Saturday, November 22, 2008

Time to make the candy

Every year around this time, my candymaking goes into full swing. This year I got an early start because I wanted to have enough ready to take a box to Mario. We give Mario and his partner Jerry a box of goodies every year, and usually we see them at some point around the holidays. This year was a little early, though, since Mario was headlining at Caroline's last Sunday, so there was some scrambling to get stuff done. Thankfully, I had Jeff helping me last weekend or I would have never been ready.

At any rate, I had worked to get some stuff started before Byrne visited, about two weeks ago. I had made my hot peanut brittle, cashew brittle, caramel candy and about 6 lbs. of fudge. But that wasn't nearly enough variety. The following week, four batches of cookie dough: dark chocolate with peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and brickle; chocolate chip; gingered oatmeal raisin; and peanut butter. They all turned out nicely, but the oatmeal raisin dough turned out a little thinner than I like it, so the cookies really flatten out. But oh, do they taste spectacular. My massage therapist was sampling for me and said, "I don't even like raisins, and I love these! They're crazy good!" That made me happy.

So last week I was busy preparing for Sunday. I made up the centers for my cherry bon bons and coconut bon bons, and I also made some of my signature key lime pie chocolates in the new molds I bought this year. Those are about everyone's favorite, but they are incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive.

I only dipped a small number of the bon bons since I was short on time; I'd do the rest of them later. The other problem was that I didn't have enough of my usual chocolate on hand to dip them. I typically only use two brands, Ghirardelli and Merckens. I used to get my Ghirardelli blocks from Trader Joe's but they quit carrying it about three weeks before I went into candymaking mode! And the only way I can get Merckens is by mail order, which takes about a week or so. So instead, I went to a local high-end market in search of some good block chocolate.

The chocolate I bought turned out to be a disaster. I went with a grade of fairly expensive Guyanese chocolate that I was told was very good. It was a bit too bitter, for starters, and it would not temper correctly, so it made grey streaky lines on everything I dipped, which made my blood boil. I had bought 6 lbs. of it, and I took four lbs. of it back, having wasted two lbs. trying to get the temper right.

I replaced it with Callebaut, whose white chocolate I had used with great success, but whose dark chocolate I had not tried. What a disaster. When I began to temper it, I quickly discovered that it didn't temper at the same heat that most chocolate did (89-91F), it tempered out at about 102. So the first tempering didn't work and I had to start over again...and the tempering takes about 45 minutes each time. What a pain in the butt. And its tempering "window" was also tight. It was 101-102F or nothing. The stuff got so thick when it got below 101 that you couldn't work with it.

All this time, I'm thinking, "I am so screwed on chocolate and I should have just ordered the mail order stuff and waited on it." But a couple of days ago, I happened to be running a quick errand in Wal-Mart and it caught my eye that the giant Hershey Bars were on sale for $1.25; dirt cheap! You should know that I despise Hershey's Milk Chocolate. It's about the rottenest tasting milk chocolate there is, and I won't eat it. But I do like Special Dark, and since dark chocolate is what I use to dip with, I picked up about 4 lbs of Special Dark bars and got out of there for about half of what I had paid for the Callebaut, and about a third of what I had paid for the Guyanese chocolate before that. And you know something? The candies I dipped in the Special Dark not only came out beautifully, they taste great. I'll not be bothering with the expensive stuff any more.

So today, I have dipped coconut bon bons and made another batch of hot peanut brittle. I get raves on the peanut brittle every year, and it's one of the things I run out of first, so I made extra this year. Well, the first batch had turned out just perfectly: you eat it and it has a great taste, and then you get a nice spicy burn right at the end. It's not blazing or anything, just nicely spicy. But today's batch was something else. The only difference between it and other batches was a single habanero pepper, but that one pepper was the difference between nice and naughty. Today's batch is hot enough that it will not appeal as widely as the mild stuff. It really kicks your ass. It'll have to be served with a warning.

Last night, we went into the city to see our friend Patrick in some off-off-off Broadway theatre, which was a lot of fun. This is one of the things I love about New York; there isn't just theatre on Broadway, it's everywhere, and there's enough variety to suit about any taste. The fun part was that Patrick had not only written his piece, he performed it, and it was so engaging. It was very evocative and it really made you think about the things you take for granted (but enjoy nevertheless) in everyday life. At least that's what it was for me. At any rate, when the performance was over, we went with the rest of the cast over to a pub/eatery and had some dinner and fun conversation with Patrick, and Kate, the woman who ran the lighting. It was a nice evening and a much-needed break.

Tonight, Jess is at a black-tie gala for his work and I am sitting here blogging, having finished with the candy for today. Tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O'Hara said, and I hope to complete a lot more candy tomorrow. I still have peanut clusters, cashew clusters, some more key lime pie chocolates to make, and I still have some cherry bon bons to dip. I also have to bake the cookie dough I've got sitting the downstairs fridge.


At 11:33 PM, November 22, 2008, Blogger Jess said...

Hershey's? HERSHEY'S?!?! I turn my back for a moment, and this is what happens? If you weren't such an animal in the sack, I might have to ask for a divorce! ;)

Just kidding. I love you, honey, but I'm shocked. I never thought any type of Hershey's could measure up to Bokey standards!

At 6:22 PM, November 23, 2008, Blogger ATG said...

OMG, you're like a candy god. I'm not even going to tell you that tonight I made slow cooked fudge for the first time ever...and that I managed to over beat it after waiting impatiently for the hot mess to cool to 110 from the 234 during cooking. Hopefully, it will taste good.

Regarding my question earlier about corn syrup. I used honey. :o

At 9:16 AM, November 24, 2008, Blogger pinknest said...

oh i'm so jealous you've started!!

At 9:19 AM, November 24, 2008, Blogger Greg said...

My goodness, you ARE a candy god. I had no idea (I also didn't know you Mario - how cool!). Ironic, isn't it, that your frustrating efforts at tempering chocolate should get your own Temper going.

Glad all worked out well I bet they are incredibly yummy.

Glad you had fun at the Blueprints show...wish I coulda gotten down there.


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