Candied Ginger

…candy her? But I hardly know her!

Don’t worry, I’m keeping my day job.

Candied and/or crystalized ginger can be hard to find in stores here in California.  I used to be able to buy it at Trader Joes but they stopped carrying it in the golden state because of food and drug regulations (something about the way the ginger is processed doesn’t play well with the rules).  Since my triple gingersnaps would not be triple without it, I usually hit up Amazon.

But then I was at H Mart, the giant Korean market that’s taken up residence in the old Osh store at the bottom of the hill, and they had fresh ginger at a ridiculously low price.  So, I decided to make my own.

As a note, candied and crystallized ginger are often discussed interchangeably,  though I’ve come across recipes that call for one and are specific about it not being the other.  As a newbie candied ginger maker, I did a little research to set the record straight.  From what I could tell, preparation is what makes the difference.  Crystallized ginger is dried and then sugared (and maybe sometimes not sugared) while candied ginger is cooked in simple syrup as you would candied citrus peel.  I realize this is about as clear as the difference between yams and sweet potatoes (one I still don’t understand), but there you have it.  For the record, what we’re making here is definitely candied ginger.

While I don’t do it very often, I love making candy.  Let’s face it, my chosen hobby is about a risky as petting kittens.  So, getting to work with a mandolin and molten hot sugar in the same go is about as exciting as it gets for me.

Truth–you can find candied ginger on Amazon for a great price.  But, if you have a little time and a candy thermometer, making your own is incredibly satisfying. And, unless I unwittingly used some extra potent ginger, the home maid kind is the far superior product.

I made about five pounds worth for holiday baking.  But I’ll tell you a secret.  In my opinion, the best way to enjoy candied ginger is as a garnish for a moscow mule.

You’ve got to love a cocktail that comes with its own snacks.

Candied Ginger

Adapted from Alton Brown, Food Network

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh ginger root
  • 5 C water
  • About 1 1/2 lb granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.
  2. Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandolin (you can also hand cut the slices if you are the world’s most patient person).
  3. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.
  4. Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 C of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 C water to the pan and add the sugar.
  5. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes.  If using a thermometer, pull the ginger off the heat at 225 degrees.
  6. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces (they cool down pretty quickly. Once completely cool, roll in granulated sugar.
  7. Store in an airtight container with the sugar for up to a month (to be honest, I use it much longer)

Sweet and salty

You didn’t think I’d do a month of Halloween treats and forget the caramel did you?  And, this isn’t just any caramel, this is Ina Garten’s fleur de sel caramel.  These little treats are very rich, just slightly chewy and have enough salt that they border on savory (think kettle corn).

While the sugar and water get to boiling, prepare the pan.  Cut the parchment so that it sits neatly along two sides and overhangs on the other two (enough to use the extra parchment to lift the finished caramel out of the pan).

This is a two-pan caramel recipe.  Sugar and water come together in one while heavy cream and butter are warmed in another.

Once the sugar and water reach a pale sunny blond…

In goes the dairy (be prepared for a little angry caramel for a few minutes).

Bring the whole mess up to 248 degrees.

And then into the prepared pan and into the fridge until completely cooled.

Now it’s time to really get to work.  This is a soft caramel and as such, imprints easily.  Like fingerprint easy.  To avoid mucking up the beautiful shiny caramel with my grubby fingers, I put on plastic gloves for this next part.

Tightly roll the caramel to halfway.

Cut into eight pieces.

Srinkle with fleur de sel.

Then repeat with the other half.  I wrapped each little piece in parchment (I cut a couple of 10X14 inch pieces into eight equal-sized parchment rectangles giving me 16 pieces total).  You could also use waxed paper or cellophane.  A few years ago I used this really cute waxed paper from The Container Store.

Over the years I’ve made these on-and-off for the holidays.  Something tells me they’ll making a comeback this year.

If you like this, you might like these

Salted Caramel Squares

Scratch Twix

Soundtrack

MJ in the house.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. 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 drape over 2 sides.
  2.  In a deep saucepan (6 inches 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!
  3. In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.
  4. When the caramelized sugar is the right color, 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 F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
  5. When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Starting at 1 end, roll the caramel up tightly until you’ve rolled up half of the sheet. Cut the sheet across and then roll the second half tightly. You will have 2 (1 by 8-inch) logs. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, cut each log in 8 pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Is that a potato in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Let’s see if you can figure out where I’m going with this.

Start: riced potato.

Mash.

Add shredded coconut.

Mash.

Two, yes 2 pounds of confectioner’s sugar (I know, just don’t think about it too much).

Patient folding.  More folding.  A lot of folding.

Into the fridge.

Pizza roller + ruler.  Yes, I  used a ruler.  I use them often when baking, they make me feel secure.

Back into the fridge,

A little chocolatey skinny dip.

And allow me to present:

The Needham.

So, I was sitting in traffic on PCH one weekend morning and in my channel surfing landed on a story on NPR about these candies.   Famous in Maine, they are a very much the homemade Mounds bar with a surprising ingredient: potato.  Intrigued, I tried them for myself.  And you should too.  They were fun to make and when I shared?  People lost their heads.  I’m not kidding.  Lost.  Heads.

The story behind them is also fun.  For the original broadcast, go here: Maine’s Needhams, A Sweet Treat of Earthy Potatoes.  Incidently, it wasn’t until I went to write this post that I realized the story was part of a larger series, Americandy, Sweet Land of Liberty.  I swear, my honeycomb post from last week was completely unrelated.  And yet, here it is again.  Coincidence? Karma?

If you like this, you might like these:

Coconut (Festivus) Cake 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bon Bons AKA Pete Schweedy’s Balls

Soundtrack

New Mumford and Sons

Needham Candies

adapted from food.com

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup mashed potatoes (not seasoned) (you could easily get this amount from a single large russet potato)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (1 lb) packages confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 (7 ounce) bags flaked coconut
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 18 ounces (about 1 1/2 packages)  chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 paraffin wax block, the same paraffin you melt to use on top jam (2 1/2 by 2 1/2)

Directions:

  1. Pare, cook, and mash potato to make three-quarters of a cup. Add salt.
  2. If you are making recipes right after boiling the potato, use the still-warm sauce pan or dutch oven. The pan should still be warm enough to melt the butter off the heat.  If not, turn on heat to low and allow butter to melt.
  3. Turn off heat and add mashed potato, confectioners sugar, flaked coconut, and vanilla.
  4. Mix well and turn into a buttered 9X13 inch pan and spread evenly.
  5. Refrigerate to harden.
  6. When hard, cut into small squares.  A pizza cutter works wonders but a knife will work too.  Ruler optional. Cutting into 1-inch squares yielded about 117 pieces.
  7. Place cut squares back into the fridge until dipping.
  8. For the dipping chocolate, again use a double boiler or place a heat-proof bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water.
  9. Add paraffin and allow to melt.
  10. Add chocolate and allow to melt.
  11. Stir well to mix ingredients.
  12. Dip in the chocolate mixture (with a fork, toothpick, or cake tester–I found it worked best when I placed a square on the tines of an upside down fork, dipped everything, let the excess run-off and then gently slid off the back of the fork with a second fork).
  13. Place on waxed paper to harden.
  14. This halves easily.

It’s alive!

Remember the volcano you made for your second grade science project?  Well, this is sort of like that only you get to eat the post-apocalyptic results.  Today on Miss Wizardmisanthropichostess, we’re making honeycomb.  Well, honeycomb the candy (though, I may have some Queen Bee tendencies).

Honeycomb’s humble beginnings start with sugar, corn syrup, honey and a little water.

Then, you turn up the heat and do a little buzzing dance.

Slowly, the color will turn from nearly clear to pale gold.

In goes the baking soda, and you know what happens next (think exploding volcano).

Before we move forward, we need to move back a little.  In my first attempt at making this confection, I let it get a little too golden before adding the baking soda.  This is what burned honeycomb looks like.  You don’t even want to know what burned honeycomb smells like.  Trust me.  So that you don’t make the same mistake, I’ve made some adjustments to the original recipe and added some instructions on using a thermometer.  If you’d like to forgo the technology, just made sure you watch the sugar lava closely and as soon as it gets to a uniform pale gold, add the soda.

This is what it should look like after the baking soda is mixed in.

Once it cools, the magic happens.   If you’ve ever had the Australian candy Violet Crumble, you know where I’m going with this.  Honeycomb’s frothy texture is simultaneously crunchy and chewy.  Incidentally, the first time I saw Violet Crumble, I read it as Violent Crumble.  So, Violent Crumble stuck.  In my fantasy world, the Violent Femmes’ favorite candy is Violent Crumble.

This honeyed treat is very good on its own. It’s also very sticky…especially if there is any humidity in the air.  The solution?  Cover it in chocolate (because, isn’t the solution to many of life’s problems the addition of chocolate?).

Baking is a world of uniformity.  Uniform shapes, precise measurements, attempts at symmetry.  I think this is why I love the decidedly un-uniform (does that make it “iform”) shapes the honeycomb makes.

Once the chocolate has set, these will keep in a cool place for a month or so.

Totally fun to make.  Even more fun to eat.

Since it happens to be October, and since October happens to be the month of Halloween, I thought I’d go with a candy theme for the first three weeks.  I realize that attempting to hand out homemade candy to trick-or-treaters would probably end in incarceration for most of us–so let it be known I’m not suggesting using any of these recipes on trick-or-treaters.  But…I bet you can think of a few ghosts and goblins who might enjoy some treats form your cauldron.

If you like this, you might like these

Toffee (insert your favorite nut)

Soundtrack

The Cure.  You thought I was going to say the Violent Femmes didn’t you?

Honeycomb Candy

Adapted from Gail Gand, Foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 TBS shortening

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, gently combine the sugar and water then add the honey and corn syrup.
  2. Boil until lightly gold colored and the sugar looks like light caramel (if using a candy thermometer, heat to 300 degrees).
  3. Add the baking soda and with a wooden spoon, stir in gently. It will foam up a lot.
  4. Pour the mixture onto a silpat or a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan, and let cool. Break into pieces.
  5. Over a double boiler (or using a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water), add chocolate chips and shortening. Using a rubber spatula, fold gently until chocolate is melted and smooth.
  6. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  7. One-at-a-time, drop honeycomb pieces into melted chocolate.  Using the back of a fork, quickly pull the candy out of the chocolate, let extra chocolate drip back into the pan.  Using a second fork, gently slide candy off of first fork and on to a parchment-lined sheet pan.
  8. Let set.  Store in airtight container in a cool, dry place.

 

 

The many aliased Chocolate Peanut Butter Bonbon

AKA: White Trash Bon Bons

AKA (if you are my husband): Pete’s Schweedy Balls

When I was a kid, my mom only made these babies during the holidays. Once made, she would horde them in a very miserly and un-holiday-like fashion, dispensing them one at a time and only to those she deemed deserving. This may sound strange at first because a quick look at the ingredient list doesn’t hint at anything special. If anything, it suggests (at least to me) one of those strange recipes only found in Reader’s Digest and only ever made by grandmothers (you know, like chocolate covered chow mein noodles or green salad in a jello mold). This is where the first AKA name comes from. The second AKA is a reference to a very funny, very perverse Saturday Night Live skit with Alec Baldwin and those naughty, naughty NPR ladies on the Delicious Dish.

Something cool happens when the melted peanut butter and butter (that’s right-BOTH) melds with the rice crispies and diabtes inducing amounts of confectioners sugar. I’ll be honest, these are a little labor intensive and are best made with some patience over a couple of days. But, they aren’t hard and, if you like chocolate and peanut butter together, they’re worth the effort. Another bonus: they don’t really go stale. After the chocolate has completely and totally tempered (seriously, like, entirely, trust me), store them in an air-tight container or freezer bag and they’ll be good through New Years. If they last that long. Ha!

First, get the biggest bowl you have. The recipe below is doubled but take my advice, bigger is better here.

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Once the peanut butter and butter are melted and molten hot, carefully add to the dry mix.

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Make a marginal effort to mix this up with a spatula and then abandon ship and just do it with your (clean) hands. Remember, this stuff is hot at first. Mix until everything starts to clump together. If, even after thorough mixing the “dough” is very dry, feel free to melt some more butter and add. I won’t tell anyone.

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Now you are ready for balls. I like mine to fit into cute little wrappers so I weigh out each ball at 1/2 ounce. For this phase, the work is made easier if you have two people: one to measure out portions and the other to form the balls. In the photo below, my husband is playing the role of hand model. Luckily, he works for peanuts (or, in this case, peanut butter).

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Once you’ve formed all of the “dough” into balls, line them up in a single layer on a cookie sheet or two, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

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Now for the dipping. You’ll need a double boiler. I know that they actually sell pots called “double boilers” but the truth is, a stock pot and large glass bowl work just as well. If you’ve never used a double boiler, just add a couple of inches of water to the bottom of the stock pot and fit the bowl over. You want the water to simmer but not boil.

A note here on chocolate. I like to use chocolate chips for a  chocolate coating. They come with a stabilizer in them that helps them keep their cute little chip shape when baked. This also comes in handy when using them as a candy coating because the stabilizers will help keep the candy form once it has hardened. You could also use dipping or molding chocolate  here as well.

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As the chocolate melts, gently stir. When melted, the chocolate will be too thick to properly dip your balls into. So, you are going to want to thin-out the melted chocolate with vegetable oil. This isn’t as weird as it sounds. In fact, if you’ve ever been to an event with a chocolate fountain (or if you have one at home like my friend Amber), they use the same process to get and keep their chocolate flowing.

I don’t have use a standard amount of oil. I just add it a tablespoon at a time (incorporating in between) until the chocolate is smooth and runs off the spatula in a thick by steady (ie, not gloppy) stream when lifted out of the chocolate.

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Now, take a deep breath. The next part isn’t as scary as it seems. To dip the balls, I like to use wooden bamboo skewers (the kind you use for BBQ kabobs). I spear a ball with the sharp end and insert it just far enough that the ball feels stable (maybe 1/8 “).

Next, I quickly dip the ball and cover it in one swoop. I then let it drip over the bowl and use an additional bamboo skewer to help set it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. My mom uses spoons with successful results. Try a few methods and find one that works for you. This phase takes some patience. It takes me about an hour to dip a batch (70 or so) balls.

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Now, set the dipped balls in a cool, safe place and let them set-up and temper over night. As they harden, their appearance will change from shiny-wet to a nice soft sheen.

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And now, you’ve got peanut butter bonbons and the world at your feet.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Bonbons

Makes about 70 ½ ounce balls (before they are dipped in chocolate)

2 C peanut butter (smooth or creamy)

.5 C Butter

4.5 C sifted powdered sugar

3 C rice crispies

12-24 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips

Wooden kabob skewers (available at the grocery store)

To make balls

Melt together peanut butter and butter. Meanwhile, in a large bowl (largest you have), sift in powdered sugar. Add in rice cripsies and combine. Once peanut butter and butter mixture is melted and combined, pour over sugar and rice cereal. Using an oiled spatula, fold mixture until combined (it will be hot, but this is sometimes easier to do with clean hands). The mixture will be crumbly and if it is too dry, melt additional peanut butter and add until dough comes together.

Using a 1 ounce scoop or spoon, form into balls. Place balls onto a cookie sheet or large plate and refrigerate at least two hours (I just do it over night).

To dip in chocolate

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Add oil as needed until chocolate is melted but consistency of hot fudge (not too runny, not too gloppy). To dip balls, spear one about ¼ way through with a wooden skewer. Quickly dip it in the chocolate to the entire ball is covered. Hold over chocolate and let extra chocolate drip back into the pot.

Set aside on parchment lined cookie sheets or plates to harden.

Notes:

For a firmer chocolate shell, you can add a stabilizing ingredient to the melted chocolate (such as paraffin or uncolored unscented candle wax). The chocolate will already have some stabilizers in it if you are using chocolate chops but adding the additional wax will help them harden.