The Story of Christmas Candy
Ah, my holidays have passed. I'm not counting NYE since I've only celebrated twice. I did a lot of baking and candy-making this year outside of work, and I'm glad it's over. This is also the first year I've had to work on Christmas and the first I haven't spent with my parents. I got the blues, but I tried to hang in there.
Now I'm going to tell you a little holiday story.
The Christmas Candy that Almost Wasn't
I was excited about making candy this year. Usually my mom and I bake cookies, but I decided to break tradition (maybe part of the reason was I was homesick and baking reminded me too much of what I was missing) and make candies. I'd settled on four pieces of candy, at least two of which would be chocolate: cabernet truffles, cranberry pate de fruit, chocolate nougat, and salted caramels. After an entire day of shopping I was disappointed because I couldn't find many of the things I needed. My off days were split, and returning to work, I felt exhausted defeated. I'd spent so much money and time and yet I couldn't make anything. I couldn't find sanding sugar and cranberries. Yes, I know, cranberries were everywhere last year, one store selling them 2 bags for $4, but this year, I'd gone to three stores and I couldn't even find them frozen! So, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror at work, I said, "If there is a Santa, he'll give me a sign." Next thing I know, a co-worker is telling me that they sell sanding sugar at Williams Sonoma (now why didn't I think of going there, after going to Sur La Table and Treasure Island?) and that she would check for me. Hours later she brings me some sanding sugar and I had my sign. I went home after work and found other recipes for pate de fruits. I ended up making Blackberry Jellies from Sherry Yard's cookbook, The Secrets of Baking. I had pectin, but her recipe called for apple pectin specifically. So, out to the stores again to spend more money and time searching for something that I should have been able to find quickly (in a perfect world, right). While out searching, I got a call from my chef, she'd found cranberries and asked if I wanted her to get them for me. I'd also found cranberries after I'd bought the other stuff for the blackberry jellies. I was able to get everything done, but I honestly don't even want to think about how much it cost, considering the apple pectin was eventually found at a health food store.
I got my salted caramel recipe from the Epicurious website and the first try didn't yield a good product. My caramel was soft and thin, though their recipe suggested using an 8" pan. On my second try, I doubled the recipe for thicker caramels, and cooked my caramel to 252º and it held up beautifully. I also used an 8" pan for the pate de fruit instead of a 9 X 13" for the same reason. My truffle ganache turned out well, but my chocolate nougat was a little too light in color for my tastes. It was still delicious and I used it. I think that next time I will use more chocolate. Anyway, I boxed up 20 boxes of candies and had more leftover, which I took to work for the front of the house staff.
For my truffles, I decided to go ahead and buy a chocolate thermometer and temper my bittersweet chocolate. It only took me two tries and I got them all dipped in one night. By the end of everything, I felt somewhat successful, but at the same time, I'm thinking I'm just going to bake cookies next year. Stirring the chocolate to cool it I was getting nauseated from the smell, me, a chocoholic! But it was worth the effort, everyone loved the candies, all boxed up in cute chocolate brown boxes with labels. I had one lady ask me how much for 50 of each piece. Though I was flattered, I wasn't looking foward to going through all of that again. I should price things out anyway. My closest friend asked me, after confirming that I really did make all of those, if she could order some for next year. Who knows? Maybe I'll do mail order candy next year.
I baked Grammy's Chocolate Cookies from Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies 2001 Special Issue magazine and my hazelnut cookies for the kitchen staff at work, which everyone raved over. I was surprised, because it's intimidating to cook and bake for chefs. But everyone loved everything and I was happy that they enjoyed them.
After all of that, I think I need a break from the kitchen. But I'm still aching to try out a new Rum Ball recipe. Maybe for New Year's?
The Tree House Animal Foundation raised $6,500.00 dollars on the night of the Lights of Love. I'm already planning on what I'm going to bake next year. I may even bake some cat and dog treats for people to give as gifts.