Nosh: Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nuggets

First things first: the original recipe I adapted this from calls them bars, but I cut them small so they’re nuggets.  OK?  Plus, it’s cuter that way.

Anyway.  Hi!  Holiday snack creation under major way in the House of Paisley, since someone (who would be me) is way, way, waaaaaay behind in her baking this season.  I have no idea what happened.  Time just got away from me.  Anyway.  This recipe is mostly easy, though it does come with a little bit of caution.  It takes a chunk of time because it involves layers setting up in your freezer and you can’t rush that.  And, I always want people to be aware when something requires working with hot sugar, which is no joke and can cause a burn.  I worked from a recipe online (that you can find here) but altered it…beeeecause…I can’t help myself.  Here’s what I used:

  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, divided
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup peanuts (meaning, 1 cup’s worth after they’ve been removed from their shells)
  • a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt, to taste

First things first: take the cream out of your fridge and let it sit on the counter.  You really do want it to be warm…or at least warm-ish…when the time comes to use it.  Shell your peanuts.  The original recipe called for the use of salted, roasted peanuts, but I used unsalted because I am a bit of a control freak and want to determine for myself how much salt goes into a recipe.  Get 4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate melting in a double-boiler.  Line a bread pan with baker’s parchment, and give the parchment a good shot of your favorite non-stick cooking spray.

Getting this parchment set may be the most difficult part of the process.

Getting this parchment set may be the most difficult part of the process.

When choosing the chocolate that’s currently melting, remember: you can use whatever sort of chocolate you’d like.  I used semi-sweet because it’s my favorite for desserts, and recommend against using milk chocolate because the caramel is pretty sweet and milk chocolate won’t provide any bitter balance.  I also wouldn’t use a chocolate that’s higher than 70% cacao unless you’re making this for hardcore chocofiends.  But.  Once the first four ounces of chocolate have melted, pour it into your prepared bread pan and add a sprinkling of salt over it.

Step one: complete.

Step one: complete.

Put this in the freezer to set for 15-ish minutes.  Keep your double-boiler handy, since you’re going to use it again for the second batch of chocolate.

While this is heating, gather up the peanuts and cream (measured out to 1/3 cup, so it’s ready to use).  Put the sugar and water in a sauce pot and start heating it over low-to-medium heat, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid turns clear.  Stir it occasionally, but not too much.  While the sugar is turning into syrup, chop the white chocolate.  You will want it to be fairly small.

Try to resist nibbling.  But go on, have a taste.  :)

Try to resist nibbling. But go on, have a taste. 🙂

So, peanuts, cream, white chocolate, and a heat-proof silicone stirrer, all close at hand?  Great.  Because this stage moves along fairly quickly.  Get the chocolate layer out of the freezer and have that handy, too.  When the sugar starts to look like this:

Looks like sweet toasty napalm!

Looks like sweet toasty napalm!

And by “this” I mean, golden on the edges with slow thick bubbles, then take the pot and slowly start to swirl the sugar, over heat, until it turns rich brown and smells like deep caramel.

For the love of all that is holy, resist sticking your finger in to have a taste.

For the love of all that is holy, resist sticking your finger in to have a taste.

Move this off the heat and be ready to move fast.  The cream goes in first, and it will bubble fiercely.  Don’t freak out, it’s OK, just stir it in really quickly.  Follow that with the peanuts and chocolate.  You may notice that the candy is giving some resistance; it’s cooling and trying to set, which it will do as soon as it’s able, which is why you A) don’t want to use cold cream, because the cold will make the sugar set even faster and B) need everything close by and ready for use.  Give it all a couple of stirs until everything is fully incorporated, then pour it on top of the frozen chocolate and smooth it out into a nutty layer.  Sprinkle with a little more salt, if you’re so inclined.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas noms.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas noms.

Put this back in the freezer.  Go have some lunch, because this should set for about 45 minutes.

Once your peanut layer is frozen, put the second batch of chocolate on the double-boiler.  Melt that, pour it on top, put it back in the freezer.  Leave it alone for another half an hour.  When it’s fully frozen, take it from the freezer and lift it out of the bread pan with the parchment.  Peel off the parchment and put it on a cutting board.

Like so.

Like so.

Then take your trusty chef’s knife and cut it into whatever size pieces you want.  I like bite-size, because they’re adorable and you don’t have to commit to an entire bar.  These are kind of like biting into a slightly harder Snickers, and oh…they’re so good.  Creamy, chocolately, peanutty…if you show up with these at a family event you’re sure to become the favorite niece or nephew soon enough, and work your way to the top of crazy Uncle Arthur’s will.

All is nommy and bright.

All is nommy and bright.

If only I had a crazy Uncle Arthur.

And so.  The biggest problem I find with these?  Is that they manage to get in your mouth.  Relentlessly.  🙂  Enjoy!

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Nosh: Apple Cider Caramels

It’s the holidays, and holidays mean candy-making!  Of some kind, anyway.  In my house, anyway.  I really like to make candy, and it’s not as hard as I thought it would be before my first candy-making venture, oh so long ago.  Just…please…respect the sugar.  More on that later.

So I was reading through my Food & Wine magazine, and there was this lovely recipe for apple cider caramels.  I adore soft caramels; I always have and I always will, much to the chagrin of my dentist.  I’ve made them plain, I’ve made salted, I’ve infused them with lavender.  But cider?  Fall harvest deliciousness plus long-standing favorite candy?  Yes, please!  Tell me more!

Actually…before you go on, get the cider started because reducing a half-gallon of cider down to two cups takes FOR.  EVER.  Keep it at a nice, even, medium heat; you don’t want to scorch your cider, nor do you want it to take any longer than it must.  Use the best cider that you can (remember, great ingredients = great food), though I would probably eschew anything excessively pulpy to avoid creating texture issues.

Looks kind of sludgy.  Gets better.  Promise.

Looks kind of sludgy. Gets better. Promise.

You can literally ignore this for the first 45 minutes or so that it’s on the stove, barring (of course) basic stovetop maintenance, i.e., making sure the cat isn’t sticking his nose in your pan or a toddler isn’t pulling boiling cider onto her head.  After the first 45, kind of keep a closer eye on it until you see a real change in texture; it will go from, you know, juice-ish consistency to something that’s kind of thick and glossy.  Keep a measuring cup nearby and just sort of pour it in when you think the reduction is getting close, to check how much you actually have.  If it hasn’t reduced enough?  Back in the pot until it’s ready to be checked again.

And so on.

FYI, you can park your cider once it’s reduced if, say…you have to get to Zumba class and need to take a pause in your pursuit of the perfect caramel.  Be forewarned: the reduced cider will congeal into a solid amber gel.  It’s a little freakish, but once you put it into a pot with sugar and heat it up it will break right back down, no harm, no foul.

Next: get your cream and milk going in one pot, and your sugar, water, corn syrup and (congealed or not) cider in another.  It should look a little something like this.

Notice my bizarro glob of cidery goo in the pot on the back burner?  No sweat, it melts.

Notice my bizarro glob of cidery goo in the pot on the back burner? No sweat, it melts.

Wait for the cream to warm through and the sugar to dissolve into a smooth, incorporated syrup.  Once that’s happened, whisk in a stick of butter and then the cream mixture, carefully, and this is where I added the spices as the recipe called for even though it says to add them later (my one deviation from how the recipe was written).  Let it turn from golden syrup…

It looks so shiny and inviting.

It looks so shiny and inviting.

…into a bubbling cauldron of sweet molten napalm.

OK, look.  I know I always say this when I make candy, but it’s always true: hot sugar will mess you up but good.  This candy requires you raise its temperature to 245°F, and as sugar gets hot, it gets sticky.  If you plunged your hand into a pot of 245°F water and then pulled it out, it would suck–a lot–but as soon as your hand was out of the water it would at least start to cool.  The sugar, however, would retain its heat, not cool nearly as quickly (so it would continue to cook your hand meat) and would stick to you.  Ow.  Here’s a short video I took of the caramel in process; consider it my version of a PSA.

Seriously, kids.  Don’t try this at home.

The things I endure for friends and family.  🙂

Anyway.

Once you’ve cooked your sugar to the freakish 245°F, remove the candy thermometer and pour your caramel into a pan you have waiting, lined with aluminum foil and a coating of nonstick cooking spray.

It gets much less scary after this.

It gets much less scary after this.

Let it cool, and once it’s cooled off enough to manage, cover the pan and put it in the fridge overnight.  And then sit down and relax, since you’ve survived the Night of Boiling Sugar.  The next day you’ll just be involved in the grunt work of cutting and wrapping your caramels, and eating them as you wrap.  🙂

Next day:

Out of the pan and onto a cutting board.  Mark off one-inch sections with your handy kitchen ruler, and then start slicing into your caramel.  It helps to coat your knife with a shot of non-stick spray, because by its nature caramel will stick to everything.

And so the chopping begins.

And so the chopping begins.

Then mark off half-inch sections in each row of caramel.  Set up a workstation for yourself with a ruler (it sounds ridiculous, but my baking and candy making skills turned a corner when I realized I could use your basic ruler in the kitchen), wax paper and/or commercial candy wrappers, some scissors and a big-ass tray to hold them all in.  Then go for it.  There’s no other way around it.

Be a pnnacle of industry!

Be a pinnacle of industry!

Slice, wrap, toss in the tray; slice, wrap, toss in the tray.  Get some good music on while you do it to make things move more fluidly.  I believe I listened to a friend’s mixlr broadcast that day, because how can you not want to listen to the King of Jingaling while you wrap candies?  Before you know it, you’ll go from naked cider caramels to…

:D  Yes, please!

😀 Yes, please!

Missing, of course, the half dozen or so I ate along the way.  For quality control purposes, you understand.

These are delicious.  They really do bring all the fun of a caramel apple without the bother of trying to fit your chops around a giant piece of candied fruit.  I’m sure I’ll make other caramels in my lifetime, but these will remain in my candy repertoire for a long, long time to come.  You should try it!  It’s fun, and people always give you that, “Ooh!  You made this?” squee, which provides its own benefits.  And you can’t support an economy much more local than the one in your own kitchen.  Go for it, folks.  I’m cheering you on!

Just be careful with the hot sugar.

Festive Christmakwanukkastice!

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