On the 4th Day of Christmas my sweet tooth gave to me Pecan Caramels.

Is there anything more fabulous and frustrating at the same time than candy-making?  I have almost been brought to tears many times over a flopped batch of fudge or caramels that were rock hard.  I think the only thing that can make it any easier is practicing.

I have finally gotten the art of caramels down (at least this year :)) and I really think the key to success is a good thermometer.  The one that I have is this one that I purchased at Williams Sonoma for not too bad of a price.

(source:  Williams Sonoma)

The thing about a candy thermometer is it is very boring to watch until about 10 degrees before your goal temperature and then things really take off.  You must watch it oh so closely and remove your pan immediately when you see your target number.  If you do that and remember to butter your pan well before pouring the molten mixture into it, it should be smooth sailing.

 

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What candy have you had trouble making but then mastered with practice?

melt butter in a medium saucepan

add sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, nuts and corn syrup and attach candy thermometer to pan

bring mixture to a boil and heat until thermometer reads 240 degrees

add vanilla and pour into well-buttered pan

cool completely then cut caramels and wrap in wax paper

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On the 5th Day of Christmas my sweet tooth gave to me Classic Cut-out Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing.

Christmas really cannot be complete without decorating cut-out cookies with icing and sprinkles if you ask me.  I have been marveling and gawking over the cookie artistry by Sweet Sugar Belle for some time now and although I knew my cookies would look nothing like hers, I had to try using royal icing to see if there was something magical about it.  All royal icing is is powdered sugar, meringue powder, water and extract.

Let’s just say my first attempt did not go so well.

I had some frosting left after this batch of cookies and so I thought I would make another batch of cut-outs and modify my frosting a bit.  Well naturally, I ran out of frosting and then made another entire batch of frosting!!  I was exhausted but I decided to stick with it and power through.  The recipe for Royal Icing that I have included here is from Sweet Sugar Belle and it is really simple to follow.  That is not the problem.  The difficult part comes in knowing how much to thin that original batch of icing to make it the correct consistency for either piping around the edges or “flooding” the inside of your piping.  What finally helped me with that is this video from Sweetopia.  In the video, she teaches you about the “10-second rule and the 5-second rule” and basically all that means is that for piping consistency, when you drag a knife through your frosting, you want the groove that the knife made to fill itself in in 10 seconds and 5 seconds for the flood icing.  Just watch the video, it shows and tells you all you need to know.

My review of royal icing:

  • When the icing dries, it dries very hard and becomes crunchy which makes the cookies very easy to store and transport without fear of the icing getting smudged.
  • You need to make a time commitment if you plan to try decorating with royal icing for the first time.  Just making the frosting itself again, is not difficult or too time consuming.  The time consuming part comes in when you divide your icing in two and then thin each of those to piping and flood consistency.  Then from there you have 2 bowls of white icing.  So then you need to assemble piping bags with appropriately sized tips of different colors and each color you make you will likely need 1 bag of the piping and 1 bag of the flood consistency icing.  YOU DO THE MATH of how long this takes.  I would figure about an hour just to get your frosting ready.
  • It is recommended that you bake your cookies a day ahead and then frost so that the oil from the cookies does not leach into the frosting.  You can guess if I listened to that rule or not :).
  • Once you have the icing made, it really is lovely to work with.  What I did was pipe around certain areas that I wanted to outline and then wait maybe 10 minutes for the piping to set up and then come back and flood those areas to fill in between my piping lines.
  • All that I really have to compare royal icing to is my typical powdered sugar icing that I simply make with powdered sugar, some extract and milk.

If you have been curious about royal icing, I definitely think it is worth a try.  Just make sure you have lots of time and patience and just let yourself get lost in it and if you are like me, you will enjoy the creative outlet.

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On the 6th Day of Christmas my sweet tooth gave to me Caramel Pecan Turtle Bars.

I don’t need too look at a calendar to know how near Christmas is.   I can simply look in the mirror.  Yesterday when I looked, I had frosting on my cheek and powdered sugar in my hair and today I have acquired some nice burns on my hand thanks to caramel making.  Yep, no need for a calendar.

I have a secret confession to make: I am loving the Justin Bieber Christmas album!  I have never had the Bieber Fever before and I still don’t know if I have a full case yet, but I have been jamming out the Glee Holiday station on Pandora and they throw in quite a bit of the Bieb and I am becoming a Belieber!  My sister swears that if you watch his movie you will become a convert so I really should watch that with her over the holiday.

(source)

Anyway, enough about J Biebs, lets talk sweets.  I posted a photo of these Caramel Pecan Turtle Bars when I hosted the Fine Cooking giveaway a couple of weeks ago and promised that the recipe was to come.  These bars have a  shortbread crust which is topped with pecan-studded caramel and all topped with an irresistible chocolate ganache.  Everything a sweet tooth needs to be content and then some.

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 make shortbread crust dough and pressed into foil-lined and greased pan

bake

sprinkle pecans over crust

combine ingredients for caramel in heavy saucepan

bring to a boil and heat until thermometer reaches 240 degrees

pour caramel over crust and cool

make ganache and drizzle over bars

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On the 7th Day of Christmas, my sweet tooth gave to me Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

I think that this would be the most difficult time of the year to have a restricted diet.  There are so many temptations around and if you have a food allergy or intolerance, you know that you will pay the price if you give in.  So I wanted to make a treat for the people in our lives who have a gluten intolerance.  There are so many gluten-free prepackaged foods, but nothing says you care like a homemade treat.

I made 14 of these mini loaves (9 regular and 5 gluten-free) and gave them to co-workers as a way of saying “Merry Christmas”.  I don’t have a lot of experience with tasting different gluten-free items but one of the gentlemen I work has gluten intolerance and when I brought in chocolate chip cookies that I had made out of the Babycakes cookbook, he said they were the best he had ever tasted.  So I was anxious to try another recipe and I hope he likes this bread just as well.

This recipe could also be made vegan if you simply substitute vegan chocolate chips.

To me, giving a gift from my kitchen is a way of showing love and appreciation to those people that bring joy to my life.

Are you making any special treats to accommodate anyone with different dietary needs this holiday season?

Also, my Triple Chocolate Mint Fudgies are in a cookie contest over at The Family Kitchen and I would greatly appreciate your vote!  All you need to do is leave a comment at the end of the post saying that you vote for “Triple Chocolate Mint Fudgies”!  Thank you!

VOTE FOR TRIPLE CHOCOLATE MINT FUDGIES HERE!

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On the 8th Day of Christmas my sweet tooth gave to me White Chocolate, Pistachio, Dried berry and cherry Biscotti.  Try to sing that over and over again.

Oh sweet teeth, time has gotten away from me.  Christmas is less than a week away and even though I am finished shopping and wrapping, I feel like I haven’t even started baking!  How is that possible you say?  Well up until now, I have been making lots of baked gifts to share with others.  Now I need to start on treats to share with my family as we sip hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps while opening presents like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Before I move on to baking for my own pleasure, I have to share with you a couple of treats that I passed along to others.

This biscotti recipe is from my favorite TV chef Giada DeLaurentiis.  I love most things that she and the Barefoot Contessa make and this biscotti is something that I make to share time and time again.  It also doesn’t hurt that it is Christmas colored:  green pistachios, red berries and cherries and white chocolate.

Trader Joe’s sells a dried mix of strawberries, blueberries and cherries and that is what I use for this biscotti.  Even though it is twice-baked which sounds like a pain, biscotti truly is one of the easiest things to bake.  And I love that, like regular cookies, the flavor combination possibilities are endless.

And as always sweet teeth, do me a favor and please enjoy your biscotti after dunking it into something to soften it and make it incisor-friendly.

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 mix eggs, oil, sugar and extract

add dry ingredients

add pistachios, dried berries and white chocolate

drop dough onto cookie sheet and form into loaves with wet fingers

bake at 350 for 30 minutes and cool

slice into 1-inch pieces, place upright and bake again at 325 degrees for 20 minutes

dip or drizzle with white chocolate

 

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