. My recipe contains pistachios, walnuts, candied orange peel, chocolate and a shit-load of spices. Its chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.  The secret to its soft and pliant texture is baking the panforte just until barely firm in the middle. Otherwise, it will rip the fillings from your molars.  Panforte is typically served in thin wedges dusted with powdered sugar.

This version is only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe.


Panforte

  • Servings: 16 thin slices
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Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. Its yielding, chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup dark honey
  • extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan
  • powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment and dust with cocoa powder, making sure to dust the sides.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, cocoa powder, flour, candied orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and ancho chile powder.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until completely melted. Set aside.
  5. In a small pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF.
  6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well until fully incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top by using a spatula. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, use a dampened hand to press it completely flat.
  7. Bake the panforte for 30 – 35 minutes; the center will feel soft, like a barely baked brownie; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean. (Do not over bake or it will be too firm once cooled.)
  8. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then let cool completely. Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands. Serve in thin wedges.

Today’s Tip:
 You can store panforte for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

5-minute Coconut Almond Fudge

This is my go-to fudge recipe – super quick and easy fudge you make in the microwave. What’s not to love?

Quick Coconut Almond Fudge
Over dinner, a good friend was lamenting her systematic eating of leftover Christmas fudge over the three weeks following the holidays – a piece or two every night. I laughed to myself imagining fudge, or anything sweet for that matter, would even last a week, let alone three, in my house. And then my mind faded from the conversation at hand and I began to be preoccupied with fudge. My internal conversation went something like this:

“Mmm…Fudge…Why didn’t I make fudge for Christmas?!…I haven’t made fudge for a while…I have an awesome fudge recipe…that’s easy too…super chocolaty…never gritty…why am I not making fudge this very minute?!…fudge…I need it…yummm…”

Needless to say, I pulled my super quick 5-minute fudge recipe out soon after that. I convinced myself I was performing a pantry-cleaning service by using up leftover coconut, almonds and almond paste in the process. Anything for a good cause.

As expected,  it didn’t last the week.


5-minute Coconut Almond Fudge

If coconut and almond aren’t your thing, you can substitute your favorite mix-ins in place of the coconut, almonds and almond paste.

Ingredients

  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup almond paste, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon (optional)

Directions

  1. Line an 8×8” pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.
  2. In a microwave, heat sweetened condensed milk and chocolate on high for 1 minute. Stir to combine. Heat an additional 30 seconds if needed until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla, coconut, almonds and almond paste.
  3. Pour fudge into pan and smooth. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Cool in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  4. Use aluminum foil to remove fudge from pan, cut into 1” squares. Store in an airtight container. Fudge does not need to be refrigerated.

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Easy Chocolate Truffles
I’ve been struggling – really struggling – to come up with header notes for my posts. I have completed stories already written; that’s not my problem. My difficulty lies in wanting to tell you about my encounter with Carlito, a charismatic Native American drug-addicted art peddler from New Mexico, and somehow tying that to my recent recipe for savory scones. I’m aware that my headers and recipes have never really synced. That red-thread between my life and my cooking has always been tangential at best. I don’t want to talk about Braeburns vs. Golden Delicious when posting an apple tart recipe – I want to tell you about the absurdity of my single girl life. But, some sort of transitional segue needs to be there – no matter how loose the connection.  There’s a file folder full of delicious anecdotes and stories, like Carlito’s, languishing on my computer like the dibs and dabs of ingredients tucked away in Tupperware on the shelves of my refrigerator, just waiting for the right moment to be used.  They never quite work with the recipe – or I forget about them.  Weeks go by and the stories become stale and moldy, never seeing the pages of this blog; eventually they’re discarded.

Speaking of those dibs and dabs, I’ve been surreptitiously sneaking spoonfuls of leftover ganache from my fridge as my nightly dessert. Yesterday, I finally decided to turn the Tupperware of half-eaten chocolate crème into something I could proudly savor in public…and serve to my guests: Chocolate Truffles. Handmade truffles look impressive, yet they are so simple to make – and a basic ganache recipe can be transformed into dozens of flavor combinations that belie the limited hands-on time in the kitchen.


Easy Chocolate Truffles

  • Servings: 2 Dozen Truffles
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The ganache can be flavored with liqueur or extracts and the finished truffles can be rolled in various coatings for flavor combinations limited only by your imagination. I kept mine classic with a straightforward chocolate ganache and coated them in cocoa powder and maple walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. dark chocolate chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • Truffle coatings like cocoa powder, finely chopped candied nuts, chocolate sprinkles, crushed cookies or peppermint crunch

Directions

  1. Place chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until completely melted (60-90 seconds). Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
  2. Using a small melon baller or spoon, scoop out truffles and roll into balls. Roll in desired coating and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Bring truffles to room temperature before serving.