Sweet and Shiny: Peanut Brittle Gifts

I have no willpower when it comes to peanut brittle.  Discipline vanishes.  Indulgence rules.  And, maybe that’s not such a bad thing as the holidays continue their relentless, forward push.

2011 being a year with a culinary theme for me, I thought that gift giving could have a sugary flavor. Who doesn’t want to receive a homemade confection?  Particularly, if it tastes good? With that thought, my daughter and I decided to embark upon a Thanksgiving photo shoot/holiday packaging/brittle making session. While the rest of you were at Best Buy staring at flat screens, we were at a crafts store examining crinkly paper and fancy Chinese food take-out boxes to make the Brittle look fabulous.

Brittle isn’t hard to make, but you do need a sugar thermometer. A silicone matt will make the process easier.  Latex gloves will help to protect your fingers from the heat of the cooling mixture.

PEANUT BRITTLE

Ingredients:

  • Sugar 14 oz
  • Water 6 ½ oz
  • Corn Syrup 10 oz
  • Peanuts (raw) 16 oz
  • Salt 1 t
  • Butter (unsalted) 1 oz
  • Vanilla Extract ¼ oz
  • Baking Soda ¼ oz

Preparation:

  • Combine 1st 3 ingredients and bring to a boil while stirring. Allow to boil, without stirring, until temperature reaches 239 degrees. Add raw peanuts, (roasted peanuts will overcook and taste burned) stirring constantly until temperature reaches 311 degrees.
  • Remove from heat and stir in salt, butter, vanilla and finally, baking soda.
  • Pour mixture onto your silicone mat.  If a silicone mat is not a resident of your kitchen, you could use oiled marble.
  • Now, you have a decision to make.  If you like your brittle to be thick, leave it alone.  If you prefer a thin brittle, put your latex gloves on.
  • As the brittle cools, start pulling gently from the outside rim. Do not walk away. Brittle cools faster than you might expect.  Stand by the brittle to test the heat and pull.  Eventually, you will work your way towards the center of the brittle and will be able to pull that area, too. Pull until the desired level of thin-ness is reached.
  • When the candy has cooled completely, break the brittle apart with your hands and package to your heart’s content. Bright colored aluminum foil looks beautiful against the rich brown of the Brittle.  Check out a crafts store.  The possibilities are endless. Your friends and family will love receiving a gift of homemade candy.

 



Adventures with Beatrice


A lot of people think bread baking is difficult.  Mention sourdough, and eyeball start rolling up in heads. I understand the fear.  When my son took Physics last year, I felt paralyzed with my own ignorance of the subject.  I didn’t understand the first page of his textbook.

My sourdough starter originated with purple beets.  For several weeks, the starter was a vivid pink.  Like all starters, through the process of feeding and time, eventually the color became a creamy white.  Most people name their starters, who knew?  So, in honor of the beets, my starter was named Beatrice.

Beatrice was fed the day before I made the dough so she was ripe and bubbly when needed. I made a grain and seed soaker the night before, too.


Soaker:

  •  Boiling Water 6 oz
  • Multigrain Mix (I use Bob’s Red Mill 7 Grain Hot Cereal) 5 oz
  • Kosher Salt .5 oz
  • Sesame Seed .5 oz
  • Poppy Seed .5 oz
  1. Pour the boiling water over the grains and seeds and allow the mixture to soften overnight.

Remaining Ingredients:

  • Water 4 oz
  • Yeast, instant 1 ½ instant or 2 tsp active dry (if using active dry yeast, activate the yeast in the 4 oz of water prior to adding all the other ingredients))
  • Starter 7 oz
  • Honey 1 ½ oz
  • Bread Flour 13 oz
  1. Place all ingredients in a mixer with the dough hook attachment.
  2. Mix for 6 minutes at medium speed to facilitate gluten development.  Adjust with water and bread flour as necessary.  Check dough for stretchy elasticity. Mix longer if needed.
  3. Cover bowl of mixer with greased plastic wrap and allow dough to ferment until doubled. At this point, you can shape the dough into whatever final shapes you prefer. Let the shaped dough rise again and then bake.  A further step would be to shape the dough and place in floured bannetons – woven baskets which create the lovely floured rings that are visible on the baked bread.  Allow the dough filled bannetons to retard overnight in the refrigerator. Cover the baskets with greased plastic wrap.
  4. The next day, bring the dough to room temperature.  The overnight retarding adds layers of complex flavor to an already tasty bread.
  5. Gently turn the bread out of the banneton onto a floured piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Do not bake the banneton. Score the top of the dough.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees in a convection oven and spray a fine mist of water into the oven every few minutes until the bread starts to brown.  Sourdoughs love steam! Bake until bread is a deep, golden brown and internal temperature registers 200 degrees.
  7. Allow bread to cool for several hours on a rack. Sourdoughs benefit from the cooling time and you will be rewarded with delightful bread.
  8. Enjoy!

Breakfast….put a smile on your face!

Most mornings, I wake up with a smile on my face. The smile is due to the realization that I am moments away from my favorite meal of the day.  Lately, my breakfast has included delicious homemade granola that I have tailored to fit my individual taste.  The beauty of this recipe is that it is so tweakable.  Add your favorite dried fruits.  Change up the nuts. Experiment with spices.  Go for it.  Smile.

Breakfast Granola thanks to Molly Wizenberg

6 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
6 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup honey
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cup assorted dried fruit

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Mix first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Stir honey and oil in saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth. I have zapped the honey and oil in a microwave safe bowl for 25 seconds with equivalent success. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture; toss. Spread on prepared sheet. Bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes. Place sheet on rack. Stir granola; cool. Mix in fruit.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight.

I enjoy a scoop of fat free Greek yogurt with my granola. The possibilities are endless.

 

 

 

 

Marshmallow Goddess

Tasting homemade marshmallows will make you realize that store bought marshmallows should be called something else. Like Fake Sweet Puffs.   Or, Artificial Squishy White Things. A fraud has been played on all consumers who bought marshmallows purchased in a bag in a grocery store.  I know.  I’ve spent my entire life purchasing the fake things.  But, now I know better!  Homemade marshmallows take a bit of planning but the benefits are rich.  You will be a kitchen goddess.  And, who doesn’t want that?

If you enjoy creating sweet confections, purchase a digital candy thermometer.  For $25 your life will be easier. I used gelatin sheets which are difficult to purchase on a retail level.  King Arthur Flour sells gelatin sheets online.

Marshmallow Goddess Recipe

(adapted loosely from donna hay magazine, issue 57)

Ingredients

Sugar 17 oz.
Corn Syrup  1 ½ oz.
Water 8 ½ oz
Egg Whites  4 oz.
Gelatin 7 sheets
Vanilla 1 tsp
Optional – Double Chocolate(Ghirardelli) Bittersweet Chips 6 oz.
Cornstarch and powdered sugar for panning.



Instructions

  1. Measure the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer with a whip attachment. Do not whip, yet.
  2. Prepare a quarter sheet pan, or a 12 X 7 pyrex.  Whatever size pan is used, the finished marshmallows will be thicker or thinner, accordingly. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Dust the bottom of the pan with a 50/50 combination of cornstarch and powdered sugar. Do not grease the pan.
  3. Place gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water. The water will soften the gelatin. If using, melt chocolate chips in a double boiler and keep warm.
  4. Cook sugar, corn syrup and water to 257 degrees F.  Turn the mixer on when the sugar mixture reaches 245 degrees.  The egg whites should have firm peaks.  Slowly incorporate the hot syrup into the egg whites while the mixer is on. When mixture cools somewhat, add the gelatin sheets that you have squeezed by hand to remove the water. The sheets should be wet.  Add the vanilla. Total mixing time is approximately 10 min. The mixture should be shiny and will have grown during the whipping.
  5. With a rubber spatula, scoop the warm marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth the top. If you are not using the chocolate, sprinkle the top with the cornstarch/powdered sugar. For chocolate drizzle, spoon melted chocolate in a random pattern on top of marshmallows.  With a skewer, swirl the chocolate into the top of the marshmallow.  Sprinkle top with cornstarch/powdered sugar.
  6. Allow to cool for several hours or overnight.  Speed up the process by chilling in the refrigerator.  I froze a batch in a pyrex pan and it was perfect. Take a dull knife to separate the confection from the edge of the pan.  The marshmallows should be very easy to remove from pan. Remove the parchment paper. Cut into squares using wet scissors.  Place in air tight container unless they are all eaten as quickly as you snipped. Prepare for nirvana!

How did this recipe go for you? Would love to hear stories of your homemade marshmallow adventures!


A feel good thing

Applesauce is a feel good thing.  Select a beautiful Fall day for the production.  Your home will smell wonderful, your resident eaters will smile and the process does not take a horrendous amount of time. Whether you pick your apples or buy the fruit at a local Farmer’s Market as I did, it is nearly impossible to go wrong with applesauce.  I had been tinkering with different combinations of apples and varying amounts of sweetener.  The batch I photographed was a mixture of Cortland and Empire apples.

Why peel the apples when the job is so tedious? The day was gorgeous and I wanted to be outside so I skipped the peeling and merely cored the apples.  I boiled the apples in the tiniest bit of water and then placed the mush into a hand cranked food mill. The mill took care of the peels.  For each pound of applesauce I added 1 Tblsp of lemon juice and .7 ounces of sugar. My family prefers a lightly sweetened apple sauce.  The beauty of applesauce is its ability to be customized – add cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger.  Make it chunky or smooth.  Freeze or can it.  Serve it warm or chilled. I have witnessed my 17 year old son with a jar of applesauce, a spoon and a smile. That’s a good thing.

 

Bread is the Staff of Life

If bread is the staff of life, then Jim Leahy at Sullivan Street Bakery will live a very long time. My visit to his Hell’s Kitchen location was an eagerly anticipated pilgrimage and was as wonderful as I had hoped.  His welcoming storefront beckoned and the sweet and savory smells enveloped you as soon as you entered.  Beautiful crusty loaves filled the shelves and I was struck by their artisanal, craggy appearance and their dark color.  Leahy is a proponent of very dark, almost too dark, crusts as the flavor of the crust reaches an optimal point when the crust almost burns.  As a novice, but intrigued student baker, his dedication to the craft inspires me.

At 50, I took my lifelong love of baking and enrolled in culinary school in Chicago.  During the Artisan Bread course, Chef Kraus introduced me to many of Lahey’s recipes and techniques.  I had been hooked on Lahey’s No-Knead Bread since I read the NYT article that described the technique in 2006. In school, I learned how to make a sourdough starter and was exposed to a variety of ingredients and recipes that revolved around sourdough.  The more I learned, the more I loved the depth and breadth of sourdough possibilities. As a lover of words, I even loved the vocabulary of bread baking. The retarding.  The fermenting.  The boules and batards. The tactile sensation of bread making reminds me of my children when they were babies.  There’s something very earthy and fulfilling about clean baby bottoms and plump bread dough.  Does that realization make me weird?! Oh well, I love all things bready.  The possibilities are endless so I tinker with ingredients and recipes.  A current favorite is a multi grain, seeded sourdough that I make with a starter named Beatrice.  Beatrice had her origins with beets, hence, her name.

Anyway, back to Sullivan Street Bakery. My forthright daughter asked the lovely manager of the bakery, Michelle, for a behind-the-scene-tour of the bakery and the request was promptly granted. We walked behind the front counter and into a cloud of flour dust as we watched the skilled bakers turn fermented dough from bins onto the work tables.  There were enormous ovens, cooling racks filled with beautiful loaves, bags full of bread ready to be delivered to NYC restaurants and bags of flour, spices and herbs. There is even a huge rooftop garden where Leahy grows herbs and vegetables for his breads.  What a delight! After a morning of sensory overload and with a suitcase filled with bread, I flew home to Chicago.