Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peppermint Patties, Chocolate-Cherry Kisses, and Chocolate Covered Margaritas, Oh My!

I started making candy last year, on a whim. Again, this new domestic tendency in me wanted more kitchen experience, and giving homemade chocolates to family members as gifts seemed fun, and it fit my budget much better than buying gifts. I was so excited about candy making that I was considering buying chocolate molds and fancy equipment to keep it going. But the novelty quickly wore off and I was ready to move on to something else.

However, I've had both recipe requests and candy requests this holiday season, everywhere from friends to Corey's co-workers, so I'm pulling motivation from deep within and going for it.

This year the plan for gifts was apple butter, but I'm realizing that if I'm going to be making candy anyway, I might as well step up my gift game and pull out the old double boiler again for some serious candy making messery. I certainly can't eat all of it. 

If you have family members who are fans of peppermint patties, cherry bonbons, or any other chocolate covered candy, you can use this recipe to impress them. I'll give you the two variations that were big hits last year (peppermint and cherry) and a new one from this year, but it's very easy to change it up to your favorite filling flavor.

You can also easily change the consistency of the filling by adding less powdered sugar or adding more liquid of some kind. You will get a more gooey filling, which is easy to deal with if you have chocolate molds, but makes a huge mess if not. For the cherry filling I have reduced the amount of sugar, because the cherry juice is already very sweet: it's going to be gooey. If you get frustrated, make bark by mixing the melted chocolate and cherry filling and pouring into a parchment paper lined pan. I recommend using a darker chocolate--if you have to, thin out your bag of chocolate chips with a bar of bittersweet chocolate. Chocolate with a lot of fillers is more difficult to use as a coating.

I've given a few methods of how to make these candies. For the more liquid fillings, freezing or piping with chocolate into swirls, buttons, or kisses makes things less complicated. If piping, use a small sandwich bag and work in batches.You may end up with varying degrees of firmness, as I did (I ended up with both buttons and kisses in the same batch), but they'll all be delicious!

Peppermint Patties

1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup Earth Balance, softened
4 3/4 cups powdered sugar  
3 tsp peppermint extract
1 bag chocolate chips (dark is best)

1. In a food processor fitted with the dough blade, blend together the corn syrup, Earth Balance, and extract. Add the powdered sugar in 1 cup installments, blending well before adding the next cup. The filling will be dry and crumbly.

2. In a double boiler, melt the bag of chocolate chips. Lay out a sheet of parchment or wax paper.

3. Roll the filling into small balls and flatten out. Dip them into the chocolate and place them on the parchment paper to cool.

Cherry Filling

1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup Earth Balance, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
15 Maraschino cherries
1/3 cup maraschino cherry juice
2 tsp cherry extract or flavoring (optional) 

1. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the Maraschino cherries until finely chopped. Switch to the dough blade and follow the instructions 1 and 2, substituting the cherry juice for the peppermint extract.

2. Fill a small plastic sandwich or ziplock bag, half with the melted chocolate and half with the cherry filling, as diagonally oriented as possible.

3. Snip a small corner off of the bag and pipe gently onto parchment paper into kiss shapes or swirls.

Chocolate-Covered Margaritas

1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup Earth Balance
juice and zest from 1 lime
3/4s of a nip of tequila
1/4 of a nip of cointreau
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar 

1. Follow instructions for peppermint patty recipe 1-2, substituting lime zest and juice, tequila, and cointreau for peppermint extract.

2. Freeze the mixture in the food processor bowl for 1 day for best results, at least 1 hour if not possible.

3. Dab a small amount of chocolate onto the parchment paper. Form medium to large sized patties or balls of the sugar mixture and place them in the chocolate on the parchment paper. Spoon melted chocolate over them to coat.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pomegranate Poundcake

It's basically winter up here in New England, now that snow has fallen twice in a week. Unfortunately, my kitchen is not ready to give up on autumn yet--pumpkin in the fridge, pears on the table, pomegranate pips in the freezer.

I was inspired to make poundcake after watching the Good Eats episode on the subject. I'm inspired to make anything Alton Brown tells me to.

Naturally, vegan poundcake presents a problem--I didn't think a pounds worth of Ener-G eggs would cut it (they are great, but not exactly like eggs), so I started blog surfing to find a vegan version. Lo and behold, The Blooming Platter. The picture perfect slice on her poundcake post sold me.

And now for that pesky pomegranate. I had pomegranate juice before I ever ate a pomegranate pip, which is a shame, because I like the pips better than the juice. I mean, if you're trying to pound in a ton of nutrients lickity split, then the juice is the way to go, but if you like to take your time eating your food, pomegranate pips are awesome.

When Corey and I were sick we had no appetite whatsoever, but we drank cold or hot water constantly to relieve our fevers or chills. I found that I could stomach frozen pomegranate pips during the last day of my illness--it gave me the fluids I needed to stay alive, it was cold so it cooled me off, and it was in such tiny quantities that it didn't make me nauseous.

Not only does pomegranate pack a lot of fluid and antioxidants, which is what is making it famous these days, it also has a lot of vitamin K, fiber, and folate, plus iron, calcium, and B vitamins. It's got it going on.

The cake itself is very sweet (feel free to reduce the sugar by a half cup if you use the silken tofu I recommend) and the texture is perfect: moist and spongy, and the crust has a crispy, buttery flavor. I used frozen pomegranate pips, but you can use fresh ones, too. They add a slight tang to each bite. Warn your guests that they will encounter seeds--Corey was unpleasantly surprised by them. Lastly, if you have an airtight container your can fit the loaf into, I'd recommend storing it in the fridge that way--refrigerator flavored poundcake is gross. Otherwise, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap.

Pomegranate Poundcake
(Yields 1 5"x9" loaf)

1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup silken tofu, blended or food processed until smooth (I like Nasoya's vanilla flavored silken tofu) 
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup pomegranate pips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 5 x 9 loaf pan.

2. Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer at medium high speed until soft and fluffy. Add half of the tofu and beat for 1 minute. Add the second half of the tofu and beat for another minute. Reduce the speed. Add half of the cake flour and stir to combine. Add the water, extract, baking powder, and the rest of the flour and beat on medium high speed for 1-2 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the pomegranate pips gently.

3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top cracks and browns. Separate the loaf from the sides of the pan, but allow to cool before removing it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pear-Cardamom Coffee Cake

When Corey and I moved in together, I talked about wanting to always have some sort of coffee cake around to snack on with tea. In the real world, lunches and dinners for the next couple days comes first, so coffee cake has taken a backseat to lasagna, fried rice, and chili-mac.

Not. Anymore.

With this really easy recipe, I'm confident I can whip up a coffee cake a few times a month. Enter the pears!

Let's talk about cardamom. Cardamom is one of those spices that you encounter the first time (if you're a Westerner) with total delight. The first time I had chai, it was the cardamom that held my attention. I haven't had an opportunity to use it in a recipe recently, so I decided that coffee cake was it's time to shine.

This is a super simple recipe -- no creaming of butter and sugar, you just mix together everything dry, throw in everything wet, and stir. It turns into more of a dough than a batter, so don't keep mixing to thin it out or it will become too chewy. The cake is very light in flavor, almost white, and incredibly moist. The pears slice under your fork like butter, but hold their shape under the deliciously sweet, spicy topping.

As you can see, mine developed a really sturdy crust. That's because I baked it for an hour (I was waiting for the topping to brown). I changed the original recipe to include more Earth Balance and sugar in the topping so that it would brown faster.

Pear Cardamom Coffee Cake (adapted from Lanier B&B)

(serves 9)


2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Earth Balance, melted
3/4 cup soymilk
2 Ener-G Eggs
1 tsp almond extract

1-2 firm pears, sliced

2/3 cup flour
5 Tbl Earth Balance, melted
5 Tbl brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt

1. Grease and flour an 8" x 8" pan. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients for cake, add wet ingredients and mix. Spread in the bottom of the pan.

2. Arrange the pear slices on top of the cake.

3. Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the pears evenly. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve very warm.