Chocolate Crunch Squares

Put down that Hershey’s Krackel bar, and step away from the Nestle Crunch bar.  Here’s a recipe for Chocolate Crunch Squares that will make you forget that those candy bars ever existed.  The combination of dark chocolate and puffed rice cereal with a touch of almond butter and honey makes this one of my favorite candy bar knockoffs (although they look more like rice krispie squares than thin candy bars).  I like to eat mine slightly chilled for that extra crunch.

Chocolate Crunch - Tasting Table4

Chocolate Crunch Squares

(Adapted from Tasting Table)
Makes one 9×9 inch pan’s worth of bars

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon honey
4 cups puffed rice cereal

Directions

  1. On top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter.
  2. Add the almond butter and honey, and mix until combined.
  3. Remove from heat, mix in the puffed rice cereal, and pour into a 9-inch square baking pan.
  4. Let set in the refrigerator, at least 2 hours.  Bring to room temperature before cutting.

I prefer these bars slightly cold, and I stored them in the refrigerator to keep the chocolate from melting in the warm weather.

Stuffed Meringues

It’s been oppressively hot and humid in LA recently, and I thought you might want to look at some sweets that remind you of cooler, airy-er times.  These meringues are delicate, crispy, and light as a cloud.  They’re only slightly sweet, and the milk chocolate square in the center adds a touch of rich, creamy contrast.  Note, I did not make these during the hot humid weather as they don’t set up well in humidity.

Stuffed Meringues- KAF

Stuffed Meringues

(from King Arthur Flour)
Makes 20 to 24 meringues

Ingredients

Meringues

2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
dash of salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) granulated sugar

Filling

candied cherries and/or bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a dash of salt.
  3. Beat until peaks form, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
  4. Pipe a base of meringue onto the sheet, using a pastry bag and star tip; place a candied cherry, or a couple of chunks of chocolate, atop the base. Pipe meringue to cover the cherry or chocolate.
  5. If you don’t want to pipe meringues, simply drop by tablespoonfuls onto the sheet. A tablespoon cookie scoop works well here. Place cherry or chocolate in the center of each meringue; cover or leave exposed, your choice.
  6. Bake the meringues for 1 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off, and leave them in the turned-off oven until they’re completely cool, 3 hours or more. This is a good cookie to make in the evening; they can be left in the oven (with the heat turned off) overnight.

Salted Honey Caramels

Last week I had a full day of dancing at a big ballroom competition in Los Angeles.  I was so amped after the competition that the next morning, I woke up at 5am (very uncharacteristic of me as I’m not a morning person) and made salted honey caramels.

2015 Emerald Ball

I have quite a bit of caramel making experience under my belt, but this was the first caramel recipe in which I melted and caramelized the sugar on its own before adding in the other ingredients (other recipes I’ve tried have instructed to melt the sugar with water or light corn syrup).

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the flavor is well balanced and slightly mellow with the honey really shining through.  These salted honey caramels were such a hit that I’ve made them twice in the past week.  Even though the recipe makes a small batch (barely covers an 8×8 inch pan), once you get the hang of cooking the sugar without burning it, you’ll be whipping up multiple batches in no time.

Salted Caramels- Sugar Rush 2

Salted Honey Caramels

(Adapted from Sugar Rush by Johnny Iuzzini)
Makes 40 caramels

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream (240g)
1/3 cup light corn syrup (95g)
1/4 cup honey (74g)
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt (3g)
3/4 cup sugar (175g)

Directions

  1. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream, corn syrup, honey, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to very low and keep warm.
  3. In a large saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat until completely melted.  If there are any sugar crystals on the edges of the pan, wash the sides down with a brush dipped in cold water.  Continue cooking the sugar, swirling the pan as necessary for even cooking, until the sugar is deep mahogany brown.  The pan will give off white smoke- if the smoke gets darker, it means the sugar is burning and has gone too far.
  4. Reduce the heat to low.  Slowly pour the cream mixture into the sugar (the sugar will bubble up).  Whisk to mixture well, and return to medium heat.
  5. Continue cooking until the temperature reaches 250°F.
  6. Immediately pour the mixture into the parchment lined pan.  Let it settle briefly, and then tap the pan on the counter to release any bubbles.
  7. Let the pan stand until the candy is completely cool, preferably overnight, or refrigerate to firm up the caramel.  Using the parchment, lift the caramel out of the pan, and set it on a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1/2 x 1 1/2-inch pieces, and wrap them in wax paper or caramel wrappers.

Store the caramels in a cool spot or in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Matzo-Almond Croccante – Matzoh Madness #2

It’s Matzoh Madness in my kitchen, but probably not in the typical way.  It’s becoming apparent to me that I may have bit off more than I could chew in terms of my ability to make good use of my recent purchase of a five pound superpack of matzoh.  After making my first two batches of matzoh-inspired treats (Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch) and realizing that I had only used up half of one package of matzoh, I decided to try another variation of matzoh candy.  These Matzo-Almond Croccante are more toffee/brittle like than the Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch, and everything is heated over the stovetop.  The caramel is very firm (like a brittle) and extra sweet as it’s made from white sugar and honey, and the matzoh isn’t baked, so you get a greater contrast of textures and flavors.  You may be tempted to leave out the sprinkle of sea salt and cayenne pepper on top of everything, but the heat from the cayenne provides an unexpected twist to the sweetness.  You can also customize your toppings.  My second batch was made with chopped pecans.

Mazoh is slathered with a toffee caramel (made from white sugar and honey), sprinkled with toasted sliced almonds, drizzled with dark chocolate, and dusted with Maldon sea salt flakes and cayenne pepper to create a sweet, salty, nutty, rich, and spicy package.

Matzo-Almond Croccante- Bon Appetit  2

If you look closely, you can see all the different ingredients in this close up.Matzo-Almond Croccante- Bon Appetit  5

Even after making my first batch, I still had a few sheets of matzoh left in my first 1-pound box, so I made a second batch with chopped pecans.

Matzo-Almond Croccante- Bon Appetit Pecans 2

Matzo-Almond Croccante

(From Bon Appetit)
Makes enough to fill an 18×13″ half sheet pan

Ingredients

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
5 sheets matzoh (or enough to fit a pan without overlapping or leaving gaps)
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 72% cacao), melted
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (such as Maldon)

Directions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place matzoh on sheet in a single layer, breaking as needed.  Don’t overlap matzoh too much but don’t leave any gaps.
  3. Stir sugar, butter, honey, and 1/4 cup water in a heavy saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high and boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is a deep amber color, 13–15 minutes.
  5. Pour caramel evenly over matzoh.
  6. Immediately sprinkle almonds over. Let cool.
  7. Drizzle melted chocolate over caramel.
  8. Sprinkle cayenne and salt over. Let stand until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces.

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch – Matzoh Madness #1

March Madness may be coming an end, but I’m in the midst of my own matzoh madness after buying 5 pounds of matzoh at the grocery store (the supersized pack was on sale for $6).  In my defense, I’ve only bought matzoh one other time in my life, so I wasn’t well informed about how much matzoh that really is (that’s at least 85 sheets of matzoh).   Plus, I’ve been eyeing the recipe Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch, so I’ve had matzoh on my mind recently.  Initially I thought that I would just give away some of the extra boxes of matzoh to my friends, but after tasting it, I realized that it would be like giving someone a box of Saltines (but without the salt).  So, I’m left to find as many matzoh inspired sweets to make.

First up is Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch.  At it’s most basic version, this candy consisted of a bottom layer of matzoh topped with a brown sugar caramel baked until the caramel bubbles up and gets a bit foamy.  Then dark chocolate is spread over the top (with a sprinkle of sea salt), and the result is an airy, flaky, crispy candy that you can customize in infinite way.

This is where Matzoh Madness all started…Matzoh Madness 1

There’s actually matzoh and caramel hiding underneath all that chocolate.Chocolate-Covered Carmelized Matzoh Crunch - D Lebovitz 1

This recipe magically transforms bland, boring matzoh into a crunchy, sweet, slightly salty, caramely candy.Chocolate-Covered Carmelized Matzoh Crunch - D Lebovitz 7

After making my first batch, I quickly realized that I had barely made a dent in reducing my matzoh stash as I had only used up about 1/3 of one 1-pound package.  So, I made a second batch with mesquite smoked almonds sprinkled on top.Chocolate-Covered Carmelized Matzoh Crunch Smoked Almonds- D Lebovitz 4

 Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

(From David Lebovitz)
Makes enough to fill an 18×13″ half sheet pan

Ingredients

4 to 6 sheets unsalted matzohs
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (215g) firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (160g) semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate)
1 cup (80g) toasted sliced almonds (optional)

Directions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet (I like to use an 18×13 inch half sheet pan, but this also works for an 11 x 17 inch baking sheet) completely with parchment paper, making sure it goes up and over the edges. This recipe gets messy so make sure your pan/sheet is well protected.  You can also use heavy duty foil, but I prefer parchment paper because it doesn’t stick at all.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Line the bottom of the sheet pan with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.  I prefer not to overlap the pieces, but I make sure that there are no big gaps between the sheets of matzoh.
  4. In a 3-4 quart heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  5. Add the salt and vanilla.
  6. Pour the mixture over the matzoh, spreading with a heatproof spatula.  It will be a very thin layer.
  7. Put the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up, but check every once in a while to make sure it’s not burning . If it burns in spots, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 325°F, then replace the pan.
  8. Remove the pan from oven, and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips in a thin layer over the top. Let stand for 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate with an offset spatula.
  9. While the chocolate is warm, if you wish, sprinkle with toasted almonds (or another favorite nut, toasted, and coarsely-chopped), a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, or roasted cocoa nibs.  You can lightly press the nuts into the chocolate to ensure that they stick.
  10. Let cool completely (I refrigerate after the pan has cooled down a little to help speed up the setting process), and then break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep well for about one week.

Root Beer Honey Caramels

If you feel like you’ve tasted all that caramels have to offer, then it’s time to try flavored caramels.  These soft and chewy root beer honey caramels don’t take any extra effort to make, other than substituting the usual vanilla extract with root beer extract.  The root beer flavor is smooth, creamy, and evokes the flavors of a root beer float.

Root beer honey caramels- FC 5

The directions specify NOT to scrape the bottom of the pan of cooked caramel.  But, you can gather up all the remaining caramel on the sides and bottom of the pan and eat that off the spoon.  Just make sure to cool the caramel a little so you don’t burn your tongue.

Root beer honey caramels- FC 4

Root Beer Honey Caramels

(Adapted from Fine Cooking)
Makes about 80 1-inch-square-caramels.

Ingredients

1 ­2/3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon root beer extract (I like Zatarain’s Root Beer Concentrate) or pure vanilla extract
1­ 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4­ 1/2 ounces. (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) honey
1­ 1/2 ounces. (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3 pieces
1/2 teaspoon table salt

Directions

  1. Line an 8×8 ­inch baking pan (for thicker caramel pieces) or a 9×13 quarter sheet pan (for thinner caramel pieces) with parchment paper.  Make sure the parchment goes up the sides of the pan.  Don’t worry if the parchment lifts up from the pan a bit as the weight of the caramel will push it back down.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the root beer extract (or vanilla extra, if you’re using that instead) over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to very low and keep the cream warm.
  3. Heat the sugar with the honey in a 4 ­quart or larger saucepan over medium/­high heat, stirring occasionally with a long­handled wooden spoon, until the sugar is mostly dissolved and it starts to boil, 4 to 8 minutes.  Stop stirring and brush down the sides of the pot with a clean pastry brush dipped in water to dissolve any clinging sugar crystals.
  4. Clip a candy thermometer to the pot and let the mixture boil, without disturbing the bubbling sugar, until it reaches 305°F, about 5 minutes.
  5. Rinse any sugar residue off your spoon and dry it with a towel.
  6. Add the 3 tablespoons of butter and the salt. Slowly stir in the warm cream. Be careful as the mixture will boil furiously and bubble up considerably as soon as you begin adding the cream.  The addition of the cream will cause the temperature of the mixture to drop.
  7. Continue stirring, watching the thermometer closely, until the temperature reaches 250°F (The honey makes these caramels especially soft, so even if you cook them to 250°F, they will eventually harden up a little but still remain soft). Take the pan off the heat.
  8. Immediately pour the hot caramel into the prepared pan. Do not scrape the pot.  What sticks to the pot should stay in the pot.
  9. Set the pan on a rack to cool.  Don’t disturb the pan until the caramel is fully cool and set, at least 5 hours, but preferably overnight.  If you want to speed up the cooling/firming process, you can refrigerate the pan of caramel after it has cooled down a bit and is only slightly warm.
  10. After the caramel has firmed up, remove the caramel from the pan while still on the parchment paper.  With a heavy, large knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch squares, and wrap them in cellophane, parchment, or wax paper.  Once cut, the caramels will slowly lose their shape, so it’s important to wrap them as soon as possible.

Note: The wrapped caramels will keep for about four weeks if stored in an airtight container at room temperature.  I store mine in the refrigerator and they stay fresh even longer, although they often get eaten before then.

Click here for more info on my favorite caramel making tools.

Soft Honey Cream Caramels with Mesquite Smoked Almonds

Ugh, in the past month or so, two friends have had their houses broken into and their possessions (many irreplaceable) stolen.   There’s really not much to say to them other than to express my sympathy and send them a care package. Honey cream caramels with smoked almonds are not a substitution for lost family heirlooms and savings, but here’s to hoping that the caramels bring a smile to their faces.

Soft honey caramel- A Dodge 3

Soft honey caramel- A Dodge 4

Soft Honey Cream Caramels with Mesquite Smoked Almonds

(Adapted from Mini Treats and Hand-Held Sweets by Abigail Dodge Johnson)
Makes about 80 pieces

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup (3 3/8 ounces) of nuts (I like Trader Joe’s Mesquite Smoked Almonds, and I use them whole)

Directions

  1. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan (with straight sides) or a quarter sheet baking pan (9×13 inch) with parchment or foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang on two sides.  If using foil, generously butter the bottom and sides of the foil. I typically use parchment and don’t need to butter it.
  2. Scatter the nuts (if using) evenly in the prepared baking pan.  Set the pan aside.
  3. Put the sugar, honey, heavy cream, butter, and salt in a large heavy saucepan.  Cook, stirring, over low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Cover the pan, and increase the heat to medium.  Cook, covered, for about 2 minutes to help dissolve sugar crystals that may have stuck to the sides of the pan.
  4. Uncover the pan, attach a candy thermometer, and boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 242°F.  This took me about 10 minutes.  Continue cooking the caramel until it reaches 250°F, carefully swirling/stirring the caramel in the pan over the heat to even out the color and prevent hot spots from forming.  Make sure to check the temperature often as it can heat up quickly.
  5. Pour the caramel into the prepared baking pan without scraping the bottom or sides of the saucepan, as the mixture on the sides can cause your finished caramel to be grainy and hard.  Put the baking dish on a wire rack and set aside, without stirring or jostling the pan until completely cool.  Depending on how warm your kitchen is, this can take 3 to 4 hours or overnight.  If I’m really impatient, I’ll wait until the pan has cooled a bit and then put the pan in the in the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process.  I do not put the hot pan directly into the refrigerator.
  6. The original recipe provides the following directions for cutting caramels: “To cut and serve, use the foil handles to life the caramel from the pan.  Carefully peel or tear away the foil and toss it out; put the caramel on a cutting board.  If the caramel is sticking to the cutting board, spray the board with a little oil.  Using a ruler as a guide (or by eye) and a long, sharp knife, cut crosswise into 9 equal strips and then cut each strip into 9 pieces.  Serve immediately or wrap in small pieces of waxed paper or cellophane (2 3/4-inch squares).”  My method for cutting caramels is slightly different.  I use parchment to line my pan. So, after the caramel has set in the parchment (I tend to refrigerate the caramel to firm it up a little and make it slightly easier to cut), I pull out the parchment and place it on a cutting board.  I cut the caramel directly on the parchment and peel the parchment off of the cut caramel squares.  I butter my knife to cut the caramels, and I also rinse off the caramel residue from the knife quite often as I’m cutting.  I tend to return the uncut caramel to the refrigerator to harden it as needed to make cutting easier.  Ultimately, cutting caramels can be a sticky mess, so it’s a bit of trial and error to find the way that works best for you.

Extra Notes

Caramel Wrappers
I used to cut wrappers for my caramels from parchment and wax paper, but it was so mind-numbingly tedious that it tainted the caramel making process for me.  Now I use pre-cut cellophane candy wrappers from caramelwrappers.com.  They’re sturdy, non-stick, and look “professional”, and they’re reasonably priced.  I make a lot of caramel, so I buy the 1000 pack.

Pans
My favorite non-stick pan for candy/caramel making is this type of ceramic Green Pan from Calphalon.  It heats evenly and even the stickiest substances slide right off which is perfect for caramel making.  I noticed that Costco sells the set of pans, but I was able to find my pan at a kitchen outlet store.
IMG_3536

Parchment Paper
I prefer using parchment paper over aluminum foil because I often don’t have to take the extra step of buttering/greasing it.  Parchment paper can be a bit pricey at the grocery store, but I buy it bulk (it comes in a 2 roll pack) from Costco which saves on costs.
parchment
Thermometer
I have yet to find my favorite candy making thermometer.  I haven’t had luck with accuracy of regular candy thermometers (and I find them kind of hard to read).  I have a digital thermometer made by Epica which has a temperature range from -58 to +392°F (mine is similar to this one but an older model).  It’s not a clip on though, so I have to hold it in the liquid to measure the temperature which is a bit high maintenance and tedious.  But it has been very accurate in its temperature readings.

Almonds
I love Trader Joe’s Mesquite Smoked Almonds.  They provide a unique smokiness and contrast to sweets such as caramels.  Plus, I don’t have to take the additional step to toast them.  I add them anytime I’m looking for an extra pop to my caramels or other desserts.

Rocky Road Fudge

Apparently I’m very impressionable. Someone mentioned fudge to me the other day, so I just had to try my hand at making some. This is a “cheater” rocky road fudge (chocolate, marshmallows, and cashews) recipe as you don’t need to use a candy thermometer, and very little candy making experience/skill is needed. I doubt anyone will complain though.

Rocky road fudge- Dodge

Rocky Road Fudge

Make 32 pieces
(from Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets: 100 Delicious Desserts to Pick Up and Eat by Abigail Johnson Dodge; My notes are in [  ] )

Ingredients
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
Pinch of table salt
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup mini marshmallows
4 oz milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) coarsely chopped, lightly salted peanuts [I used cashews from the bulk bin at the grocery store]

Directions

  1. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan (I like the straight sided kind) with foil, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on two sides. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the foil.
  2. Put the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl and melt in the microwave or on top of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the heat and sprinkle the cocoa powder and salt over the top. Add the condensed milk and vanilla and stir with a heatproof spatula just until well blended and smooth. If the fudge feels hot to the touch, set aside, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes. Adding the rocky road ingredients to a too-warm fudge would melt them.
  3. Add the marshmallows, chocolate chips, and peanuts [I used cashews] and mix briefly until blended. Scrape into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 6 hours or up to 2 days [My fudge hardened enough to cut after 3-4 hours].
  4. Use the foil “handles” to lift the fudge from the pan. Carefully peel or tear away the foil and toss it out; set the fudge on a cutting board. Using a ruler (or by eye) and a large knife, cut the fudge crosswise into 4 equal strips and then cut each strip into 8 pieces. Cover and stow in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Serve slightly chilled.