Tips can help with preparation of these holiday treats

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published December 13, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 12, 2012 at 10:15 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Warm and spicy cinnamon sugar coats tiny pretzels for a perfect salty sweet and crunchy holiday snack. Make a double batch, and share something special with friends and family.

In the hustle and bustle that is the modern Christmas season, it is easy to become fixated on finding the elusive hot toy of the year or on navigating the sea of people and parties that equally entertains and exasperates us. The stores are stuffed, the shelves disheveled, and shoppers can run out of resources — monetary and mental — before each entry is crossed off the list.

Homemade food gifts can be the solution to a multitude of problems: the impossible to please, the one who has “everything,” last-minute guests, hostess gifts and last but not least, a well-deserved treat for the cook! Food gifts are the ultimate expression of friendship — a realization that someone took the time to give something truly from the heart.

There are a few tips to working with candy recipes to keep in mind.

Chocolate: When melted, the cocoa, sugar and fat ideally mix into a smooth, silky liquid. But if the mixture comes in contact with even a drop of water, the chocolate can “seize,” rendering it unusable. Overheated chocolate can be heavy and lumpy. Don’t let that scare you off — just make sure all utensils are dry (no wooden spoons) and you take your time using a low heat setting.

Sugar: Boiling sugar can be dangerous! It is difficult to wipe or rinse off the skin quickly, making burns more serious. To avoid this painful pitfall, take care when stirring and pouring. Although cooks for generations have used the “ball method” to gauge doneness, a candy thermometer is an easy and economical way to assure success.

Weather: Clear, dry days are best for candy-making. On rainy or humid days, the cooking time can increase, or your candy may never set up at all. Sugar attracts water, so humidity can sabotage your recipe.

Chocolate Spoons

Ingredients:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces

20-24 plastic spoons

4 ounces white chocolate chips

Note: (holiday candy “bark” may be substituted for the chips)

Directions:

Line baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside.

Melt chocolate candy chips in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, or place candy chips in glass bowl and microwave on high 30 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth.

Dip the bowl portion of the spoons into the chocolate, tapping the handle of each spoon against the side of the pan to remove excess chocolate. Place spoons on waxed paper; refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow chocolate to set up.

Melt white candy chips according to package or methods above. Transfer melted candy to a small zip-top plastic bag. Using scissors, make a small opening at one bottom corner of the bag; drizzle one or both sides of the chocolate-coated spoons with the melted white baking bar. Drizzle remaining melted bittersweet chocolate on the white-baking-bar-coated spoons.

Refrigerate the spoons for 30 minutes to allow chocolate to set up. Wrap each spoon separately in cellophane or an acrylic bag. Store in a cool, dry place. (Will last for 2 to 3 weeks.) Use for stirring coffee or hot chocolate.

Cinnamon Pretzels

Ingredients:

1 1-pound package small pretzel twists

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large roasting pan with short sides, stir together oil, sugar and cinnamon until well mixed. Add pretzels, and toss until well coated with the mixture. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes and 20 minutes. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use

3/4 cup corn kernels

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil

2 cups packed light-brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Butter 2 rimmed baking sheets; set aside. Prepare popcorn according to package directions. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, cook sugar, butter and corn syrup over medium-high heat, stirring, until it reaches 255 degrees using a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour over mixture; toss to coat. Divide between prepared sheets. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt. Bake, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps, for 80 minutes. Remove, let cool, and store in airtight tins.

Salty Sweet Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

24 round buttery crackers (Ritz brand preferred)

2/3 cup smooth peanut butter

12-ounce bag semisweet or white chocolate chips (holiday candy “bark” may be substituted for the chips)

Directions:

Line a shallow pan with wax paper. Spread 12 crackers with approximately 1 teaspoon peanut butter, edge to edge. Top with additional crackers like sandwiches.

Melt candy chips in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, or place candy chips in glass bowl and microwave on high 30 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth. (If all pieces aren’t melted, microwave in 10-second increments, stirring vigorously after each segment.)

Using tongs, dip each cracker sandwich into the melted candy, allowing excess to drip off. Place on waxed-paper-prepared pan. When all sandwiches are complete, put in the freezer for 30 minutes.

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