Retro paper straws in dots, stripes, and other patterns have become really popular, and I'm happy to say you can use them for more than just livening up your drinks. It's easy to give your lollipops a little straw love: simply skewer them like normal, on a regular lollipop stick, then slide the straw over the stick to the base of the pop. For soft pops, like these Rocky Road Pops, you can actually press them into the base of the candy a little bit to adhere them. The straws aren't sturdy enough to use on their own, but when you use them as a "slipcover" for lollipop sticks, they're perfect. This is a fun and easy way to make your treats a little fancy, and it's perfect for candy buffets or themed parties. Oh yeah, and the recipe's not too shabby either.
Get the recipe: Rocky Road Pops
Rocky Road Pops Photo ©2012 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
So I did.
Instead of making ice cream, I decided to do what I do best and make candy--specifically, Toasted Marshmallow Truffles. Real marshmallows are toasted under a broiler (or with a kitchen torch, if you're
a pyromaniac like me fancy) and are then mixed into a white chocolate truffle base. After they're dipped, they're each topped with a miniature toasted marshmallow for decoration. These are a great way to add a little class to the familiar campfire favorite--just don't try sticking them between two graham crackers!
Get the recipe: Toasted Marshmallow Truffles
Toasted Marshmallow Truffles Photo ©2011 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Get the recipe: Saltine Toffee
Get the recipe: Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles Photo ©2011 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
This Spicy Chocolate Bark is a good starter recipe if you're on the fence about adding heat to your sweets. It's made with mild, sweet milk chocolate and candied pecans, so there are a lot of other flavors and textures to balance out the spice. I recommend starting with a small amount of cayenne and tasting as you go, so that you don't jump into the deep end and discover you don't like the taste of extra-spicy chocolate after all. I like to top mine with a little crushed red pepper, for decoration more than flavor, but you can add more nuts or other additions, like dried fruit or coconut, on top. Just don't leave out the cayenne--it's what makes this ordinary-looking bark so special!
Get the recipe: Spicy Chocolate Bark
Spicy Chocolate Bark Photo ©2013 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Thus, Chocolate Dulce de Leche Truffles were born. I mixed the dulce de leche with heavy cream and brought it to a boil, then mixed it with chopped chocolate. Three ingredients, and as my homie Emeril would say, "Bam!"* The resulting truffles have a gorgeous silky texture with just a slight chew, and an undertone of caramelized milk. The dulce de leche flavor isn't intense, it's more of a flavor enhancer for the chocolate, so don't go into these expecting to taste really robust DDL goodness. Instead, think of this recipe as a nice twist on traditional chocolate truffles, or a good way to use up excess dulce de leche. In the future I want to experiment with a white chocolate version, so the DDL taste can come through a little clearer. But for now, my mouth is full of Chocolate Dulce de Leche Truffles, and I'm a happy camper.
*We're not actually homies. He doesn't know I exist. Call me, Emeril!
Get the recipe: Chocolate Dulce de Leche Truffles
Chocolate Dulce de Leche Truffles Photo ©2013 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
I do know that caramelization is the process whereby the sugars in sweetened condensed milk become brown and develop the distinctive toasted caramel taste. The Maillard reaction involves the browning of proteins, like when a bread crust turns golden brown, or a seared steak gets a browned "crust," or when the milk solids in condensed milk are toasted and turn--you guessed it--brown. So when you combine two different chemical reactions that both produce deep flavor, you get a candy that is rich and complex. And since chemistry does all the work, you're free to noodle around the internet while the amino acids and sugars are reacting away!
I love dulce de leche on its own. Our usual way of enjoying it at my house is to either eat it with a spoon, spread it on toast, or cook it until it's a solid candy and then devour. If none of these sound appealing to you, try using it in this recipe for Dulce de Leche Pecan Bites. A spoonful of rich caramel is squished between two toasted pecans, then the whole sandwich is dunked in chocolate. The combination of sweet and tangy dulce de leche, crunchy toasted pecans, and rich chocolate is fabulously addicting.
Dulce de Leche Photos © Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
My point, in dropping all of this cherry knowledge on you, is to emphasize that you must--yes, MUST--use tart dried cherries when making this Hazelnut Cherry Bark. Sweet cherries just will not do. They will add a chewiness, yes, but the cherry flavor will be entirely lost and overwhelmed by the chocolate, ginger and hazelnut flavors. Tart dried cherries, on the other hand, are able to hold their own against other strong flavors, and the lip-puckering flavor is a perfect match for spicy ginger, toasty nuts, and rich chocolate.
Get the recipe: Hazelnut Cherry Bark
Hazelnut Cherry Bark Photo ©2010 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
These candies are a fun twist on the chocolate-covered cherries I mentioned yesterday. Instead of cherry fondant, the cherries are covered with a layer of fresh almond marzipan, then partially dipped in chocolate and nuts. You can use either storebought or homemade marzipan (try this recipe if you're doing it at home!), and because you're not waiting for the center to liquefy, they're great if you're a fan of instant gratification.
Marzipan-Covered Cherries Photo ©2011 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
These Chocolate-Covered Cherries use this process to great effect. Maraschino cherries are wrapped with a lightly flavored cherry fondant that contains a bit of invertase, then the cherries are double-dipped in chocolate. The process has a few steps, but none of them are difficult--and if you have questions, I've put together a photo tutorial showing how to make chocolate-covered cherries. The really hard part is actually waiting for them to be ready to eat--they'll need a few days, or even a week, to fully liquefy and have that gushy, squirt-when-you-bite-it volcano effect we all know and love. Your friends & family won't believe that you made a liquid-filled candy yourself--heck, you may not even believe it!
Invertase can be found in some candy supply stores, or it is easily purchased online--I got my bottle for about $3, minus shipping. But you may not have the time or inclination to track it down. Never fear, the cherries taste just as great without the invertase. The center might not liquefy (although it will definitely soften a little thanks to the moisture in the cherry) but you'll still have a sweet and juicy cherry-and-fondant candy, wrapped in a rich chocolate layer. Invertase or no invertase, these candies are still the (cherry) bomb.*
*Apologies to 1998 for trying to bring that slang into the 21st century. It won't happen again.
Chocolate-Covered Cherries Photo ©2011 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.