The holidays are coming. While I realize I've got a few months until Christmas, in my head, I'm prepping the baking list and the candy list. It's a habit that dies hard when you've worked in professional kitchens. For retail, it's when we make the moolah (please tip generously). And when you've worked in a school setting (as I have for two universities) you have two less weeks to cram everything in before the college kids are home for break. So, mentally, I am already halfway down the chimney, so to speak....or am I 'round the bend?
For the next 8 weeks or so, I'll be posting candy and confection recipes for y'all. I want to get them to you in time for the holiday sales for baking supplies.
My mother raised me to never enter a structure of any sort without a goodie tray (and hers were the stuff of legend!). And while we don't have much in the budget, letting those around us know that they are loved and appreciated (teachers, instructors, co-workers, friends, family, clergy) is really important to me.
Every year, I start with the same "recipe" if you will. Because it's totally shelf-stable and because it's my decoy. Mr. Devlin gives me this terrible pouty face everytime I send a tray or box of goodies out; it's the same sob-story year in and year out "You give the good stuff away and I never get any of it." (*cough cough* bullshit* cough*). Every year I start with a big ol'bag of chocolate covered pretzels. And while he's munching away on those, I'm getting everything else ready and stored away in the freezer.
This year he got his bag a little early but considering everything my poor manchild is going through, I think he deserves a little extra love.
And all you need is a block of chocolate bark and a bag of pretzels.
Bark is candy coating flavored with cocoa powder or vanilla. The white stuff is like white chocolate (which is notoriously expensive for the good stuff and the crap stuff is unabashedly overpriced).
Now, look, you could melt down a half-dozen bags of chocolate chips for coating your pretzels with but you'll really hate yourself later when they melt all over. I use bark because (a) it's inexpensive (b) it won't melt when it's not supposed to (c) it's very forgiving.
First, cost. A block of bark (and you can find it pretty much anywhere right now) runs between $1.50--2.00. Right now it's on sale for the holidays and I suggest you load up on both kinds. If you don't use it now, it can sit in your pantry for Valentine's Day and chocolate dipped strawberries. Two blocks of bark will coat a pound of small pretzels with plenty to spare. And the way people gobble down CCP (chocolate covered pretzels--look, I'm gonna get a cramp typing that every time, okay?) you would have either a small fortune in supplies for just one item (or very few CCP's).
Secondly, by melting it in a double boiler (heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of water), you can melt down large amounts over low heat quickly. And you can re-melt it over and over. Just plop in the blocks and stir occasionally. You never have to put stuff in the fridge to harden it up as you might be tempted to do with "real" chocolate (we will discuss why this is a bad idea anyways later on).
Third, since it's candy coat, you don't have to temper it or keep a thermometer in it, wary of stages of crystalization and blooming. No streaks, no fuss, no rushing to get everything dipped before it gets too hard.
|Thank you, Number 1|
And the equipment is pretty easy too. Yeah, seriously. Actually, you only need one so go ahead and put your hair up with the other one if you want.
Melt, stir, drop in pretzel, dip down with chopstick, tap on the side of the bowl to remove excess coating, place on waxed paper. Wipe brow. Repeat. Sigh, life's so hard. blah blah blah.
Now, what I was saying about bark being pretty forgiving stuff....when you get done dipping and letting the bark harden, you will find that some of your stuff has what in the candy world is called a foot. A foot is the chocolate that pools to the base of the confection. The smaller the foot, the better the candy maker you are. With these bad boys, you can just break off any feet (i feel a little Godfather when I say that) and toss it all back into the bark bowl to remelt. Eeeeeaaaaaa-zay.
So dip some pretzel rods halfway and sprinkle them with some festive jimmies (those jimmies sure are some party people). Or get some jumbo pretzels and dip them, then drizzle with some white bark. Bag them up in some of those cute little holiday celo-bags in the baking section of your nearest grocery store and you have a sweet little gift. Plop a little bag in a mug with a gift card and the faculty will give you your choice for time slots next time for conferences, I guarantee. Or maybe place a bag in your significant other's briefcase or purse for a little "life's better with you around' gift.
Or, if you're me, fill a giant ziploc bag of them and say "You don't have to share these."