While some may ask, “Why make chocolate when it’s so much easier to buy it?”

I ask, “Where’s the fun in that?” Plus I really love gourmet dark chocolate bars, the ones made with exotic flavors and textures. But, they can cost five dollars a bar, sometimes more.

I set out to see if it was even possible to make chocolate from scratch. Now, because the chocolate used for candy-making sometimes requires heat tempering, (a special process which preserves the shiny, dark appearance), I figured that making it was going to be complicated and time-consuming. Wrong! No kidding – you can easily whip up a batch in under 30 minutes. Mind. Blown.

And, creating chocolate from scratch allows you to tailor ingredients to satisfy your own personal tastes, and you can modify it in so many ways!

For instance, I’ve been reducing my intake of refined sugar lately. It has really worked wonders for me, in eliminating cravings, and keeping post-treat crashes at bay. I’ve found that honey and maple syrup work really well as sugar replacements. So I’ve used them in this recipe.

As for the rest of the ingredients, there are only 3 basic elements in chocolate: cacao/cocoa powder, cacao/cocoa butter and sweetener.

Cacao butter

What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao? Put simply, cocoa and cacao butters are both vegetable fats derived from the cacao bean. Cacao powder differs from cocoa powder in that it’s less processed, considered more pure, and is also processed under lower heat, therefore is considered a “raw” food. There is a barely-noticeable difference in taste and texture, and cocoa does cost a bit less. Also, some say that cacao is more nutritious. They use words like flavonoids and phytic acid… but… snore… I went to sleep after reading about those. If you’re interested, check out this site.

From there, any flavors or extras are what make your chocolates your signature. Do you like peanuts better than almonds? Add some! Or add raisins or craisins. Swap out the vanilla with mint, orange or rum flavorings. You can even add spices or powdered flavors: instant espresso, cinnamon, red chili powder, etc.

However, this is IMPORTANT:

Do not let even one drop of water get in your chocolate mixture. If you do, it will seize and become a gritty, nasty, mess. Also, don’t add things like brewed coffee, non-alcohol-based liquid flavorings, etc.

Now let’s make some chocolate!

Gourmet Salted Almond Dark Chocolates – makes 20 to 30 pieces

(Click here for printable recipe)

1 cup cacao butter (100 grams)

1 cup cacao powder  (70 grams)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup honey or maple syrup

½ cup chopped almonds, toasted

½ tsp. flaky salt

Chop almonds, and toast in a sheet pan in the oven, 350° for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Melt cacao butter in a glass bowl (or double boiler) over a barely simmering pot of water. When most of the solids are melted, remove the bowl from heat. Place on a dishtowel on the counter to cool for a few minutes.

If using honey, heat in microwave for 15 seconds. This helps with incorporating the honey in the mixture, as they will have similar viscosities.

Add honey (or maple syrup, if using) to melted cacao butter, and mix well with a whisk. **It takes several minutes for the honey/syrup to combine with the cacao butter – longer than you might expect. Be sure to take the time to ensure the sweetener is well combined with the butter. If you skip this step, you will end up with unevenly sweet chocolate. You can see the honey is well mixed when it goes from being a two-toned mixture to one with tiny bubbles, or “globs” of fat, to finally being slightly cloudy.

Once the sweetener is fully incorporated, add cacao powder and vanilla. Stir well.

 

Add almonds and mix to combine.

Scoop a tablespoon or so of mixture into candy cups or mini cupcake wrappers. Top with a few flakes of sea salt.

Refrigerate until set.

Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Gourmet Salted Chocolates Recipe

I must say, this is one of the most delicious snacks ever. Salty and sweet, easy to make, it’s perfect for a party favor. It can be a little fancy but at the same time, familiar and homey. You can use any type of chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, etc.), and if you use white chocolate you can alter the color to fit the occasion. Make it in big batches for a crowd, (think football party) or small ones for movie-night.

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You’ll Need:

Popcorn

Salt

Oil

White Chocolate (colored if you like)

Bags

Twine

Stickers

Let’s talk popcorn and quantities (there is a chart at the bottom of this post with measurement calculations). My target was 50 party favors. I figured that we needed 3 to 4 cups per person/favor. That meant 200 cups popped corn (!). I calculated that 1/3 C un-popped corn yields 8 C popped. So for my favors, we needed to pop 8 to 9 cups of corn. (Turns out that the bags looked better with 3 C popcorn inside, so … leftovers! More for ME!)

When I pop corn at home, I always measure by eye. I pour oil into my pan until it just covers the bottom of the pan. Add corn until the bottom is covered without any corn-overlap. (A good rule of thumb is, use half as much oil as popcorn. So for 2/3 C corn, use 1/3 C oil.) Turn the pan on medium-high, cover and wait for it to pop. As the kernels pop, give the pan a shake now and then. When you hear the kernel pops slow down, remove from heat and pour into mixing vessel. Don’t wait until you don’t hear ANY kernels popping… you’ll scorch the finished corn.

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Chocolate. For this recipe, I prefer white chocolate, but milk or dark is tasty too. I wanted the finished product to be delicious sweet-salty corn, not like a candy with popcorn in it, so the chocolate was used sparingly. In the end, for my 200 cups of corn, I used about 1-1/2 pounds of chocolate.

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Pour your popcorn into a (very clean!) large mixing vessel. Add salt as desired. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Drizzle onto popped corn and mix. If you have a helper, this job goes much more quickly! Taste, adjust chocolate and salt if needed.

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Using a scoop, fill the bags with corn, tie closed (with divine twine!) and add labels. I added the classic pink bubble-gum cigar to the bag.

Update: Looks like the supplier who carried my bags no longer does… try Nashville Wraps for some really cute bags, at good prices.

NOTE: This popcorn favor should be made no more than one day in advance. If it’s made earlier than that, it becomes a bit soggy.

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Supply Calculation Table:

1/3 C un-popped corn = 8 C popped = 2 to 3 party favors

1 C un-popped corn = 24 C popped = 7 to 9 party favors

½ oz. chocolate per party favor. Test this – your desired taste may vary. (2 oz. = 1/4 C)

Some SUPER CUTE labels are available here. (Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Whisker Graphics, but also a relative!)

Enjoy!

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Twisty Stix are a great way to put a twist on a classic candy.  You can control the sugar, and even add a bit of nutrition!

Check out my original post with recipe, here.   (Click to connect to the original blog.)

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Additional tips:

If the powder sticks in the funnel (like it did on the show), use a bamboo skewer to help it through.

Humidity is the Twisty Stix nemesis.  Don’t fill your straws unless you plan to use them within a day or two.  And open the freeze-dried fruit just before you use it.

Keep the powder in an air-tight container, and fill straws when you need them.

Enjoy the tangy goodness!

Tamara’s Twisty Stix DIY

Twisty on Set

 

Panorama Sugar Eggs Tutorial

I’ve been making these sugar eggs since I was a kid… in fact, I still have one that I made back then!  It’s a bit faded, and my kitties licked off the frosting in a couple spots, but I’ve kept it all this time, because I love it.

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The origin of the panorama – or diorama – egg is unknown.  Some folks say they’re German, some say they hail from Italy, others claim they possess Ukrainian or Russian roots.

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An interesting article from 1987 (!) on the subject can be found here: http://bit.ly/10eDYbq   Another, from the New York Times, notes that while current commercial eggs must be entirely edible, early models had paper scenes inside.  http://nyti.ms/14AcxOL

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No matter their provenance, I adore these little sugared gems.

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A few years ago I made some eggs that were more modern and updated, using bold colors, whimsical themes.  They were fun and festive, and something I could keep out year-round.

Sugar egg... ladies with hats.

Sugar egg… ladies with hats.

This year I wanted to go back to the traditional Easter sugar panorama eggs.  They’re classic, beautiful, and have a particular charm.

Materials Needed:

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Egg molds – found in craft stores, cake decorating shops – I found mine at Marshalls.

Cornstarch

Superfine sugar

Meringue powder

Water

Food coloring

Spoon

Cookie sheet

Royal icing (recipe below)

Piping bags

Scissors

Candies

Shredded coconut

Sugar eggs:
4-1/2 C super fine sugar
2 tsp. meringue powder
3 Tbl. water

Place sugar and meringue in a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine.  Add water and mix with electric mixer or spoon.  If you are coloring your eggs, add color to water.  For light pastel eggs — which work best for light diffusion — use only 1 or two drops of liquid food coloring.

Mix until well combined, knead with hands if necessary.  Keep an eye out for meringue powder- or color-lumps, which sometimes form.  Work them into mixture with fingers, if necessary.

Making the Sugar Egg Shells:

To prepare molds, dust lightly with cornstarch.  This will help the sugar release from the mold.

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Mound sugar into molds, and press firmly against the sides and bottom, creating a thin shell — about 1/4″ to 3/8″ thick, depending on the size of the mold (with a larger mold, thicker sides).

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Straighten the edges by running your finger along the rim.

Using a spoon, cut out a ‘window’ in the narrow end of the sugar eggshell.

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Gently turn eggs out onto a cardboard square, and place onto a cookie sheet.

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Remove plastic molds.

Bake at 200 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Allow shells to cool.  If the insides are not hard, return to oven with inside exposed for another 15 minutes.

After shells are set and completely cool, decorate with royal icing.

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Royal Icing:
4 C powdered sugar
3 Tbl. meringue powder
1/2 tsp. clear-colored extract — almond, lemon, etc.
1/2 to 3/4 C warm water

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and meringue powder until well combined.  Add extract and water, beginning with 1/2 C.  Beat on medium until thick and glossy, and stiff peaks form – about 5 to 7 minutes.

Consistency can be adjusted by adding more water or sugar, depending on use. Color as desired.

coconut grass

Colored Coconut Grass

Place shredded coconut in a glass bowl, add a few drops of green liquid food coloring.  Stir with a fork for several minutes until the coconut is the desired color.

Assembling the Eggs:

Pipe a layer of green icing in the bottom of the egg (the side with a flattened surface).

Stick decorative items into the frosting – chicks, bunnies, flowers, etc.  If they start to lean, use q-tips to hold in place until the icing fully cures.  Before the icing is dry, sprinkle with green coconut.

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When the inside is perfect, pipe a thick line of icing along the edge of the egg.  Place the top on the egg, and press down.  Remove any excess icing with your finger.

Embellish the exterior of the egg using cake-decorating tips, covering the seam and opening edge with a decorative piped line.  Attach flowers or pipe designs on the top.

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Allow the egg 1 hour to dry completely.

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Tips and tricks:

Royal icing is like sweet cement… once’ it’s cured, It’s not going anywhere.  And it smells much better than it tastes.

Meringue powder in the sugar-mixture makes the eggs super strong.  Some people recommend filling the mold completely, curing for some time to create a shell, and then scooping out the interior.  I tried this method several times, and never had one survive.  With the mold-and-press method I describe above, I didn’t have one fail – and I made nearly 40 shells!

The eggshells can be made weeks ahead, stored in a dry place.  Don’t throw them away if you get tired.  Store them well and you may be able to complete the eggs next year!

Interior shapes can also be made days in advance – I piped bunnies, chicks, flowers and carrots onto parchment paper, let them dry and stored them for use later.

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Candy -covered almonds look like giant eggs inside your diorama!

I collect little pretties – tiny ornaments, small silk flowers, stickers, etc. year –round.

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Enjoy, make something beautiful, and Hoppy Easter!
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You probably remember these from your childhood, or from your kid’s kid-hood.  They’re delicious, and when you make them at home, you control the sugar, and even give them a little boost of nutrition… for a candy, at least.



This is a supremely easy-to-make confection, with only three natural ingredients.  No chemicals, no kidding!  They are:

Granulated Sugar

Citric Acid

and, our secret ingredient – Freeze Dried Fruit!

If you’re not familiar with freeze dried fruit, it’s different from other dried fruit like apricots or raisins.  This is real fruit that is first frozen, and then pressurized to remove the moisture, so it ends up light and crunchy.  It’s completely natural; there’s nothing else in there – just fruit!

Citric acid is a substance naturally occurring in fruit like oranges, tangerines, raspberries and blueberries.  It’s the thing that gives the Twisty Sticks their sharp tanginess.  You can find citric acid on line, make sure you’re using “food grade” quality.

First take 1/4 cup of the freeze dried fruit, put in a blender and pulverize.  Pour that powder into a bowl, add 1/4 cup sugar and 1-1/2 tsp. citric acid.  Mix with a whisk and it’s finished.  Taste it, it tastes just like the ones you remember as a kid… better actually!  Adjust the fruit-to-sugar ratio if you like.

Next fill the straws.  I use biodegradable paper straws, because they’re more like the original.  (You can use plastic straws, just carefully use a torch or match to fuse the ends, hold with pliers.) Glue and fold the bottom end, holding the glued bit in place with a tiny binder-clip until it’s dry.  Then use a tiny funnel (make one with paper) to fill each straw with powder.   Fold and glue the top, and your Twisty Stick is finished!

Note:  if you’re using raspberries and rather thin straws, you may need to sift the seeds out of your mixture before putting in straws.  There goes most of any fiber benefits of your Twisty Stix, but hey… it’s candy.

Each straw holds about one teaspoon of powder, so one batch makes about 15 to 20 Twisty Stix.

They’re delicious, and when you let the kids have this treat you’re sneaking in real fruit into their diet!  Bravo you!

There are lots of different types of freeze dried fruit –strawberries, raspberries (my favorite!), even mangoes.  Think of the possibilities.  And… two in a glass of mineral water, wine or liquor makes a very nice sweet cocktail.  Tear off the ends of the straw, and you’ve got instant deliciousness, with real fruit.  Enjoy revisiting the classic.

Note:  If you live in a high-humidity area, or make these on a particularly damp day, the powder can clump and stick inside the straws. I’ve found that blueberries are particularly prone to this.  To prevent, don’t over-pulverize the fruit, make within a day or two of using Twisty Stix, and use plastic straws, to further prevent exposure to moisture.

Bonus Content:

Pixi sticks evolved from a drink powder called Frutola, created in the 1930s.  It was made to be mixed with water as a drink, but kids were more interested in eating the powder alone, so the manufacturers re-packaged it to be eaten with a spoon.  Eventually, the sugar-delivery system was streamlined into paper straws, which could easily be poured into kid’s mouths.  A candy classic was born.

Happy St. Patrick’s day everyone!  Here’s some cute, quick, and easy food fun for St. Patrick’s day.  One lucky leprechaun even called them ‘magically delicious!’

Start with tiny twist pretzels and sticks.  Add some fabulous toffee (find my recipe here), and if you really want to push the St. Paddy’s day theme, top with a few green M & Ms.

Be sure to arrange the pretzels on your silicone or foil sheets before starting the toffee, because it cools fast, and you won’t have time to stop!  You’ll want to use a ladle to put the toffee in the middle of the pretzels, and CAREFULLY add M & Ms while the toffee is hot (major opportunity for burned fingertips!).

These pretzels are a snack staple in our family, often requested by friends.  I’ll take any opportunity to make them.  Enjoy, and Erin Go Bragh!