There always seems to come that moment in time, leading up to Christmas, when you know it’s not all going to get done, or at least not the way you hoped, imagined and planned it. That moment is just around the corner, I think; too many things on the list, too little time to make them all happen.
For example, I just crossed “chocolate truffles” off my To-Do list, reluctantly. For many years, during the last 10 days or so before Christmas, I’ve made dozens of chocolate truffles to give to family when we gather for Christmas. It’s a time consuming, painstaking procedure, but one I love and look forward to every year, as do the recipients. Never mind the reasons, but I’ve come to the realization that those truffles are out this Christmas.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the notion of giving something homemade to those closest to my heart is abandoned. I have long believed that something special you take the time to make as a Christmas (or Hanukkah) gift is far preferable to something you dashed out and bought because you had to find “something” for whomever.
That’s precisely why I have one file reserved solely for recipes I consider worth making as gifts for people I care about a great deal. Not just Christmas gifts, but birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions of all kinds. Most of them are for such things as candies of various sorts, special occasion cakes and cookies, unusual breads, “different” jams and jellies (jalapeno marmalade made it into the file this past summer), and of course, any unusual cheesecake, my number one favorite food.
When I decided “no truffles this year,” out came that file and in it, right on top of the fat pile, was a recipe I’d asked my niece for after I ate the contents of a small gift box she left me with after our family gathering this past summer. She, too, is a practitioner of the “homemade gifts are the best presents” school of thought. As it turned out, she found the recipe in a bon appetite magazine (how did I ever miss it, I wondered) and uses it frequently. I’d forgotten about it until, desperate for inspiration for my homemade Christmas giving, I opened that file.
The point of all this? Don’t give up; there is still time to make something special for someone special, even truffles.
Here it is, my niece’s truffle recipe, via bon appetite; these are sturdier, much faster and easier to make than my hand-dipped, dark chocolate truffles and equally as delicious (well, almost). And this recipe makes enough truffles in just one batch for you to give as gift boxes or bags to anywhere from 6 to 10 people, depending upon your generosity with the contents.
10 oz. semisweet chocolate (don’t go higher than about 62 percent cacao), chopped
1 T. unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups chopped Butterfinger candy bars
4 t. unsweetened cocoa powder (please use a top quality powder)
Chopped roasted unsalted peanuts or peanut halves (niece also occasionally uses chopped toasted almonds)
Put chocolate and butter in a bowl. Bring cream to boil in a small saucepan; pour over the chocolate/butter and let stand for 1 min. then stir until the chocolate is fully melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the chopped candy; cover and chill until firm, about 2 hrs.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Using a melon baller, scoop ¾-inch balls (or heaping teaspoons) of the chocolate, rolling the balls quickly between your palms to make them smooth, and place on the cookie sheet.
Put cocoa powder into a small bowl; roll the truffles in the cocoa powder to coat them, return to baking sheet, then sprinkle with chopped nuts or peanut half. Refrigerate and chill until firm. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper and keep chilled until ready to use. Makes about 80 truffles.
Note: For gifting, put truffles into small paper or foil candy cups; put in small boxes or in those decorative cellophane bags and tie with appropriate ribbon. If you’re having a holiday party, these are a very nice little gift to hand to your guests as they leave.
As long as we’re on the subject of candies for gifts, let’s talk about just about everyone’s beloved sweet, caramels. This recipe for hazelnut caramels was given to me by my son, who made them almost every year on his birthday, which was Christmas Eve, but had trouble giving them away because he loved caramels more than any other candy. They’re not difficult; the recipe makes a lot of caramels (good for gifting), but you do need to have an accurate candy thermometer. These keep well in airtight containers, so you can make them this evening and have them for any occasion over the next 3 weeks.
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 ¼ cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cups dark corn syrup
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (husked, of course)
Coarse sea salt (optional)
Line a 9-inch square baking pan (with at least 2-inch sides) with heavy duty aluminum foil, extending the foil over the sides of the pan. Butter the foil.
Melt the 1 cup butter in a heavy large saucepan over low heat. Add both white and brown sugars, corn syrup and condensed milk; stir until the sugar dissolves. Scrape the seeds from inside the vanilla bean into the mixture; add the bean itself. Attach your candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and increase heat to medium; bring mixture to a boil and cook for 8 min., stirring frequently.
Use tongs to remove the vanilla bean and discard it. Continue cooking the caramel mixture until the thermometer registers 242 degrees, stirring frequently. (It shouldn’t take much more than another 5-7 min.). Remove from heat; stir in hazelnuts. Quickly pour caramel into the prepared pan (don’t scrape the inside of the saucepan; save it for licking in a few minutes). Cool the caramel until almost firm, about 1 hr. At this point, you may sprinkle the caramel lightly with coarse sea salt if you wish (salted caramels are the current “rage” in candy now), but don’t be heavy handed.
Using a buttered heavy, large, sharp knife, score 8 lines lengthwise to about a depth of ¼-inch in the caramel, then score 8 lines the other way. Using the foil as a lifting aid, lift the caramel out of the pan. With the same buttered knife, cut the caramel along the scored lines into individual pieces. (Be sure your knife is sharp.) Wrap each piece in colored or decorative plastic wrap, twisting ends closed. Makes 81 caramels, unless cut larger. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.