Maple Walnut Fudge

Fudge making is a delicate business, requiring a precise balance of ingredients, time, and temperature. I’ve made fudge the shortcut way, using marshmallow creme or baking chips. While it certainly yields a delicious treat, there’s a big textural difference between real fudge – the kind made from sugar,butter, milk, and extracts, all cooked to a perfect temperature – and the kind made with marshmallow creme and/or baking chips.

This recipe, adapted from one by Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, yields what I’d called candy, but not exactly fudge. It’s smooth and tasty, and I certainly liked it, but it doesn’t have the texture I want in fudge. My only solution to this problem is to try, perhaps sometime soon, to make maple walnut fudge the old-fashioned, clip-a-candy-thermometer-to-a-heavy-saucepan way. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3 cups white baking chips
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 teaspoons maple extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, divided

Preparation

Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil.

In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, baking chips, and sweetened condensed milk. Microwave in 2-minute intervals, stirring about every 30-60 seconds, until melted and completely smooth; it took me about 5 1/2 minutes.

Remove from microwave and add maple extract, stirring to completely combine. Add half of the walnuts and stir to combine, then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining walnuts.

Chill until set, about 2 hours. Cut into squares and store in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 24 medium-sized pieces of fudge; pieces can be cut smaller though, as this is a rich treat.

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Easy Dulce de Leche

For a very long time, I’ve wanted to make dulce de leche using sweetened condensed milk. If you’ve never had this amazing treat, think of a super-soft caramel-like substance that comes straight from the kitchens in heaven. Dulce de leche (say it out loud: dul-say de lay-chay) is an amazing confection found in South American cuisine, and in the United States, in treats like cheesecake and ice cream.

The “real” way of making this confection involves heating milk and sugar and slowly cooking it over the course of several hours. But if you don’t have, say, four to five hours to stand by the stove and stir your milk and sugar, you can go the easy route, as I did here. And yes, that’s a pig timer on my counter in the photo to the left. I bet he’d like this treat.

What You’ll Need

  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • Large soup or stock pot
  • Enough water to cover the can by at least 2 inches

What You’ll Do

Remove the label from the can of sweetened condensed milk.

Place the can on its side in the bottom of a large soup or stock pot and fill with lukewarm water.

Bring water to a boil, then turn down the heat and continue to simmer for 2-3 hours. VERY IMPORTANT: check your water level every 30 minutes and make sure it’s at least 2 inches above the can. If not, add boiling water to the pot and continue cooking. I simmered my dulce de leche for about 2 1/2 hours.

Remove the pot from the heat, and carefully remove the can from the water. Place on a wire rack to cool completely. BEWARE: do not try to open the can while it’s hot. The dulce de leche could explode out of the can, causing goodness knows what kind of injuries. Nobody wants to have to go to the emergency department because they couldn’t wait until their dulce de leche cooled completely, right?

Once the can is cool, pop it open and pour your dulce de leche into a container to store it in the fridge for about 1 month.

 

Coconut Almond Candy Bars

coconut-almond-candy-barsMy colleague Scott and I were talking about coconut this week, and he mentioned how great a hybrid Almond Joy/Mounds bar would be. This hybrid would involve the coconut and almond middle of an Almond Joy, but the dark chocolate coating of a Mounds.

“But it doesn’t exist,” Scott said.

And then, I had an idea. I’d seen homemade Mounds bar recipes before, so why couldn’t I just take one of those and add almonds to it? The answer is: I could. And I did. This recipe is a hybrid of a few homemade Almond Joy/Mounds bar recipes I found online. According to Mike, they taste exactly like a combined Almond Joy/Mounds, but with a gooier (yes, that’s a word) texture. Next time, I might add more powdered sugar to stabilize the coconut center a bit more, probably another quarter-cup or so.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 24 whole unsalted almonds, toasted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons shortening

Preparation

Line a large baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

In a large bowl, combine coconut, powdered sugar, and sweetened condensed milk. Stir to form a thick paste.

Using a tablespoon from your flatware, scoop coconut mixture and shape into rectangles, pressing tightly to help the mixture come together as best you can. The mixture will be very sticky and quite difficult to form into rectangles, but if you work with it a bit, you can get general rectangle shapes. You’ll need to rinse your hands after every few rectangles; don’t dry them completely after rinsing, which will help the mixture keep from sticking to your hands.

Place rectangles on your baking sheet, then press two almonds into the top of each one. Freeze for 30 minutes, until fairly firm.

While your bars are chilling, place dark chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval.

Place a fresh sheet of parchment or waxed paper on another baking sheet.

Remove bars from freezer and using two forks, dip in the chocolate, coating completely. Place dipped bars onto your fresh baking sheet and allow chocolate to set. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Makes 12.

Graham Cracker Pralines

graham-cracker-pralinesIf you’re lucky, you have an aunt like my Aunt Liz. She’s among the kindest, most generous women around, always willing to help not just her family and friends, but also total strangers. Aunt Liz gives great advice and has a wonderful sense of humor. Her home is a refuge surrounded by trees, forever smelling of the wood stove, filled with family photos and memories and comfort.

Aunt Liz is also a legendary cook and baker, whipping up delicious meals and treats. These graham cracker pralines are among my favorite of her offerings, a recipe as simple as it is delicious. They’re the type of treat you’d find in a church cookbook, basic but rich in flavor and texture, sure to please any crowd. This Christmas, I finally asked for the recipe, and was delighted that mine turned out just as delicious as hers always do. Thanks, Aunt Liz, for this recipe and for being the best aunt ever.

Ingredients

  • 15 whole plus one-half graham crackers
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed 11 x 17 baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease your baking sheet.

Place graham crackers in a single layer on the baking sheet. You’ll need to break some of the whole crackers into individual rectangles in order for them all to fit.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in brown sugar and pecans, then bring to a gentle boil and cook for 4 minutes, stirring well.

Pour mixture over graham crackers, spreading gently so you don’t dislodge the crackers, but you still cover them as much as you can. The mixture will spread out as it bakes, so don’t worry if your crackers aren’t completely covered.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 20 minutes in the pan. Break crackers apart; store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Peanut Butter Snowballs

peabut-butter-snowballsA few weeks ago at work, my friend Kristin and I talked about whether you could make buckeyes with vanilla candy coating instead of chocolate. Later that day, Taste of Home shared this recipe for peanut butter snowballs on Facebook. They are the exact treats we’d discussed: a combination of peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar coated in vanilla. I took it as a sign, and of course, had to make them.

You see, I can’t eat chocolate anymore. This delicious and magical food can be, for some people, a migraine trigger…and boy, do I have migraine issues. Not just the headache kind, but also a type called vestibular migraines, which cause dizziness, vertigo, and anxiety. Preventing them takes a combination of vitamins, medicine, daily exercise, meditation, physical therapy, and a diet low in sodium and devoid of caffeine (hence no chocolate), alcohol, and various other trigger foods.

The good news is that I’ve always loved vanilla, so I can still enjoy all manner of treats, including these peanut butter snowballs. They are a delightful alternative to the classic buckeye; smooth in texture and in flavor, with a nice crunch from the candy coating. This recipe makes 18 snowballs, but could be easily doubled for a larger batch.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pound vanilla candy coating, chopped*

*I used Log House Candiquick Vanilla Candy Coating, which I found in the baking aisle at Target. While it comes in a microwave-safe tray, I chopped mine and put it in a large glass bowl for melting. You’ll have plenty left over, which you can pour out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, allow to set, break into pieces, and store in an airtight container for a future use. It sets up incredibly well, with no need to refrigerate. 

Preparation

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and peanut butter. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, until well-blended.

Add powdered sugar and beat until completely combined and smooth.

Shape into 1-inch balls (I used a 1-inch cookie scoop) and place on the baking sheet, then chill for 30 minutes.

Place vanilla candy coating in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals until completely melted; you’ll want to stir the coating between each interval to distribute the heat.

Dip peanut butter balls in candy coating and return them to the baking sheet to set.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Easy Peanut Butter Fudge

easy-pb-fudgeI’ve made many batches of this fudge recipe with milk chocolate chips, but various migraine-related issues have put an end to my chocolate-eating days. Fortunately, I’ve always loved peanut butter fudge, and this recipe offers an easy alternative to chocolate. Much to my surprise (and delight), this fudge has a much richer peanut butter flavor that you might expect to get from peanut butter chips, though I do recommend using the Reese’s brand instead of generic.

This recipe makes a smaller batch and is not quite as sweet as my previous peanut butter fudge recipe, though both are delicious. While the original recipe calls for this to be refrigerated after pouring into the lined pan, I chose to leave it at room temperature to cool completely; you could certainly refrigerate it if you like, though refrigerating fudge can dry it out.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup (one 5-ounce can) evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups Reese’s peanut butter baking chips
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation

Line an 8×8 baking dish with foil, extending foil over the sides.

In a medium bowl, combine peanut butter chips and marshmallows; set aside. Place vanilla in a small prep bowl; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and salt; stirring constantly, bring to a rolling boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. Note: you must continue to stir the mixture while it boils for 5 minutes; I stir with my non-dominant arm during this period so I don’t get too tired.

Remove from heat and add peanut butter chips, marshmallows, and vanilla extract. Vigorously stir until the mixture is smooth, about 3 more minutes. Pour into baking dish and allow to cool completely at room temperature before cutting.

Toffee Saltines

Sweet SaltinesRecipes for this treat – which has various names, including “Christmas Crack” – are everywhere. My Aunt Liz makes a version that she calls pecan pralines, involving graham crackers, toffee, and pecans. I didn’t have enough graham crackers to make that version, so I’ve used the standard saltine instead.

The great thing about this treat is that it can be customized however you like. I’ve created both a plain, toffee and pecan-only version and a chocolate version, the photo of which appears below. You could add toffee bits, butterscotch chips, various nuts, or other candies if you’d like.

The non-chocolate version is for my mom, who will be coming to Christmas dinner later today. She’s been known to arrive at my house after running various errands in need of a snack, and her go-to question is always “got any crackers?” Merry Christmas, Mum.

Note: the following recipe creates a “half and half” pan of toffee saltines – half with chocolate, and half without.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter
  • About 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • About 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray very lightly with cooking or baking spray.

Place crackers on the baking sheet in a single layer.

In a medium saucepan, melt brown sugar and butter, stirring frequently. Bring to a full, rolling boil; once mixture reaches a full, rolling boil, allow it to boil for three minutes without stirring.

Remove from heat and pour over crackers, spreading carefully with a spatula to fully cover.

Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven; sprinkle half of the crackers with pecans. Sprinkle remaining half with chocolate chips and let stand for a minute or two so the chips begin to melt. Spread the chocolate on the remaining half of the crackers, then sprinkle with pecans.

Allow to cool completely before breaking into pieces.

Sweet Saltines with Chocolate