Hello, darling readers! If you’ve visited Piece of Cake often enough, you might notice that things are looking a little different around here. And I’ll tell you what–I’m just so pumped about the whole thing. I hope you’ll take a minute to poke around and learn the new lay of the land, much as I have been doing the past couple days (minus all my hand-wringing and being all Andy Rooney about new-fangled technology and change). There may be a few kinks here and there that we’ll smooth out, but hey, what’s life without a little bit of crazy?
Oh, hey, speaking of crazy, I made my own candy corn the other day. I know, right? What could be more ridiculous and yet so totally perfect right now? In the midst of deadlines and website blah-blah-blahs, I still couldn’t help but get inspired to try this insane culinary experiment. And, as usual, it’s the fabulous Jessie Oleson (you may know her as CakeSpy) who put such an adorably whackadoodle idea in my head. We can all rejoice that the Queen of Sweet Teeth has just released her first cookbook, and if ever there was a compilation of recipes that so perfectly encompassed the persona of its author, its this one. I dare you to read this book and not crack a smile. Can’t be done, people. This book is a stack of sugary joy, plain and simple.
But maybe Oprah would make her own Coffee Toffee is she knew how dead simple it was. It takes little more than butter, sugar, pecans and espresso powder to make the magic happen. I don’t see how this could not go well, do you?
If your pecans are on the large side (I will refrain from a dirty joke here), then break them in half so they’ll distribute more evenly throughout the candy. I like Diamond kosher salt for its clean flavor, and sometimes even use fleur de sel if I’m feeling fancy. For Morton kosher salt or table salt, use half the amount.
Makes about 2 pounds
1 teaspoon kosher salt (see note)
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 cup raw pecans halves
Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat, or line it completely with aluminum foil and spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, begin melting the butter over medium-high heat with the salt. Once the butter is about three-quarters melted, add the sugar all at once, followed by the corn syrup, and begin stirring immediately. Continue stirring, gently in a figure-eight motion, until the butter is completely melted and the sugar has begun to dissolve, about 5 minutes–the mixture will turn from looking like a separated mess into something much more smooth and homogenous. It will also just begin to bubble at this point and take on a lovely blond shade. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir the candy occasionally. Think low and slow–the bubbling will be sort of groovy and dreamy-looking, not a full, rapid boil.
Once you notice a change in the color of the candy–about 10-15 minutes later–clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan. Continue stirring occasionally. You are looking for the candy to take on a beautiful, creamy toffee color and hit a temperature of 290 degrees (soft crack stage). When it has climbed to about 285 degrees, pull the pan from the heat (the temperature will continue to rise on its own). Quickly mix in the vanilla and the espresso powder, stirring until the powder is well-blended. Stir in the pecans.
Quickly pour the toffee onto the prepared baking sheet, and use an offset spatula to smooth it as evenly as possible (it will not fill the entire pan). Set the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. When the toffee is cool, break it into charmingly irregular pieces and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Blonde Rocky Road is going to be one of the most addictively delicious things you put in your face all year. It is also a Real Problem.
Blonde Rocky Road is so quick and simple to assemble, you can even throw it together after a highly celebratory Ladies’ Night out, more than a little tipsy, before you’ve even removed your high heels. Just try not to pull down all the baking pans in a crash at 12:30 in the morning. Or whatever. I’m just saying that when the craving strikes, you will do crazy things to make it happen. Trust me. I know things.
Blonde Rocky Road comes together so fast that you’ll be three pieces deep before you even realize that you made it in the first place.
Blonde Rocky Road takes no prisoners. You have been warned.
The second go around I added salted peanuts for crunch and more marshmallows. So basically, more calories. Obvi. But I also added a nice dose of vanilla and an extra hit of salt and oh-ho-hooo…friends. Next level stuff. Blonde Rocky Road stuff.
Now go forth and ruin your diets for the rest of the year. Loveyatoo.
Blonde Rocky Road
Born of the Midwest, I have a penchant for kitschy recipes. Give me a casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with potato chips, and I could pass out from the hilarious joy of it all. There’s just something so great about recipes that are simple and sinfully delicious and contain ingredients that can never be found in nature. Take Haystacks, for example. Melted butterscotch chips, peanut butter and chow mein noodles, for Pete’s sake. Wad the mixture up in little mounds, put it in your face, AMAZING.
Now say you take something already perfect like Haystacks, up the fabulous by adding butter and a nice hit of salt, and then dip it in bittersweet chocolate. Hubba, hubba. Not that you need any help (did I tell you that you look terrific today?), but I’d say we’re gonna get you a whole bunch of pining Valentines with this one.
And the best part? These are so insanely easy, guys. You’ll have instant Valentine’s Day gifts that will make you an absolute hero. And plenty of leftovers so you can be your own Valentine and savor them slowly while watching trashy reality programming. Perfection!
With the New Year upon us, lately I’ve been asking myself lots of deep, Oprah-esque life questions. For instance, should I give in to the urge to get a practical haircut? How can I watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills without my husband knowing? How many toddler-hidden raisins will I find in my sofa cushions this week? And most importantly, do Bubble Gum Marshmallows actually count as food if one is over the age of twelve?
I may never truly discover the answers to any of the above questions, and as far as the last one goes about the Bubble Gum Marshmallows, I may not really want to know. I suppose that with their delightful candy-pink coloring and less-than-natural flavoring, these happy little confections might be considered more of an edible craft than actual food. But they’re so divine in their whimsical deliciousness, who the heck cares if I might be judged for whipping up such insanity? Add to their decidedly “pink” flavor the high that comes from doing some serious mad scientist work in the kitchen, and you’ve got yourself some good times in my book.
Speaking of playing mad scientist, have you ever picked up any candy oils? They’re like super-powered extracts that come in teeny tiny little bottles. There’s some pretty insane flavors out there–definitely the kind of thing that gets your wacky culinary wheels turning. I don’t do a whole lot with flavorings like these, but I have a handful of them in my bag of baking tricks that are fun to play with every once in a while when I feel like upping the crazy around here. Like say, creating a confection that gives you the sense that you’ve just put a fresh piece of bubble gum in your mouth, but instead of merely chewing it for a while until the flavor disappears, you get the awesome experience of actually eating the flavor at its height without it petering out on you.
And if that last sentence makes any sense to you at all, let me know, because we could probably be best friends. And like all good BFFs, I would totally share my stash of bubble gum marshmallows with you, and maybe even my Hello Kitty pencils and Justin Bieber poster collection.
The color and flavor of these marshmallows will be completely dependent upon your personal taste and the brands of food coloring and flavoring you use. I tested this recipe using Americolor Soft Pink gel food coloring and LorAnn Bubble Gum flavored candy oil.
Normally, I make this amount of marshmallow in an 8×8-inch pan for nice chunky blocks suitable for hot cocoa. But since these are more of a confection to be eaten straight up, I made them thinner by using a rimmed quarter sheet pan that measured 8×12 inches.
Makes about 2 dozen marshmallows (depending on how you cut them)
2 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin (a little over 2 packets)
1/3 cup cold water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Pinch of kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6-7 drops bubble gum flavoring
2-3 drops soft pink gel food coloring
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted, plus more for dusting
Grease a quarter-sheet pan (or similar baking pan that measures about 8×12 inches) with a small amount of shortening, using a paper towel to rub it lightly and evenly onto the bottom, sides and edges of the pan. Set aside.
Combine the gelatin and 1/3 cup cold water in a small bowl and let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes.
Place the sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, 1/4 cup water and pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and stir gently. Clip a candy thermometer onto the pan, and place it over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, checking it occasionally–you are looking for it to eventually hit a temperature of 235-240 degrees (soft ball stage).
Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1/4 cup corn syrup into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Microwave the gelatin on high until it is completely melted, about 30 seconds. Turn the mixer on low, and very slowly pour the melted gelatin into the corn syrup. Keep the mixer running while you check the sugar syrup.
Once the syrup reaches 235-240 degrees, pull it from the heat. Carefully transfer the syrup to a large, heatproof measuring cup or a similar vessel with a spout for easy pouring. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture. When all the syrup has been added, crank the speed up to medium-high and let it go for about 6 to 7 minutes–the candy will turn white and fluffy during this time. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the bubble gum flavoring, just a couple drops at a time, stopping the mixer to taste the marshmallow, adding more drops until you reach the desired intensity of bubble gum flavor. Beat in the food coloring, drop by drop, until you get the color you’re looking for.
Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula spritzed with a bit of cooking spray to nudge it into the corners and smooth the top. Sift confectioners’ sugar evenly and generously over the top. Let sit for about 6 hours.
Use a knife to loosen the marshmallow from the edges of the pan and invert it onto a confectioners’ sugar-dusted work surface. Dust the marshmallow slab with more confectioners’ sugar and cut into whatever size pieces you wish (a pizza cutter works great here for squares). Dip the sticky edges of the marshmallows in more confectioners’ sugar, patting off the excess. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve got the candymaking bug lately, people, and I’ve got it bad. And since its coincided with my insatiable need for all things malted, meet my latest love: the Chocolate Malt Marshmallow. These little gems positively scream, “Gift me! GIFT ME!” just in time for you to realize that you really ought to give a little something to the mailman this year.
Impromptu gifts aside, these chocolaty, malt-y, delightfully pillowy cubes are just the thing to fill out your holiday cookie tins and bob happily in your wintertime hot cocoa. Coated in bittersweet chocolate shavings rather than powdery cornstarch or confectioners’ sugar, I sort of love the shaggy look of them, the way they leave little flecks all over the plate or the mug. Much more charming than the wreath we bought this year that has done nothing more than shed all over my mantle all dang day. I’ve been vaccuming my mantle, people. But that is neither here nor there.
At first glance, you might think you’re just getting a plain old chocolate-flavored marshmallow here (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but the toasty flavor of malt is such a nice surprise. The way I see it, malted milk powder is the most genius thing that you can have in your pantry for when those mad scientist moments hit. It pairs with vanilla as beautifully as chocolate, its perfect with nuts of all sorts, dairy products (naturally) and even a few fruits get along well with it. Malt powder’s earthiness and soft, round flavor help to temper the sweetness of whatever it’s paired with, making anything malted instantly addictive and craveworthy. It adds richness and fullness without being heavy. Its magical, basically.
You know what else I think is magical? Marshmallows. And obviously we all know chocolate is totally magical. So throw some malt into the mix and who knows what might happen. If you put some of these out with the milk and cookies for Santa…well. Let’s just say we might all get those fancy new pairs of Spanx that we’re hoping for.
Malted milk powder can be found in most supermarkets either by the hot chocolate mixes, or near the ice cream fixings. That’s right, I said fixings.
For the chocolate shavings, grate bar chocolate on the largest holes of a boxed grater.
The deeper and richer your cocoa powder, the more intense the color and flavor will be, so use the best one you can get your hands on (I like Valrhona).
Makes about 20
For the marshmallows:
2 tablespoons (about 2 packets) unflavored powdered gelatin
1/3 cup cold water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup, divided
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup malted milk powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For finishing the marshmallows:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely grated
Grease an 8×8-inch pan with shortening, using a paper towel to rub it lightly and evenly onto the bottom, sides and edges of the pan. Set aside.
Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/3 cup cold water in a small bowl. Set aside to soften.
Place the sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan and stir gently. Clip a candy thermometer onto the pan, and place it over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, checking it occasionally–you are looking for it to eventually hit a temperature of 240-245 degrees.
Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/4 cup corn syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Heat the softened gelatin in the microwave to melt it, about 30 seconds or so on high. Start the mixer on low speed, and pour the gelatin into the corn syrup. Keep the mixer running on low speed.
Whisk together the cocoa, malt powder and boiling water in a small bowl until smooth. When the sugar syrup is up to temperature, whisk the cocoa mixture into it, followed by the vanilla. Carefully transfer the syrup to a large, heatproof measuring cup or a similar vessel with a spout for easy pouring. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture. When all the syrup has been added, crank the speed up to medium-high and let it go for about 10 minutes–the candy will become fluffy and the color of a chocolate malt during this time.
Sift together 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar and 3 tablespoons cocoa powder. Set aside, and keep the sifter handy.
Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan. Use an offset spatula spritzed with a bit of cooking spray to nudge it into the corners and smooth the top. Sift the cocoa-confectioners’ sugar mixture evenly and generously over the top. Let sit for about 6 hours, or overnight.
Use a knife to loosen the marshmallow from the edges of the pan and invert it onto a cocoa-confectioners’ sugar mixture-dusted work surface. Cut the marshmallow into squares (a pizza cutter works great here). Dip the sticky edges of the marshmallows in chocolate shavings, and dab more all over the marshmallows. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
All right, my December-loving comrades. Let’s cut the crazy and get to some serious Christmas candy making. I’m talking about jade-green pistachios and ruby-red cranberries bound together by the dreamiest vanilla nougat this side of a Charleston Chew. It’s called torrone (tore-OH-nay), it’s an Italian holiday classic, and making it will bring you one step closer to Giada. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that, do you?
In my quest to make this Italian tradition come alive in the Piece of Cake kitchen, some serious research was required. And because we’re friends and it’s the holidays, I couldn’t be happier to drop the knowledge I’ve gained during this entire torrone-making experience. And believe me, it was quite the experience.
What I found was that the edible wafer paper that’s called for in so many torrone recipes is absolutely, totally NOT optional, lest you enjoy spending precious time caressing sugar syrup and egg whites into candy only to find yourself unable it to get it out of the dang pan. Not to mention scraping strings of nougat from your hair and countertops hours later. Seek out this magical wafer paper, friends. It’s seriously cheap and readily available online, but I found it at a baking supply shop near my house, no problem. And the surly lady at the counter even called me out and predicted I was making torrone! A baking psychic, that lady is.
Besides the wafer paper, you cannot get by without a candy thermometer for this one, guys. The syrup needs to be heated above 300 degrees, and the cold water tests you can do for lower temperatures required by other candy recipes won’t really work here. Save yourself.
I also will say that this isn’t the sort of recipe that you can do with an electric hand mixer. You really do need a heavy-duty stand mixer for this job, what with its 15 minutes or so of intense whipping at high speed and the final consistency of the nougat which resembles something like sticky caulk (albeit terribly delicious caulk). I really don’t want you spending the holidays nursing muscle strains because I talked you into making torrone without mentioning this key element. So beg, borrow or steal a KitchenAid of you dont have one, because I’m telling you, this torrone is so, so worth it.
Beyond those few crucial tips, once you’ve got your equipment set and your torrone-making wits about you, the process here is really pretty easy and fun. Just heat up your syrup to the right temperature, whip up some egg whites, and then whip the two together in a great fury. When the candy is set and sliced into bars, the stained-glass effect is just so dang pretty, you’ll think you’ve gone to candy church. Or something like that. But really, I can’t think of a more festive little gift for all the randoms in your life that deserve a little something special. Or heck, just do it up like me and make it for yourself to devour it while watching Giada. It’s the holidays, after all.
Edible wafer paper is widely available online, and in baking and kitchen supply stores, especially during the holidays.
The firmness of the finished candy is dependent on how hot you cook the syrup. Be sure you get it to the right temperature or the candy will be still be edible, but really soft, almost runny, and hard to eat.
You can find dessicated coconut at any health or natural foods store (like Whole Foods). I absolutely adore the surprise of the coconut here, but if you’re not a coconut person, try a cup of sliced almonds instead.
Makes 8 2×4-inch bars
2 pieces edible wafer paper, cut to 8×8 inches
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
Generous pinch of salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups shelled salted pistachios
1 1/3 cups dessicated (unsweetened, finely shredded) coconut
With a tiny bit of vegetable oil or cooking spray on a paper towel, very lightly oil only the sides of an 8-inch square baking pan. Fit 1 piece of wafer paper in the bottom of the pan.
Combine sugar, honey, corn syrup, 1/2 cup water and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture just begins to simmer and sugar has dissolved, about 6 minutes. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 315 degrees.
Meanwhile, put egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Raise speed to high. When the syrup is up to temperature, pour it into the whipping egg whites in a slow, steady stream. Beat until mixture has thickened significantly and the bowl is cool to the touch, 10-15 minutres. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in the vanilla and almond extract. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl well with a hard plastic spatula. Remove the whip attachment and scrape it down as well. Switch to the paddle attachment and on low speed, stir in the cranberries, pistachios and coconut.
Working quickly, scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Lightly oil your hand with cooking spray or vegetable oil and press the candy into an even layer, making sure to get it all the way into the corners of the pan. Place the second sheet of wafer paper (smooth side up) on the surface of the candy, and press firmly, making the the entire surface of the candy is covered. Let cool and set on a wire rack for several hours or overnight.
With a thin, sharp knife, cut around edges of torrone to loosen. Invert the pan onto a work surface, giving it a few good smacks to get the candy slab to fall out of the pan. Using a long, sharp knife, first trim off any ragged edges, then cut into 8 2×4-inch bars (dip the knife in hot water and wipe it off before each cut to make cutting cleaner and easier). Torrone can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.
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