Rice Krispie Pumpkins

rice krispie pumpkinWith just a few weeks to go until Halloween, I’ve prepared a little care package for my favorite preschooler, my goddaughter Maureen. She’s mildly allergic to cinnamon, so the pumpkin chocolate chip bread I’m sending will really be for her parents, and while I would’ve liked to have sent her some pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies, they’re not quite as sturdy for shipping.

These Rice Krispie pumpkins are a good alternative, as they can be packed in an airtight container with little risk of breakage between Pittsburgh and southern Maryland. My Rice Krispie treats use a high marshmallow-to-Krispie ratio, as I like a softer treat, but you can use an additional cup of Krispies if you’re after something a bit sturdier. I’m hoping that they’ll stay fresh during the few days they’ll be in transit!

If you’re not shipping your treats, you might consider adding some frosting or melted chocolate embellishments to make the pumpkins look like Jack-o-Lanterns. You could also gently press in some candy corn or other Halloween-related candy into the tops of the treats and simply cut them into bars if you like.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • yellow liquid food coloring
  • red liquid food coloring
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies

Preparation

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large pot, melt margarine over medium heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted; add about 15 drops of yellow food coloring and two drops of red to achieve your desired orange color.

Add Rice Krispies and stir until completely coated with marshmallow mixture; immediately pour into your prepared pan and smooth out using a spatula.

Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a sheet of parchment. Spray a pumpkin cookie cutter with nonstick spray and cut; reshape scraps and cut again, or hand-form into pumpkins.

Almond Paste

almond pasteNow that I’ve made almond paste, I may never purchase it again. Seriously, this was so easy, I don’t know why I’ve never made my own almond paste before.

This all started with the Heath bit bars I made earlier this afternoon. Searching the pantry cabinet for some pecans, which I thought would add some extra crunch to the bars, I found none…but I did find a few cups of blanched almonds. I didn’t want to add blanched almonds to my Heath bit bars, but I did realize that they, along with a few other ingredients, could be ground into almond paste. Out came the food processor, and a few minutes later – also utilizing the leftover egg white from my Heath bit bars – I had my first-ever homemade batch of almond paste.

So, the question is: what will I bake with it? Almond clouds are a good idea…which only use egg whites and will leave me with some leftover yolks. Which is fine, because the yolks can go into lemon curd. And then, what will I do with the lemon curd? Oh, so many possibilities.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract

Preparation

Place almonds in the bowl of a 7-cup food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until almonds are finely ground.

Add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, egg white, salt, and almond extract. Process until the mixture forms a ball; you’ll need to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times.

Break up mixture and add remaining tablespoon of powdered sugar, which will help make the paste less sticky. Process again; the mixture will return to a ball very quickly.

Carefully remove from the processor and pat with your hands, shaping paste into a log. Wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Note: this recipe yields 15 ounces of almond paste.

Peanut Butter Eggs

peanut butter egg 2The Reese’s Peanut Butter egg is my favorite Easter treat, edging out the Cadbury Egg by the slightest of margins. My sister-in-law Kristin and I agree that the best Reese’s holiday offerings are the peanut butter egg at Easter and the peanut butter pumpkin at Halloween because they each yield a maximum amount of peanut butter; the peanut butter tree at Christmas, for example, isn’t really enough.

Many blogs feature homemade peanut butter egg recipes and they’re all relatively the same, involving melted peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, salt, and a yummy chocolate coating made of either semisweet or milk chocolate chips melted with shortening. I’ve used semisweet below, but you could easily use milk chocolate if you prefer. Though I haven’t tried one yet, I suspect they’ll taste like a cross between a buckeye and a peanut butter egg. Time will tell; fortunately, Easter is tomorrow!

The chocolate coating makes way more than enough for all of your eggs; my peanut butter filling yielded 11 eggs but you could easily make them slightly smaller to yield a dozen or more. You’ll definitely have coating left over, which would be great for drizzling on biscotti, butter cookies, or over cupcakes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 16 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons shortening

Preparation

In a medium saucepan, combine peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, and salt. Cook on medium heat until entirely melted and slightly bubbly, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and add powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition to fully incorporate the powdered sugar into the peanut butter mixture. Your end result will be very thick, and this is what you want.

Set filling aside to cool at room temperature until easy to handle; I set mine aside for about an hour.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop balls of filling and shape into eggs. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour to allow filling to harden.

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and shortening; microwave in 30-second intervals until completely melted, stirring after each interval; this takes about 2 minutes or so.

Dip eggs into the chocolate coating and cover completely; I use two forks to pass them back and forth, then shake off the excess. Return to the parchment-covered sheet and place back in the refrigerator to harden. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 

Truffles

trufflesI am now a chocolatier. An amateur one for sure, but that still counts, right?

Yesterday, I chopped up an enormous block of bittersweet chocolate with my big scary chef’s knife and made my first-ever batch of real truffles, using only chocolate and heavy cream and butter and flavorings. I had the music from the movie “Chocolat” in my head the whole time and tried my best to channel my inner Vianne Rocher.

Here’s what I’ve learned about working with ganache: once you try to roll it in your hands, all bets for cleanliness are off. It melts immediately, turning one’s hands into a chocolate-coated sticky mess. The end result is worth it, though: according to Mike, these truffles are “like taking a bite out of hot chocolate.” They are super-chocolaty and could of course be flavored and coated with any number of things, but I chose a simple orange extract and cocoa powder enhancement.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • about 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted

Preparation

Place chopped chocolate in a medium heat proof bowl; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring heavy cream, butter, and salt to a simmer. Immediately pour over chocolate and let set until chocolate is melted, about 10 minutes. Stir with a spatula until smooth.

Whisk in vanilla extract and orange extract (or just use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract if you don’t have orange), then continue stirring until chocolate is shiny and smooth. Pour into a shallow baking dish and let set overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Using a one-inch scoop, scoop out chocolate and roll into balls. Beware, this is a messy endeavor: I kept paper towels nearby and wiped my hands several times during the process. Coat each truffle in cocoa powder then place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour; once truffles are chilled, place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Toffee Chocolate Matzoh

matzoh brittleMost people call this “matzoh crack” for its highly addictive quality. Some call it matzoh brittle, or just chocolate-covered matzoh. Apparently, whatever you call it, it’s delicious, and enough to make a sugar-fasting gal break her fast (although I haven’t done so).

This treat is incredibly easy to make; I’ve seen it with regular saltine crackers as well as matzah, and I wonder how graham crackers would fare. My Aunt Liz makes a wonderful cracker/toffee/pecan creation at Christmas that I would swear uses graham crackers, so I’d like to give that a try.

Like many other treats, you can dress this one up as much as you like, or leave it plain and simple. Some recipes call for chopped walnuts or pecans to be sprinkled on after the chocolate chips melt, while others encourage a sprinkling of sea salt. Mike requested this plain version and declared it very tasty.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 sheets matzoh (the Passover kind, not regular)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 11 x 17 rimmed baking sheet with foil, extending well over and completely covering each side. Line the bottom of the sheet with parchment paper, cutting the parchment to fit.

Place matzoh in a single layer in the bottom of the baking sheet; you’ll need to break some of the matzoh into pieces to fit in one single layer.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and cook until bubbly, stirring frequently. Once the mixture begins to boil, continue boiling for three minutes, stirring well; the mixture will thicken slightly as it cooks.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and salt, then immediately pour over matzoh. Use an offset spatula to spread toffee evenly over the crackers, as it will begin to set quickly.

Bake for 15 minutes, checking frequently to make sure the toffee doesn’t begin to burn. Remove from the oven and cover with chocolate chips; allow the chips to melt for a few minutes, then spread the melted chips in an even layer over the matzoh.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container; we put ours in the fridge to keep the chocolate from re-melting.

Lucky Charms Treats

lucky charmsI didn’t eat Lucky Charms cereal until I was 16 years old. My mom didn’t stock sugary cereals in our house, claiming that my brother and I would eat one bowl and lose interest. While that might be true, I also suspect that she, a physical education and health teacher, just didn’t believe that anything involving a marshmallow could be suitable for breakfast.

I remember when red balloons joined the marshmallow cast of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, blue diamonds, and purple horseshoes in 1989, but not one bite of Lucky Charms passed my lips until I was a teenager. And as an adult, despite my penchant for sugar consumption, I rarely eat this magically delicious cereal. Perhaps my mom was right about my preference for “regular” cereals like Cheerios and Wheaties.

Much like their Rice Krispies Treat cousins, these treats are easy to make and require only a few ingredients. It is important to work quickly once the cereal joins the butter/marshmallow mixture though, to prevent the marshmallows in the Lucky Charms from melting.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 6 cups Lucky Charms cereal

Preparation

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large pot, melt butter and marshmallows over medium heat, stirring until completely combined.

Add Lucky Charms and stir until completely coated with marshmallow mixture; immediately pour into your prepared pan and smooth out using a spatula.

Allow to cool completely, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.

Rice Krispie Shamrocks

rice krispie shamrockNearly every American child has probably had, at one time or another, a Rice Krispies Treat. I have distinct memories of standing next to the stove with my mom, waiting to pour in cup after cup of Rice Krispies as she stirred the marshmallow mixture. My grandmother was also fond of making these, and she employed a range of cereals, from Cocoa Krispies to Frosted Flakes, to create her own versions.

According to Wikipedia, the original recipe for Rice Krispies Treats was pioneered in 1927 by Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day, two employees in the Kellogg Company home economics department, as a fundraiser for the Camp Fire Girls. Later, these treats were popular additions to care packages for soldiers stationed abroad during the 1940s. And while they are currently available in store-bought varieties, I think the best treats are still the kind you make on your own stove, waiting for that melted marshmallow smell to waft out of the pot.

The recipe below is an adaptation of the original, using one fewer cup of cereal to yield a more pliable, marshmallowy texture.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • green liquid food coloring
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies
  • shamrock sprinkles, optional

Preparation

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large pot, melt margarine over medium heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted; add as much green liquid food coloring as desired to achieve the shade of green you’d like.

Add Rice Krispies and stir until completely coated with marshmallow mixture; immediately pour into your prepared pan and smooth out using a spatula. Sprinkle with shamrocks, if desired, using the spatula to press sprinkles into the Krispies.

Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a sheet of parchment. Spray a shamrock cookie cutter with nonstick spray and cut into shamrocks; reserve the scraps for snacking.

Oreo Truffles

oreo trufflesCould crushed-up Oreo cookies mixed with cream cheese possibly taste like real chocolate truffles? I wasn’t so sure until last night, when I whipped up a batch of these treats. I do enjoy a good truffle now and then, so I was a bit skeptical…but the answer is yes, they really do taste like real chocolate truffles.

If the truth be told, these treats are almost too chocolately for my taste…one certainly goes a very long way. Next time, I’ll use vanilla candy coating to mellow out the flavor a bit. You could also use white chocolate chips instead of semisweet for the coating, but I’m not a white chocolate fan. And, some recipes call for reserving a bit of the crushed-up cookies to sprinkle on the tops of the truffles once they’re dipped for added texture, but I chose to omit that step.

These treats are incredibly easy to make, so I’d recommend them for anyone who wants to whip up fancy-looking candies for a party or those looking to make something fun with their kids. Be sure to keep the finished product in the fridge, though, and only set them out right before they’ll be eaten…they do contain cream cheese, after all. And, it’s important to note that I only made a half-batch of these…you can easily double the recipe for a full batch.

Ingredients

  • 18 Oreo cookies, crushed to find crumbs
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks and softened
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening

Preparation

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine Oreo crumbs and cream cheese; mix with your hands (a spoon just doesn’t seem to blend the ingredients as thoroughly as necessary) until cream cheese is fully incorporated.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until very firm.

In a small saucepan, melt chocolate chips and shortening together on low heat, stirring constantly to combine until fully melted.

Working quickly, dip each truffle into the chocolate and coat completely; return to waxed paper-lined baking sheet and chill until chocolate is firm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Peanut Butter Popcorn

pb popcornSometimes you encounter a treat that you spend your whole life wanting to recreate. As a kid, I had a friend whose mom made excellent peanut butter popcorn, and I’ve always wanted to try to make it on my own.

Since moving back to Pittsburgh, my attempts to make successful caramel popcorn have failed, so I was a bit nervous about trying this recipe. The air seemed dry enough today (humidity is the enemy of candy-making), and armed with positive thoughts, I set my sugar and corn syrup to boil on the stove. After the requisite minute, I pulled them from the heat, stirred in my peanut butter and vanilla, and….magic. That heavenly, almost marshmallowy, peanut buttery smell that I remembered from childhood filled my kitchen. The consistency looked right, smooth and not unlike caramel. Into the oven it went, and 10 minutes later it came out a resounding success.

I used a disposable pan for this experiment just in case, but I’ll likely use a glass dish next time and/or spread the finished popcorn on a sheet of buttered foil to cool. As much as you’ll want to dive in right away, sugar gets dangerously hot when it cooks, so make sure the popcorn is completely cool before you serve it.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups air-popped popcorn (2 tablespoons unpopped)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place popcorn in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup; bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla.

Pour over popcorn, stirring to coat.

Bake for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to continue coating the kernels evenly.

Remove from oven and cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container.

Caramel Popcorn

caramel corn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caramel is tricky. Chemically speaking, caramelization is the removal of water from sugar, a breakdown of molecules and re-formation of compounds that yield a distinct flavor. Making caramel can be a complicated business, because it’s a sensitive substance. Rainy days aren’t good for candy making in general, and you’ve got to be careful about stirring or not stirring according to a recipe’s specifications.

When Mike and I lived in Maryland and DC, my caramel popcorn turned out very differently, with a smooth caramel coating that I am yet to achieve in Pittsburgh. In LaPlata, Mike’s coworkers took up collections, giving me the proceeds to buy ingredients and keep them in caramel popcorn on a weekly basis. But here in my sunny Pittsburgh kitchen, the atmosphere, or moisture in the air, or humidity yields a crystalline caramel akin to rock candy, rather than a smooth caramel like it should. I’ve amend my recipe below to feature an additional half-teaspoon of vanilla from what I used today.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Using an air popper, pop the popcorn and place it in a large roasting pan; remove any unpopped kernels.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then continue boiling, without stirring, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add baking soda and vanilla, then stir vigorously to combine; the mixture will puff up a bit and it is very important to do this off of the heat.

Pour immediately over the popcorn and bake for 15 minutes; stir, then bake 5 minutes more.

While the popcorn is baking, spread two large pieces of aluminum foil on a table; tape down at the edges and butter well.

When popcorn is finished baking, spread immediately on the buttered foil to cool.