By the beginning of December, many cooks have already begun to ramp up their holiday preparations, especially favorite family cookie recipes and other sweets. If you’d like to add more pizzazz to the sweet table and also have a reservoir of delicious indulgences to give as gifts, we have just the formula: four delightful confections that can be assembled pre-holiday. To present as gifts to co-workers, neighbors and friends, place these treats in a recycled tin or a Mason jar. You’ll also find an imaginative array of decorative plastic containers at any Christmas store or at your local supermarket. But be sure to conserve some for your own enjoyment!
Who doesn’t love those luxurious chocolate-pecan-caramel candies? Using store-bought Rollo candies (in the brown wrapper), you can easily create a very close approximation.
48 salt-free mini 3-ring pretzels
6 packages (8 per package) Rollo candies
48 pecan halves
Arrange the pretzels on one or more cookie sheets. Top each one with a Rollo candy. Place in a 250-degree oven and bake just until candy begins to soften. Remove from the oven, and place a pecan half in the middle of each candy. Let cool. Then store in tightly covered containers. Makes 4 dozen.
CINNAMON SNACK MIX
Warning: this mixture is positively addictive!! It is a welcome departure from traditional snack mixes. I frequently double the recipe so that I have enough for multiple gifts, but I always save a big bowl for myself!
3 cups apple-cinnamon flavored cereal (such as Apple
2 cups pecan halves
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup chow mein noodles
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
Combine the first 4 ingredients and spread in a spray-coated 10-by-15-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, with a wire whisk, beat the egg whites until fropthy. Beat in the remaining ingredients and pour over the dry ingredients, stirring to coat well. Bake at 300 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently to break up any large clumps. Turn mix out onto large sheet of waxed paper to cool. Store in tightly covered containers. Makes about 8 cups.
Most of us are familiar with the chocolate-hazelnut spread that originated in Europe. It enhances many desserts and beverages, and some people just like it spread on crackers or toast. It can also be used to create velvety, foolproof fudge. Look for high quality bittersweet chocolate chips, with at least 60% cocoa content. There’s a good selection at For the Love of Chocolate in Carytown or at Sur La Table in Stony Point Fashion Park.
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
(see note above)
1 cup Nutella
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ teaspoon sea salt
Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8 inch baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the sides. In a medium bowl, stir together the condensed milk, vanilla, Nutella and butter. In the bottom part of a double boiler, or in a small saucepan, bring about 1 ½ cups of water to simmering. Place the chocolate mixture in top part of the double boiler, or set the bowl over the saucepan. The simmering water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir until the chocolate chips are melted and mixture is smooth—about 5 minutes. Using a rubber scraper, transfer mixture to prepared pan, smoothing evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt, and refrigerate until the fudge is firm—at least 2 hours. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the fudge. Using the flaps of parchment paper, lift the fudge out and invert onto a cutting surface. Peel off the parchment paper, and cut the fudge into 1-inch squares. Refrigerate in an air-tight container until ready to serve or give away. Makes 4½-5 dozen.
In the past few years, inventive cooks have created many different "bark" recipes using various types of chocolate combined with other ingredients to make a tasty, effortless treat. For this version, a reliable candy thermometer is a must.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 (12 ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips
Line a 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pan with foil and spray-coat the foil. Place the first four ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boiling over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. (A small amount dropped into cold water will be brittle and will crack.) Remove from the heat and immediately fold in the almonds. Using a metal spoon, spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Spread evenly to melt the chips. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When chilled, break into pieces and place in one or more containers. Return to the refrigerator until ready to serve or give away. Makes about 3 dozen pieces. FP
Ginnie Manuel is a Midlothian-based freelance writer and cookbook author.