Making toffee (and chocolate-almond toffee saltines)

Have you been baking your little heart out this holiday season? I love seeing cookie and baked good recipes all over (what can I say, sweets make me happy!) and I’ve bookmarked dozens of them over the past month or so. This past Sunday was the first time this month that I’ve actually baked. A tragedy really but hey, better late than never. I learned how to make toffee too and dare I say… it was life changing!

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Now that I know how easy it is, there will be lots and lots of toffee in my future. And the future of my family and friends. Prepare yourself peeps. If you know me, there will be toffee coming your way at some point in your life. Winking smile Nothing to complain about, that’s for sure.

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So the toffee making process was born from the desire to make the chocolate almond saltine toffee recipe from Food & Wine. I’ve had saltine bark before (a.k.a crack) but this was my first time making my own. Toffee is basically butter (lots of it), sugar (yup, lots of it too), and corn syrup boiled together until it reaches 300* (a candy thermometer is very key here!!). Once these 3 simple ingredients turn into a golden brown syrupy goodness, you poor it into a container (in this case, over saltine crackers actually) and then cool it. After 15 minutes in the freezer, you have a sweet crunchy candy. Man, it’s good!

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Fun fact: Our wedding favors were sweet sloops which are little sailboat shaped toffee candies dipped in i2 kinds of chocolate and pecan crumbs. Awesomeness in a pretty package. So are these:

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Salty saltines + sweet crunchy toffee + creamy dreamy chocolate + nuts = happiness all around. Life changing.

The back side Embarrassed smile

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Dig in!!

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This little tin has someone’s name on it… Open-mouthed smile

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Have you ever made toffee? Other things that got me as giddy (“life changing” was also possibly mentioned in relevant posts): making marshmallows, making challah bread, making pretzel sandwich buns, Italian bread, and making ricotta. I think it’s something about demystifying some of my favorite foods, as well as the pride that comes from turning a handful of ingredients into a completely different form of deliciousness. Yup, that’s it.

PS – Other baked goods created during this baking extravaganza (thanks, Tiffany, for hosting!)…

Chocolate peppermint roll

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… and peanut butter blossoms

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What have you been baking lately?

Making pretzel sandwich buns (+Christina’s spice shop)

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Last month, Rachel of Boston Food Bloggers organized a tour of the Taza chocolate factory, followed by a trip to a few of her favorite spots in Somerville. I’m rarely in the area so I took up the opportunity to not only meet a few new blog friends but also check out some of Somerville’s hidden gems.

Christina’s spice & specialty food perfectly fit the bill.

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The shop is small but is jam packed with spices, sauces, and… specialty foods (yeah, I’m original like that). The photo above depicts tables full of spices, alphabetically organized (!!). This makes it really easy to find that spice you’ve been looking all over for… and a few others you didn’t know you needed but could not walk out of the shop without having.

The shelves were full of other fun goods…

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…like every kind of salt imaginable…

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How cool are these long peppers?

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I’ve heard a lot about preserved lemons lately. I will be definitely picking up a baggie next time!

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Spices and herbs as far as the eye could see…

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It was exciting and overwhelming. They had sumac – a spice I often see in my Please to the Table cookbook. I also picked up a few kinds of paprika (again, the book always calls for smoked, sweet or spicy and I just had the generic “paprika” from Whole Foods before). Then pretzel salt and fleur de sel caught my eye and of course I had to grab those (btw, everything is available in little baggies or in bottles. They also have empty bottles if you need them – pretty awesome!). And then it was time to cut myself off before too much damage could be done! Winking smile

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I’ve been using the paprikas ever since. I think sumac will first go into a traditional plov (I’ll blog over at Russian Bites when I make that). And pretzel salt of course had to be put to use over some pretzels. Actually better than pretzels – pretzel buns for pretzel sandwiches. Oh yes!!

I used Alton Brown’s recipe for pretzels but instead of twisting the dough into the traditional pretzel braids, divided it into ten 3.5-3.75oz balls.

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With the help of instant yeast and my trusty KitchenAid mixerwith a hook attachment, this dough came together in about 5 minutes. 50 minutes later it doubled in size and was very easy to work with. As I said before, I divided it into 10 balls for large sandwich buns.

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After a quick dip in a baking soda bath, an egg wash…

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… and a sprinkling of salt, they were ready to bake!

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Quick tip – don’t be shy with the salt. Your buns will further grow in the oven so the salt will spread out. I could have probably tripled the amount I used!

Hello gorgeous!

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The whole thing came together so quickly, this little experiment for sure was the beginning of something beautiful. A pretzel filled beautiful life! Smile I will no doubt will be making mini ones for sliders or any time a pretzel craving or an amazing-bun craving hits!

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Fresh fig buratta, tomato, basil and dijon mustard sandwich = heaven on earth

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Incredibly soft on the inside, chewy on the outside. These were out-of-this world amazing… and easy enough even for a weeknight project. Seriously!

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Make them now. They will change your life. They changed mine! Open-mouthed smile

Where do you go to for hard to find spices?

Ever made pretzels?

How should I use my fleur de sel?

Tell me, tell me, tell me!!

Perfecting pie making (baking advise needed!)

I love cooking and eating and sharing it with friends and family. I love telling YOU about the most delicious meals that recently came out of my kitchen (so that maybe you can make it, eat it, and share it with your loved ones… if they’re lucky!). That’s how this food blogging thing works, right?

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Sometimes the meals are incredible but the pictures just don’t do it justice. I’m sure every food blogger in the world can empathize with that. You want so badly for the picture to make the reader drool. To make you wish you still had some leftovers to devour. Pictures really are worth 1,000 words. They are powerful.

Sometimes the stars align and your favorite meals accomplish just that (that chocolate chip cookie picture even got accepted by Tastespotting!!) Other times the lighting is perfect but the dish is just okay.

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Adam and I went peach picking a few weeks ago and I could not be more excited to make all sorts of peach goodies with our 10lbs of local peaches. Making a pie is one of those things I have yet to master (last time I attempting this was back in 2009 for Thanksgiving <—whoa, I look different. Also, the perfect example of unfortunate picture quality of delicious food) so I decided to that a peach pie was the perfect little project!

I used Joanne’s recipe for a peach dream pie but used a crust recipe I got from a pie making class I took at the Brooklyn Kitchen this past summer. The crust came out flaky and delicious but the filling was pretty soggy. Here is the deal: I have no idea what went wrong since I’m not really a pie-making expert. I need your help!!

Do fresh peaches have too much moisture? Should I have made a lattice top to let some of the moisture escape? Was the yogurt based filling (mixed with the peaches) too wet to begin with? Should I have cooked it somehow prior so that it baked better? Should I have cooked the pie longer? I was scared the crust would burn on the bottom. Any other suggestions? I’m totally clueless about this stuff!

I sliced this pie the day after making it and was disappointed with the texture but the taste was fantastic. The yogurt mixture baked into something resembling a light cheesecake (mmm). It was even more delicious with a scoop or 2 of vanilla gelato! Smile

How are your pie-making skills? Help me figure out what went wrong!

In other random “news” – look what I just scored at Trader Joe’s for $4.99.

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What should I make?!

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