Butter Rum Toffee.

Everything around me feels festive: My neighborhood takes holiday decorating pretty seriously, and for Christmas they’re breaking out all the seasonal decor, from lights and garlands to inflatable Snoopies sleeping on their doghouses. The five or so inches of snow I see from my window add a real coziness factor to a Sunday spent in the kitchen. And my first-ever grown-up Kelly’s Very Own Christmas Tree in my front window brings me a pride and joy so thoroughly adult that I almost want to keep the tree up til spring. As the song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And I really believe that! I love the cooking, the singing, the decorating, the smiles, the spirit. This is a holiday that–at least in its modern, pseudo-secular incarnation–is all about generosity, sharing, and love. When you give a gift, the recipient feels awesome, you feel awesome, and through this bond the world gets a little more awesome for a little while. That’s pretty beautiful, whether you buy into the Bible stories or not.

IMG_0330

This is where toffee comes in. Whenever I receive a little bag of toffee as a Christmas present, I just get so excited about it. It’s so good. Sweet, buttery, crunchy, chewy, sticky…it’s everything a Christmas treat should be. So I’m planning to share a few yummy toffee recipes this Christmas season, starting with this, a lusciously warm and toasty Butter Rum Toffee.

IMG_0333

INGREDIENTS

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch or two more for sprinkling
1 cup semi-sweet milk chocolate chips (if you want it really chocolatey, add another 1/2 cup)
pecans, toasted and chopped

Just the Recipe link: Butter Rum Toffee

DIRECTIONS

Line a sheet pan with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Set aside; you’ll need it ready, because the caramelizing process moves pretty quickly.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then whisk in the sugar, rum, vanilla, and salt, and continue to stir with the whisk while the mixture comes to a bubble. Be very careful not to touch the mixture at any point in this process; it’ll give you an incredibly nasty burn. Cook over medium flame, stirring constantly, for 7-10 minutes, until the mixture is almond-colored and passes this consistency test: take a glass of cold water and drizzle in a few drops of the mixture. If it turns into brittle strings and crystallizes at the bottom of the glass (reach in and test the piece with your fingers), it’s ready to go. If it’s still soft and malleable, continue to cook and stir, and test again in a minute or two. Be careful not to let it burn.

IMG_0306

Once it’s ready, immediately pour the toffee onto the silicone mat or parchment paper that’s lining your sheet pan. Use a spatula to spread the mixture pretty thinly – don’t worry if it’s uneven, it’s all part of the magic of toffee. Let cool for 2 minutes.

*Clean-up tip: After you’ve spread the toffee onto the pan to start cooling, fill the saucepan with water and bring to a boil. This will dissolve the hard, sticky caramel and make it WAY easier to clean. You can also stir the whisk around in the boiling water, to break down any sugar stuck on its wires.*

Next, sprinkle over the chocolate chips. Give them a few minutes to melt, and then use a spatula to gently spread the melted chocolate over the top of the toffee, covering the whole surface. If you find that the chocolate chips aren’t melting completely, pop the pan into a hot oven for 20 seconds, and the chocolate will be easily spreadable.

While the chocolate is still melty, sprinkle with pecans and a bit more salt. I topped half my toffee with pecans and salt, and the other half with just salt, so that a nut-free birthday girl could eat it.

IMG_0315

Let the whole thing set completely, for at least two hours. Then break it up into chunky, uneven pieces. Eat some of them (you gotta make sure it’s good, right?), and give the rest away as gifts before you eat it all yourself.IMG_0312

Pretzel Milk and Chocolate Chip Scones.

On a cute and crazy-creative blog called “A Cozy Kitchen, ” I saw blogger/pancake expert Adrianna do something magical: she made pretzel milk pancakes. This is one of the most food-genius things I’ve seen in a long time: she roasted pretzels in the oven, soaked them in milk, and then strained them out so that the milk was left in faintly golden pretzel-flavored perfection, making her pancakes deliciously pretzely. I was mesmerized by this idea, and initially wanted to make a cookie using the pretzel milk method. I’m still working on the cookie version of this recipe, but for now, these scones are pretty amazing. Pretzel milk – I am so glad we’ve found each other. The lightly golden milk gives the finished product the most unusual and profound savoriness—not in-your-face pretzely, but more of a welcome note of something warm and deep. It’s pretty special.

I have a question for my beloved readers: what to do with the milk-steeped pretzels you’re left with after making the pretzel milk? I ate a few (they’re actually good, in a weird, slightly soggy kind of way), but there’s got to be something interesting they could be used for. Crush them up and stir them into muffin batter, or even cookie dough? Or food-processer them with lots butter and maple syrup, shape the butter mixture into a log, toss it in the fridge, and a few hours later you’ve got maitre d’ maple pretzel butter for toast and waffles and all those goodies? If you come up with a good use for them, let me know! And PS – when they’re in the oven, watch these more carefully than I did….my scones got a little bit toastier than I would have liked. Still awesome though!

IMG_9058

INGREDIENTS

3 cups pretzels
1 1/2 cups cream or half-and-half
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (feel free to use all A-P flour if you prefer)
1 tbsp baking powder
4 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into little cubes
1/2 cup chocolate, chopped into small bits (I used semi-sweet)
optional: turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Just the Recipe link: Pretzel Milk and Chocolate Chip Scones

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread pretzels onto a sheet pan in a single layer and roast until they turn a nice dark brown, about 10 minutes. Let them cool completely (don’t worry, they cool very quickly).

IMG_9042

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Transfer the cooled pretzels to the cream or half-and-half and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Then strain, leaving just the beautiful pretzel-y cream. The pretzels will have soaked up some of the liquid; you’ll need just 1 cup total for this recipe. If you have any leftover milk, keep it on hand and maybe dip the scones into it once they’re baked. This stuff is amazing.

IMG_9045

Place flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl or food processor. Whisk or pulse together until combined. Add the butter; if using your fingers, quickly rub the flour mixture into the butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand, handling the butter as little as possible and careful not to melt it as you go. If you’re using a food processor, pulse together until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

IMG_9040

Add the chocolate bits and stir or pulse briefly to combine. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl if it was in a food processor. Stir in the pretzel milk until the dough starts to come together. Then turn it out onto a floured workspace.

IMG_9046

Knead the dough a few times gently with your hands, just until it comes together in a ball – the less you work the dough, the better, since you don’t want the heat of your hands to melt the butter.

Flatten the dough into the shape of a rectangle (roughly….), about 3/4 inch -thick. Okay fine, so this dough is obviously not in a rectangle. I took this picture before I decided what shape I wanted the scones to be. Whatever.

IMG_9047

Cut the dough into squares. Then cut each square diagonally in half, to make little triangles…..Or, cut them however you want!

IMG_9050

If you like, sprinkle each scone with a bit of turbinado sugar. It’s sweet and gives the scones a little bit of crunch. And it’s pretty.

IMG_9051

Place sconces on a baking sheet and bake until light brown, about 12-15 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. These more than rock with sweet cream butter and a cup of black tea.

IMG_9053

And seriously – any ideas what to do with these already-steeped pretzels??

IMG_9043

Chocolate Pudding with Blackberry.

This is becoming one of my favorite recipes. It’s pretty quick and not too hard, and the outcome is completely delicious. I also use slightly lower-fat ingredients than Nigella’s original recipe calls for—hers is a perfectly rich chocolate pudding made with whole milk and heavy cream, where I’ve turned the fat content down a bit with skim milk and half-and-half and added a hint of berry flavor. I’ve tried this one with raspberries too, and it’s equally out of this world. I’d love to hear if anyone tries it with other berries, or other chocolate-and-fruit combos that might be delicious. What’s your favorite? Can you even choose? Maybe not. Either way, yum! Billy Madison and your snack packs, eat your heart out.

IMG_8964

INGREDIENTS

2 tbsp just-boiled water
3/4 cup skim milk
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
about 3/4 cup blackberries
splash of vanilla extract
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
more berries and cream, for garnish

Just the Recipe link: Chocolate Pudding with Blackberry

IMG_8932

DIRECTIONS

Gently warm the milk and half-and-half in a saucepan. Don’t let it come to a bubble – just let it slowly heat, stirring occasionally.

Put the blackberries in a food processor and puree.

IMG_8936

In another pan, sift together the sugar, corn starch, and cocoa powder. Whisk in the just-boiled water until combined. Then whisk in 1 egg yolk at a time. Slowly whisk in the warm milk/half-and-half mixture. Then, pour the blackberry puree into a sieve, place the sieve over the cocoa mixture, and stir the puree to push through all the juice, leaving behind the seeds. Add the vanilla extract and whisk it all together.

IMG_8938

Turn the heat on medium. Whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds, and then continue to stir pretty consistently for the next minute and a half. Repeat this process for about 8-11 minutes, until the pudding has thickened slightly and will thickly coat a spoon. Turn off the heat.

IMG_8939

Next, add the chopped semi-sweet chocolate and stir in to melt.

Pour the pudding into ramekins or other cute little cups.

IMG_8952

Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap or tinfoil, being very careful to make sure that the covering makes contact with the surface of the pudding. This contact will prevent a skin from forming on top of the pudding – blech. However, if pudding skin is your thing (you and George Costanza have that in common) feel free to cover just the top of the ramekin, without making contact with the top of the pudding itself – you’ll have a pudding skin in no time. Either way, put the pudding in the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours.

IMG_8955

Then, enjoy!

IMG_8962

If you like, garnish with a bit of lightly whipped cream or some berries, or both.

IMG_8971

Coconut Macaroons.

These are as as delectable as they are adorable. I saw Ina Garten make ’em recently on Barefoot Contessa and have had them in the back of my mind ever since. Oh man, are these coconut macaroons delicious. But my favorite part about them (okay, one of my many favorite parts) is how totally easy they are. Just look at the ingredient list – so simple! As I was whipping them up, I thought about adding a new section on my Recipe List page where I could collect my simplest, easiest recipes in one place. So if you check out the Recipe List now, you’ll see a new section called “Easiest, Simplest Recipes,” where I’ve called out all my recipes that are amazingly basic and basically amazing. And these  chewy, gooey coconut macaroons are going right there.

IMG_8747

INGREDIENTS

14 oz sweetened shredded coconut
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt

Just the Recipe link: Coconut Macaroons

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Stir together the coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl.

IMG_8734

In a separate bowl, use a whisk to beat the egg whites and salt until they form medium-stiff peaks. Fold the whites gently into the coconut mixture.

IMG_8735

Use an ice cream scoop (or your fingers) to drop little scoops of batter on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat. Don’t put the cookies too close, as they spread out a little bit.

IMG_8742

Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and set. Devour.

IMG_8750

Sticky Glazed Vanilla-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies.

I haven’t been baking much recently. I miss it! Cutting way down on sugar and processed grains, as I have been, means a lot of my favorite baking activities are on hold. This weekend, however, I was up at my family’s lakehouse in Wisconsin, celebrating my sister’s seventeenth birthday with a handful of her girlfriends. And I saw my chance. My chance to make these cookies, inspired by 101 Cookbooks. Ever the pragmatist, I recognized in this group of high schools girls a captive audience; I knew, if I placed a platter of gleaming sweets in the midst of their Beyonce-listening sunbathe-fest of Saturday, they’d happily help me out by disposing of the evidence. And they did not let me down—when we left the lakehouse on Sunday, only one cookie remained. Nicely done, girls. And happy birthday, Kathleen!

IMG_8701

INGREDIENTS:

for cookies:
12 tbsp (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
, plus more for sprinkling
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon salt
about 3 tbsp chocolate, finely chopped (I used semi-sweet)
2-3 tablespoons milk (I ended up using about 1 ½ tbsp)

for glaze:
2 tbsp milk
about 6 heaping tbsp. powdered sugar
splash of good quality vanilla extract (you want to use the good stuff here – don’t skimp on quality)

Just the Recipe link: Sticky Glazed Vanilla-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

DIRECTIONS:

Using an electric mixer (or your best elbow grease), cream the butter until it’s fluffy. Then add half the brown sugar, stir it in, and scrape the sides of the bowl, and repeat with the other half. Beat in the egg yolks and the vanilla until combined.

IMG_8647

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and chopped chocolate. You want the chocolate very finely chopped – if the pieces are too big, your dough won’t hold together as well when you’re rolling it out.

IMG_8637

Stirring by hand, gently mix part of the flour into the butter and sugar, just until it combines. Add the rest of the flour, careful not to over-mix. If the dough looks too dry, add a tbsp of milk or two – we’re looking for the dough to just hold together when pressed into a ball. Which, conveniently, is the next step.

IMG_8655

Turn out the dough into a cutting board or countertop and form it into a ball using your hands.

IMG_8656

Then divide the ball into 4 equal sections.

IMG_8660Form the sections into balls and then flatten them into discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

IMG_8664

When the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 F.

Take one of the discs out of the fridge. Lightly flour a flat workspace and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough very very thin, like wafer thin.

IMG_8667

With a cookie cutter (or a small glass, because I couldn’t find any cookie cutters) cut out the cookies and place them on a baking sheet. They don’t spread out much, so crowding the cookies is okay. Sprinkle each one with a bit of brown sugar. Repeat with the other 3 sections of dough.

IMG_8668

Now, to the oven. Depending on how big the cookie cutter you use is, these bake pretty quickly because of how flat they are, so watch them. Mine baked about 8 minutes, just until the edges started to turn golden brown.

IMG_8675

Put the cookies on a cooling rack and cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, pour the milk into a small bowl and add the vanilla. Then add 4 tbsp of powdered sugar and whisk or use a fork to combine. From there, add the rest of the powdered sugar as needed until you reach the right consistency – thin, but not watery.

IMG_8682

When the cookies have cooled, glaze them. The quick way is to spoon the glaze over the cookies, drizzling a bit on each one. If you want to put a bit more TLC into the glazing process, dip the top of each cookie into the glaze. Either way, set them back on the cooking rack to set before plating.

IMG_8688

That’s all! Enjoy.

IMG_8696

But be careful – my tasters found these pretty addicting.

IMG_8704

Glazed Lemon Madeleines.

I’ve been looking for the perfect homemade madeleine. I think this is it. I would say that this recipe is “adapted from David Lebovitz,” but I realized that I really didn’t change much of anything! His recipe is perfect just the way it is (if you’ve never been to his website, please check it out – he usually inspires me either to cook something beautiful or to speed along my plan-making for another trip to Paris).

IMG_7527

I love these lemon madeleines anytime. My roommate can attest that for some inexplicable reason I even made them during the Super Bowl this year–not BEFORE the Super Bowl, but actually DURING THE GAME. I have no excuse or explanation for that. And while they’re fine with football, they’re especially well-paired with tea. Lemon madeleines are actually one of the only things in this world for which I will actually delay drinking my daily pot of tea in order to whip up a quick batch.

IMG_7531

To give these adorable little cookie-cakes their distinctive shell shape, you need a special pan, called a madeleine pan (go figure). The pan gives them their scalloped bottom and humped and fluffy top. I’m quite happy with my madeleine pan, so if you ask me, it’s worth the investment for this little lemony French treat. However, if you want to try these but don’t have a madeleine pan of your own, just follow the directions exactly as written but use a mini muffin pan instead.

IMG_7532

INGREDIENTS

3 eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 healthy pinches of salt
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder (optional – it helps them rise when baking, and I haven’t decided my opinion on it yet.)
zest of one medium lemon
9 tbsp butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup powdered sugar
up to 2 tbsp water

Just the Recipe link: Glazed Lemon Madeleines

IMG_7540

DIRECTIONS

First, grease your madeleine pan and put it in the freezer. This will make sure the madeleines hump up when they’re in the oven.

Add eggs, sugar, and salt to a bowl. Whisk like crazy until frothy and thickened.

IMG_7518

Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold into the egg mixture.

IMG_7519

Gently stir the lemon zest into the butter and pour into the flour and egg batter, stirring until just combined. Pop the batter into the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

IMG_7521

As the batter chills, preheat the oven to 425 F.

Once the batter is slightly chilled, use a spoon to scoop into the cold madeleine pan. Don’t fill the scalloped cups up all the way to the rim, as the cakes will rise quite a bit.

IMG_7523

The same goes if you’re using a mini muffin pan – give them a little room to grow.

IMG_8261

Pop them in the oven for 8-9 minutes, until the tops are set and the bottoms are lightly browned. While they’re baking, mix the powdered sugar and lemon juice together for the lemon glaze, thinning with water until you reach the consistency you like – it should be pretty thin (think of a glazed doughnut).

Set the baked cakes to cool on a cooling rack. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, dip each one in the glaze, both sides (!), and set back on the cooling rack, scalloped-side up, letting the glaze set as the cakes cool all the way.

IMG_7535

Here they are as little mini muffins. Not as dainty as the madeleine-shaped madeleines, but just as tasty!

IMG_8266

Serve immediately with a beautiful cup of tea or coffee. Make sure to use one of your prettiest cup-and-saucer pairs.

IMG_7536