Thursday, January 01, 2009

Gourmet Gifts

For Christmas gifts this year, I decided to go economical and gourmet. It's no surprise that my first inspiration came from Miss Molly of Orangette. She recently wrote about an absolutely gorgeous Peppermint Bark that was featured in old issue of Bon Appetit. From the minute my eyes laid sight on her photos I knew I would be making it soon. So, my list included peppermint bark, salted caramels, my favorite granola, and of course, my famous sugar cookies.

Let's begin with the salted caramels. I've wanted to make these for a LONG time. I used a recipe from Gourmet. Gourmet's site, Epicurious, is probably my biggest go-to site for recipe searching. If you haven't acquainted yourself with it I recommend that you do. It's an amazing resource with most of the recipes Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines have ever issued.

About these caramels, they are really quite basic as I'm sure most of you are aware. During the course of my first batch, I quickly realized that my candy thermometer is not accurate and ended up with a rather crispy block of caramel. I just 'eyed' the next two batches until they seemed ready to come off the heat. These are really, really tasty. I was snowed in and didn't have access to the local spice shoppe that sells Fleur de Sel so I just used course Kosher salt.

Now about this Peppermint Bark, it's really quite lovely don't you think? You should go check out Molly's post about it also. I fell in love with it from the moment I saw it, as I said. It's pretty, you know it's going to be delicious, and it's just fancy enough to be a great holiday gift. Like with the caramels, I've wanted to make bark for some time as well. I can't really say much more about this recipe except for that it's just really, really pretty and really, really scrumptious. It's elegant and colorful and everyone I made it for raved about it.

If you ever make this bark, here are my suggestions. When buying chocolate get the best you can find, I just used Trader Joe's Bitter Dark bar for the ganache though. As for the white, you really don't want to use the regular white chips you find at the super market. I'm lucky to have a co-op here that sells big plastic-wrapped chunks of Guittard chocolate, so that's what I used for the white chocolate portion. Also, when finishing the bark and applying the last layer of white chocolate there are two things you should be sure to do. One, make sure the ganache is really, really cold and hardened. Also, wait about fifteen minutes possibly to spread the white chocolate. It will still be warm enough to spread but not so warm as to melt some of the ganache. And second, after you spread the white chocolate be sure to sprinkle the candies on really quickly because the white will harden pretty quickly over the freezing cold ganache. That happened to me and I had to melt more white chocolate so my candies would actually stick. Other than that, it's really quite simple. Melt, spread, cool, melt, spread, cool, and one more time. You get the idea. Here's the recipe over at Orangette's... Three-Layer Peppermint Bark.

Okay, did you skip right over all of that writing up there to catch another peek at my snowflake cookie? If so, I completely understand. The holiday just wouldn't have been complete without a batch or two of my sugar cookies. There are so many things that make me love these so. For one, my mom used to make these when I was little and bring them to my school for birthdays. They had lots and lots of buttercream piped on with star tips and for some reason they just stuck vividly in my memory. I love them because they are so pretty and fun to decorate. It's quite cathartic! And most importantly, they are sinfully delicious. I have found a really wonderful recipe that for some reason I just don't want to share. I haven't told you yet, but I dream of opening a gourmet shoppe and these cookies would be a staple. Sugar cookies aren't rocket science and I know you probably have a wonderful recipe already and could care less about mine! You just want a cookie batter that is easy to work with, buttery and tender, and with the perfect balance of softness and crispiness. I'm sure I will be making them on Valentine's Day, we can talk more about them then.

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