Thursday, April 03, 2014

Making Candy for Team Building

My wife decided to have a team building exercise at the local art studio, you know, the sort of place where you can paint your own pottery or be instructed in how to create a canvas with a reasonable facsimile of a giraffe or dandelions or what have you. It was pretty amusing watching all those business guys trying to figure out what on earth to paint. Jeannene got the main dinner foods from a local restaurant, but asked me to pitch in and make some desserts. I have several go-to candy recipes, treats I've been making at Christmas for years, so I decided to make a few of those. I am also rather vain about my key lime pie, which I learned to make after discovering that it's near-impossible to find proper key lime pie in Ohio. It's one of my favorite desserts and nothing disappoints me more than ordering it in a restaurant and being served a bright green monstrosity that was clearly made with Jello included or a frozen, white, frothy thing that features Cool Whip and is scarcely tart at all. A proper key lime pie will be custardy, buttery yellow, and quite tart. I like mine with no topping at all, unless perhaps a little bit of unsweetened, real whipped cream to cut the sweet of it. I'm not opposed at all to a lime meringue pie. Just don't call it key lime pie. Rant over.

Key Lime Pie
4 egg yolks (I like to use the whites for pavlova or meringues)
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
3-4 oz. key lime juice (bottled is acceptable---I like Nellie & Joe's)
1 graham crust (I seldom make mine, although I do think homemade is better)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix egg yolks with sweetened condensed milk until it turns a beautiful light yellow. Gradually add a little juice at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. If you dump it all in at once, it becomes a real pain in the neck to get incorporated. Why, yes, I did learn this the hard way. Pour it all into the crust. Place it on a baking sheet (in case it slops over) and bake 10 minutes, checking in after about 8 minutes to make sure the edges aren't burning. Allow to cool completely, then cover and chill at least 4 hours before serving. 

Until my almost-grandma, Mary,  couldn't physically do it any longer, she used to set about baking for Christmas like nobody's business. I would arrive at her sweet little blue house in the holler and there would be planning sessions for what we would bake that year. One of her favorites from her younger years was chocolate rum balls and they became a favorite of mine, as well. My second-grandma, Gen, loved these so much that she submitted the recipe for the Dayton Women's Club cookbook and gave me a copy as a surprise for Christmas that year. My grandmom took some I had made along to Vermont one Christmas. They were destined for ham radio buddies at a stop along the way, in Fredonia, NY, where my grandies always overnighted on their way to spend the holiday with my auntie. Jean ate so many that Christmas that she made herself sick, but asked for more the following year. You have been warned.

Chocolate Rum Balls
1 c. chopped pecans (a mini food processor does this perfectly; you can also buy pecan chips)
1 c. Oreo crumbs (I used to be able to find these boxed, but they have vanished from the shelves in recent years. You can buy the more expensive cookies like the Bremner chocolate wafers, but it's not that hard to empty Oreos and pulverize the chocolate part in a food processor or with a rolling pin. I have recently begun to wonder if perhaps the insides might not be interesting in truffles or something else.)
1 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. light Karo syrup (use any brand you like---I use the term generically to mean corn syrup, much like Southerners use "Coke.")
1/4 c. light rum (or any liqueur you fancy, really. Cinnamon whiskey might be interesting.)
Granulated sugar for rolling

Mix everything but the rolling sugar. Shape into small balls (walnut-sized). Roll in sugar. makes 2-3 dozen. 

I'm a big fan of truffles and the cappuccino truffles are some of the yummiest I've ever had. They're not much to look at, as they are seldom perfectly round and tend to be a bit misshapen, but they are amazingly rich and wonderful. I make them a bit on the smaller side, not nearly as big as, say, a Godiva truffle, because they are so very sweet. If you want bigger truffles, by all means, make them bigger! These are a little time consuming because they have to chill and be rolled. They are also terribly messy. Make them anyway. They are worth it.

Cappuccino Truffles
12 oz. milk chocolate chips (you can make espresso truffles by using bittersweet chips)
6 tbsp. butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 tbsp. heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. instant espresso powder (I might try Cafe Bustelo sometime for cortadito truffles, but I usually use Medaglia d'Oro)
Cocoa powder for rolling

Melt the ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl on high/full power for about a minute, until the chocolate & butter are almost melted. Stir until smooth. Freeze for 1 hour. Shape into small balls, rounding them in the palms of your hands and wiping/washing hands frequently to maintain traction. Roll in cocoa & keep refrigerated until you're ready to serve them.

My granddaddy, Clyde, loved peanut brittle, so from the time I was a tiny girl, he got a box of peanut brittle from me for Christmas. When I was in my 30s, I started toying with the idea of making it from scratch for him instead of buying it. I was intimidated by making it, though. I wish I'd known then how easy it is. I didn't, though, so I waited and waited and kept buying him peanut brittle. The last Christmas he was alive (although I didn't know it was his last at the time), I finally worked up my nerve and made a batch for him. He loved it and I have now started making it for my stepdad at Christmas and for his birthday. Jeannene loves it, too. This year, I tried just a smidge more baking soda than usual and it really made it fantastic. 

Peanut Brittle
2 c. sugar
A little baking soda on the end of a spoon (the more you use, the fluffier your brittle will be)
1 c. peanuts

Grease a baking sheet well and have it by the stove. Have everything, in fact, measured and ready by the stove. Get a tall saucepan with a heavy bottom nice & hot (but not too hot or you'll scorch your sugar) over medium-high heat. Pour in the sugar and stir constantly, stirring out all the lumps, until the sugar has just gone completely to syrup. If you're not used to this process, it can be worrisome, as the sugar gets all clumpy and hard before going liquid. It will look kind of like the ice is breaking up in spring for awhile there. Keep stirring. While you are stirring, you should also be brushing down the sides of the pan with a basting brush. If you don't, it won't ruin everything, though. It will, however, ruin everything if you allow your sugar to scorch. If it starts looking really dark or smelling burned, you could be in trouble, so keep a very close eye on it and act quickly in everything. Also, be very, very careful. Molten sugar hurts like mad when it touches your skin and it can bubble up unexpectedly. The second the sugar has gone to syrup, dump in the soda and the nuts & stir very, very quickly to incorporate before pouring onto the prepared baking sheet and spreading, working very quickly, into an even layer. Then, you just have to let it cool before breaking it into whatever size slabs you like. 

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