Peanut butter marshmallow bars.

Sploosh.

Last week, or maybe the week before, it rained and rained and rained one night (I can’t remember which night because that sort of thing happens a lot here), and it was dark out and nearly bedtime, and I had a lot to do, book-wise, and I was dead tired after work and we all could have just endured a few more episodes of Octonauts, but there were big puddles outside. In Vancouver, if you don’t look at a puddle as an opportunity, the time between summers can be pretty bleak. So I had Nick shove Toddler’s feet into his boots and button his raincoat while I shoved my own feet into my own boots, and we clomped outside to splash around in the water under the orange glow of our street lamps. We rounded the block twice, and on the second go-round, Toddler announced that he’d like hot chocolate, “with march-mellos.” Who am I to refuse such a request? I can never say no to a marshmallow.

So we splashed our way to the grocery store just down the street, and we marched to the back of the store where the marshmallows are kept beside the ice cream freezers and sundae toppings, bought a big bag of white mini marshmallows, then came home to make hot chocolate. By the time Toddler was in his jammies, I had his hot chocolate in his dinosaur mug, heaping with marshmallows. We drank our drinks and read some books and we all went to bed pretty pleased with ourselves and our sound decision-making.

Fast forward a few days or weeks, and I still have a huge bag of mini marshmallows. And Nick, with his diabetes, has gone off to the woods outside of Princeton to shoot our year’s supply of meat. So Toddler and I are alone, free to raise our blood sugar and rot our teeth unencumbered. I’m using up the marshmallows. Toddler’s pretty pumped.

This is a spin on a bake-sale classic, improved by substituting white chocolate chips for butterscotch chips. The result is kind of like tiger butter, only with marshmallows. I used the microwave for this because it somehow felt wrong not to. Toddler and I are going to spend our weekend together eating these in a blanket fort while watching the whale shark episode of Octonauts over and over and over until the sugar knocks us out. You should definitely lick the spoon.

peanutbutterbars

Peanut butter marshmallow bars

  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into about eight equal pieces
  • 12 oz. white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups white mini marshmallows

Put the butter and the chocolate chips in a large glass bowl. Microwave the whole thing for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the microwave, stirring the mixture well, then return it to the microwave and repeat this process.

Add the peanut butter, stirring well. Microwave for another 30 seconds, before removing the bowl stirring well, and repeating the process once more.

When the chocolate chips have melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy, add the salt and vanilla, stir again, then set the bowl aside and let it rest for a minute.

Lightly grease a 9″x9″ baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Stir the marshmallows into the peanut butter mixture, and then pour the whole thing into your prepared pan. Refrigerate the mixture until it’s firm enough to slice, at least two hours.

Cut into small squares and serve. This is great for bake-sales, treat tables at holiday events, and on plastic Buzz Lightyear plates under a fort made of blankets.

 

Homemade salted caramels.

There’s this tiny shop just off Main Street, on 21st Avenue, called Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France, and they make fleur de sel caramels that I could spend my last dollars on without regret. They’re like sugar butter. Fortunately, I am becoming slightly wiser as I age – I realized that you can make caramels at home! And we always have butter, sugar, and cream here (I don’t know why we’re putting so much weight on either), so to make a batch of caramels required no special shopping trip.

Making caramel is about the easiest thing ever. It doesn’t seem like it, because molten sugar can be a bit daunting, and a candy thermometer is not everyone’s favourite kitchen tool. But a few ingredients and a little bit of science/magic, and it’s amazing what heat can do.

I don’t have fleur de del, but it doesn’t really matter. A little bit of sea salt in the caramel and some smoked salt for finishing, and these are every bit as delightful as something you could go and buy. If you don’t have smoked salt, use kosher salt, or some other coarse, delicious finishing salt.

Homemade caramel candy

  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt

In a medium saucepan, bring cream, butter, and salt to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Set aside.

In a large (three or four quart), heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, combine sugar, golden syrup, and water. You can use corn syrup if that’s what you’ve got, but there’s a little rumor going around that high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you. Of course, butter and sugar and cream are not.

Allow sugar to melt before stirring. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, watching the sugar closely to ensure that it doesn’t burn. Nothing is a bigger culinary piss-off than getting excited about candy and then burning it. I let mine cook until it reached a red-amber hue. If you go darker than that, the caramel will take on a smokey, slightly burnt taste, which can be sort of good, but more often than not just tastes like you overcooked the sugar.

When your sugar is bubbly and red-amber, pour in the cream mixture. Don’t freak out. This is going to swell and bubble and threaten to maim you, but it probably won’t. If it didn’t maim me, you’re probably safe – I don’t do anything carefully.

Reduce heat to medium, and clip in your candy thermometer. Stir occasionally. You want the caramel to reach between 245°F and 250°F, which should take between ten and 15 minutes. Don’t rush it.

Pour caramel into a 9″x9″ baking dish that’s been buttered and lined with parchment, which you should have also lightly buttered, for good measure. Tip: when lining the bottom of the pan, cut the parchment too long, so that you end up with pieces sticking up on either side; these will act as handles when you go to take your caramel out of the pan – much easier. Let cool for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, sprinkle salt over top of the caramel. Let rest for two hours.

Cut into one-inch squares with a sharp knife dipped in cold water. You should end up with about 50 caramels. You lucky duck.

You can proceed to wrap each one with parchment or wax paper, or put each one into those little candy cups that look like mini cupcake wrappers. I’m sure they have a name, and I bet you can Google it.

Serve. To others, to mom (happy Mother’s Day!), or just to yourself. Enjoy!

Feasting on fudge: I don’t know why my party dresses don’t fit anymore either.

I’ve never actually written about chocolate. I like chocolate. Love it, actually. But it’s one of those things that I seek out pre-prepared, in bars or handfuls of chips or by the individual truffle every so often. I don’t cook very much with it, because there are so many other things I like to play with, and buying chocolate is mostly a reliable way to go about getting one’s fix. Here in Vancouver, there are several very good chocolatiers. Although, I won’t lie to you. A Caramilk bar goes a long way with some of us.

But it’s December, and my mom has noted repeatedly that I don’t come over enough, and that she probably won’t make as many treats as she usually does, if at all. My mom makes very good treats – another reason I don’t bother all that much with chocolate, or much in the way of desserts, for that matter. She has me beat. Her fudge is very good, but she won’t give me the recipe. I think she thinks I’d betray those fudgy family secrets. She’s probably right – I have no character.

Fortunately, one of the things about being a grown-up and having your own candy thermometer (that your mother may or may not have given you) is that you can find your own fudge recipe and it can also be good. And you can bring it to your mother and ask her if it’s as good as hers, and then she’ll have to make a batch of hers to compare with yours, and then you win because she wasn’t going to make the fudge but then you duped her and now you have extra fudge and she never saw THAT coming. HaHA! It’s kind of fun to toy with the elderly (I think I’m funny now, but I’ll pay). She’ll read this and then take back all my Christmas presents, but the point is that you are an adult now, and you must have a candy recipe or two in your arsenal, for reasons that are varied and complex, not the least of which is showing off. Also? If you’re poor it makes a better DIY gift than, say, noodle jewelry, which I may have considered at one point.

I adapted this recipe from an old Gourmet I found in one of the last boxes still left unpacked. It’s really very good. My version, I mean. It’s a soft, sticky, caramelly chocolate thing that feels dry on the outside but that’s soft inside and sticks to your teeth and reminds you that you need to floss and also maybe go for a run. I call it toffee chocolate fudge because the brown sugar makes it taste like toffee, but you can call it something else if you prefer. Use salted butter, but don’t add any salt. Use the best cocoa you have. And make it on a clear, cool day. Something about humidity causing unfortunate sugar crystals is why you don’t want to make fudge when there are low-hanging clouds. Science. Fudge.

Chocolate Toffee Fudge

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar (14 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 4 tablespoons (heaping, if you must) cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Combine milk, brown sugar, butter, and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring just to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring almost constantly, until your candy thermometer reads 240°F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test after 30 minutes by dropping a teaspoon of mixture into a bit of cold water. If the mixture forms a soft ball when pressed between your fingers, you’re done. Don’t rush these things though.

Remove from heat, and remove candy thermometer. Beat in vanilla and confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, until fudge is thick and smooth, about five minutes.

Spread evenly in a parchment-lined 9×13 baking pan. If you want thicker pieces, use an 8-inch square pan. Refrigerate, uncovered, until firm enough to cut, about 30 minutes.

Cut fudge into squares. Eat, or pack into cute little cellophane bags, tied with ribbons, and gift it to your friends. I’m going to make a second batch for that – it’s December, and you can eat a pan of fudge if you want to.

Another thing? If you made too much fudge and it dried out because you can’t eat as much fudge as you thought you could and it’s not fit for gifting, chop it up and put it into cookies. Same thing if you made it and the sugar went weird because of all the moisture in the air. Fudge chunk cookies? A very good thing.

Still not having much luck with pictures. A virus ate my computer this week, and so we’re experiencing some technical difficulties. Maybe my resident non-saint Nicholas will gift me with a little laptop this season, and maybe a camera that doesn’t suck? Maybe if I stopped mocking my relatives I’d have better luck?