Homemade candies makeBy Betty Shimabukuro
for impressive last-minute gifts
You're Santa, flying over the Pacific in the last time zone of your annual journey. Down below, plates of cookies sit next to glasses of milk in hundreds of homes -- the traditional offering to Santa. You've been eating sugar cookies across America. But in one home, a trio of chocolate rum balls awaits. What's Santa want?
Ho ho ho and pass the rum balls, mama.
Like Santa, at this point in the Christmas countdown, you've probably seen enough of cookies, brownies and quick breads. Dare we suggest: Candy.
It can be an easy, fun activity that even kids can participate in, and uses up lots of leftover cookie ingredients. Chocolate truffles -- flavored with rum, a coffee liqueur or filled with dried fruit or nuts -- are particularly impressive as homemade gifts. They make you seem amazingly skilled.
Mark Okumura, pastry chef for Alan Wong's restaurants, suggests truffles as a non-threatening way to break into candy-making. The formula is simple: Heat cream, use it to melt the chocolate, chill the resulting ganache, then scoop and roll into balls. Distinguish your creations by rolling them in cocoa, nuts, colored sugars or coconut -- or fill them with nuts or dried fruits.
Consider truffle-making as a Christmas Eve event for a gathering of family or friends. Prepare the ganache the night before, then do the rolling and decorating as a group. Or just melt some chocolate and dip in fruits or nuts.
The key to quality, Okumura says, is in the choice of chocolate. He uses Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate in the truffles he makes for Wong's, but he also recommends Valrhona from France, Callebaut from Belgium or Lindt from Switzerland. These better quality chocolates are widely available locally now in specialty shops such as Williams Sonoma, Strawberry Connection and R. Field Wine Co., he says. It's not just Hershey and Nestle anymore.
"Now you have a choice of different chocolates, different price ranges. It's really good for the consumer."
In a pinch you can use your leftover Toll House chips. Their lower cocoa quantity means a lesser end result, but you'll still have a rich, chocolatey truffle. For more sophisticated coated candies, though, you need real coverture, or candy-making chocolate that is at least 32 percent cocoa butter. This provides a smooth, shiny coat for dipped truffles and candies.
For a lighter candy alternative consider mints -- homemade candy canes and other festive designs.
The American Dairy Association and the American Butter Institute joined up to propose Festive Butter Mints as a low-tech family activity with simple ingredients. Aside from the corn syrup, they're things probably left hanging around after the season's cooking baking was done.
One more thing about Santa: The perfect drink to set out with those rum balls would be Justin Obtuse, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, Calif., that has been fortified like a port. Santa gets to head home after he clears the Hawaiian Islands, and he can put Rudolph on auto pilot.
Chocolate Rum Truffles"Chocolate," Le Cordon Bleu Home Collection, Periplus Editions, 199810 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely choppedPlace chocolate in a bowl. Heat cream and vanilla until just at the boiling point. Pour over chocolate. Gently whisk until smooth. If any lumps remain, place bowl over a saucepan of steaming --not boiling -- water, off the heat. Stir to melt lumps. Mix in rum and refrigerate until set.
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum
Unsweetened cocoa, to dust
Use a melon baller to form small balls of chocolate. Return to refrigerator again to set.
Roll each piece to form a perfect ball, then roll in cocoa powder to coat. Makes 24 truffles.
Festive Butter MintsAmerican Butter Institute1/3 cup (3/4 stick) unsalted butterHeat butter, cream and salt in over medium heat just until simmering; remove from heat. Add sugar and extract. Add a few drops of red or green food coloring to portions of mixture, as desired.
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon mint or peppermint extract
Red or green food coloring
1 to 2 tablespoons corn syrup
Knead on surface dusted with powdered sugar until smooth. Roll into balls or ropes or make into holiday shapes. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons corn syrup if mixture is difficult to roll into shapes.
Store in sealed containers for soft mints or loosely covered for dry. Makes 4 dozen 3/4-inch mints.
French KissesCalifornia Prune Board1 cup pitted prunesCut a slit in each prune and stuff with filling. Pinch to close and mold into a round shape.
Nuts, almond paste or candied ginger for fillings and toppings
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Place chocolate in a bowl and set over hot (not boiling) water. Melt over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or wax paper. Dip prunes into chocolate; drain excess. Place on baking sheet and decorate with toppings as desired. Refrigerate until set.
Once hardened, store in jars or containers away from direct sun or heat. Makes about 24 candies.
To keep chocolate pure, keep water out of it. This means protecting it from steam from a double boiler as you melt it:
Place chocolate in a bowl over hot water and melt on low heat. The water should not be boiling.
Use the microwave. Heat chocolate a few seconds and stir. Return to the microwave if there are still lumps.
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