Christmas Baking

Here’s my Christmas sweets and baking list.  Marshmallow cream fudge – chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter, and white chocolate, 6 layer bars, snowball cookies, cinnamon swirl-sour cream bread, banana bread, peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies for Santa, cheesecake for Christmas dinner and applesauce-cinnamon ornaments.

Yes, it’s a tad late to be starting on my holiday baking, but I didn’t think it was such a hot idea to bake  too much while I was regularly trying to cough up a lung. But my cough has finally waned, so I feel like I can bake without posting an “baked with love and germs” note on all of my baked goods.

I’ve been making marshmallow cream fudge since long before I knew much about cooking and if I tried a different recipe my family would probably up and move out of the house.  I’m a fan of making things from scratch as much as I can and forgoing processed food full of preservatives as much as possible, but I absolutely make an exception for marshmallow cream fudge.  I love how the fluffy stuff lightens up the confection and there seems to be enough non synthetic-chemical enhanced  ingredients in the recipe to kill the chemical taste.  I follow the recipe on the marshmallow cream jar with a few changes depending on the flavor.  The first thing is that I use Ghiradelli chocolate.  I fell in love with Ghiradelli when I went to San Fransisco when I was 21 and toured the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory at Fisherman’s Wharf.  Since then European baking chocolate has become pretty easy to find, even in most grocery stores and reasonably affordable.  I’ve tried several different brands, but I always come back to Ghiradelli to make brownies and fudge  (and their Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa makes the best hot chocolate ever, in my opinion).

I use the  60% Cacao Bittersweet chocolate to make my dark chocolate fudge and their semi-sweet chocolate for the regular chocolate fudge and follow the general directions for Fantasy Fudge on the marshmallow cream jar (sans nuts, my kids are crazy, but not nutty).  The white chocolate and peanut butter versions are a little trickier.  Good white chocolate should have cocoa butter as the first listed ingredient (at least 20%).  But that means it’s a lot softer and oilier than regular chocolate.  So for the white chocolate and the peanut butter, I reduce the amount of butter and cook it a little longer.

Here’s the recipe with all the variations.

Marshmallow Cream Fudge

3 cups sugar – 21 0z

3/4 cup unsalted butter – 6 0z  (no, I will not use margarine to bake or cook, ever) for chocolate or dark chocolate  or

1/2 cup unsalted butter – 4 oz  for white chocolate or peanut butter

2/3 cup of evaporated milk – 6 oz

1/4 teaspoon of salt for chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon for peanut butter

12 oz of semi-sweet, bittersweet or white chocolate (3 bars of Ghiradelli) or 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter – 14 1/4 oz

1   7 0z jar of marshmallow cream

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract for chocolate or dark chocolate, 2 teaspoons for white chocolate or 1/2 teaspoon for peanut butter.

1 cup of nuts – optional

Break the chocolate into reasonably small pieces, they don’t have to be tiny by any means, your sugar syrup is going to be over 200 degrees, it will melt a good sized piece of chocolate.  Ghiradelli baking bars can be broken into the squares marked on the bars.  Set aside.

Now the recipe on the jar tells you to mix the sugar, butter and evaporated milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly  in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes.  This might get you the texture you want and then again it might not.  In my case, usually not.  If I don’t use a candy thermometer I almost always crystalize my sugar.

So I mix the sugar, butter, salt and evaporated milk  in a heavy saucepan.  Clip on my handy-dandy candy thermometer (I have a brand new digital one to try this year, I can’t wait) and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicon whisk and cook until it reaches the lower end of soft ball stage (which is  235-245 degrees) for chocolate or dark chocolate or the upper end for white chocolate or peanut butter .  Then I add the chocolate or peanut butter and stir like fire with a wooden spoon for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture goes from shiny to matte (an Alton Brown trick to keep the sugar from crystalizing).   Add the vanilla and the marshmallow cream, stirring until the marshmallow is mixed in (or not, it looks kind of neat all streaky).  Add in the nuts if you got ’em  and pour into an 8 x 8 or 9 x 13 in pan (I line mine with foil or waxed paper for easy removal and clean-up).   Cool until it’s set and room temp all the way through.  Cut into squares, eat and go into sugar shock.

Two of the above recipes are so easy that they don’t require a full post.  My 6 layer bars are Magic Bars without, you guessed it, the nuts, which is why they only have 6 layers.  I love this recipe, you don’t have to mix anything, you melt the butter in your baking pan, pour in the graham cracker crumbs, mix them with the butter, press into the bottom of the pan with a spoon, sprinkle the chocolate and butterscotch chips in the pan (I don’t even bother to measure them out, I use about half of a bag), sprinkle on the coconut, pour a can of sweetened condensed milk over the whole deal and bake them for half an hour at 350 degrees F.  Voila and yum.

The apple sauce-cinnamon ornaments are a tradition in my house, we have to make new ones every couple of years because they aren’t terribly durable and we add new people to the family.  You take equal amounts of cheap applesauce and cheap cinnamon (seriously, you’re not eating it, so don’t splurge on expensive Vietnamese cinnamon – generic will do fine).  Stir the cinnamon into the applesauce until you have a stiff, but malleable dough.  Throw in any old ground holiday spices you might have taking up space in your spice cabinet if you want to, ground ginger, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg.  If they’ve been in there for more than a year or two the smell will add a nice touch to the ornaments but probably won’t taste very good.  Just make sure you are at about equal proportions apple sauce to spices.  Roll the dough out to 1/4 – 1/8 of an inch and use holiday cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  If you want to use them as ornaments use a straw to punch out a little hole in the top to thread a ribbon through.  We write names on ours while they are still wet so everyone has a new ornament.  You can even fancy them up and wait until they are dry and decorate with glitter. Some recipes say to just dry them for 24 hours on a cooling rack, but I prefer to to put mine in the oven at 150 degrees F for 2-3 hours until they are completely dried through and there are no damp spots in the middle.  The cooking method makes them a bit more brittle, but the smell that infuses your house is worth it.

I’ll post the recipes for the rest of my list over the next few days.  The snowball cookies are new for me, but the rest of them, I’ve made for years, though I  haven’t decided what flavor of cheese cake to do yet, so that might end up being a new adventure since I’d like to try something different.

5 Layer Birthday Bars

Those following the blog know that I’m in charge of birthday cakes at work.  The guys usually opt for cakes with fruit in them (herehere, and here).  I knew when my birthday rolled around, there would be chocolate.  And I also knew I would be making it myself.  Don’t think any of the guys are really into baking.   Luckily, my sister-in-law Tracie came to the rescue and sent me home with a make-it-yourself-5 Layer Bar-kit.  Consisting of  all the ingredients but two, all I had to do was layer it in a pan.

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My birthday isn’t until Thursday, but I knew today everyone would be in the office, so it seemed the best day to bring in a treat.  Here’s the recipe:

5-Layer Bars

  • 1-1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup melted butter

Mix together in a 9x12x2″ pan, press over bottom.  Layer with:

  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 chopped pecans
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Drizzle with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Let cool before cutting.

    Thanks Tracie, everyone loved them!

    Thursday Night Menu: Rhymes with Orange

    I’m travelling, so if you’re reading this, it actually posted itself. Yay! Sometimes I really want oranges. Orange juice, orange popsicles, orange dreamsicles, orange chicken, and oranges, lots of oranges*. When I originally put this menu together, I worried that there would be too much orange with both the chicken and the salad. But the chicken flavor is subtle; more of a tangy citrus and the orange salad compliments it nicely. Instead of bread you can try couscous or a nice variety of rice, I’m into brown Jasmine these days. Chocolate is the perfect finish to an orange themed dinner, so fire up the grill, get out your sticks,  put on your scout cap and make some S’Mores.

    On the board tonight:

    1. Orange Grilled Chicken
    2. Orange Salad
    3. Artisan Bread with garlic butter
    4. S’Mores

    Orange Grilled Chicken – Marinate Overnight

    • ½ cup orange juice concentrate
    • ¼ cup limejuice
    • 2 tsp crushed garlic
    • 1 tsp dried mint, crushed
    • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • ¼ tsp salt & pepper
    • 4 boneless chicken breasts

    zip-lock bag, bowl, brush & saucepan

    Mix together all ingredients and marinate overnight in a ziplock bag or sealed container. Remove chicken from marinade and set aside. Add marinade to saucepan and boil until reduced by half, stirring constantly. Grill chicken over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes until no longer pink in the center (170ºf). Baste frequently with sauce after the first 5 minutes.

    To keep chicken from drying out, sear both sides (about 3-5 minutes) over direct heat and finish cooking away from direct flame.

    Orange Salad

    • 1 head red leaf lettuce
    • 3 oranges, peeled, remove pith and slice in thin circles
    • 1 cucumber, peeled & sliced
    • 1 red onion, thinly sliced rings
    • 4 oz slivered almonds
    • 2 tbsp orange juice
    • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
    • ½ cup olive oil
    • 1 tbsp honey
    • ¼ tsp ea. Oregano, cumin & salt
    • 1/8 tsp pepper

    serving bowl

    Tear leaves and arrange in bowl. Layer oranges, cucumber, onion and almonds. Whisk together remaining ingredients and drizzle over lettuce mixture.

    Menu serves 4

    Shopping List:

    • Loaf of Artisan Bread
    • 1 stick of butter
    • 16 oz box of graham crackers
    • 1 bag marshmallows
    • 4 chocolate bars (okay, to be authentic I think they should be Hersheys)
    • 6 oz can frozen orange juice concentrate
    • 3 oz limejuice
    • 4 boneless chicken breasts
    • 1 head red leaf lettuce
    • 3 navel oranges
    • 1 cucumber
    • 1 red onion
    • 4 oz slivered almonds

    Also: lots of crushed garlic, dried mint, oregano, ground ginger, salt, pepper, cumin, white wine vinegar, honey

    *BTW, still looking for a really good orange smoothie recipe. Please and thank you.