Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holiday Baking

To me, nothing says it is holiday time more than baking. I go through pounds of butter, bags of sugar and flour, tons of vanilla extract, and lots of dish washing. I don't bake with a mission-I figure out what to do with the stuff after it's all done. The neighbors certainly benefit, as do the teachers at school. But, I'm the one who gets the most pleasure from it.

Whether it's late at night after my son is sleeping or during the day when no one is home, baking in the kitchen is one of my all time favorite ways to spend time. There is something so completely magical about transforming simple ingredients like sugar, flour, and butter into incredibly tasty sweets.

Lately I've taken to making candy. It sounds a lot more impressive than it really is. Talk about an amazing transformation! Today I cooked equal parts sugar and dark corn syrup to 300 degress ('hard crack stage' for you candy gurus), stirred in some baking soda, salt, and vanilla and poured it out on a baking sheet. Once it cools, it gets cracked into chunks and becomes the crunchy airy honeycomb candy I remember as a kid. Simple ingredients that yield an amazing result.

There is something so special about giving people your own baked goods at the holidays. I have the best memories of helping my mom pile dozens of her different home made cookies on to holiday paper plates. We'd wrap them in plastic wrap and my brother and I would deliver them to the neighbors. They loved it! My mom baked for months preparing those cookies but, she loved doing it and the neighbors appreciated it more than I can say.

If you're not a baker, step out of your comfort zone and give it a try this year. It doesn't need to be complicated, just home made. It could be banana bread, fresh cookies, or even my honeycomb candy (the recipe is below). What ever it is, you'll have a blast doing it and trust me, the person on the receiving end will be a very happy camper.

Chocolate Coated Honeycomb Candy

1 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup sugar
just under 1 tbs baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
4 ounces your favorite good quality chocolate (white, milk, or dark)
1 tsp vegetable oil

Before you start, cover a baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (Sil-Pat). In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup and sugar. Place the pan over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Place a candy thermometer into the pan and continue to cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees/hard crack stage. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully put the thermometer in your sink. Sprinkle in the baking soda and add the vanilla and salt. Stir to combine and pour the mixture in an even layer onto the pan. Do not spread or stir once it is on the pan as you will deflate the bubbles inside. You can tilt the pan to spread it but, don't worry, it won't cover the whole thing. Place the pan on a rack and let the candy cool until it is hard and room temp or cooler. Break it into pieces, 1-2 inches. Melt the chocolate and stir in the vegetable oil. Dunk each piece of honeycomb into the chocolate, coating it on all sides. Set the coated pieces on waxed paper and let rest until the chocolate is set.

Candy keeps in an airtight container (preferably tin v. plastic) for 3-4 days.

Enjoy and happy holiday baking! Hey, when you do actually bake something for the holidays, what is it? I'd love to know...

1 comment:

Deana said...

Hi Jod,
We bake ginger bread people (like you) but all mini sized. I have to take a picture.

I use a recipe from an old sunset magazine and it is spiked with a little espresso powder:

Gingerbread Cookie Recipe (from Sunset Magazine)

Prep and Cook Time: 3 hours, decorating ….a long time ;- )

¾ Cup Butter
¾ Cup Sugar
¾ Cup Molasses

3 ¼ Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Ground Ginger
2 tsp. Instant Espresso Coffee Powder
1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp Ground Nutmeg

Step 1. With a mixer beat together butter, sugar, and molasses, until very smooth

Step 2. In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, ground ginger, instant espresso powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then stir in the butter mixture and beat until blended. If mixture is crumbly, squeeze together into a smooth compact ball.

Step 3. Divide dough into two equal portions. Wrap each portion airtight (or put in a Ziploc bag) and flatten dough slightly so it lies flat and freeze until firm (about 1 hour) (You can freeze dough like this for up to 3 months for future use).

Step 4. Flour a surface for rolling dough out and roll dough out to ¼” thick.

Step 5. Use cookie cutters of your selection (stars, snowflakes, ginger bread people, etc.) and cut out cookies and place on a cookies sheet (unfloured, ungreased cookie sheet). Cookies spread only slightly when baking so can be placed relatively close together.

Step 6. Pre-heat oven and bake at 300 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Step 7. Cookies will harden as they cool so do not over cook.

Step 8. Remove cookies from pan and place on a cooling rack until ready for icing. See icing recipe below.

Makes about 26 (3” x 4” cookies)
Icing (this makes the cookie!)

2 Cups powdered Sugar
½ tsp Vanilla
1 ½ Tblsp. Water (add a little more water as needed until it gets to the consistency you want for icing the cookies)
Food coloring if desired (we just keep our icing white, but colors are optional)

In a bowl stir ingredients with a fork adding additional water if necessary. Spoon icing into a heavy 1 quart plastic Ziploc bag and seal it. Snip a very a very small opening at the corner of the bag to decorate by squeezing the icing out of the corner of the bag.


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