Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last Minute Dessert, Candy or Gift Ideas!

Dear Folks,

Here are some last minute ideas to whip up in less than 30 minutes, maybe even 15 for some of them. (See near the bottom also for a fun site to visit before January 1st).

What takes less than 2 or 3 ingredients, only about 20 minutes and is really tasty?

Right down to the last minute of holiday dinners, entertaining or even gifts I have some easy candy ideas using either ‘melting chocolate' or semi-sweet chocolate chips. Maybe some of you have created similar treats but some ideas might be new to you. Chocolate dipped pretzels are a surprising treat because of the combination of the saltiness with the chocolate flavor.

First some do's and don'ts.

Do use a good quality chip if you can (I know the economy is taking its toll on many, but it produces a better tasting treat).

Do use it all up! — one or more of the ideas below are for using up the last bits of the melted chocolate.

Do use only oil based flavorings or coloring agents--and only food grade of course.

Don't get water in the chocolate - you will ruin it.

Don't use water or alcohol based flavoring or coloring agents - the chocolate will ‘seize' and be unworkable.

Don't dip the entire fruit or pretzel or candy cane in the chocolate - they are more attractive (and it is easier to keep ‘you' clean while dipping) if you just dip about 1/3 to half of the food in the chocolate.

"Colored" melts or ‘colored candy molding chocolates' are not real chocolate and get their texture from a combination of oils and fats. These are fun to use on a limited basis only because they are not as ‘workable' as real chocolate (some very inexpensive ‘melts' contain no chocolate at all even if chocolate colored or flavored and have the same problem.)

I prefer to use Wilton Dark Cocoa melts or Ghiradelli 60% cocoa chocolate chips for these candies. Nestles or Hershey's chips are a good quality, just that the Ghiradelli is a superior, minimal ingredient chocolate. Wilton offers a variety of colors and white — as noted they are fun for some use but they are not as loose flowing for dipping etc. as the dark chocolate.

Flavors can be added to any of these chocolates but you must use oil based flavors which were designed to be used with chocolate. Your regular food coloring will ruin the chocolate.

Premise: If it is large it can be dipped; if it is small you can create ‘stacks' or clusters from a combination of tasty things you may have handy in the cupboard or pantry.

The basic idea for cluster-type was presented in a blog I posted (on Thanksgiving 2009) to create a healthier candy treat for the holidays. I used Jean Carper's (Stop Aging Now) basic recipe to illustrate with my own take on it.

How to melt the chocolate:

Lots of options:

Do not overheat the chocolate or it will ‘burn' or ‘seize' up on you and will not be useable. You want the chocolate to be almost thin syrup in consistency - less loose than water, but not as thick as honey.

Microwave: In a heat proof glass jar or Pyrex measuring cup - microwave in 20 second bursts stirring between each. Begin with only a half filled jar or cup, add more chips once the first portion is melted to the amount you will need - but I don't like to have a jar or cup more than 3/4's filled when melted.

Stove top - single pot - measure the water height in the pot so it is no higher than 3/4 of the way up the sides of the container (glass jar like mason jar or Pyrex measuring cup). Place an old but clean dishcloth, or wash cloth in the bottom and heat the water to just steaming, turn the heat down to a very low simmer - there should be no bubbles in the water or very few - place the half filled jar in the water and it will start to soften, stir occasionally until the thin consistency is achieved and all the chips have melted.

Stove top - a double boiler was designed for this kind of project, keep the water in the lower pot a the same light simmer.

You are now ready to make candy!


Candy Canes
Dried Fruit — any kind -- we love apricots are wonderful
Fresh fruit — orange or tangerine sections - peel and section the fruit carefully and be careful that you do not ‘break' the section so juice comes out - it will ruin the chocolate (chocolate dipped tangerine or orange sections are a gourmet delight)

Lay on a cookie sheet or tray and place in the freezer for about 10 minutes or the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes

Clusters/ Bark:

Dried cranberries, blueberries or cherries
Coffee Beans
Pop corn (no butter or salt on it for this)

Mix your preferred ingredients into enough chocolate to liberally coat everything thickly. Either drop by spoonfuls on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil cover tray, or spread in a thick slab on the tray. Freeze for 15 minutes and remove to covered containers. The ‘slab' can be broken into small or large pieces like ‘bark'.

Hay Stacks:

When you are down to the last bit of chocolate or you want to make these anyway, mixing double the amount of chocolate to a combination of unsweetened coconut and chopped walnuts will give you clusters as above for the clusters. Traditionally called haystacks because the coconut looks like straw sticking out of the chocolate. I made some with less chocolate and wound up with small pieces we call ‘crumbs' - good for grabbing just a few small pieces (in the picture above, that is the funny - but really tasty pile, to the side of the candy cane and pretzel).

One last fun thing to dip is a plastic spoon! If you have coffee or hot chocolate loving friends and family, dipping the "bowl" of a plastic spoon in the melted chocolate is another gourmet delight. Stirred into the hot beverage it imparts a very distinctive chocolate flavor. Some of the fancy plastic spoons like silver or gold are particularly attractive - wrap each chocolate cover spoon in a piece of colored plastic wrap and tie with a bit of ribbon.

Everything except the fresh dipped fruit can be stored at room temperature for a couple of weeks. The fresh fruit dipped ones should be refrigerated and eaten within one week.

Have Fun!

Have a Merry Christmas and a safe and wonderful Holiday,

And for all those of you who enjoy (or have enjoyed) owning goats -- this site puts up a goats singing animation (Carol of The Goat Bells) every holiday season. I believe it stays up until about January 1 each year

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady