Six Fabulous Fudges

•December 3, 2007 • 6 Comments

Of all the candy made and given out during the Christmas Season, I doubt any is more popular or prevalent than fudge.   The delightful stuff is likely responsible for at least two extra pounds on my person right now…

There are many recipes and many methods for creating this top choice of candies and I offer several different types here from my own collection of tried-and-true favorites.

Old-Fashioned Classic Fudge

This is a true cream-and-butter fudge, with more chocolate in it than is usual. The nuts can be omitted, if you wish. I store this in the refrigerator, but please let it come to room temperature before serving, as the fudge will have much better flavor if you do so. It also freezes nicely.

Do not consider attempting this fudge unless your relative humidity is at 50% or lower.

3 cups granulated sugar

1-1/3 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup light corn syrup

Pinch salt

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, very finely chopped

3 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chopped, toasted, cooled pecans OR walnuts

In your food processor fitted with the steel blade, process sugar at highest speed in 3 “bursts” of about 15 to 20 seconds each until sugar is very fine-textured. (This step is optional, but it makes dissolving the sugar a much easier job.)

In a heavy 4-quart pot, butter the sides in a 2-inch path 3 inches from the bottom.  (This will retard sugar crystals from forming during cooking.

Pour processed sugar into the pot and add cream, corn syrup, and salt.  Place over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved; mixture should not come to a boil during this process, which may take 8 to 10 minutes or more.

When the sugar is completely dissolved, increase the heat to medium. Add the chopped chocolate and stir often until it is melted and incorporated.  Stir occasionally until mixture comes to a boil. Attach your calibrated candy thermometer and continue to cook until it reached 236 degrees (F).

Watch the boiling mixture very carefully for the first few minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a full, but not rolling boil.  I stir the boiling mixture every 2 to 3 minutes until the final temperature is reached to prevent scorching.

When the fudge reaches 236 degrees (F) on the thermometer, remove from heat. Place the pot into a large bowl filled with ice and water.  Add the cold butter bits and vanilla, but do not stir in.   The fudge should cool undisturbed until the temperature falls to 110 degrees F.

While the fudge cools, prepare the pan and utensils. Line an 8 inch square pan (at least 1-1/2 inches deep) with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. With soft butter, very lightly butter the foil.  Have the nuts and a large wooden spoon nearby.

When fudge has reached 110 degrees (F), remove from ice water and place pot on a dish towel or pot holder on a flat surface. Begin to stir/fold the fudge gently with the wooden spoon. This is a stiff mixture, and it will take a couple of minutes to incorporate the melted butter, but keep at it. Stir thoroughly, but it is not necessary to beat or to stir continuously. I take frequent breaks for 30 seconds or a minute at a time. Periodically, scrape the spoon, the pot bottom, and the pot sides no more than 1/3 of the way up from the bottom with the buttered spatula.

Continue stirring for approximately 15 to 20 minutes (and the drier the day, the quicker setup will occur). Toward the end of this stirring phase, you’ll notice several changes. The fudge will stiffen slightly and begin to lose its gloss. It will “snap” with every stroke of the spoon, and you may feel it give off heat. When the gloss begins to leave and the mixture begins to “snap”, quickly stir in the nuts just until evenly distributed, and turn into prepared pan, scraping out the bottom of the pot and the sides no more than 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. It is helpful to butter your hands lightly and press the fudge out to make an even layer in the pan. Cool completely to room temperature.

To cut, lift out block of fudge, still in foil, from the pan. Peel back foil sides. Use a large, very sharp, heavy, straight-edged knife to cut the fudge into 36 or more pieces; it will be necessary to clean the knife frequently under hot water, then dry it off, to keep the cuts neat. I wrap each piece individually in plastic wrap so it will not dry out. Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze for longer storage.  Always allow the fudge to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: Occasionally, when I make this, after I’ve turned it into the 8 inch pan, a thin layer of butterfat will show up on the surface as the fudge cools. If this happens, just blot the butterfat up gently with a paper towel.

And remember while you are stirring/folding the fudge, that the reason why you are going through this effort is to prevent the crystals from forming large masses…each stir/fold is reducing their size!

No-Beat Chocolate Fudge

(a/k/a Marshmallow-Creme Fudge)

12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate

1 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme

1 23-ounce can evaporated milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter

4 cups granulated sugar

2 cups coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired

Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil and butter the foil  well.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, place your chocolate pieces and marshmallow creme and set aside.

In a heavy 4-quart pan, combine the milk, butter and sugar.  Place over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Clip on your candy thermometer and bring the mixture to a full boil until it reaches 234 degrees (F).  This will take approximately 6-8 minutes.

Pour the  syrup over the chocolate and marshmallow creme.  Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture until all is well blended, smooth and creamy.  Stir in the nuts.

Pour the mixture unto your prepared pan, spreading the mixture smooth on the top.  Allow to rest undisturbed for 4 hours until the fudge reaches room temperature.

Lift the fudge from the pan using the foil, spread the edges of the foil carefully away from the sides of the fudge.  Using a clean, sharp knife, cut the fudge into 1-inch squares, frequently cleaning your knife under hot water and drying well.

Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze for longer storage.  Always allow the fudge to come to room temperature before serving.

Peanut Butter Fudge

This fudge is an absolute favorite of young people.  And it may be rolled into balls and used as centers for dipping into tempered chocolate for outstanding candies!  If gifting this fudge, be certain to notate that it contains peanut butter to protect those who may be allergic to same!

1 1/4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups granulated sugar

1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a 9×13-inch dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil and butter the foil well.  Set aside.

In a heavy 4-quart pan, combine the milk, corn syrup, butter, baking soda and sugars.  Place over medium-high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a full boil.

Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the syrup reaches 236 degrees (F).

Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool undisturbed until the mixture reaches 110 degrees (F).   Add the peanut butter, vanilla and nuts.  Stir gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes creamy and begins to lose its gloss.  This will take about 15-20 minutes, so feel free to take a few breaks along the way.

When the mixture is losing its gloss and begins to “snap” with each stroke of the wooden spoon, pour the fudge into your prepared pan and smooth the surface.  Allow to cool to room temperature (about 4 hours).  Then cut into 1-inch squares.

Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two weeks, or freeze for longer storage.  Always allow the fudge to come to room temperature before serving.

Vermont Maple Fudge

2 cups Grade B Amber Maple Syrup

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

3/4 cup light cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Line an 8×8-inch dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil and butter the foil well.

In a heavy 4-quart pan over medium heat, combine the maple syrup, corn syrup and cream and stir constantly until the mixture begins a full boil.  Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer and cook the syrup until it reaches 236 degrees (F). 

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool undisturbed until the mixture reaches 110 degrees (F).  Add the vanilla extract to the mixture. 

Begin to stir/fold the fudge gently with the wooden spoon. This is a stiff mixture, and it will take some time to finish to the proper consistency.  Stir thoroughly, but it is not necessary to beat or to stir continuously. I take frequent breaks for 30 seconds or a minute at a time. Periodically, scrape the spoon, the pot bottom, and the pot sides no more than 1/3 of the way up from the bottom with the buttered spatula.

Continue stirring for approximately 15 to 20 minutes (and the drier the day, the quicker setup will occur). Toward the end of this stirring phase, you’ll notice several changes. The fudge will stiffen slightly and begin to lose its gloss. It will “snap” with every stroke of the spoon, and you may feel it give off heat. When the gloss begins to leave and the mixture begins to “snap”, quickly stir in the nuts just until evenly distributed, and turn into prepared pan, scraping out the bottom of the pot and the sides no more than 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. It is helpful to butter your hands lightly and press the fudge out to make an even layer in the pan. Cool completely to room temperature.

To cut, lift out block of fudge, still in foil, from the pan. Peel back foil sides. Use a large, very sharp, heavy, straight-edged knife to cut the fudge into 36 or more pieces; it will be necessary to clean the knife frequently under hot water, then dry it off, to keep the cuts neat. I wrap each piece individually in plastic wrap so it will not dry out. Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze for longer storage.  Always allow the fudge to come to room temperature before serving.

Buttermilk Fudge

This is an old fudge recipe without chocolate.  Buttermilk gives this fudge a delicious, rich tang!

1 cup Bavarian-style buttermilk

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired

Line a 9-inch dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil and butter the foil well.  Set aside.

In a heavy 4-quart pan, combine the buttermilk, butter, corn syrup, baking soda and sugar.  Place over medium-high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar completely dissolves and the mixture comes to a full boil.

Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer and cook, stirring constantly, to 236 degrees (F).  Remove from heat and allow the pan to rest undisturbed until the temperature cools to 210 degrees (F).  Add vanilla and nuts and stir until the mixture is creamy (about 5 minutes).

Pour into your prepared pan and allow to cool for 4 hours until it is at room temperature.  Cut into 1-inch squares.

Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two weeks, or freeze for longer storage.  Always bring to room temperature before serving.

Scottish Tablet

The Scots have a sweet tooth, for certain. Tablet is their traditional version of Fudge and preceded our own traditionally chocolate version by a few centuries… Definitely creamy, smooth and toothsome and recommended highly to accompany any other fudges you make be making. A lovely contrast. Here is my great-grandmother’s treasured recipe modernized for the US and today’s cooking methods:

1 ¼ cup Whole Milk

2 ½ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons dark, “bottom of the pot” (very strong) coffee or espresso

In a heavy 4-quart pan over low heat, bring the milk slowly to a boil stirring often to prevent scorching.  Add the sugar and butter and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture returns to a boil. Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer, raise the heat to medium and bring to a full boil.

Continue to boil steadily, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until the temperature reaches 240 °F.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the strong coffee and leave the fudge undisturbed until it has cooled to 110 °F.

While the fudge cools, prepare the pan and utensils. Line an 9-inch square pan (at least 1-1/2 inches deep) with a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan to use as “handles” for removing the fudge later. Lightly butter the foil.

Once the tablet has cooled, begin to fold and stir the tablet with a large wooden spoon until it just begins to lose its gloss and is thick. (This will probably will take 15-20 minutes, so feel free to take a few-seconds’ break every now and then.) When the tablet is nearing the point where it is ready to pour into the pan, you will notice a loss in gloss, it will stiffen slightly and will begin to “snap” with every stroke of the spoon/spatula. When it does…

Transfer to the prepared 8” pan and spread evenly across the top.   Allow the tablet to rest for 4 hours and come to room temperature.

When completely cooled, remove the tablet from the pan by lifting the foil and pull the foil from the tablet sides. Use a sharp knife and cut the fudge into 1-inch squares, frequently cleaning the knife in hot water and drying completely.

Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two weeks or freeze for longer storage.  Always bring to room temperature before serving.

The Divine-ness of Divinity Candy

•December 3, 2007 • 9 Comments

Divinity is one of those age-old candies our grandmothers made that is slipping into extinction in the home kitchen.  Pity that.  Divinity is a light as a feather confection, with a deep vanilla flavor so delicious.  Much like a meringue in texture, divinity is delicious by itself and exceptionally useful, as it can be combined with other candy to make really spectacular offerings.  Piped into short logs, it makes a delicious white center for pecan logs.  Or those logs can be rolled in coconut, nuts, or chopped dried fruits.  You can even dip mounds into tempered chocolate that make the most delicious confection imaginable.

Divinity is divinely easy to make and very forgiving along the way.  Only two things are required for success:  a dry day and a calibrated thermometer allowing you to cook the syrup to its proper temperature.  But if your divinity fails to harden, you can beat in two tablespoons of powdered sugar and allow the mixture to rest a few minutes; if the candy hardens too much, you can blend in hot water a tablespoon at a time until the perfect, fluffy consistency is reached.

Divinity, nougat and marshmallow all belong to the same candy family and all three are very, very close kin in terms of texture, flavor and technique.

The following recipe of mine produces a light, creamy divinity that turns out moist every time.  From my grandmother’s kitchen to yours, tried countless times with success:

Divinity

2 large egg whites (at room temperature)

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup filtered water (not distilled)

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (if desired)

Line a 15×10-inch jellyroll pan with waxed paper, butter the waxed paper well, and set aside.

Place egg whites into the bowl of your stand mixture and set aside to wait for use.

In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, combine the corn syrup, water, sugar and salt.  Place over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Increase heat to medium-high and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches a rolling boil.

Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer.  Reduce heat to medium to maintain a full (but not rolling) boil.  Cook syrup, without stirring, to 252 degrees (F).  Just before your syrup reaches this temperature (around 250 degrees), begin beating the egg whites with your whisk attachment until soft peaks form.  Remove the whisk and replace with your paddle beater.

Remove the completed syrup from heat and allow the boiling to completely subside (about 1 minute).  Pour the syrup carefully into a heat-proof large Pyrex measuring cup to make pouring in the next step easier.  Do not scrape the pan.

With your mixer on high speed, slowly and gradually begin to add the hot syrup to the egg whites.  Once you begin to pour the syrup, do NOT stop and do not scrape the mixing bowl.  When all the syrup has been combined, continue to beat the mixture until it begins to lose its gloss and holds its shape in stiff peaks.  (This takes about 10 minutes of solid beating.) 

Next, add the vanilla and beat well.  Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and fold in the nuts, if desired.

Using two large spoons, drop spoonfuls of the mixture into mounds onto the waxed paper.  Allow to rest undisturbed for two hours, or until the mounds are at room temperature.  Carefully peel from the waxed paper and store on layers of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to two weeks.  I always press one-half of a maraschino cherry on top of each mound.   “Southern Divinity” is traditionally garnished with a pecan half on top.

Divinity also freezes exceptionally well for longer storage.

Makes about 40 pieces of candy.

VARIATIONS:

Cherry-Nut Divinity:  Fold in 1/2 cup of chopped, well-drained maraschino cherries with the chopped nuts before spooning out mounds.

Strawberry Divinity:  After beating your egg whites to the soft-peak stage, sprinkle a package of strawberry gelatin over the egg whites and beat again at medium speed until all of the gelatin has been incorporated.  Increase your mixer speed to high and begin to add the hot syrup and continue as directed above.  Garnish with a slice of fresh strawberry.

Peppermint Divinity:  After beating your egg whites to the soft-peak stage, add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint oil to the egg white and continue to beat on high speed for another minutes.  **You may also add 3 drops of red food coloring.  Then begin to add the hot syrup and continue as directed above.  Garnish each mound with finely crushed peppermint candies.

Cappuccino Divinity:  Just before removing your cooked syrup from the heat, add 2 tablespoons of dark rum to the syrup and allow to “boil in” (do not stir).  Once boiling has ceased, pour the syrup into your Pyrex measuring cup.  Add the hot syrup to the beaten egg whites.  As soon as the mixture begins to lose its gloss, add 2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and continue to beat until incorporated.  Spoon into mounds as described above.  Garnish with ground coffee beans (ground in a mortar & pestle).

Kahlua Divinity:  Just before removing your cooked syrup from the heat, add 2 tablespoons of Kahlua to the syrup and allow to “boil in” (do not stir).  Once boiling has ceased, pour the syrup into your Pyrex mixing cup.  Add the hot syrup to the beaten egg whites.  As soon as the mixture begins to lose its gloss, add 1 teaspoon of instant coffee powder and beat well to blend.  Continue as directed above.  Garnish with ground coffee beans (ground in a mortar & pestle).

Godiva Divinity:  Use the same method as in making Kahlua Divinity, but substitute 2 tablespoons of either Godiva dark chocolate or white chocolate liqueur and continue as directed.  Garnish the mounds with dark chocolate shavings.

Homemade Caramels

•November 29, 2007 • 16 Comments

caramels.jpg

Of all the candies I make, probably the top favorite of all among recipients is a tender, soft, golden brown caramel.  It is one of my favorites, too.

Caramels are simple to make, requiring only two things for constant success: a calibrated candy thermometer and a nice, dry day.  Today I made a short ton with the humidity in Dallas around 41%.

While there are a myriad of recipes out there, it is very important for you to understand that caramels must be cooked slowly to allow the sugars and milk solids to caramelize.  The longer and slower they cook, the darker the color and richer the flavor.   And there is nothing I can think of that is worse in taste than a caramel that has been cooked too fast and is scorched with a resulting resonant flavor of burnt sugar.  Yuk!

The recipe I offer here I have made countless times and for many different applications, such as pecan logs, Turtles and caramel apples.  Unlike some caramel recipes, this one will produce a soft caramel that will not stick to your teeth.  Also, this recipe brings the sugar solution to its proper temp and then adds the preheated milk, which prevents curdling, prevents the mixture from boiling over, and develops a much smoother texture.  The caramels are rich and absolutely delicious, and an easy delight to share among friends and family.

Caramels (Makes about 180 pieces)

2 cups whipping cream

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

2 cups light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

Tempered chocolate for dipping, if desired

Line a 12×17 inch jelly roll pan with heavy duty aluminum foil, fitting the foil well into the corners and sides.  Butter the foil very well, coating the entire bottom and sides.  Set aside.

In a 1-quart saucepan over low heat, combine the cream and the condensed milk, whisking very well to blend.  Allow the cream mixture to become hot, stirring often, but do NOT allow the mixture to boil.

Meanwhile, in a tall 4-quart saucepan, combine the corn syrup, water and sugar.  Stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.  If sugar crystals appear around the edge of the boiling surface, wipe the pan sides with a damp (not wet!) pastry brush.

Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer and reduce heat to medium.  Continue to boil gently until the syrup-sugar solution reaches 250 degrees (F).  Add the butter and pour in the warm cream mixture.  The temperature of the solution will immediately decrease.  Stir constantly to blend the mixture, then occasionally until the mixture reaches 244 degrees (F).

Remove from heat and carefully pour the hot caramel into your prepared jelly roll pan, tilting the pan to even the mixture.  Do not scrape the pan — even though scraping will not cause crystallization the stuff on the bottom of the pan has cooked longer, is tougher and will leave hard spots in the batch.

Leave the caramel completely alone for 24 hours at room temperature.  This waiting period not only reduces the stickiness, but makes the candy much easier to cut. (Once the caramel has cooled and the pan is no longer warm, cover the pan with plastic wrap.)

Lift the hardened caramel from the pan using the edges of the foil.  Using a clean, sharp knife, cut the caramel into approximate 1-inch pieces.  (If the caramel begins to stick to the knife, rinse the knife well under hot water, dry and butter the knife, then resume cutting.)

At this point, you may dip each piece into tempered chocolate and allow them to rest on a wire rack for 4-6 hours until the chocolate has hardened.  Store these dipped caramels on sheets of waxed paper in an air-tight container, at room temperature, for up to one month.

For plain caramels,  wrap each cut piece in a 4-inch square of plastic wrap, twisting the ends tightly.  Store the wrapped caramels in an air-tight container, at room temperature, for up to one month…if they last that long.

TIPS: 

If you like nuts in your caramels, pour a layer of chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc. into your prepared jelly roll pan before pouring in the caramel.

Want to make caramel apples?  Merely twirl apples on a stick into the mixture, instead of pouring it into a pan.  Place the coated apples on a waxed paper lined sheet and place into the refrigerator for one hour to harden, then wrap each apple well in plastic wrap, tied with a bow to seal.  Be certain to consume these as quickly as possible (no more than 3 days) to enjoy the best flavor of the apples.  

This same recipe can be poured into a buttered 9-13 inch dish, allowed to cool for 24 hours, cut into 1×4-inch logs, then rolled in minced pecans to make pecan logs.  Wrap each log in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one month.  The logs may also be cut into 1/2-inch slices, wrapped in plastic, etc.

This caramel be poured by hot spoonfuls onto a grouping of whole pecans (place in a triangle or “X” configuration), allowed to harden, then cover the caramel with a dollop of tempered chocolate to make Turtles.  Store on waxed paper sheets in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one month.

Date Loaf Candy — A Forgotten Favorite

•November 26, 2007 • 5 Comments

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My grandmother introduced me to these delights, which are something of a fudge base with crisp pecan bits and the overall delicious taste of dates, a particular favorite fruit of mine. While there are a few versions of this candy out there, this recipe of mine is the original. It was passed down three generations to me and an almost identical recipe appeared in The Complete Confectioner published in 1864 by J.B. Lippincott & Co. of Philadelphia…and I am proud to have a tattered, but intact copy. ;-)The candy is delicious and always a welcomed addition to the Christmas repertoire…always bringing back memories of childhoods past.

The following is a modernized version of the original family recipe, tried and true many, many times.

Date Loaf Candy

1 cup milk
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups chopped, pitted dates
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

On a low humidity day (no greater than 50%), and with a calibrated candy thermometer

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, cook milk, sugar and butter over medium heat, stirring constantly at first to dissolve sugar, then often (to prevent scorching), until the mixture reaches 234 degrees (F).

Remove the pan from heat and add the dates, nuts and vanilla extract. Stir briskly with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy and beginning to crystallize, but not yet stiff. Allow the candy to cool down for about ten minutes undisturbed in the pan.

Without scraping the sides of the pan, lift the candy by large spoonfuls into a rough log shape on a clean, slightly damp flour sack towel and roll the candy inside the towel to make a long log no greater than 2 inches in diameter. Roll the date loaf log completely in the damp towel and then wrap the towel well in waxed paper. Place the log into the refrigerator overnight, or at least 8 hours to completely chill. When completely chilled, cut into thin ¼-inch rounds, using a sharp knife that is frequently rinsed clean under hot water.

Store pieces without touching between waxed paper sheets in an airtight container.  The candy may be stored at room temperature for two months.

Perfecting the Traditional Pumpkin Pie

•November 7, 2007 • 4 Comments

America’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert is a particular favorite of mine. And over the many years of preparing them, I have learned they can be quite persnickety and are rarely “perfect” without a little tweaking.

Most home bakers will buy some cans of pureed pumpkin on sale this time of year and use the recipe on the back of the can. By the way, go right ahead, since these filling recipes are not only standard, but delicious. Most will also purchase pre-made pie pastry, which is a timesaver. But whether you use canned pumpkin or fresh, pre-made pastry or homemade, you are still going to face a few challenges.

Foremost is the likelihood that the pastry shell will become soggy during baking, a rather notorious condition when making custard-based pies. This is easily avoided by partially pre-baking the shell before filling, and cooking lower in the oven.

The fillings will often curdle if the pie is cooked in too high a heat, or overcooked, producing a filling that separates (really making the crust soggy) and becomes grainy with a thick browned film on the top of the pie. For this inescapable threat, one does not cook a pumpkin pie so much by time, as one does by “feel” of the custard filling. Never cook so long that a knife inserted into the center returns clean, but only to the point where the center no longer “sloshes”, but jiggles like jello.

And if you roast your own pie pumpkins to make your own pumpkin puree (as I always do), you’ll never go back to using the canned stuff, despite how long it takes to make your own. The reason for this is not only flavor, but texture. (There may be some obstinacy on my part here, too.) Homemade pumpkin puree is smooth as silk and has an unbelievable deep, rich flavor that makes any effort on buying pie pumpkins worthwhile. Canned pumpkin is notoriously fibrous and almost always has that “canned” taste you clearly discern when tasting homemade puree and canned puree side-by-side.

However, it is certainly great to use canned pumpkin and just two steps are all you need to follow to make the canned stuff taste almost as good as homegrown and home-roasted (although you will never achieve the depth of pumpkin flavor found in one fresh from the vine): (1) Before using canned pumpkin puree, run it through your food processor for a minute or so to completely puree any fibrous bits; and (2) precook this puree with the sugar and spices and the “canned” flavor will quickly disappear.

Here is how to make the best pumpkin pie of your life, regardless of whether you use fresh or canned pumpkin, from a few tips you will never find on the back of a can. I offer my preferred recipe two ways, the first with a drop-dead wonderful filling from fresh pumpkins, the second that illustrates how to create a canned pumpkin filling that even I couldn’t guess was canned…after a couple of glasses of wine, of course.

The Perfected Classic Fresh Pumpkin Pie

1 partially pre-baked pie pastry in a 10-inch “deep-dish” pie dish

2 cups fresh roasted pumpkin puree

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt (not sea salt, please)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup milk (2% is fine)

4 large eggs

You will need to prepare your fresh pumpkins the day before making this pie.

There are several varieties of pie pumpkins available across the country, but Sugarpie and Sweetiepie are probably more common to find in farmers’ markets and larger stores (like my Central Market). You can generally expect a 2-pound pie pumpkin to produce 1 cup of puree. I always buy several usually around 3 to 4 pounds in size, roast them at the same time, and then can and/or freeze the extra puree for other uses (like soups, cookies, cakes, cheesecakes and future pumpkin pies). Inspect the pumpkins carefully and reject any with dark spots or abrasions/cuts to the skin or having any mold around the stems.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (F). Line a jelly roll pan with heavy duty aluminum foil extending over the sides and crimping into place, then oil the foil generously with vegetable or canola oil. (If you roast several pumpkins at once, place your two or three oven racks spaced evenly in your oven above center, (at center, if using three racks) and below center, and prepare two or three jelly roll pans as described.)

Using a sharp chef’s knife, remove the stem end from each pumpkin. Cut each pumpkin in half and remove all of the seeds and fibers. Cut each half again creating quarters, then cut each quarter in half across the middle creating triangles.

Arrange the pumpkin triangles evenly on the oiled foil with the outer skin side up. Place into your preheated oven and roast for about 2 hours, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork-tender. (If roasting two or three pans-full, the roasting time will probably require three hours of cooking to reach fork tenderness.)

When tender, remove from the oven and transfer the pumpkin pieces to wire racks to cool completely for about 2 hours, placing the pumpkins skin side down on the racks.

When cool, remove the skins using a sharp knife and discard. Also slice off any hard or dried-out spots that may form in the flesh, especially toward the ends that touched the baking pan. Slice the pumpkin triangles into 1-inch pieces and place into a large bowl.

Fill your food processor bowl or blender with the pumpkin chunks and pulse a few times to reduce the pieces. Then puree the pumpkin for 1 full minute, or until completely smooth. (If you have roasted two or more pans of pumpkin triangles, you will need to puree in batches.)

Measure out two cups of puree and set aside for the pie filling, then can and/or freeze the balance of puree for use elsewhere.

Meanwhile, prepare your pastry shell:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (F) and place your rack below the oven center.

Mix your pastry, roll out and line the 10-inch “deep-dish” pie dish. Once your pastry is done and has nicely fluted edges, place it into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge and line the inside of the pastry with a couple of layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil pressed gently into place and with the edges of the foil extending over the edges of the pastry. Completely fill the foil cavity with ceramic pastry weights or dried beans.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry looks complexly dry, but is still unbrowned. Remove the dish from the oven, carefully gather the corners of the foil and lift out the weights and set aside to cool. Return the pastry to the oven to cook for another 5 minutes, or until the pastry has turned a light golden brown. Set aside on a wire rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees (F) and carefully place your cooking rack below the center of your oven.

Next comes the filling:

In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the eggs until the whites are completely blended and the eggs smooth. Add the cream and milk to the eggs, whisking briskly until the eggs and cream are completely combined.

In a separate large bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, spices and salt and whisk well to completely blend. Continue to whisk for a couple of moments to help dissolve the sugar. Pour 1/3 of the egg-cream mixture into the pumpkin and whisk well to combine. Add half of the remaining egg-cream mixture and whisk well again. Then add the balance of the egg-cream mixture and whisk well once more until the filling is well combined and smooth.

Pour the filling slowly into the partially pre-baked pastry shell. Brush the edges of the pastry with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water).

Place into your 350-degree oven and bake for 35 minutes, then pull it out for a test. Insert a clean dinner knife 1-1/2 inch from the crust edge. If it returns clean, great! But shake the pie dish – if the 2-inch diameter of the center of the filling sloshes about and is still very loose, return to the oven for ten more minutes, then recheck by the jiggling method. Once the very 2-inch diameter of the center, when shaken, jiggles like firm jello, remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack. The residual heat will continue to firm up the center of the filling.

Allow the pie to cool on the wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving warm, or after the hour, cover the pie with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator to chill completely for another hour.

Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream that is flavored (during the whipping) with 1 tablespoon of bourbon or brandy. Alternatively, serve the pie with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.

The Perfected Pumpkin Pie Using Canned Pumpkin

1 partially pre-baked pie pastry in a 10-inch “deep-dish” pie dish

2 cups (16 oz.) canned pumpkin puree

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt (not sea salt, please)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup milk (2% is fine)

4 large eggs

Begin by “de-canning” your canned pumpkin puree:

Place the pumpkin puree in your food processor and puree on high for 1 minute until completely smooth.

Pour the puree into a heavy medium saucepan and add the brown sugar, spices and salt. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. When at a simmer, reduce heat to low and continue to cook at a simmer, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is thick, creamy and shiny.

Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.

Meanwhile, prepare your pastry shell:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (F) and place your rack below the oven center.

Mix your pastry, roll out and line the 10-inch “deep-dish” pie dish. Once your pastry is done and has nicely fluted edges, place it into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge and line the inside of the pastry with a couple of layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil pressed gently into place and with the edges of the foil extending over the edges of the pastry. Completely fill the foil cavity with ceramic pastry weights or dried beans.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry looks complexly dry, but is still unbrowned. Remove the dish from the oven, carefully gather the corners of the foil and lift out the weights and set aside to cool. Return the pastry to the oven to cook for another 5 minutes, or until the pastry has turned a light golden brown.

Remove the pastry shell from the oven and place on a wire rack.

Increase your oven’s temperature to 400 degrees (F).

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until the whites are completely combined. Add the cream and milk and whisk briskly until the eggs and cream have completely blended. Next add the warm spiced pumpkin mixture and whisk well until the mixture is completely blended and smooth.

Pour the filling into your partially pre-baked shell and brush the edges of the pastry with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water).

Place into your 400-degree oven to bake for 25 minutes, then pull it out for a test. Insert a clean dinner knife 1-1/2 inch from the crust edge. If it returns clean, great! But shake the pie dish – if the 2-inch diameter of the center of the filling sloshes about and is still very loose, return to the oven for five more minutes, then recheck by the jiggling method. Once the very 2-inch diameter of the center, when shaken, jiggles like firm jello, remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack. The residual heat will continue to firm up the center of the filling.

Allow the pie to cool on the wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving warm, or after the hour, cover the pie with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator to chill completely for another hour.

Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream that is flavored (during the whipping) with 1 tablespoon of bourbon or brandy. Alternatively, serve the pie with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.

Perfecting the Pound Cake

•November 7, 2007 • 13 Comments

For each holiday season, I make a few dozen pound cakes in heavy Bundt pans, most of which will be wrapped in cheesecloth and bathed weekly in Knob Creek bourbon, Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Chambord, or my homemade Limoncello or Peach Brandy over the course of a month before distributing them in fancy tins. Giving these “appointed” cakes as Christmastime nears has been my tradition for many years, and each year new requests for these cakes grow exponentially as they are shared with friends, colleagues and family.

Many years ago, I learned not all pound cake recipes are the same. Not by a long shot. The significant difference among the hoards of recipes out there is texture. Most use the “traditional” method of creaming the butter with sugar, adding eggs, adding the flour and folding in whipped egg whites. I find this method produces a tough, dry and heavy cake (sometimes downright rubbery) that wasn’t nearly rich enough for my palate. A lot of other recipes use significant amounts of cream or milk to improve the flavor, but these are heavy and dense as a water-logged sponge…and their “improved” taste leaves much to be desired. I have even found a short ton of pound cake recipes that call for baking powder to do its magic and lighten the texture, but baking powder is the Number One killer of a pound cake’s pure taste of butter and eggs.

When it comes to pound cakes, I give thanks sincerely and profoundly to having grandmothers who knew what they were doing, and did they ever do it well and often. The pound cakes they provided from their Confectionary in Aberdeen were famous and highly coveted…and the recipe they used was handed down to them by my paternal great-grandmother. From her recipe, I first discovered the magic of lecithin (in egg yolks), and pounded into me more than anything else was that technique is everything, especially in baking! The only change I made to this original recipe (other than modernization and translation) was in using modern cake flour because of its lowest protein content and much finer grind that I find indispensable in baking cakes with a high sugar-to-flour ratio.

I offer you the recipe for the very best pound cake you will ever produce and enjoy. It has produced the perfect pound cake – deeply rich in flavor, tender and toothsome, fairly dense, very moist and having a gorgeous golden color – for more than 130 years in my family.

The Perfect Classic Pound Cake

(Yields 1 large Bundt (14-cup capacity) or 2 traditional loaves)

6 large eggs, plus 6 large egg yolks (at room temperature)

3 tablespoons good vanilla extract (I suggest Penzey’s Madagascar)

3 teaspoons water 4 sticks butter (use unsalted), slightly softened

2 2/3 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups of cake flour

Place your oven rack in the very center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees (F).

Next, prepare your baking pans.

If baking in a large Bundt, make certain the pan is heavy weight (never, ever use light-weight cheap baking pans, folks!) and non-stick. Regardless that it is non-stick, lightly coat the pan generously with an oil-flour spray, making certain to reach into any design crevasses.

If baking in traditional 9-by-5-inch loaf pans, make certain the pans are heavy weight. Grease generously the sides and bottom of each pan with shortening, then line the pan with parchment paper. (The easiest way here is to cut two sheets of parchment paper, one the size of the pan bottom, the other the length of the perimeter (which is 28 inches long by 5 inches wide). Place the long parchment paper along the interior sides of the pan, pushing the paper into the corners well and extending the bottom edge over part of the pan’s bottom. Add a light touch of shortening to the top of the parchment paper extending onto the pan bottom. Next place the bottom piece in place, pressing down well to seal.)

Now to make the batter…

In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the 6 eggs well until the whites are completely blended, then add the 6 egg yolks and whisk more until the eggs are smooth. Next, whisk in the vanilla and water until everything is well blended. The more you whisk, the better this will be for the cake.  Set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of your stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed, using the paddle, for about 30 seconds until the butter is perfectly smooth and glossy. With the mixer running at this same speed, begin adding the sugar to the butter by pouring it in SLOWLY and no more than 1/4 cup at a time, allowing the sugar to be blended exceptionally well before adding more. When half of the sugar has been incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl and resume beating. Be prepared to spend 5 minutes simply adding sugar to the butter. When the last of the sugar has been added, beat for two more minutes, scrape down the bowl sides, and beat for one minute more. The blended butter and sugar will be practically white in color, light and fluffy in texture, and absolutely not grainy in the least.

With the mixer still running at a medium-high speed, SLOWLY begin pouring the egg mixture in a very slow, thin stream. This, too, will take several minutes, but don’t rush it at all. When the entire egg mixture has been incorporated, add the salt to the batter and continue to beat for one full minute.

Remove the mixer bowl from the stand. Using a sieve or sifter, sift only 1/2 cup of the flour over the batter and fold it in gently with a rubber spatula. Make certain to pull the batter up from the bottom of the bowl and fold it over the flour on the top moving slowly. Repeat folding using only 1/2 cup of flour each time until all the flour has been incorporated.

Scoop up the batter and evenly fill your Bundt pan, or divide the batter evenly between your two prepared loaf pans, gently evening the surface with your spatula.

Place into your preheated oven and bake for 70 to 80 minutes. A crack will have formed along the top of each cake. You will know the cake is done when a clean dinner knife (or thin skewer) inserted into the center of the crack in the cake’s middle returns clean.

Remove the pans from the oven and allow to rest on wire racks for 10 minutes. Then invert the cakes onto the rack, turning them right-side up, and allow to cool to room temperature for about 2 hours. If you baked loaves, leave the parchment paper on the cakes during this cooling process and remove when completely cooled.

At this point, you can wrap the Bundt cake (or loaves) in strips of cheesecloth, using several layers, place each cake into its appropriately-sized tin, and drizzle each wrapped cake with a liquor or liqueur (as noted above) until the cheesecloth is saturated. You will use about 1/2 cup of liquor or liqueur to do this. Close the tin and place in a cool pantry. Resoak the cheesecloth each week for at least 4 weeks before consuming or giving away. After this process, these cakes will last another two weeks, so be certain to denote same on box labels or cards when giving as gifts.

As a side note here for those of you considering giving these liquored-up cakes as gifts, go the extra mile and include with them an appropriate serving sauce. Mine are homemade and placed into canning jars and decorated and labeled. For example, I will include a jar of dark chocolate sauce with the bourbon-soaked cake; a jar of raspberry sauce with a cake soaked in Chambord; a jar of fresh lemon curd with a cake soaked in Limoncello; orange marmalade with the Grand Marnier cake, etc.  And even if you don’t want to soak your cakes in liquor, it is always wonderful to include a sauce when gift-giving.

If you don’t wish to soak the cakes, believe me they are absolutely PERFECT unadorned. Their taste and texture is unrivaled and truly the epitome of what a pound cake should be, but rarely is.

Unsoaked cakes should be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and placed into an airtight container. Store at room temperature up to 7 days…if they last that long.

Homemade Butterfinger Candy Bars

•November 5, 2007 • 25 Comments

Are you, too, a fan of Butterfinger Candies with their crunchy, almost “splintery” peanut butter toffee goodness surrounded by thick chocolate?  I ate more than my adult weight in Butterfingers during my childhood, but that’s a post better left unwritten in favor of providing you with the recipe for how to make them yourself.

Butterfingers are a simple candy to make, but the Weather Gods must be in your favor providing a day with low humidity (under 60%). This recipe of mine makes a candy that is a dead-ringer for the original Nestle’s creation…but without their chemicals and additives that allow them to exist on the shelf for years….

Butterfinger Candy Bars

(Yields about 96 miniature candy bars)

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup peanut butter

Spray Vegetable Oil (Pam, etc.) for keeping the knife lubricated in scoring

1 Pound of Tempered Semi-Sweet Chocolate for dipping

First begin by greasing a 12-by-17-inch jelly roll pan (with 1-inch sides) with safflower, vegetable or canola oil. Place the pan into a slightly warm oven to warm the pan while making the candy. (Don’t allow the pan to become hot, only barely warm to give you more time to spread and score the candy later.)

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the corn syrup and water, stirring well to combine. Place over medium-low heat and add the sugar. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it is clear and then stirring often until it reaches a full boil. Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer, raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook – without stirring – until the mixture reaches 310 degrees (F). During this cooking period, should sugar crystals form above the boiling line, carefully wipe away using a damp pastry brush, but be careful not to touch the boiling mixture. Rinse the pastry brush well – and make certain to blot-dry the brush well – between each swipe.

Remove your pan from the warming oven and place on your work surface.

Remove the candy from heat and add the peanut butter, stirring to blend completely using a clean wooden spoon. Working quickly, pour the mixture onto your well-greased jelly roll pan, and spread as evenly as possible. Score the mass with an oiled, heavy chef’s knife into 1-inch by 2-inch pieces, cutting at least half way through the candy. (The more quickly you do this, the easier and deeper your scoring will be.) It is helpful to spray the knife with cooking oil occasionally to aide the knife in scoring.

Allow the scored mixture to cool at room temperature about 2 hours. When cool and hard, complete cutting the scored pieces using a sharp, heavy knife (I like to use my Chinese cleaver here) and break into individual pieces.

Place the cut candies into the refrigerator while you temper your dipping chocolate and allow to chill for 15 to 30 minutes. Remove the candies from the fridge and dip each piece into the chocolate, then place on parchment paper to allow the chocolate to harden completely (About 3 hours).

Note: You can add a certain flair to the candy by taking a clean dinner fork and touching the tops of each freshly dipped piece raising lines of “peaks” (akin to meringue peaks). Just use the back of the fork laid parallel to the chocolate cops, touch, lift and slightly pull to one side. Looks pretty snazzy….

Store on waxed-paper sheets in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

 
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