Friday, December 12, 2008

Homemade Caramels (Black Licorice and Vanilla varieties)

My mother is an amazing cook. And she's very resourceful. When she tastes something she likes, she figures out how to make it. I like to think I got this trait from her. Often the excitement of going to a restaurant is in trying to recreate the wonderful meal again at home. A few years back my father found some Black Licorice Caramels at the store that he loved, but were fairly expensive. My mom decided that she's just have to figure out how to make them herself, and, of course, she did. Sometimes people don't like the flavor of the anise oil (or simply can't find it) and would like to have some variety. I, personally, always want variety. So you can make up the recipe, then split it in half and flavor some with the anise oil, and others simply with vanilla, or a favorite of mine, rum extract, for other flavors. This recipe will make one 9x13 pan of the same flavored caramels, or two 8x8 pans of varied flavors.

1 cup butter
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp or more black food coloring (my mother uses the paste kind, I use a liquid)
1 tsp anise oil (this is usually found in pharmacies, don't ask me why)

Coat the sides of a heavy saucepan with some of the butter. Add condensed milk, corn syrup, salt, sugar and remaining butter to pan. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until it reaches 244 degrees (at sea level, which is essentially where I'm at, my mother in Utah goes to 230-234 degrees) on candy thermometer (medium-firm ball stage in candymaking). This can be the trickiest stage for me because I'm no pro candymaker. If you don't let the mixture get hot enough, it'll be too soft, if you let it get too hot, it will be too hard. So, if you want a softer caramel, err on the side of a lower temperature, if you want it firmer, err on the side of too hot.
Remove from heat and divide up if you want to try multiple flavors. For vanilla caramels (I think it's obvious which are which) simply add about a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, or to taste. Then for the licorice caramels, (the black pictured above) add about 1 tsp anise oil (you can use anise extract, it just takes a lot more) then taste the mixture, and add more if you like. Then add about a teaspoon black food coloring, or until it gets a nice dark, sludgy kind of color. Blend well. Pour into well greased pans. Cool. Cut and wrpa in wax paper squares. I tried to include this to give you an idea of the size of wax paper needed for a small. long caramel. This picture also brings up another point. See those dark flecks in my caramel? I was impatient and tried to cook them on a medium-high heat instead of sticking to medium, that brown the sugars on the bottom faster, and left these little burned flecks in my caramels, you didn't really notice them in the taste, but it's best to take your time, and cook on a medium heat so that everything gets heated through evenly and nothing burns.

Kraft's White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Bars, Gluten-free

This recipe has also been a big hit when I've made it gluten free. And it's simpler to modify. Just make my home-made Oreo's to make the crust, again it takes about 12 cookies, crunched up to make a good crust. The nice thing about Christmas is that you can even combine some things. If you want to make this, and say the Chocolate Mint Christmas cookies, you can make up the chocolate cookie dough, divide it in half, and add peppermint extract to half of the dough, then proceed to make the various cookies (just be sure you distinguish between those made minty and those simply chocolate. Then, use the chocolate cookies as the crust for this delicious cheesecake treat. Everything else is gluten-free and fairly simple to make.

When it comes to drizzling the chocolate over the top, I like to just use a long-tined dinner fork. I'll load the fork with the melted chocolate, then, holding the fork parallel to the bars, move it in a back and forth motion on the diagonal. This allows the chocolate to be spread more thinly and evenly, giving it a pretty look across the top.

Kraft's Creamy Lemon Squares, Gluten-free

I truly love recipe magazines, even if I never make the recipes, I love to look through them and get different ideas about how to make treats. And Christmastime is the best for recipes of yummy goodies. I have always loved lemon bars, but have had a hard time getting a crust that I really like. Well, I finally managed a crust that I like. With three different recipes in front of me, and some creative math, I came up with a great gluten-free crust to use with Kraft's Creamy Lemon Squares.

I like to make mine in a 8x8 in pan, and I like a thin crust, so, here goes.
1/2 cup Featherlight Mix
3 Tbsp Almond Meal (you can grind your own, but I used Bob's Red Mill)
3 Tbsp light brown sugar (I really preferred using the brown sugar, it gave a deeper flavor)
heaping 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 cup cold butter, cut in pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Mix together dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. You want the butter to be cold so that it will be a crisper crust. If you want an extra lemony zing throughout the bar, you can add some zest to the crust as well, I don't actually add the zest to the top the way Kraft does. Then, once the other ingredients are well mixed, use the egg yolk to bind them together. I do this to create more of a pie-type crust. You can also omit this step and pat the dry ingredients together, this will create a more crumbly crust.

Bake this crust at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until golden and you can smell the almonds toasting.

Then, follow the recipe as Kraft gives it, replacing featherlight mix for the 2 Tbsp flour. These will keep well, covered, for a few days in the fridge.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

GF Chocolate Peppermint Christmas Cookie

So, ever since I made the excellent gluten-free chocolate oreos, I've been devising a way to make my own Thin Mints of Girl Scout fame. Well, this month in Martha Stewart Living, there was her own take on the greatest little cookie, Christmas style. Well, I took a leaf out of her book, and used her basic idea to make my own little gem. I tried her chocolate cookie recipe, and was not a fan. The dough was incredibly difficult to work with, and didn't have the satisfying crunch of the oreo cookie. I'm not going to reprint the recipe here (sorry) but you can follow the link. But, to make it a wonderful little mint cookie, add 1/2-1 tsp pure peppermint extract to your dough, once it's all mixed together. This will depend on how minty you like things to be. Just taste to see, I'm sure you don't mind an excuse to sample the dough. I have decorated the cookies two ways now, and I'll tell you about both. First, I made them more authentically girl scouty, by dipping them in melted Hershey's Mint Chocolate Chips, they were so good that I ate them all before photographing them, and I couldn't get my hands on any more chips today to make some more. Sorry for the lacking visual. The other way is Martha Stewart's design, and very appropriate for the Christmas season. She suggests to dip the cookie in white chocolate (Melissa and I dipped these in white almond bark which was very nicely white) and then, right after dipping, sprinkle with crushed candy canes. As a tip, try to dip the cookies quickly, because the heated chocolate starts to soften the cookie and some don't hold their integrity. They look beautiful, and taste fantastic, too. And, again, because the base recipe is so great, non-celiacs will be equally impressed.

Ambrosia Macaroons

I get on kicks. Right now my recipe kick is with Bon Appetit magazine. I love macaroons, especially since they're typically gluten free without modification. I also adore the combination of orange and dark chocolate. So, as soon as I saw the spread in the magazine for these cookies, I knew I had to try them. I was interested in the recipe because it has a very different make-up than the other macaroons I've previuosly made. I didn't want to make the whole batch, partly because I was short and egg, and also because I'm trying not to inundate myself with such calorie-laden goodies this Christmas season. So, I did a little fanagling with the recipe, but really, it's all Bon Appetit. I also have to admit that I loved making them because I love the drip method of adding a bit of chocolate cookies. I have a master's degree in Art History, and I loved feeling a bit like Jackson Pollock in creating these beautiful cookies. Yes, food is an artistic outlet for me. Enjoy!1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
dash salt
grated peel of one navel orange
2 eggs
4 cups coconut, packed (I used a 14 oz bag, plus some)
4 oz Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips

With rack in center of oven, preheat to 325. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add orange peel, then eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in coconut. I used a large cookie scoop to drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto the parchment, leaving them in a mound for a nice round look. Bake macaroons for 20-25 minutes, or until they're browned on the bottom, and throughout the cookie. Allow the cookies to cool on the pans, to finish cooking through. Once cooled, melt your chocolate and, using a fork, drizzle the chocolate across the rows of cookies for a nice added touch. This made about 30 cookies for me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Peanut Butterscotch Cookies with Hershey's Chocolate Bits

As the December weather gets colder, I turn to the oven. Partially to help heat up our apartment, and also to warm myself from the inside with great baked goods. I've also been thinking a lot about cookies and candies lately with Christmas coming soon. I've planned to post some of my favorite cookie recipes, and figured I might as well start with the cookies I made today. I've mentioned before that I LOVE butterscotch chips. I still remember being a very small girl and walking into a bulk confectionary with my mother, and going over to the bin of butterscotch chips and just drinking in the aroma. I was about 4 years old at the time, and I still remember.
But, I always loved oatmeal butterscotch cookies. Even with the new gluten free oats, the cookies I've made just haven't been the same, and so I've been looking for another outlet for my favorite chip. I think I found it!
Today I was thinking about those butterscotch chips, and what I could do with them, and I thought about making the scotcheroos that are also delicious, then I thought, why not make my peanut butter cookies, and add butterscotch chips and chopped Hershey's chocolate bars? So, I did. I may not have been the first person to combine these, but, I will tell you all that they're fabulous.

I'm sure I've posted this cookie recipe before, but I'm happy to do it again. Because it's super simple. I always have it memorized and never have to look at anything for reference.

1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
I like to cream the peanut butter and sugar first, then add the rest of the ingredients and beat well. Then, I add the mix-ins, here I added about a half to 3/4 cup of Hershey's butterscotch chips, and then about 6 mini Hershey's bars that I broke apart in my hands.

Form into teaspoons sized balls on your ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly before baking. I love soft and chewy cookies, so I always bake mine for 8 minutes. It seems the perfect time. If you want them a little crispy, then bake for about 10 minutes or until golden browned.