Geekamama


2 Comments

A pair of sweeties

For Valentine’s Day I made cherry and blackberry fruit jellies. I half-dipped some of them in dark and white chocolate, and rolled the rest in sugar. They ended up distinctly different, even though both kids of treats started from the same foundation.

The ingredients aren’t far off from what you would use if you were making homemade Jell-O blocks. The jellies have a lot more sugar than the gelatine blocks, and the fruit flavoring comes from jam instead of juice. This means that you’ve got the pectin in the jam to help the gelatine do its gellin’ thing, producing firmer blocks. The recipe also calls for citric acid, which is used as a preservative and sometimes as a stabilizer for ice cream.

(Fun fact: Vitamin C, often associated with citrus fruits, is ascorbic acid, not citric. Rather than go off on a tangent about how they differ, I’ll just refer you to here, here, and here.)

The ingredients for the fruit jellies

This was one of the simplest candies I’ve tried so far, and probably the only one where the recipes in my two candy cookbooks were almost identical. Mix everything up, bring to a boil for a few minutes, then pour into a well-buttered pan. Then into the fridge for several hours, or in our case, overnight.

Mix it up, pour into the pan

It took some effort to get the jelly slab out of the pan after it had set up. When I’d made caramels, that recipe had suggested a pizza cutter to slice up the slab, so I tried it on the jellies as well.

Cutting the jellies

.

Well, this looks like trouble! He’s standing on a small stepstool, but I suspect it won’t be long until he doesn’t need that anymore.

Cornstarch kept the cut jellies from sticking to the pan, the parchment paper, and each other. It also got all over the counter, the floor, and my sweater. You know what’s really dumb? Wearing a black sweater while working with cornstarch. No, you don’t get to see those pictures.

I let them chill for another 24 hours or so, and then got on with the dipping. I used compound coating because it was quick and easy, and because I hadn’t yet gotten any practice with tempering and dipping real chocolate. The blackberry jellies got the while vanilla coating, and the cherry ones got the dark cocoa.

Dark and white candy melts

I didn’t dip them all the way because I wanted people to be able to see the jellies inside, not just taste them. It ended up being a lot of work, so I only did about half of them in this way.

Dipping blackberry jellies in white chocolate coating

.

The final result! They weren’t as beautiful as I’d envisioned, but they tasted great. I took most of them to work as a Valentine’s Day treat for my co-workers.

After all that, I still had half a batch of undipped jellies, and I wasn’t wild about doing the compound coating again. Both the books had suggested rolling them in granulated sugar, so after we got tired of nibbling the naked jellies, I gave sugaring a shot.

I found the easiest and least-risk-of-sticking method was to use a spoon to cover the jelly square with sugar and then to roll it around.

The blackberry ones got regular white sugar, and the cherry ones got pink sugar. Colored sugar is super easy to make: one cup of white sugar, plus 10 to 12 drops of liquid food coloring. Combine in a Ziploc bag, and shake the bejeebers out of it. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I got a nice pink color.

And here’s how this bunch turned out.

The texture difference between the two styles is interesting. With the enrobed ones, the coating was a solid coating containing a soft center. I’d intended that the jelly flavor would dominate and that the coating would be just a flavored container. But the only way to get that effect was to eat it upside down. If I try this again, maybe I’ll dip the top halves instead.

The sugared ones have a more consistent jelly texture, with the graininess of the sugar as a minor contrast. I was worried that adding more sugar would make them too sweet, especially to the already-very-sweet blackberry jellies, but that turned out not to be the case. They’re much easier to handle too. They’re still sticky, but they can touch each other without fusing into a blob.

As usual (if two posts defines a “usual’) the post-mortem!

Lessons learned:

  • Be open to changing your plan. I had this vision of chocolate-dipped jellies that I wouldn’t let go of. Sugaring them was both easier and (in my opinion) produced a better result. In addition, I’d been determined to have two flavors, when one would have been plenty and would have saved a lot of time and work.
  • Consider how the components will react with each other. Jellies will melt with they get too warm. Melted compound coating is rather warm. The blackberry jellies were leaving purple streaks in the vanilla, and I had to keep stirring it up to get a uniform color. I’m sure the cherry ones were too, but it was harder to tell with the dark cocoa coating.
  • Dipping is harder than it looks. Half-dipping? Good grief. I think it would work with something like a mini candy bar where I could hold one end, but trying to manage blocks this small got frustrating. I’d also made them too small for my dipping forks, so I had to use regular table forks.

Changes for next time:

  • Single batch rather than taking on two flavors
  • Sugar the whole batch, don’t bother with dipping unless I’m feeling really ambitious.
  • Try not to be overambitious.
Advertisements


1 Comment

Birthday treats!

Penuche is a brown sugar fudge-type candy. It’s got no chocolate, but the finished texture is similar to traditional fudge, and the cooking process is basically identical once you get past combining the ingredients. From what I can dig up online, it’s primarily Hispanic in origin, although Wikipedia claims that it was once very popular in Hawaii. It’s still pretty well-known in the southern parts of the U.S.A., although less common elsewhere. I’d never heard it pronounced (and thus was mispronouncing it pa-noosh instead of pe-noo-chi) but I think I’d read about it somewhere or other… probably in cookbooks from previous generations.

Since I was feeling both creative and generous, I decided to bring treats to share with the class my co-workers for my birthday. Technically it was the day before my birthday, but I didn’t expect many people to be in the office on a Saturday.

One of my cookbooks has a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie dough fudge that’s based on penuche. The recipe looks fantastic and I can’t wait to make it; the only problem is that it calls for a stand mixer and ours is out of commission. I considered using a hand mixer but after reading the steps, I realized why the brute strength of a stand mixer is needed. Since I couldn’t make that recipe, I fiddled around and came up with a variation that I hoped would suggest chocolate chip cookies. My plan was to make a cookie-crumb crust along the lines of a graham cracker crust, then pour the penuche over that to set up, and top it off with miniature chocolate chips. It didn’t turn out quite how I’d envisioned it, but it was close, and got positive reviews from my officemates, family and friends.

For the crust, I used Alton Brown’s recipe for The Thin chocolate chip cookie. I wanted something that was more on the crispy side, so that it would crumble up more easily. I left the chips out because I didn’t want to pick them out of the crumbs later. This resulted in some rather naked-looking cookies.

I baked the cookies the night before I made the rest of the components, so that they’d have time to cool and get crunchy.

The penuche recipe I used is basically the one from The Joy of Cooking, except I replaced half the brown sugar with white sugar, and I increased the recipe by 50 percent.

One of the best cooking habits I’ve gotten into (not just for candy but pretty much everything) is to gather and prep everything, and even measure out ingredients ahead of time before I even turn on the stove. Soooo much easier to have that right at hand mid-recipe, rather than trying to chop or measure while also keeping track of what’s going on elsewhere.

And now, get to cookin’! Combine the ingredients (other than the vanilla and butter which go in later), cook without stirring up to 238 F, then remove from heat, float the butter and vanilla on top, and let it cool — again, without stirring — to 110.

Meanwhile, my Chief Taste Tester and Personal Brute Squad was tasked with crushing the cookies. That champagne bottle next to the stove top is what I’d been trying to crush them with, until my CTTPBS stepped up to the plate… er, counter.

My base crust was just cookie crumbs and butter, combined and then pressed down flat in a 9×13 pan. I used the time while the penuche was cooling to get the crust ready. In retrospect, I should have gone with a thinner layer of crumbs, and possibly found something other than just butter to use as a binder for the crust. Because– well, you’ll see soon enough.

Once the penuche had set up for about an hour, I sprinkled chocolate chips over the top. I think I should have done it a little sooner, because the top was already firm enough that the chips didn’t really stick. And next time I’ll be more generous with the chips as well. Next time, wall-to-wall chips!

The following morning, I attempted to cut out little circles with my new biscuit cutters. The idea was that they’d look like cute little round cookie bites. The upper two-thirds of the team went along with this plan quite nicely, but the cookie crust crumbled.

I was bummed, to put it mildly. I almost gave up on taking them to work. After some grumbling and muttering, I fell back to my second plan, which was to cut squares rather than circles. That worked better.

And off to work I went, and made many new friends.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had these leftover naked cookies to deal with. They tasted fine without the chips so I could have just left them as they were, but I had a bunch of mini chips left over as well. So I melted the chips and channeled my inner Jackson Pollack. (Do you know how hard it is to take pictures with one hand while drizzling chocolate with the other? I do.)

So, lessons learned (because engineers habitually do post-release analyses, even when off the clock).

  • Making test batches is a good idea and they let your spouse take goodies in to the office too. (This is what led me to adjusting the JoC recipe.)
  • Test out as many components as possible before bringing them all together. If I’d tried a proof-of-concept crust with just one or two cookies, I might have known how to adjust it to make it work the way I wanted.
  • Don’t tell people how something was “supposed to” turn out. Let them enjoy it as-is (because they will), and pretend you meant to do that.

Changes for next time:

  • Much thinner cookie crust
  • More chocolate chips
  • Experiment with penuche recipes to find one with a creamier end result. Mine ended up more on the grainy side, which was still very tasty although not quite what I’d intended.


5 Comments

Hot Sugar Action

It’s a new year! Time for the standard resolutions that will be dropped in a couple of months (eat better! exercise more! write in the darn blog more than once a month!). But it’s also a fine time to focus on a new hobby.

Lately I’ve been exploring the world of candymaking–or, as my husband and I joke, gettin’ some hot sugar action. A few months ago I picked up a book on it (Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home), partly because I was interested in learning how to dip things in chocolate, but perhaps more because the cover looked good enough to nibble.

Reading it whetted my appetite for learning more. I’ve got lots of friends who are amazing bakers, but candymaking is an area where I don’t have many people’s brains to pick, so I’ve had to do online research and experimentation. The book’s recipe for saltwater taffy just gave us hard candy; success was found elsewhere. For Christmas I received another book: Candymaking. Both have been helpful in their own way: Candymaking has a lot more variety in each area, but Sweet Confections features a photo of every single recipe, which can be incredibly helpful.

It’s ironic that even though chocolate was my gateway temptation, it’s one area where I’ve done very little further work. For chocolate to stay stable at room temperature and not require refrigeration, it needs to be properly tempered. On top of that, I’ve found there are many different ideas on what’s the best way to dip chocolates, or at least the non-round ones. (For round ones, the consensus appears to be that hand-dipping is best–and yes, that means using your hands to coat the centers with chocolates.)

At any rate, I’m having a lot of fun with it, and will likely be writing more about my candymaking adventures in the future. I’ve got some favorites already, and some drool-worthy ideas of what to try next. I’ve also been compiling a mental list of equipment I’m going to need at some point. To my husband’s chagrin, one of those dream items is a new kitchen. I’ll just have to keep him plied with caramels, and maybe one day he’ll concede.


2 Comments

Otterly adorable

Last night was Halloween, and as tradition dictates, we dressed Kiddo up and sheparded him around to collect candy. Not for him, of course; he’s still young enough that we limit the amount of straight-up sugar that he gets. That three-quarters of a pound that he picked up will mostly be consumed by Mom and Dad. I don’t think he’ll mind, though. Heck, I don’t think he’ll even notice.

Halloween around here is different from what I remember as a kid. I had the stereotypical small-town experience, dressing up in a costume roomy enough to fit over my winter coat and going door to door with my friends and someone’s parent. In the Seattle area, it seems like most of the trick-or-treating happens indoors. Kids still go door to door, but it’s office door to office door. I’m not sure whether this is due to increasing parental paranoia or just a nod to the often-unfriendly weather.

We took Kiddo around in my husband’s office building at Microsoft. The weekend before, I’d coaxed him into trying on his costume by telling him that if he wore it, people would give him candy. Frankly, I don’t know whether he understood what this “candy” meant, but he thought it sounded good enough to give it a shot. And once he discovered his tail and the whiskers tickling his forehead, he was sold. 

At first, Kiddo wasn’t quite sure how trick-or-treating worked , but he learned quickly. Then he really had fun wandering around the halls with his little pumpkin, stopping occasionally to make sure the whiskers on his hood were still there. His selectiveness surprised me. He’d skip three or four offices, and then take two treats from the same bowl–often the same kind that he’d passed up just minutes before. I was happy to see that he picked up a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, one of my favorites. Less pleased to discover the banana Laffy Taffy when I was sorting the candy later. Someone’s going to have to take care of that one, and I’m officially declaring Not It.

It’s too bad the otter costume won’t fit next year, because he’s so cute and snuggly in it. Next year he’ll probably want more of a say in what he wears, and before long he’ll be running through the halls snagging something from every bowl, whether he likes it or not. And we’ll be doing our traditional parental duty, rationing out his stash only one or two pieces a night , and hoping he doesn’t notice how certain kinds mysteriously vanish from his collection. Butterfingers? No, I don’t think you got any of those this year, sweetie…