Christmas chocolate boxes

This year Boyfriend and I made boxes of chocolate as Christmas presents, to go along with the tins of peppermint bark. This idea had been percolating for a few months. After the first batch of chocolates turned out so well, I asked Boyfriend if he wanted join me in making chocolates together. He thought this was a good plan, so we spent a few evenings drinking cocoa and playing video games as we worked out the details.

There were three problems with this plan:

  1. How do you make fillings for chocolates that won’t spoil? Mousse was out.
  2. How do you make coloured fillings when somebody has an anaphylaxis reaction to food colouring?
  3. Would the chocolates survive being transported from Toronto to the east coast on the VIA train?

First, we did some stealth research on family preferences, and started brainstorming what flavours to make, and how to make them. Neither of us had made chocolate fillings before, but how hard could it be? We decided that Boyfriend would make the fillings and I would temper the chocolate, and by the magic of team work, they would come together into one glorious confection. Oh, hubris.

Second, we ordered supplies: silicon moulds, flavouring oils, boxes, ribbon, and photo-quality paper. After coming up with a rough estimate of how much chocolate was required, I hit up the farmer’s market and purchased seven kilograms of Belgian chocolate; milk, dark, semi-sweet, and white.

Third, after the boxes arrived, they had to be assembled. This was a lot harder than it sounds. Boyfriend saved the day since I had no idea what to do. Once the boxes were ready, I designed a label and he affixed it to the box.

Fourth, we made a map! We had 6 different mould shapes, but each box was meant to hold 9 chocolates, so there would be some repeats. The map went under multiple revisions before I settled on this:

Fifth, practice run! Filling chocolates was brand-new territory, I wanted to experiment to get the technique down. I tempered a batch of chocolate and we got to work.

To make the fillings, Boyfriend mixed up icing sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in Nemo the KitchenAid, and then divided into 4 bowls, which he flavoured accordingly with: orange cream, peppermint, and raspberry. To get the buttercream, he kept one bowl aside without any extra flavouring ingredients.

The peanut butter filling was chilled, rolled into balls, then placed in the freezer.

Boyfriend making peanut butter balls

For the other filled ones, I made a simple ganache, by pouring scalded cream over milk chocolate, and over Toblerone pieces.

Once the chocolate was tempered, I poured a little chocolate into the bottom of the moulds, he put the filling in, and I topped it up with more chocolate. We shook the moulds to settle the chocolate, and back into the fridge.

After the test chocolates set, we put half in the fridge, and left the rest on the counter, to see how they held up at room temperature. After a week the chilled ones were fine, the others has degraded a bit, so that was good to know.

What about dying the fillings? Peppermint patties are white anyway, but how can you make pink, orange, and yellow, without using food colouring? We added a dash of pure beet juice to the raspberry which worked like a charm, soft pink was achieved. (Experiments with other vegetable juices to colour the orange and butter cream failed.)

Six, it was time to make the first batch of real chocolates. Armed with what we learned from the test trial, we made a batch of chocolates for Boyfriend’s family. Everything turned out wonderfully, aside from the Toblerone ganache which collapsed.  However, it was the tastiest one.

After spending the weekend with his family, we came home and went to work on round 2 for my family – which would be shipped on the VIA train. Back to the drawing board on the Toblerones, and decided to skip the ganache this time, and just melt and mould solid Tolberone, which held up much better.

The brown triangle in the top left corner is the label, which I have blurred out, but it says the name of our chocolate company, so to speak.

Verdict:

Collaborating with Boyfriend was a lot of fun. Aside from the tears and the tantrum at the train station (which is a long boring story), I had a great time! His family really enjoyed the chocolates, and hopefully my family likes them too. ^^

The lovely ribbon I was so excited about? Completely forgot to use it until today. The map was a little bit off. We had planned to use the tiered square for 3 flavours, but ended up with 4 in that shape, and the milk chocolate ganache and the dulce de leche were reversed. Oops.

I think my idea for Toblerone ganache is still a sound premise, but I’m going to have to keep tinkering. Placing the ganache fillings into the chocolate was really tricky, the fillings oozed out a bit, I’m not sure if adding more liquid to the ganache would help or not.

For next year, I’ll make sure I have at least 2 copies of each mould so we can make 30 per flavour at a time. I’ll also start a few days earlier, got a bit distracted and left some things to the last minute.

Where to get supplies:

Both online orders arrived promptly, and had been packed with care. I’ll order from both companies again.

Chocolate truffles

Yesterday Hobby Victim invited me and Boyfriend over for a day of food, video games, and chocolate making. She had a godly supply of fine chocolate, truffle shells, and liquor. I arrived with a bag of equipment and flavouring oils. We quickly got started:

You can make truffles by rolling them by hand – which is difficult –  or by using truffle shells.  A truffle shell is a hollow chocolate sphere, with a hole in the top, which you can pipe a filling into.  It yields a more even and professional look.

Each truffle consists of a filling of rich dark chocolate ganache, a shell of white or dark chocolate, a coating of milk chocolate, and a lovely garnish. We made 4 flavours:

  • Triple Sec and orange cream
  • Baileys Irish cream
  • Peppermint
  • Crème de Cassis (black currant) and raspberry

To prepare the ganache for the fillings, Hobby Victim scalded the cream while I chopped the chocolate. She tempered the hot cream into the chocolate and whisked it up.

We divided the ganache into 4 bowls, and added the liquor and essential oils to taste.

An essential oil is a pure concentrated oil, whereas flavour extracts are a mixture of oil and alcohol. The oils are about 4 times stronger than extracts, yielding a much more intense flavour. You can find these oils in specialty shops or online.

The fillings were cooled in the fridge for awhile, then transferred into piping bags, and the ganache was squirted into the open hole in the top of the shells.  Back into the fridge for awhile to set.

We made second batch of ganache to use as a final coating.  Each truffle was dipped in the bowl and transferred to a cookie sheet, where various decorations were added while the coating was still soft, so when it hardened it would look like so:

peppermint truffles with candy canes

Aren’t they lovely? They remind me of little ornaments.

truffles with sprinkles, white chocolate, and sugar

I’m pleased to report they all tasted delicious.

truffles, truffles every where!

These took awhile to make, but I had a great time. Baileys shots makes any lengthy task worth doing. I will definitely make these again, and when I do, I’ll post some how-to pictures for you.

What type of chocolates do you want to see next?

Patty’s turtle brownies

Ah, turtles. Despite the fact that I hate nuts, I thoroughly enjoy Nestlé Turtles, and I really enjoy turtle brownies (sans nuts). I haven’t baked much lately because I AM SUPER STRESSED OUT, and today I was in the mood for something simple. I decided to make half with nuts for Boyfriend because I am a really nice person.

Good to know before you start:

This process involves caramelizing sugar, which I have written about before, so let me sum up: caramelizing can be rather dangerous and lead to hideous scarring. Try not to maim yourself.

Time required: 2 hours (40 min prep, 20 min bake, 1 hr chill)

Yields: about 30 pieces

Cost per piece: $1.66

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $18.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 9″ x 13″
  • parchment paper
  • pastry blender

Ingredients:

  • 2 C flour
  • divided amounts of brown sugar, 1 C and ¾ C
  • divided amounts of margarine, ½ C and ¾ C
  • 1½ C chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 2 C milk chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 176° C / 350°F. Line baking pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix 1 C of sugar with the flour, and cut in ½ C margarine. with a pastry blender, blending until coarse crumbs form.

You can do this the smart way and use pre-measured blocks of margarine, or you can do it the foolish way. Anyway, moving right along…

3. Pat mixture into baking pan.

4. Sprinkle nuts onto crust. Ugh, disgusting. I’m only doing this for Boyfriend’s sake so I’ll put nuts on half. Or… one third. Yup looks like half to me!

5. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the remaining amounts of sugar and margarine (¾ C of each), and stir constantly. Once mixture is boiling, let it boil for 1 minute, then immediately pour onto crust.

Use a spatula to carefully spread the caramel, work quickly because as the caramel cools it will firm and start to tear up the crust.

6. Bake in the oven for 20 min.

7. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot crust. Wait 3 minutes, giving the chocolate time to melt.

8. Use spatula to gently spread chocolate.

9. Chill for at least one hour and cut into squares.

His and hers! No nuts for me. Seriously, why would anybody want to spoil turtles with nuts? Reptiles lay eggs anyway.

Verdict: Delicious! I love turtle brownies, they are cheap, they are quick, and they are easy to make.

Playlist: Lacuna Coil

What is your favourite stress-free dessert to fall back on?

Chocolate caramels

Last night I ventured into bold new territory: the art of candy making.  Chocolate caramels dusted with coarse sea salt are probably not the best breakfast, but this is from the girl who used to eat brown sugar for breakfast so really, what did you expect?

I adapted this recipe from Nestlé’s Chocolate 3 Books In 1 which is on Amazon.com. My last few attempts to make caramel failed miserably, so let’s see how this goes.

Good to know before you start: Caramel can be a dangerous item to make. You must heat sugar to a very high temperature and hot sugar is like napalm, it will burn you terribly.

Before you begin, fill the sink with cold water and ice cubes, and in the event of a burn, immediately submerge the injured arm into the cold water.

Minimize the risk of burns by wearing a heavy long-sleeved shirt, use long oven mitts, and do not put your face near the pot. Be aware that caramel will bubble up like lava once liquid is added, use a deep pot and a long-handled spoon to stir. Stir slowly, avoid splashing.

You need at least 45 minutes in the kitchen uninterrupted.  You cannot walk away from the stove, so pre-measure your ingredients and only start caramel when you have the time to do it, don’t try to rush it or you’ll be sorry.

The original recipe uses two packets (each 1 oz) of Nestlé Toll House CHOCO BAKE pre-melted unsweetened chocolate flavour. I have no idea what that is, and I substituted with cocoa powder and two extra tablespoons of butter.  If using the Choco Bake stuff you only need 1 C of butter.

Time required: 1 hr, plus over night to set

Yields: about 28 pieces

Cost per piece: $1.21

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $34.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • candy thermometer
  • baking pan 8″ x 8″ and one larger one
  • tin foil
  • plastic wrap
  • mini muffin cups
  • ice cubes

Ingredients:

  • 18 TBSP unsalted butter (2 sticks + 2 TBSP), melted
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • 1 C brown sugar, packed
  • 1 C corn syrup
  • 414 mL sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 TBSP cocoa
  • 1 TSP pure vanilla extract
  • coarse sea salt

Instructions:

1. Line baking pan with foil and grease.

2. Measure out condensed milk and cocoa, set aside.

3. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, add: butter, white and brown sugars, and corn syrup. Cook over Medium heat, stirring constantly.

Mix it all up…

4. Once mixture is boiling, add cocoa powder and condensed milk. Reduce heat to Medium-Low and stir often (almost constantly).

The goal is to obtain a temperature of 118°C / 245°F which should take at least half an hour. Once it’s been bubbling that long, check with a candy thermometer, which is soft ball stage.

Stirring in the cocoa took awhile, it kept floating up and not blending. After 5 min or so it started to look like this:

5. As soon as you reach correct temperature, remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

6. Immediately pour into prepared pan, be very careful not to splash yourself.

(In the back is my candy thermometer sitting on the big spoon thing.)

Place dish into cold water bath, this will lower the temperature so the caramel does not keep cooking into the hard ball stage.

7. After the water is no longer cold, remove from water and cover with plastic wrap. Leave it on the counter overnight to set.

It’s easier to handle if you use plastic wrap instead of your bare hands. Cut with a sharp knife.

8. Set into muffin cups, and sprinkle with salt.

Verdict: These were good. Eventually I want to progress to making real caramel without corn syrup but this is a good start. The last few times I’ve attempted real caramel with just sugar and cream and vanilla it was a disaster but this turned out very well.

I tried one without salt, way too sweet though.

Playlist: Jem & the Holograms soundtrack

Devil’s cupcakes

If being damned meant I could eat devil’s food cake every day then send me straight to hell.

What makes a “classic” devil’s food cake recipe is debatable, but one thing is not open for discussion, and that is the simple fact that devil’s food cake is delicious. Alternately known as the the best cake ever, devil’s food is a rich, moist, airy cake.

I was compelled to make these after several late-night Diablo 2 sessions with Boyfriend. After a few dungeon crawls which culminated in fighting various demons and devils, I woke up the other day with three words on my mind: devil’s food cake. It’s divine inspiration.

These were made from the “classic devil’s food cake” recipe in my beloved Chocolate! book by Good Housekeeping, which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. I planned to make chocolate buttercream but when it was time to make the frosting I forgot, so these beauties are frosted with luscious vanilla buttercream.

Good to know before you start: although you can substitute buttermilk by adding white vinegar to regular milk, it is worth using real buttermilk for this. I’ve done the substitution a few times, but I find the flavour and texture of cake batter made with real buttermilk is much, much better. I spent $2.69 on a 1L carton.

I used to avoid buying it because I had no idea what to do with the leftover milk, but I will just MAKE MORE CUPCAKES NOM NOM NOM.

Before you open the buttermilk shake it well.

I was experimenting with camera settings for these shots. My apologies if the lightning is off.

Time required: 1.5 hours

Yields: 48 mini cupcakes, 24 regular cupcakes, or three 8″ round cakes

Cost per mini cupcake: $1.08

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $42-$52 depending on the quality of vanilla extract

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • KitchenAid mixer!
  • 2 mini cupcake trays

Ingredients:

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 C unsweetened cocoa
  • 1½ TSP baking soda
  • ½ TSP salt
  • ½ C unsalted butter (one stick), room temp
  • 1 C golden brown sugar, packed
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temp
  • 1½ TSP vanilla extract
  • 1½ C buttermilk

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 177°C / 350°F. Place cupcake liners in trays. (For round cakes, grease the pans, line with parchment paper, and dust with cocoa.)

2. In a medium bowl combine: flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl at low speed, beat: butter, brown sugar, and white sugar, until blended. Increase speed to high: beat 5 min until it’s light and fluffy.

4. Reduce speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time.

Sometimes when Boyfriend walks into the kitchen, he will find me already in there, staring at my blue mixer.

“What are you doing?”

“Admiring.”

“Er…okay then.” (as he slowly backs away)

5. Beat in vanilla.

6. Add the dry mixture and buttermilk alternating like so: half of the flour, all the buttermilk, and the rest of the flour. After each addition beat until just combined. Scrape the sides a few times and make sure the batter is smooth.

7. Bake times: 14-15 min for mini cupcakes, at least 20 min for full size cupcakes, 30-35 min for 8″ rounds.

If making the round cakes, place two pans on top rack and one on bottom rack, no pan should be completely on top of another to allow air circulation.

A toothpick inserted should come out nearly clean.

Let cupcakes cool in pan one minute before removing from pan and placing on rack.

Let cakes cool 10 minutes before using thin knife to loosen edges and inverting onto rack.

Cool for at least one hour before frosting.

8. Frost! Oops. Forgot about making chocolate buttercream and made my regular vanilla buttercream for this: cream together 5 TBSP of unsalted butter at room temperature with 3 C of icing sugar. One at a time, mix in 1 TBSP milk, 1 TSP pure vanilla, and 1 TBSP lemon juice. If desired add a few drops of food colouring.

Verdict: Delicious. OMG. Delicious. Love love love. Real buttermilk batter is where it’s at.

Although I like mini cupcakes (because I can argue that eating two is only the equivalent of one), making them is aggravating. Manipulating batter into such a small space is so annoying. I have half a carton of buttermilk left though. Ah hah! I’ll just make full size cupcakes!!

I’ve been looking for an excuse to practice making buttercream roses. Perhaps I failed at making a perfect rose (more of an artists’ interpretation of a white carnation) but whatever! I still make heavenly cupcakes. The humidity is part of the problem, normally my frosting is firmer, but it’s been so humid and it came out slightly runny, which made is easy to pipe but it couldn’t hold a shape well.

I’ll make up another batch in a few days and will definitely go for chocolate buttercream.

What is your favourite cupcake and frosting flavour combination?

Playlist: Depeche Mode

Gooey cheesecake brownies

A rich chocolate brownie with a cream cheese topping.  #winning.

I made these for spite.  I was planning to avoid cheesecake-type desserts for awhile but my resolve shattered after flipping through my cook book.  I had intended to make these brownies last month but didn’t get around to it, so last night just seemed like as good a time as any.

This recipe is also from Good Housekeeping Brownies: favourite recipes for Blondies, Bars & Brownies, which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Mine don’t look quite as nice as the book, but they tasty really good, and that’s mostly what counts!

Time required: (3 hours: 1 hr prep, 1 hr baking, 1 hr cooling)

Yields: 36 pieces

Cost per brownie: $1.05

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: between $27.00 and $38.00 depending on what type of vanilla extract you like, I am using pure Tahitian vanilla extract at the moment.

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 9″ x 13″
  • tin foil
  • KitchenAid mixer!

Brownie ingredients:

  • 1¼ C flour
  • ½ TSP salt
  • ¾ C butter (one and a half sticks, room temp)
  • 6 oz unsweetened chocolate (6 squares)
  • 2 C granulated white sugar
  • 1 TSP vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, room temp

Topping ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened (1 block)
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 2 C icing sugar
  • 1 TSP vanilla extract

Instructions:

Step 1 – Preheat oven to 177°C / 350°F.  Line baking pan with tinfoil and grease.

Step 2 – Prepare brownie: whisk together flour and salt.

Step 3 – In a sauce pan melt the baking chocolate, and stir in the butter until smooth.

Step 4 – Remove from heat, stir in sugar and vanilla.

Step 5 – Beat in eggs until just combined.

Step 6 – Stir in flour mixture, then spread into prepared pan.

Step 7 – Prepare topping: beat cream cheese.  Add the eggs, icing sugar, and vanilla.

I wasn’t paying attention at this point because one of my parental units called and I got distracted, so I didn’t blend the cream cheese as well as I should have before adding the rest of the ingredients. Oops.

Step 8 – “Use a metal spatula to spread topping gently over the brownie.”

Hmmm. I didn’t have to use a spatula at all, my topping was very runny and poured easily from the pan onto the brownie.  Hurrah, one less dish to clean!

I tilted the baking pan and it spread out on its own. Hope that is okay…

Step 9 – Bake 55 minutes, a toothpick inserted will come out cleanly when done.  Cool completely in pan, on wire rack. Looks good so far, and smells amazing.

Step 10 – Use tinfoil to lift brownie from pan, and slice lengthwise into 6 strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 6 pieces.

Verdict: Wow – I’m in heaven. These are pretty good.

I will definitely make this again but will change three things:

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave in a big glass bowl instead of on the stove, because stirring dry ingredients into my small sauce pans sucks.

2. Avoid answering the phone while preparing the topping.

3. Lower the baking time by 5 minutes.  My oven runs 2 degrees cold, and you would think that by following recipe times exactly my results would always be good – but not so!

It seems every time I used the exact time listed in a cook book it’s overdone.  The bottom of the brownie was slightly crispy, and the topping was a wee bit overdone.  Still tastes good, but next time will be flawless.

Playlist: Schubert – Der Erlkönig

Hot fudge sauce

An “impact event” occurs when two celestial bodies collide. Chocolate being the food of the gods, a Baking impact event is when two flavours hit you like a bolt of lightning and your taste buds sing; everything changes and you dream up more ways to bring them together. That’s how I feel about hot fudge sauce and frozen yogurt. So simple, so delicious!

I made hot fudge sauce for Boyfriend tonight as a surprise. I learned to make this when I was 8 years old, it’s from Master Your Microwave which is available on Amazon.ca. The book stands out in my mind for 2 reasons; it was the first recipe I ever made of my own volition, an innocent time when I didn’t understand arcing and would put metal pans in the microwave to watch the pretty blue sparks. (Sorry Mom.)

Time required: 10 minutes

Yields: double batch

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $18.00

Cost per serving: minuscule

Kitchen implements I used: microwave & microwave-safe glass bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • 6 TBSP cocoa
  • 3 TBSP powdered cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 C water
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 2 TSP vanilla

Instructions:

Step 1 – in large glass bowl, combine dry ingredients

Step 2 – whisk in water

Step 3 – microwave on High for 8 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds.

It remains fairly watery until the 6 minute mark, and at that point it starts turning into a thick gelatinous goo (which was considered and discarded as a potential name for this blog):

After the 8 minute mark, it’s thoroughly thickened up:

Step 4 – stir in butter and vanilla, whisking until thoroughly combined

Step 5 – add to frozen yogurt…

… or stuff it into a cream puff. (Great idea Boyfriend!)

Verdict: delicious as expected! I used to make this all the time but haven’t made it in years, and found myself yearning for some tonight. Alas I had no bananas to add to my sundae. You could also make some fresh caramel, mmmmm.

Boyfriend said, “Oooh. That’s good. That’s really good. It’s like everything that’s good melting in your mouth at the perfect temperature.”