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by Heather Harris Brady
Happy 2016! Thank you guys so much for sticking with me during these days of sparse posts. As you probably know, I work full-time and this year my son’s a senior so I’ve been trying to take time to enjoy this year-that-will-not-come-again. This toffee is something new I auditioned over the holidays and since it was a big hit I wanted to share it with you because it would make a great thing to put for any upcoming game or Oscar parties.
This is a large recipe, it will yield about two gallon-size ziplock bags of toffee, so feel free to cut in half if that works for you. It does freeze well too. This is a variation of the saltine toffee recipes you see other places, but I’ve changed it a little bit based on an old magazine clipping I found in my files. I’ve topped it with broken pretzels but you could go to town with whatever you like – sprinkles in game day colors, gold leaf, nuts, you name it.
Sweet and Salty Toffee, About 2 lbs. of finished toffee
- Two sleeves of regular saltine crackers
- Three sticks of butter
- 1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
- 1 t. vanilla
- 12 oz. chocolate couverture or good quality chocolate chips (Like Ghirardelli 60%)
- Toppings (optional)
Line a sheet pan with foil and grease it lightly. Lay the crackers out in one even layer, with as few gaps as possible. There is something very OCD and enjoyable about this part.
In a heavy saucepan combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat.
Cook, stirring occasionally, to the medium-crack stage. It will start out like this:
But over time it will thicken. Keep an eye on it as it thickens, once it starts to darken to a toffee color you’re there.
Stir in the vanilla and pour it immediately over the crackers as evenly as you can.
Take a knife and coax it out to fill the gaps, work quick because we need to keep it hot.
Spread the couverture discs or chips over the toffee.
As they melt spread it out.
Before it sets top it with your extras, in this case, broken pretzels.
Put it in the refrigerator to finish hardening up. When it’s hard lift the foil to crack it into serving-size pieces.
Store the finished toffee in an airtight bag or tin. It will keep for several weeks, but ours disappeared as soon as I set it out.
by Heather Harris Brady
These petit fours are a great choice when you want to celebrate something special but not necessarily have a whole cake. They are elegant, indulgent and great for parties or gifts. Use the best chocolate you can find for these and your prettiest little pans or papers.
For the cakes
- 5 T. butter
- 3 oz. dark chocolate
- 6 oz. semisweet chocolate
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/3 c. gluten free flour blend (or all-purpose flour)
- 1 t. vanilla
For the ganache
- 3.5 oz (one bar) dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli Cabernet)
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1 T. butter
Make the ganache. (I’m not doing pics for this part because I’ve shown it so often.) Heat the cream in a small saucepan to just below boiling. Break the chocolate into the cream and set it aside for two minutes. Whisk the butter in until smooth. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350. Melt the 5 T. butter in a saucepan.
Whisk in the chocolates.
Remove from heat and let it cool slightly to lukewarm. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla.
Then the flour and baking powder.
You should have a nice thick batter.
Spoon it into the pans. I’m using tiny little hearts here, but you could use mini muffin tins.
Check at eight minutes, the centers should be just set.
Then the cakes out onto racks.
Dip each cake into the ganache.
Then turn it back up on the racks to cool.
When the first coating has set drizzle more ganache over the top to make them pretty. A fork works well for this.
Let them stand until the coating sets. Store at room temperature. Each cake is like a tiny delicious chocolate truffle.
by Heather Harris Brady
Fancy party cakes are some of the most fun you can have as a baker. This box cake is very versatile for lots of occasions – you could fill it with baby shoes, flowers, candies, more cookies, golf balls, whatever. However, if it’s a cake for a fashion-loving tween whose birthday happens to be on the day of the Oscars, well then you get gold-chocolate high heels.
Now I know I could have used fondant, but I used to do wedding cakes and I learned something about myself, namely: I hate watching people skin their slices of cake before they eat it. Plus, it’s kind of expensive. If I’m doling out $15 for a pound of something that something had better be chocolate. So this cake is entirely edible and entirely delicious, except for the optional ribbon and the waxed paper.
If you’re interested in making the high heels, you need a chocolate mold like this one. It was a super-busy weekend and I made this cake in just over two hours. If I had more time I would have made a nice cakeboard, but sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got and make the best of it. Just pretend the cookie sheet in the pictures below is actually a white cakeboard.
Shoebox Celebration Cake, About 16 servings
- One 13 x 9 cake layer of your choice
- Two batches of chocolate ganache
- Two packages of sugar wafer cookies (there should be 30+ cookies in each package)
- Cake board (white foamcore or sturdy cardboard)
- Something to fill the box, your choice
- Optional: White royal icing for details
Cut the cake layer in half so you have two 6.5″ x 9″ sections. Place one in the middle of your cakeboard, then lay out your box, reserving extra cookies in case of breakage. The sides should take 27 cookies, with another 20 for the box top – as you will see below. Set all the cookies aside.
Stack and ice the layers with about 2/3 of the ganache, then add a ring of cookies around the bottom. Press them in so they will harden to the ganache but keep them square.
Build your box on top of the bottom ring, pressing the cookies in as you go. I noticed too late that the cookies have different patterns on each side, so you can alternate cookie sides too if you want.
Now add a second ring of cookies to the bottom for the box top.
Put the rest of the ganache in a pastry bag and cover the box top.
Now the fun part! Fill the box. I added some torn sheets of wax paper for the tissue and put the chocolate shoes in.
Then I painted the shoes with gold luster dust and added some royal icing trim to the box top, as well as the top edge of the box.
I cut the corners off a graham cracker to make a Happy Birthday price tag with the rest of the royal icing. I added a grosgrain ribbon bow around the box for decoration, but the ganache hardens quickly and the box easily stood by itself. However, if it’s warm or you’re transporting the cake, the ribbon is extra insurance.
This is how it looks from the top.
A close-up of the shoes, dark chocolate brushed with gold dust.
To serve you can use the wafers as a cutting guideline. I cut down the middle the long way first, and I cut each half into slices.
by Heather Harris Brady
When I’m in a pinch and need some hot fudge ASAP (hey, these things happen) I often melt some chocolate into sweetened condensed milk, add a bit of butter and vanilla and call it good. A few weeks ago I came across an article on these candies, and found that if I kept cooking this mixture I’d end up with brigadeiros – a favorite Brazilian candy!
While sources seem to disagree on the candy’s origin, here’s the version from Celebrate Brazil:
Brigadeiros were first made by the wife of Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, of the Brazilian Air Force. Famous for helping end a coup by the communists on Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s, he later ran for the 1946 presidency and his wife created brigadeiros as a treat for campaign fundraising events.
The legend has it that people asked if others had tried the Brigadeiros’ candy and the name stuck. It was a simple candy made with only three ingredients during a time when other food items were in short supply because of the war. Also, Nestle was introducing chocolate powder and condensed milk during this time.
And there you have it! I used low-fat condensed milk and they turned out fine. These candies are super easy (gluten free!), you could booze them up with some rum or brandy, and roll them in whatever coating strikes your fancy. If you’re looking for a unique handmade signature treat for the holidays, look no further!
Brigadeiros, Makes about 18 1″ candies
- Two cans of low-fat sweetened condensed milk
- 1/3 c. cocoa powder (I used a mixture of Ghiradelli and Hershey’s Special Dark.)
- 2 T. butter
- 1 T. vanilla (or other flavoring of your choice)
- Ground nuts, sprinkles, cake or cookie crumbs for the coating
Combine the first three ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
The cocoa will turn into little lumps and it will look like a disaster at first, but that’s okay! Keep stirring, and it will start to boil.
The lumps will dissolve and it will smell amazing. After about 10-15 minutes it should be reduced by half and thicken up to where your strokes leave open areas in the mixture for a few seconds – like chocolate lava.
Stir in the vanilla or other flavoring and pour it into a shallow metal pan to cool.
When it is cold and scoopable, get your work area set up with a bowl of coating crumbs. Roll the candy into 1″ balls. Then roll them in the crumbs.
I put them into these little gold petit four cups to keep them neat.
What do they look like inside? I’m glad you asked!
I think they are best described as the thickest hot fudge sauce you can imagine – smooth and sauve.
Also, cute! These will keep at room temp for two days, or a week in the fridge.
by Heather Harris Brady
I’ve been enthralled by this recipe for a long time and finally this year the stars aligned so that I could make them. These chocolate chestnuts are in Bernachon’s Chocolate cookbook. They end up as rather large candies, so they make a pretty accompaniment to placecards for a dinner party or as hostess gifts.
The centers are a chestnut buttercream covered in a chocolate shell, then a layer of marzipan and a final coating of ganache for the outer husk.
Chocolate Chestnuts, Makes Six Large Candies
1/3 c. mashed roasted chestnuts
2 T. softened butter
1/3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 lb. dark chocolate couverture
One small can of almond paste (marzipan)
1/3 recipe chocolate ganache
Lay out six couverture discs (or melt some of the couverture and drop 1-1/2″ circles onto waxed paper, allow to harden). Cream the center ingredients together and form into six balls. Place one on each disc.
Put the centers in the refrigerator to harden while you melt the couverture. Dip each center and coat them completely. Return to the refrigerator to harden.
While the coating hardens knead the marzipan until it’s soft and pliable, adding powdered sugar as necessary. Divide it into six balls and flatten them into circles. Mold each circle around each center. Cover them with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. At this point your ganache should be cold but still spreadable.
Cover the marzipan in a thick layer of ganache. As it starts to set, press against it with the tip of a knife and pull out to create the little barbs all over the surface.
The chocolate chestnuts will keep about five days at room temperature. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.
One year ago: Chocolate YOLO Grenades
by Heather Harris Brady
Why would one candy their own citron when it is so readily available in those little plastic tubs? Well young grasshopper, simply because it was there. I feel a fruitcake coming on and out of the blue I saw this in the tropical fruit bin at my local grocery:
I’ve never seen one in the flesh before (pardon the pun) so I quickly put it in the cart before someone else could grab it. Not that anyone would, probably, because – well, it’s just so odd-looking. It is, in fact, a Buddha’s Hand citron that chance brought to my little corner of the world.
If you’re close enough to smell it at all, it has an amazing citrus aroma. Not at all sweet, just pure citrus. It was kind of astringent raw (likely underripe) but perfect for candying. If you’ve got a lot going on, just do the cooking in a crockpot instead of on the stove, increasing the time to 4-5 hours on low.
Candied Citron, Makes about 8-10 oz.
One largish Buddha’s Hand citron
2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
1 t. cider vinegar
Granulated sugar for coating
Slice up the fruit into small dice.
Set it aside and combine the water, sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil and add the citron pieces.
Cook until all the pieces are transparent and the syrup is thick (about 2-1/2 hours).
Spread the countertop thickly with granulated sugar. Drop small spoonfuls of citron pieces on the sugar and tease them apart with forks (or use silicone gloves).
Make sure each piece gets evenly coated with sugar. Cool completely and when they are dry to the touch store in an airtight container until ready to use. You can use it as you would any other candied fruit.
One year ago: Swedish Visiting Cake