December 6, 2010

Island Cooking: Special treats for the holiday season


The holiday season is a time to indulge in special treats that take some time to prepare and fill the house with enticing seasonal aromas.  Listening to carols while working makes cooking more festive, especially if you are cooking up sweets for friends and family.

The following recipes make luscious and beautiful gifts and are also good to have around to serve as dessert or with coffee.

The easiest to make is chocolate bark.   There is an endless variety of ingredients that you can use to be creative, including different chocolates.

I used a mixture of semisweet and dark chocolate for this recipe.

Don’t be intimidated by the thought of working with chocolate.  The invention of the microwave takes all of the terror away.  It perfectly melts chocolate chips in no time at all, eliminating the use of a double boiler.  White chocolate, however, is a little trickier, so I do use a double boiler for it.


8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
8 ounces good bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews, broken in halves.
1 cup chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup dried cherries

Melt the two chocolates in a microwavable bowl.  Start with 45 seconds, check, and continue in five seconds intervals until you reach the right consistency.  You don’t have to wait until all pieces are melted since they will melt when you stir the mixture with a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a rectangle about 9 by10 inches.

Sprinkle the nuts and dried fruits over the chocolate.  Lightly press into the chocolate so they do not break free when the bark is cut.  Set aside for two hours until firm.  Break the bark into rough chunks or cut into 1- by 3-inch pieces.  Serve at room temperature.

Don’t refrigerate.

Homemade marshmallows can be messy to handle but are oh-so-good with hot chocolate -- what a great gift pairing.

You can use food coloring and cookie cutters to create even more festive marshmallows but I warn you that this is a very sticky job.  The toasted coconut in this recipe makes the marshmallows even more decadent!

From Ina Garten

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup of water, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
Confectioners’ sugar

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow the mixture to sit while you make the syrup.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Remove from the heat.

With the mixer on low speed, pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin.  Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes.  Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Sprinkle half the toasted coconut in an 8- by 12- inch nonmetal pan.  Pour in the marshmallow batter and smooth the top of the mixture with damp hands.  Sprinkle on the remaining toasted coconut. 

Allow to dry uncovered at room temperature overnight.

Remove the marshmallows from the pan and cut into squares.  Roll the sides of each piece carefully in confectioners’ sugar.  Store uncovered at room temperature.

Equally messy to handle and a little more dangerous to make are caramels.  This is not a recipe to share with the children.  You will be working with high temperatures and care is needed to prevent burns. 

From Ina Garten

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup of water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan or loaf pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to extend over 2 sides.

In a deep, heavy saucepan (6 inches in diameter by 4 1/2 inches deep) combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden-brown color.  Don’t stir - just swirl the pan to mix.  Watch carefully as it will burn quickly at the end!

In the meantime, bring the cream and butter to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat.  Remove from the heat, set aside, and keep warm.

When the caramelized sugar is the right color, a deeper brown, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel.  It will boil up violently.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.

Very carefully (It is hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.  If it is very hard when it comes out of the fridge let it rest at room temperature until it is workable.

When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board.  Strip off the paper and slice the block into strips.  They can be rolled or cut into little rectangles.

Cut parchment paper into 4 - inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends.  Store in the fridge or at room temperature.

Enjoy the process and the end result will taste all the better for your effort.

Happy holidays and peace in the new year.

(Lynne Foster lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront.  Both love to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment with recipes for locally caught seafood.)

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