With Christmas literally right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog about holiday sweet treats. There was only one problem with this idea....a baker I am NOT! I can whip up a mouth watering seven course meal at a moment's notice, but ask me to bake, I break out in a cold sweat and my vernacular dilutes to something only a trucker might find amusing. When it comes to cooking, I feel passionate and unencumbered but with baking, I feel stress and restricted. It's an exact science, baking. Deviate even just a little in measurements, ingredients, oven temperature (and apparently, it's not uncommon for one's oven to be hotter than others meaning you've got to augment accordingingly), baking pan, (I discovered that using a 9 x 10 baking pan as opposed to an 8 inch square pan can make ALL the difference in the world), and even altitude, (seriously??? How far I am above sea level can change the end product? Are you kidding me? Altitude isn't a factor with Chicken Parmagiano let me tell ya'!), and you quite possibly could be screwed! Having said all of that, I had some misses in prepping to write this blog and here are my successes. Trust me on this one folks...if I can make these treats, ANYONE can!
I'm not much of a sweets person really but when I do go for something sweet, I like for it to have a savoury or salty component. Enter Coffee Candied Bacon Chocolate Fudge! I can't think of anything that says 'indulgence' more than bacon, chocolate and fudge in one nicely naughty treat! The coffee candied bacon was pretty straight forward. I placed strips of bacon, side by side and not overlapping, on a cooling rack and then placed the rack over a baking sheeet. I sprinkled each piece of bacon with some finely ground coffee, then a sprinkling of brown sugar. I placed the pan in a cold oven, set the heat at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and let it cook for about 18-20 minutes. When it was done, I removed it from the oven, placed it on paper towel and then chopped it up. While the bacon was in the oven, I followed my Aunt Midgie's recipe for Choclate Fudge so after the bacon was chopped up, I poured half the fudge mixture into a square cake pan, sprinkled with coffee candied bacon, then added the rest of the fudge. I saved a couple of Tbsp of chopped candied bacon to sprinkle on top, sprinkled on a couple of pinches of coarse sea salt and put it in the refrigerator to set.
My number two treat is an old family favourtie: Molasses Jimmies. I don't know where this recipe originates from but I do know my grandmother passed it on to my mother, and my mom is now in her 80's, so it's safe to say this a tried and true recipe. These cookies also happen to be my father's favourite so we had them pretty regularly growing up. The ginger and the cloves makes these cookies a wonderfully aromatic Nice Holiday Treat!
Number three on my list of sweet treats is Nanimo Bars. Nanimo Bars are very popular in Canada and are thought to be named after the west coast city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. The earliest known printed recipe appears in the Edith Adam's prize cookbook, (14th edition) from 1953. Nanaimo Bars are a delectable treat with a crunchy, slightly chocolate, graham crumb base, filling of yummy custard and icing sugar deliciousness, all topped with melted decadent dark chocolate. They are surprisingly easy to make, require very little baking time and set in an hour or less.
Next up, those most famous of all chocolate chip cookies, the New York Times Chocolate Chip! A blend of all purpose and cake flour makes these cookies chewy yet delicate in texture. Packed with dark chocolate morsels, (no semi-sweet chocolate here!), and then left to chill for 24 hours, which is a real practice in patience, before baking. The end result is the perfect chocolate chip cookie, with buttery crisp edges and soft yummy centers!
It seemed every food magazine I read over the past couple of months had some variation on chocolate bark so I figured it was time to give it a try. In keeping with my not-so-sweet sweet tooth, I made a Candied Orange Ginger Dark Chocolate Bark with dried cranberries and pistachio nuts. The only labour intensive part of this recipe is the actually candying (is that even a word?), of the orange. It has to be simmered, drained, simmered, drained, simmered again for 45 minutes, and then placed on a baking rack to dry overnight before actually making the bark. From there, though, it's a piece of cake, pardon the pun. Just melt the chocolate, mix together pistachios, crystallized ginger and dried cranberries, add half of that mixture to the melted chocolate, scrape it into a 13 x 9 parchment paper lined baking dish, smooth out, add rest of the pistachio mixture, arrange candied orange slices on top, and then drizzle any leftover chocolate over the works. Refrigerate for 45 minutes and then cut, or in my case 'crack', into pieces.
For my number six holiday sweet treat, I chose a staple favourite of mine, Date Squares. They're easy to make and always a crowd pleaser. I chop pitted dates and add them to a saucepan with some water and sugar, simmer for a few minutes until the dates are all nice and softened, and then make my crumble mixture of oats, brown sugar, flour, salt, margarine and baking soda. Half of the crumble mixture is pressed into a baking dish to form the crust, topped with the dates and then the remaining crumble mixture is crumbled on top. Baked in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, cooled and then cut into squares.
My father just loves peanut brittle but I thought this year, I'd make brittle with a little twist by substituting pistachios for peanuts. Pistachios are fantastic little healthy nuts. They help decrease levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, help in controlling diabetes, aid in digestion, aid in weight management, reduce the risk of age related macular degeneration, increase iron absorption, help eliminate dry skin, and are rich in antioxidants and aphrodisiac properties. Simply combine sugar, light corn syrup and 3 Tbsp water in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, bringing to a boil for about 3-4 minutes. Add in pistachios, butter and kosher salt, bring to a boil again, let boil another 3-4 minutes until pistachios are golden brown, add in baking soda, mix and then pour out onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread it as thin as you can, sprinkle with a little fleur de sels, (I only had coarse sea salt so that had to do and it worked perfectly well!). When it's cooled, crack into pieces and store in a parchment paper lined air tight container. Salted Pistachio Brittle not only makes a delicious sweet treat, it's great as a little gift for your next door neighbour or co-workers!
Number eight on my Naughty and Nice list of sweet treats is Pretzel Carmel Sweet Squares. These little squares are the perfect balance of sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy and, really, everything in life is about balance! For the base, combine brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, salt and all purpose flour. Press mixture into the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan sprayed with cooking spray and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes. Next, in a medium saucepan over low heat, combine 4 Tbsp of fat free milk with approximately 80 caramel candies. (I couldn't find caramel candies anywhere so I used about 100 g of caramel sauce I bought at the Bulk Barn). After the caramel had melted and combined with the milk, I added in 1 tsp of vanilla extract and removed the mixture from heat. I poured the caramel sauce over the cooked crust, reserving some of the caramel to drizzle on top of the finished squares. I chopped 1c. pecan and 1 and 1/2 c. chopped salted pretzel sticks, mixed them together and crumbled them over the top of the caramel. I then placed the baking pan back in the 350 degree oven for another 15 minutes. While the crust, caramel and pecan pretzel mixture was cooling, I made the chocolate fudge for on top.
I combined sugar, evaporated milk and butter in a saucepan and brought it to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. I let it boil for about 4 minutes and then removed it from the heat, and stirred in mini marshmallows and semi sweet chocolate chips. When the chocolate chips and marshmallows were all melted and combined, I stirred in yet more vanilla. When that was all incorporated, I poured the fudge on top of the cooked crust mixture and warmed up the reserved caramel sauce to drizzle over the top. I ran a knife through the caramel so that it was swirled throughout and then placed the pan in the refrigerator to chill. I'm going to be honest here...these squares were perhaps the most ambitious thing I've ever baked but the resulting squares are sinfully delicious and oh so yummy!
I had planned on making a few more sweet treats for this blog but I've got to tell you, by day 3 of baking, I was frazzled and worn. Although the eight treats pictured in this blog were fairly simple to make and certainly yumilicious, all that exact science stuff in the kitchen was just too much for me! As such, I decided to cut my stress load by scraping the other treats I had intended on making, leave the baking to the bakers, and share my very limited knowledge such as it is! I accept that I will not be asked to join a cookie exchange group any time soon and I'm at peace with that. (However, I am open to joining a pasta exchange...just sayin'!). I'm just going to get back to that which I know....cooking easy, healthied-up, inexpensive and delicious meals!