Tag Archives: buttercrunch

Something to try

Smoky Spruce ButtercrunchSmoky Spruce Buttercrunch

I have an announcement to make: I have a new favorite flavor. It’s related to chocolate – what great foods aren’t? – and it comes from a tiny little sweets shop a couple miles from home. Friends, I am officially in love with smoked chocolate.

It’s not something I could have predicted, because typically, I’m almost completely anti-smokiness. I’m not a particularly avid fan of smoky barbecue. I can’t stand smoked cheeses. Smoked sausages? No way. But once the wisp of an alderwood fire crosses over to the sweet side, it seems like my taste buds forgive and forget.

I first tasted smoked chocolate in chocolate chip cookies from Hot Cakes, a newish sweets shop in Seattle run by Autumn Martin, the pastry genius once behind the confections at Theo Chocolate. When I was writing Dishing Up Washington, she gave me her recipe for smoking chips in a cold smoker, and together we adapted it so anyone with a standard-issue grill and the kind of box boots come in could replicate her cookies at home. But then. Then. Then she put her smoked dark chocolate chips up for sale, and suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend $15 on what amounts to less than a grocery store-sized bag of chocolate chips. Why? Because they taste like a campfire would smell if you drowned it at the end of the night with a fountain of dark chocolate. Because our fireplace is now home to the dog’s bed, and somehow, having an edible equivalent to that winter fireplace aroma makes up for it. Because this is Seattle, which means it’s raining outside and my grill is already hibernating. And, well, because time is money.

But last week, innocently enough, I ambled into Hot Cakes to run an errand for Santa (which I can’t mention here, for fear of exposure), and I ordered a smoky hot chocolate. There, underneath the house made marshmallow, hid an accent that surprised me. It tasted a little bit like pine trees. It was like drinking thick sipping chocolate that had taken a spill onto a forest floor covered with a soft, fragrant bed of needles – albeit remarkably clean ones. Autumn told me I was tasting fir essential oil, and that I could get all sorts of similar things at Dandelion Botanical, a shop across the street, so I wandered over. I went home with spruce tree essential oil. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the year I spent a December testing recipes for a cookbook for Kathy Gunst, about a decade ago, holiday baking has meant one thing most strongly: buttercrunch. In her family, the secret family recipes is . . . well, secret, but I’ve made it enough times that a) I have to make some new version every year and b) I never seem to be able to make enough of it.

As soon as I tasted Autumn’s hot chocolate, I knew I’d be making a version redolent of smoke and that forest floor – spruce trees, it turned out, produced the essential oil I liked best. I folded Hot Cakes’ smoked chocolate chips and a few drops of that oil into my version of Kathy’s buttercrunch recipe, and added a bit of toasted coconut for texture (and okay, yes, I was flirting with the idea of making candy that looked like a campsite).

This ain’t your grandmother’s Christmas candy, people. But if you wanted to distill the smell of camping in a Northwest forest into an afternoon snack, and you want something delicious to crunch on in wintry weather, I got you covered.

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch (PDF)
Crunchy, chocolaty candy with the smoky, pine-filled allure of a campfire? Sign me up. But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a low-maintenance holiday treat. It requires two ingredients you might have to mail order, but both, in my opinion, are intriguing enough to be worth the time and money. Order smoked chocolate chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle (www.getyourhotcakes.com) and spruce extract from Dandelion Botanical, which is actually just across the street (www.dandelionbotanical.com).

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 to 6 drops spruce or pine essential oil
7 ounces smoked chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted sweetened coconut
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290°F on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290°F, stir in the essential oil (3 drops for a hint, or up to 6 for a super piney flavor, depending on how strong you want it), then carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture is just a bit bigger in size than a piece of paper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the smoked chocolate chips: Place them in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread the melted smoked chocolate in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Repeat the melting process with the bittersweet chocolate, over low heat, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the almonds on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, recipe

A better buttercrunch?

IMG_4308

It used to drive me crazy when my husband stopped to fix something. We’d be in the middle of a conversation, and he’d spot, say, a proud nail in the wood floor, and before I could so much as utter another syllable, he’d be down on his hands and knees with a hammer, pounding away.

It only bothered me until I realized that in my own realm, I do the same thing. If there’s something I don’t like about a recipe, I tinker. I play. I fiddle. I fix. So while it’s not in my nature to hang a photo back up immediately after it falls off the wall, I’ll sauté chard three nights in a row, if it means getting the garlic flavor just right. And admittedly, it’s more or less the same thing.

Sometimes, though, there’s just nothing to fix. If there’s a better buttercrunch recipe than the one I use most frequently, I haven’t found it. I’ve tried. Many are fancier, or more complicated. Some are more unique. But my basic version, a quick toffee slathered with dark chocolate and walnuts, has be come a holiday stand-by. Some years I go a little crazy, sprinkling it with toasted almonds, or even Altoids, but I always come back to basics.

After recommending it as a DIY gift idea to a friend, I got to thinking: I don’t want to change the technique behind it, but could I ramp up the flavor? I turned on the stove.

Instead of the usual sugar, I made the caramel with brown sugar, infused with an entire vanilla bean’s seeds. I smoothed a 60% cacao chocolate over the cooled toffee—I’ve found using too dark a chocolate prevents it from sticking properly as it dries—and sprinkled it with toasted walnuts, instead of untoasted.

It was crunchy and sticky and chocolaty and nutty, as usual. But more delicious? Honestly, I’m not sure. It might be slightly more flavorful, what with all that vanilla, and since I was out of plain sugar, it was certainly more convenient for me to make with brown sugar. I still loved wrapping it up in little jars and giving it away, but for once, the tinkering didn’t really make a difference. I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a thing. In any case, I need another batch, to temper the let-down.

Brown Sugar-Vanilla Buttercrunch (PDF)
This crunchy candy, based on a top-secret family recipe from someone else’s family, is my answer for the cookie-averse recipients on my holiday baking list. For another gift, cut the used vanilla bean in to 3 or 4 pieces and snuggle them into jars of sugar, for vanilla sugar.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
Seeds from 1 soft vanilla bean
1 pound high-quality dark chocolate (I prefer 60%, or dark chips), finely chopped
2 cups toasted walnuts, very finely chopped

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup, water, and vanilla bean seeds in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290 degrees, carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture makes a roughly 12” by 15” rectangle. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the chocolate: Place it in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread half the chocolate mixture in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with half the walnuts. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Rewarm the chocolate over low heat, if necessary, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe

Baking without the baked taste

Bittersweet Walnut Buttercrunch 1

I woke up with my high school’s fight song in my head. Fight for Boise, we are with you, with you all the way… Is that how it went? Or was the other verse first? And what was the other verse? Pondering such important things, I walked into the kitchen and poured the coffee beans directly into the filter without grinding them first. Oh, I see what kind of day it’s going to be.

I’d hoped to wake up and bake cookies. We’re heading to San Francisco for a long weekend, to see my brother, and I wanted to make something without what he’s termed “the baked taste.” I don’t understand it, to be honest. It’s apparently a cross between burnt flour and old cinnamon; it crawls onto the bottoms of unsuspecting muffins and cakes and just loiters there, tasting dusty. The way he tells it, baked taste can kill a person.

But the coffee beans, they were a sign. Cookies were not to be. Besides, I’ve been cranky about cookies for days.

Have you seen the cover of Gourmet’s December cookie issue? They’re all different, so you may not have seen the same cover got, the one with lemon sandwich cookies, dressed up like little pink pompoms.

I love that we all got different covers, for sure. That’s exciting. But the cookies? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but food coloring is so out. There should be a clear dividing line between something one gives to one’s neighbors, to eat, and something one hangs on a Christmas tree. Just my opinion.

But speaking of Christmas trees, did I tell you? Someone stole my neighbor’s California cyprus. Stole it. Just wandered over in the middle of the night, about a week ago, and dug it out of the ground. My neighbor knocked on my door in a tizzy the next day, after tromping all around the perimeter of my house to make sure I hadn’t fallen prey to the digger, too. We were lucky, I guess. But the neighbor was furious. I told him to write a eulogy, and post it on a sign where the tree had been. He did a good job, I think:

A natural beauty stood here
A tenacious tree known for withstanding the wild winds off the Pacific
Regrettably, it could not withstand someone’s stupidity
On the night of Dec. 2nd, someone dug this tree out of the ground, and took it

I nurtured you, shaped you, and watched you grow. You brought me great joy.
I fear you were taken for use as a Christmas tree.
I hope that instead, you may have a successful transplant and live on to show your beauty to others.
I know you will bring joy to those undeserving folks who now possess you.

Seriously.

Anyway. Back to that cover, with the cookies that look like they belong on trees.

Some covers say cook me. Or doesn’t this look interesting. But the one my mailman delivered just says Yes, Christmas cookies are a direct reflection of how perfectly you live your life. And, If your cookies don’t look like this, you’re a failure. And, worse still, If you don’t attempt to make cookies like this, you’re a sucking the life out of people you love. Who wants to make cookies after all that?

Course, all this internal turmoil over a magazine cover must be the result of hormones. I normally love Gourmet. But this month, I hate it. Hate. It morphs cookies from a symbol of holiday cheer into a contest. And instead of making perfectly round samples of the obsessive compulsive behavior I try my very best to avoid this time of year, I decided, after the coffee thing, that I will be boycotting cute cookies this year altogether. In fact, I will make an attempt at the very ugliest, least photogenic cookies bake-able, because darnit, it’s the thought that counts. I just want a lump of a thing, the kind of cookie you’re not afraid to put your whole hand on. Who wants a cookie you can only touch on the sides? Or worse, one you’re afraid to eat?

The lumps, though, they’ll have baked taste, which I happen to love. Which means today, for my brother, I’ll be bringing a classic version of the Altoids buttercrunch I made last year. (Even the ugly pieces.)

Bittersweet Walnut Buttercrunch 3

Bittersweet Walnut Buttercrunch (PDF)

This crunchy candy, based on a top-secret family recipe from someone else’s family, is my answer for the cookie-averse recipients on my holiday baking list.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 pound high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2 cups toasted walnuts, very finely chopped

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290 degrees, carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture makes a roughly 12” by 15” rectangle. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the chocolate: Place it in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread half the chocolate mixture in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with half the walnuts. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Rewarm the chocolate over low heat, if necessary, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe