When I’m looking for hostess gifts or teachers’ presents this time of year, I often think of homemade candies. A box of these treats is always appreciated. The candies also are good make-ahead desserts.
My youngest son and I created the Peppermint Bark recipe after he developed a taste for an expensive store-bought version of the candy. Children can help bash the peppermint candies into bits (under supervision, of course). The truffles evolved from a chocolate frosting recipe when I was looking for a nondairy dessert. The peanut brittle is one of the easiest I’ve ever made (although always be careful working with hot sugar). The recipe is adapted from the cookbook that came with my first microwave oven.
Dress up your candy by putting pieces into colorful candy cups or mini-muffin or cupcake liners.
Makes about 13⁄4 pounds of candy
4 oz. round, wrapped peppermint hard candies (such as Starlight)
1 lb. semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 oz. white chocolate, chopped
Line an approximately 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking tray with foil. Make sure it extends beyond sides of the pan. Unwrap candies and put them inside doubled heavy-duty zipper-lock bags. Seal bags, taking care all air is removed. Place on cutting board on a steady, durable surface. Hit candies with a rolling pin, meat tenderizer or hammer until candies are broken into approximately 1⁄4-inch pieces.
Melt semisweet chocolate. Spread melted chocolate in even layer across bottom of prepared baking tray. Place pan with chocolate in refrigerator.
Melt white chocolate. Take pan with semisweet layer out of refrigerator and spread melted white chocolate on top. Working quickly, evenly scatter peppermint candy pieces on top, pressing down slightly on larger chunks to make sure they adhere. Put back in the refrigerator until firm, about a half-hour. Using foil lining, lift bark out of pan. Peel off foil and break into irregularly shaped pieces. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed bag or container. Take out about 20 minutes before serving.
Parve Cinnamon-Almond Chocolate Truffles
Makes about 24 truffles
3 oz. plain unsweetened soy milk
3 Tbs. parve margarine, cut into small chunks
1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. almond extract
5 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
cocoa powder, optional
Simmer soy milk over medium heat. Add margarine, stirring until dissolved. Stir in cinnamon and almond extract. Reduce heat to very low. Add chocolate, stirring constantly until thoroughly melted. Refrigerate covered for several hours until the mixture is solid but pliable (it may be a bit crumbly). Oil hands and measuring spoon if desired. Spoon out about 2 tsp. of chocolate mixture, and using hands and fingers roll, press or pinch into rough rounds. Store covered in refrigerator and take out about 20 minutes before serving and roll in cocoa powder, if using.
Microwave Peanut Brittle
Makes about 11⁄2 pounds
1 tsp. butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing tray
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup salted peanuts (not dry-roasted)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
Note: Times are given for 800-1,000 watt microwaves. For ovens with a higher wattage, try reducing cooking times by about 1 minute at each stage.
Grease baking tray and set aside. In a 2-quart heat-proof glass casserole dish (do not use plastic), combine sugar and corn syrup. Stir. Cook in microwave on high for 4 minutes. Mixture should be beginning to bubble and starting to brown. Stir. Add peanuts. Mix well. Cook on high for 31⁄2 minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cook on high for 11⁄2 minutes. Candy should be browned but not burnt, liquid and bubbly.
Remove from microwave, and immediately stir in baking soda until light and foamy. Pour onto buttered tray, spread until 1⁄4-inch thick. (It spreads easier if baking tray has been warmed slightly.) Cool, break into pieces. Store in airtight container.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.