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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark is one of my favorite holiday treats.  And since the main components are the white and/or dark chocolate--the type of chocolate you use really matters!  I like it plain with just white chocolate.  I like it with the dark chocolate drizzle.  And I like it with a light crunch from Rice Krispies.  Over the years I've become quite opinionated about how to make it and blended several recipes.  I prefer the taste of peppermint oil over peppermint extract (but extract works too).  I like Bob's candycanes best.  I only use Ghiradelli white chocolate chips.  But I like to mix those with with high quality melting wafers or white chocolate bars from specialty shops--I don't ever use almond bark.  So here's my favorite recipe:

12-15 candy canes
1 pound white chocolate (I use a 12oz bag of ghiradelli white chocolate chips and 4-6oz. of melting wafers, you could also chop a block of white chocolate)
4 drops peppermint oil (or 1/2 t peppermint extract)
1 1/2 - 2 cups crispy rice cereal
**1/3 dark chocolate chips or 3-4 oz. of chopped high quality dark chocolate

1.  Spray a rimmed cookie sheet.  Then line with wax paper.  (The spray is strictly to help the wax paper stick to the cookie sheet).
2. Crush candy canes.  Place unwrapped candy canes in a quart size ziploc bag.  Place that ziploc in a gallon size bag.  Smash into pieces using a rolling pin or meat tenderizer.  Sift candy cane pieces through a fine mesh seize and toss or set aside the dust to use with hot chocolate.
3.  Melt white chocolate and wafers.  I prefer to heat in the microwave at 50% power for 30-60 second intervals, stirring in between.  (Confession, I always do the first minute at full power without the chocolate ever burning).
4.  Add the peppermint oil/extract and half of the crushed peppermint and stir.
5.  Gently fold in crispy rice cereal.
6.  Spread out in an thin even layer on the wax paper.  (**If adding a dark chocolate drizzle, melt the dark chocolate in the microwave and drizzle on with a fork in zig-zag motions before the white chocolate sets).  Then generously sprinkle with the remaining candy cane pieces on top.  Press gently into the bark.  Chill for at least an hour.  Break into pieces.

Ruby Jewel Cookies

3 large egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
About 1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam or caramel*
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting or chocolate for drizzling*

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready two ungreased baking sheets or mini muffin pans and liners.
2.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and vanilla together; set aside. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the top of the flour and sugar and with a pastry blender or two forks, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk mixture and carefully mix to combine until the dough starts to come together (this worked best using my hands).
3.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape it into a flat disk. Wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.
4.  With lightly floured hands, pinch off pieces of dough and shape the dough into ¾-inch balls. Place each ball in a mini muffin paper liner, if using. If not using a mini muffin pan, place the cookies 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.
5.  Using the end of a wooden spoon handle dipped in flour, make an indentation in the center of each cookie, but do not press all the way through the dough.
6.  Using a spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, fill each indentation with about ¼ teaspoon jam.
7.  Bake the cookies until the edges are golden, 15-20 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the pans on wire racks. Transfer cooled cookies to wire racks and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

*For Caramel Cup Version

Keep the directions the same as above for steps 1-5.  But instead of filling with jam, bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes unfilled.  Remove from oven, and reform the indentation on the half-baked cookies.  Fill each cup quickly with a thick caramel sauce.  Return to the oven for another 4-6 minutes.  Let the cookies cool completely the remove to a wire rack.  Drizzle with melted chocolate.

Jill's Gingerbread and Royal Icing

These gingerbread cookies are soft and flavorful.  You cut out the dough while still warm eliminating the time-consuming step of chilling.  From my friend, Jill Hunter.

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup molasses
1 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t baking soda
2/3 c butter, cut into pieces
1 egg, beaten
4 cups flour

In a medium saucepan mix sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt over medium to medium high heat.  Cook until just beginning to boil.  Stir and add butter until melted.  Remove from heat and add baking soda.  Mixture will foam up a bit.  Quickly add in the beaten egg stirring constantly.  Then add flour one cup at a time.  (I had trouble stirring the thick dough by hand, so I moved the mixture to my Kitchen Aid for the last 1-2 cups to mix).  Roll dough out immediately on a floured surface while still warm and cut into shapes.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 6 minutes.  Let cool on pans for a couple of minutes before moving to a cooling rack.  Cool completely before icing.

We love these topped with Royal Icing

Royal Icing
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (8oz)
1 1/2 T meringue powder
1/4 cup lukewarm water

Combine in large bowl, beat a medium speed of mixer for 5-6 minutes or until the icing is firm enough to pipe, but still spreading consistency.  Add a few more drops of water if needed.  If desired, tint frosting using paste food coloring.  Note: icing dries quickly, keep it covered at all times with a damp paper towel.  Spoon icing into ziploc freezer bags and snip a small hole for piping.  Pipe around the edges of the cookies then fill in.  Add sprinkles and decorations while still wet.  Let set for one hour to dry.