gifts of candy or food

I have spent years perfecting a homemade caramel recipe. I finally, fin-al-ly have the caramel worked out. I can make a pretty heavenly batch.

But I always wanted to make the perfect caramel apple. I wanted one just as delicious as I find at our favorite pumpkin patch bakery this time of year. I usually dip my apples, but have been unsatisfied when some of the caramel slides down the slick apple skin.

Last night, I was making caramel, and
bingo,
I discovered a trick.

Are you ready for it?

I made a batch of caramel, using this recipe.

I tucked some parchment paper in a bowl, and when the caramel hit 234 F (this was THE magic number for me, it’s the lowest softball stage) I drizzled a little puddle of caramel into the bowl. I did not dip the apple.

Then, I waited for the caramel to cool. And I wrapped the apple.

The caramel is super soft and chewy good, and it is fully intact around the apple. Oh yes. And it is now ready to be drizzled with chocolate and rolled in something delicious.

Or, if you want pure, unadulterated caramel on your apple, and this caramel is good enough to deserve it, you can smooth your caramel a little more. Put the entire caramel apple in a 250 F oven for a couple minute, then smooth it by rolling it on parchment paper or rubbing it with the back of a spoon.

And I am so glad I figured this out, because I still am hopeless at making a good apple pie. I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to make the perfect pastry crust. But in the meantime, I’ll have something great to do with my apples this time of year.

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Have you ever had tres leches cake? For anyone who hasn’t, it’s heaven. You take a yellow cake and drench it in three kinds of cream. Pretty good idea, right?

I’ve been craving all things latino even more since my aunt visited. I miss her!

So I had this thought last week that I’d like to try tres leches pancakes, I thought it was worth pursuing. I took a stack of hot pancakes, layered them with fruit, and poured on a bled of three creams until they were bien mojado—nice and wet. They turned out to be pretty good (pancakes and cream? what a surprise).

But I found I liked it best having one pancake on a plate at a time. Because it’s rich, for one, and because that way the pancake can really soak up all that wet goodness.

Tres Leches Pancakes
Cook up a stack of your favorite pancakes. You’ll probably want a lighter pancake, whole wheat may be too heavy. While you’re cooking and flipping, mix the following ingredients:

1 12-oz. evaporated milk
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk

Once the pancakes are done, poke a few holes in them with a fork. Pour the cream mixture over them, making sure you don’t stop until they’re nice and wet. Serve with fruit, and dig in.

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I’m wishing you a happy Father’s Day weekend. I will get to hang out with my dad, for the first time in many father’s days, so it should be a great weekend for me and the family. Be sure to stop by next week, I have a pretty incredible sponsor to introduce you to, you’ll get to hear from Crystal, and I have my biggest. giveaway. ever. See you then.

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Here, just a few of my very favorite ideas for something yummy to make this Sunday.

—Dad wants homemade Twix. Trust me, he does. If you need a good caramel recipe, I know a place where you can get one.

—I know where you can get a pretty amazing deep dish pizza recipe too.

—Am a huge fan of chicken tikka masala, and am overjoyed to be told I can make it in the slow cooker. Don’t forget the naan.

—Go all out and design dad his very own cheesecake (thank you, circle b kitchen).

—Would love to start the day with some prosciutto eggs Benedict.

—Have been wanting to make a Parisian hot dog for years. Hmmm. I might have to splurge on the hot dog maker. I wonder if a pipe on the barbecue would do the job.

—Tried this method for steak last Father’s day and, trust me, it is this good.

—Am definitely going to need a Mr. Crunch with gruyère dripping all over it.

—Would also love to crunch on some popcorn with a kick.

—This one’s for the s’mores fans. Make a full pie’s worth, or put it all in a milk shake (you can do that!?)
(btw, I found jumbo marshmallows while shopping at Winco a few weeks ago. You have got to try putting one of these things in the microwave. It is a spectacle.)

—And finally, a cinnamon roll that’s a pancake? You can’t argue with that.

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Garnish

Find fun ways to package up your goodies right here. I am thinking I will need a few berry baskets for picnicking this summer.

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We have this great supplier here in Sac that collects vintage soda from everywhere. They’re called Blue Dog Beverages and they’re fantastic. I had a chat yesterday with Bob Lake, one of the owners,  about what he might recommend for a good soda sampler. He put together a little tour of root beers for me (a little bit like this one, from Erin), starting with River City Rootbeer, which is brewed here locally. I thought I’d share Bob’s recommendations with you, incase you’d like to put something together for dad for next Sunday.

After I hung up with Bob I headed right over to a Nugget to pick up my loot, but Bob mentioned that you could probably find most of these at BevMo too. I’ve also put together some tags to add to the overall effect, and I’m posting a few blanks labels incase you want to write your own message. You can download them here.

Rootbeer Tour Labels (1964)
Stripey Tags, blank (1873)

(helpful hints: You might have to right click and choose “save link as” or “download linked file.” Also, you can resize these once downloaded by inserting them as a picture into a Word document. And finally, if you need printable label paper, I bought this kind and have been very happy with it.)

River City, from here is Sacramento, California. Bold and hearty, like Dad.

Dad’s, originally from Chicago, Illinois

Abita, from Louisiana

Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer, I’ll let you guess where this one’s from

Capt’n Eli’s, from Maine

Waialua, from Hawaii (note, this one was not on Bob’s list, but I had to throw it in after reading reviews)

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For some time I’ve been meaning to start highlighting your comments. So often they put a smile on my face so I’d like to pass them on every now and then. I thought Mandy‘s comment on this blog post was a good place to start.

“holy crow are those weck jars…it’s my dream jar shelf…” —Mandy

If you are unfamiliar with Weck, you can feast your eyes right here.

And one last, very important thing. Be sure to stop by Mandy’s blog. She has a recipe for Disappearing Strawberry Freezer Jam that I can’t wait to try.

[pantry image from here via here]

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I am not a black-licorice person, though I do love a good bag of green apple licorice. It is the perfect road trip food. But for those of you who are licorice lovers, or who have licorice lovers in your life, here are a few hard-core licorice treats that may take your love of licorice to the next level.

Kookabura licorice (in the first pic). This stuff is from Australia and comes in amazing flavors like Mango, yum, and even comes enrobed in chocolate.

row 1

Sambo licorace. I found this at a favorite online shop, and love the description “Sambo is the brand of Kólus, the most well-known licorice manufacturer in Iceland. We had a meeting with the 70 year old “Mr. Kólus” and as much as we begged and pleaded he refused to let us see the factory.”

Fazer’s Salmiakki Licorice. A quick FYI, Salmiakki is a type of salty licorice. Sounds intriguing, right? You can read more about it here. This one is also available at kioskkiosk, and here’s what they have to say about it “While in Finland, in search of the perfect licorice and other things for KIOSK, I found this yummy on our first day at a very basic Kioski. Mainstream all the way, the perfect balance of salt and licorice flavor, no added flavoring of any kind.”

Finnska licorace. Another imported version that has a milder flavor, available on Amazon.

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Dubbel Zout. It’s just what it sounds like, double salted disks that are “firm but chewy.” Available here.

Tyrkisk Peber. These sound crazy. “Very hot and salty liquorice sweets with a liquid centre and powder coating.” Available here.

Panda licorice. This brand has a huge following and is probably a great place to start for the person who loves licorice but may not be up for trying the Finnish salted Salmiakki. It’s available on Amazon,and you may also be able to find it in stores at REI.

Golia. This one is an Italian licorice candy that’s hard to come across in the US. I found an online distributor here.

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Darrell Lea & RJs both make some delicious flavors of licorice (the strawberry Darrel Leais popular) that come with rave reviews. Get them at Amazon hereor here,or visit their websites here and here.

Licorice Altoids. how fun are these? Also, this shop looks great for finding several other imported versions of licorice.

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How was your weekend? I hope it was a good one. We had a nice, 3-day weekend. It was ideal, minus one incident.

Do you ever have one of those moments when you are sure you don’t deserve the people around you? I had one. My baby drifted off to sleep in the car on Friday, and I decided to let him stay there while I loaded the trunk for our weekend trip. We were in the garage, and I hadn’t thought about how we’d already started seeing mosquitoes this year. Oh, it was terrible. Three hours later I found myself holding my cooing baby, smiling adoringly up at me, from his face full of spots. I hate to even think of it. It didn’t help that the moment I discovered it was when we pulled up to my S-I-L’s house after we had been listening to Little Women in the car, the part about scarlet fever. Ahh. I was already considering my fragile place in the universe.

The advice nurse was on the phone with me for some time, answering an arsenal of questions about mosquito-carried diseases—I made her read me everything she had—and helping me devise the best method of treatment. I felt horrible. Plus, all weekend while we were watching the Olympics, when a proactive commercial came on I had to endure the jokes. Lesson relearned: I’m glad my family loves me despite myself. And I’m glad for patient advice nurses.

I did find some reading time, which was so nice. I dove into Tender at the Bone, a lend from a good friend. It’s the bio of Ruth Reichl, NY Times food critic and Editor in Chief at Gourmet (before it put out its final issues). All kinds of lessons learned here: I want to make a lemon soufflé for someone on their birthday. I want to earn the respect of my butcher so he saves all the best cuts for me. And I promise you I am making fried oysters this week (I made mussels for the first time two weeks ago and am feeling fearless).

The rest of the weekend was great too. We watched my little sister dance beautifully (any SYTYCD fans? She was taking class from Jaymz).  We enjoyed Grandma’s home cooking. And Brent and the kids got to spend a day in the snow, which I realize isn’t a rare treat for some of you right now, but for us here in Cali it’s good fun.

And to top off all that, my honey got me the perfect thing. Instead of a box full of chocolates he gave me a Le Creuset full of chocolates. Oh he is good. Plus my amazing aunt sent a few more hotpads she crocheted. They look so pretty in my kitchen.

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Sometimes I wish I had all day just to share ideas with you. There’s just so much brilliance going around and never enough time to share all I want to. Maybe if I stop folding laundry. Oh wait. I already did that this week.

This is a great idea Rikelle mentioned on the pre-Christmas post about giving a salad kit. Rikelle makes festive-shaped croutons to give friends during the holidays. Don’t you love that idea? I’m finally getting a chance to put this to work, for Valentines.

Alongside my bag of loving croutons will be a bag of candied pecans (just toasted in a hot pan with a spoonful of sugar) and a favorite dressing to make what may be the teacher’s most wholesome valentine this year. Below are Rikelle’s directions for making yummy crunchy croutons.

“I really do love making the croutons. I make them with a mixture of equal parts butter and olive oil, with garlic and parsley to taste. I cut out the shapes and then dip them in the oil mixture and toast them until crisp.”  (NOTE: I toasted mine at 350 for 20 min).

Thanks, Rikelle. The butter and oil combo is delish.

And since we’re on the topic, I have to tell you that my favorite croutons are those made from black bread. And I’m wondering, does anyone have a good recipe for black bread like you find in Germany? I’ve been relying on this bread mix but would really like to find a recipe of my own. I enjoyed Smitten Kitchen’s black bread recipe, but am looking for something firmer and without any rye flavor. I thought it was worth an ask.

If you’re looking for more teacher gift inspiration, I have a couple in previous posts here, or inspiration in my gift guides here.


I hope you’ll visit me at the SEI blog today, where you can meet this guy.

And one last thing. I hope you’ll stop by here and enter my giveaway. Select Registry is offering $100 to use at any of their almost 400 bed and breakfasts. Just stop by this post and
1. Mention an inn you like, or
2. Mention a favorite item from my gift or wrapping guides, or
3. Twitter about it, or
4. Post about it on your blog along with a favorite local shop or restaurant of yours.
Winner chosen on Friday.

Deb picked The Govorner’s House Inn as a B&B that she thought looked dreamy. I’d love to be there for afternoon tea.

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Thanks, everyone, for the help.

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Have you seen Chica and Joe’s blog? It’s a fun place to visit for craft and recipe ideas (like the candy corn bags featured here). Last week these lovely ladies stopped by and mentioned they are looking for coworker gifts in the $10-$15 range. Chica and Joe, this next set of posts are for you!

We’ll start with food gifts. Because, I think a love of food is something I share with Chica and Joe.

best homemade food christmas gifts coworkers

Isn’t the picture of Gingerbread biscotti tempting? Be sure to stop by Annie’s eats, the master baker and photographer behind the shot.

Gingerbread biscotti, yumm
A jar of hot fudge, ready to warm and pour
The latest Zagat
Cookies that look like your coworkers
Awesome peanut butter in flavors you never imagined but know you’ll love
Homemade lemon curd (via here, be sure to check out Stephmodo for loads of other killer recipe ideas)
Homemade pesto
The what’s for lunch spinner, maybe with a gift card to a nice little deli
Anarchy in a jar via this awesome list (if you live in Brooklyn they will peddle it over to your door)
Something yummy from Kohler, like the cherry almond bar

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homemade egg noodles recipe 2 shapes

Isn’t it nice to get a little coddled when you’re sick? I’m sure there was some point in my adult life, though I can’t pinpoint it, when I learned the harsh truth that grown ups get much less coddled at these times. The kids still need feeding, the bills still need paying, the laundry still builds, the dishes still get dirty. Cruel world.

This week my husband had a little cold. Tuesday he spent the full day working from his home office and then installing doors so Grandma and Grandpa could come this weekend. So we decided to make him this chicken noodle soup with homemade egg noodles, for the ultimate coddling effect.

homemade egg noodles recipe 5

Homemade egg noodles take a little work. But they’re so yummy, and I love the process of rolling and slicing and piling stacks of noodles. Plus the kids think they’re fun because they can cut out loving shapes to take care of whoever has the sniffles. You can cook the noodles fresh or dry them and they will keep indefinitely. So if you know someone who needs a pick-me-up but who is living far away, you can mail a batch with some soup mix. Instant love. The recipe and tips follow.

Homemade Egg Noodles
2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 egg
2 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 c. water
  1. Put flower in a med. sized bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yolks, whole egg, and salt.
  2. Use your hands to thoroughly mix egg into flour (I’ve used my kitchenaid too, which works, but I feel so much more Little-House-on-the-Prairie using my hands).
  3. Add just enough water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to bring the dough together so it forms a ball. Mix well between each addition of water.
  4. Knead on a floured surface for about 8 minutes until smooth and elastic (again, I’ve used the dough hook on my kitchen aid, but this is some tough dough, so keep it slow).
  5. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
  6. Divide into 4 equal parts. Roll dough one part at a time until it’s very thin. Thinner than you think (see tip below for easier rolling).
    UPDATE: See TY’s note in the comments, and the great tip to let the dough rest for two hours, then return to it to roll it again before cutting. I think this is a great technique.
  7. Cut dough crosswise into fettuccine-sized strips (see tip below).
  8. Add it to soup immediately or lay it on a cooling rack to dry. Store it in a bag or airtight container. Fresh noodles cook in about 8 minutes, dried noodles in about 12 minutes.

homemade egg noodles recipe dough
roll it thin
homemade egg noodles recipe 3

I can be an impatient woman, so I’ve come up with a couple tricks to make dough rolling go faster. When I begin to roll out the dough, I alternately roll and stretch the dough. Stretch carefully to avoid making holes. Once the dough is pretty thin, I wipe an extra layer of flower over it and roll it up very loosely, into a roll that’s 3 or 4 inches wide. I use my rolling pin to roll over the length of the dough like that a few times. Then I unroll the dough to see how it’s looking. (And according to TY’s grandmother, letting it rest for a couple hours, then rolling again will also help, see the comments of this post.)
homemade egg noodles recipe 4
Once I’m satisfied that it’s thin enough, I roll it up loosely again and use my kitchen shears to snip off a noodle at a time. Usually a little tossing will unroll the individual noodles, but sometimes I need to unroll them one at a time. Or give the kids a few cookie cutters and let them make some fun noodle-ie shapes.
homemade egg noodles recipe 1 shapes
what better way to send messages of love than with noodles in soup?

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If you’re new here, welcome. I’m AmberLee, and since writing this post, I’ve opened up a little chocolate shop. I’d love to have you stop by, don’t forget to send me a hot chocolate flavor suggestion. Or say hello on facebook. I’d like that too.

NOTE: If you blog this recipe, I’ll be thrilled and flattered. In fact, I kept this recipe as bare bones as possible in hopes you’d play with different flavors, molds, and sticks. If you do blog, would you link back to me here? (Like this and this kind review, thank you!) I will so appreciate it. Feel free to use a picture or two, but please don’t repost all the pictures and please don’t post the recipe without my written permission. It’s taken a few years of researching and practicing with chocolate (certainly not an unpleasant thing) and some days of a very messy kitchen (but a happy family) to provide you with this recipe and with good advice about chocolate.

Oh how I love when the weather turns cold enough for hot chocolate. Something about a good cup of hot chocolate makes the world feel like a gentler place.
gourmet hot chocolate on a stick gift
This idea is something I’ve been wanting to try for a couple winters now. Chocolate, and hot chocolate especially, have always been a big deal to me. I spent the first years of my life in my dad’s hometown of Merida, Venezuela—right up the hill from Lake Maracaibo, where some of the world’s most crazy amazing cacao is grown. Our family was made up of German and Austrian immigrants who were crazy about fine chocolate. So I always felt chocolate was in my blood. Finally, my parents and family landed in Idaho, which is where I discovered that a cup of hot chocolate was the difference between a bleak winter and a cozy one.



me in Venezuela, I’m the pudgy one in booties

Enough of my life story, and on to a recipe for real, amazing hot chocolate.

I’m glad I finally took the time to puzzle this through and do a little taste testing, because the recipe turned out to be so simple, and the results so delightful. Stir one of these sticks into a cup of steaming milk or cream and in two minutes  you will have transformed it into a cup of rich hot chocolate, the blessed stuff. I can’t help feel that the act of stirring adds to the experience, soothing you over while building up the anticipation for that first sip.
hot chocolate on a stick gift

First things first: what chocolate to buy (see a whole post dedicated to this here)
The trick to making the best hot chocolate on a stick is using good, serious chocolate that melts easily. A chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter will do that. More cocoa butter means quicker melting. A bag of every-day chocolate chips won’t melt as fast. In fact, chocolate chips are formulated not to melt as fast, so they hold shape in your yummy cookies. You can also find fake chocolate (like a bag of Wilton’s candy melts, aka summer coating), which uses vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter. It will melt well, but the resulting cup of hot chocolate won’t be transcendent. And we’re going for transcendent. The candy melts are great for coating the outside if you like, because they stay pretty and shiny even if you don’t melt them just right.

If you’re on a tight budget, try using a bag of real-chocolate wafers made for a chocolate fountain or for fondue. You can also go with a good baking chocolate bar (you’ll probably want one that is sweetened, not unsweetened). If you really want to make an incredible gift, invest in some good chocolate. You’ll have to sample to pick a favorite. For most chocolate, if you enjoy eating it, you will enjoy drinking it, though some chocolates definitely stand out as drinking chocolate (Scharffen Berger, great if you like a natural chocolate), and some seem to fall short (Lindt for me did this). Following are some good other brands to consider: Ghiradelli (great if you want a dutch processed, more cocoa-flavored chocolate), Barry Callebaut, Dagoba, Michel Cluizel, El Rey, Valrhona, Guittard, TCHO, and I’ve really been wanting to try Amano from Utah.

And if you want your chocolate to come out pretty, you’ll need to temper it. I’ve written my full tempering instructions here. But if you are new to chocolate and tempering scares you, just dip your creations in melted, chocolate-looking, summer coating.

chocolate wafers meltable

Word of warning: no water!
There is one thing you need to know before working with chocolate if you don’t already: never let water or alcohol touch it. Not a drop. You can be stirring a potful of smooth, decadent melted chocolate, then get one drop of water in it and the whole thing will get grainy and seize up. It’s a sad experience. (If this happens to you, use the chocolate for a recipe like brownies or ganache that uses chocolate and liquids).

So then, if you’re planning to introduce vanilla, use a vanilla bean or vanilla paste, not vanilla extract. If you want to add food coloring, use a gel or powdered form, not liquid.
chocolate homemade candy

Hot Chocolate on a Stick
Yield: 10 cubes of hot chocolate (ice-cube-tray size)
(use 1 oz. hot chocolate on a stick per every 1 cup milk or cream)

Equipment:
Ziplock bags or piping bags
A double boiler or pan with a glass bowl that can sit over the simmering water
Some kind of chocolate mold, ice trays work great
Stir sticks or a bag of wooden craft sticks like I used (like these, available at any craft store)

Ingredients:
8 oz. chocolate (see note above), bittersweet, semisweet, milk, and white chocolate all work
3 Tbsp cocoa, sifted (dutch processed cocoais more mellow, natural cocoais stronger, pick your favorite)
6-8 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar, sifted, depending on how much sweeter you’d like your hot chocolate
pinch of salt

Feel free to play with other fun ingredients to throw in, ground spices, crushed candy. Just remember, no water and no alcohol or your chocolate will sieze.

6 cups milk and 2 cups heavy cream if you plan to enjoy these right away

Method
(read a whole post about melting chocolate, including how to melt in the microwave, here)

  1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into even-sized meltable pieces. Simmer a couple inches of water in a pan, then turn down the heat so the water is below a simmer. I like to remove the pan from the heat, but if you keep it on, keep that water below a simmer. Place glass or stainless steel bowl over the top to make a double boiler. If the bowl touches the water it’s alright, as long as your water is mildly warm, not hot. Dump chocolate into the clean, dry bowl and stir as the chocolate melts. (If you are patient and let those chunks melt slowly, keeping them from getting over 90 degrees F or 88 degrees F for milk and white chocolate, the chocolate will stay “in temper” and will still be nice and pretty when it cools.)
  2. Once the chocolate is 2/3 melted, with just some pieces of the chocolate unmelted, remove the bowl from the pan, dry the bottom with a towel and continue stirring until chocolate is fully melted. This is just one more step to keep the chocolate from getting too hot.
  3. Add cocoa, sugar, and salt and continue to stir until combined. The chocolate will be thicker, as thick as frosting if you’ve put in all the sugar, but stir on. You can pop it back over your double boiler for a minute to make it a bit more liquid, or pop it back in the microwave for 5 or 10 seconds on half power. If the chocolate looks and feels grainy it’s possible you’ve accidentally gotten a drop of water in the mixture. If it has gotten water in it and has seized up, it will still taste alright, it just won’t be as pretty or smooth or melt quite as fast.
  4. Scoop chocolate into a ziplock bag and clip off the corner.
  5. Pipe the chocolate into your chocolate mold, tapping the mold on the counter to make sure all the chocolate settles into the mold. Add a stir stick and you’re done. The stir stick should stay upright without any trouble. If the chocolate bursts through the bag in places you don’t want it to, just put the whole thing in another bag. If the chocolate starts to get too thick to squeeze, just put the whole thing in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or so at half power.
  6. Let the chocolate cool either at room temperature or in the fridge if you’re in a hurry. I find the chocolate pops out of the mold nicely if it’s been in the fridge. It’s okay to cool chocolate in the fridge, just don’t store it there, because chocolate soaks up the odors of other foods pretty quickly.
  7. If you don’t like the look of the chocolate once it is removed from the mold, you can dip the cubes into a new batch of plain melted chocolate for a shinier finish (again, try to keep chocolate from heating over 90 degrees, or use candy melts, which don’t need to be in temper, they will stay shiny and pretty even if you go above 90 degrees). This also lets you add sprinkles or crushed candy or just lets you dip in fun patterns. I like dipping at an angle into a different color of chocolate.
  8. In order to enjoy these, heat up any combo of milk, water, half and half, or cream. I like 6 cups milk with 2 cups heavy cream. One ounce of chocolate on a stick should be melted into one cup milk or cream. So a standard ice cube-tray block, which is 3/4 an ounce, should be melted into a mug with 3/4 cup milk or cream in it.

Troubleshooting: A few of you have had trouble with your chocolate seizing. Tiffany provided this great note  to help out (thanks, Tiffany!), “if the chocolate begins to seize (since for some reason, both of my batches seized, I’m thinking it’s the humidity in the air where I am) you do not have to throw it out. Just put the bowl back over the hot water and add a little bit of vegetable oil (I used somewhere between a tsp and a tbsp) after stirring over a little heat, the chocolate will get smooth again. Also good to note, chocolate can seize if you add any cold ingredients.”

How to store it: Dark chocolate will keep in an airtight container for up to a year, milk and white chocolate for several months. Remember, don’t keep it in the fridge because it is really good at absorbing odors.
hot chocolate on a stick3

cinnamon hot chocolate

Variations: Try adding a pinch of your favorite spice. We tried adding a little extra punch by lining the outside with red hots. Very fun. You can also leave out the cocoa and sugar all together and replace it with 8 servings of your favorite packaged hot cocoa. And if you have any strokes of genius for flavors, we’re collecting flavor ideas at my hot chocolate shop, The Ticket Kitchen.
mold

As you can see, we played around with a few different molds, like this water bottle ice cube mold from IKEA. The classic ice cube mold was my favorite though. It works best for submersing the entire block of meltable chocolate in a standard mug.
UPDATE: Love Prince Pi’s suggestion of molding these in shot glasses. Also love how the Kitchn (yea!! they tried my recipe!!) made do with a single pan. TinaMarie also made the great suggestion of using small Dixie cups. And finally, check out this beautiful version Sprinkebakes made using a chocolate transfer sheet and birch spoons. You will love it.
hot chocolate on a stick 2

This was fun, but a mess to open (chocolate in egg shells).

Happy melting! And if you have a moment to peruse my shop or become a fan on facebook, I’d love to have you!


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For those of you following along with me on the holiday countdown, here is some inspiration as you head out in search of packaging for your goodies this year.

TO GET MORE IDEAS visit my gift wrap index. Or visit here for my printable labels for the holidays this year.

cupcake bakery boxYes, this is a letterpressed cupcake box

bag and box for neighbor Christmas giftsavailable here

delivering christmas cookie tubesfrom Martha

boxes for packaging holiday treatsavailable here

bread basket wooden gift wrapavailable here
UPDATE: get them in the U.S. here or here, or go here to pick up a variety pack

gift wrapping-breadfrom here, found via here

wrap a loaf of breadavailable here

free printable label for treats and foodfree printable available here, found via here

holiday cookie boxes packagingfrom here

house christmas cookie boxesfrom here (by Martha)

packaging for holiday treatsfrom Martha

can-cookie-holder-2-post(these are formula cans, nice) tutorial here

christmas favor boxes 1available here

Christmas truffle favor boxes 2available here

christmas treat boxes 3available here

-christmas treat packaging ideas

from here

-cookie packaging idea goodie bagfrom here

bakers twineand, finally, don’t forget the baker’s twine

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If you’re new here, welcome! I’m AmberLee, and Giverslog is my place to share recipes, gift ideas, pretty wrapping ideas, and whatever else is on my mind. I also own an online chocolate shop, The Ticket Kitchen. Stop by if you get a moment!
amazing homemade caramel candy

Once you go homemade, you never go back.

I love the process of making homemade caramel. Getting the caramel started, pulling out a bowlful along the way to use as homemade caramel dip, then dipping apples just a little bit further along the way. Then reaching the end, where it’s ready to be candy, real homemade caramel, the heavenly stuff. For a week after I’ve made caramel I melt one piece of caramel in each cup of hot cocoa I have. Try it. You’ll like it.

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Following is my fail proof recipe. Or at least it is really really nearly close to fail proof. I have failed at it many times in many different ways in order to bring it to you in this bulletproof form. I’ve also had some minor degree burns. So be careful when you make homemade candy. Respect the candy. (You’re welcome.)

Homemade Caramel (or caramel dip)
Yield: about 60 caramels
Prep and cook time: 1 hour (not including time to cut and wrap caramels, save extra time for that)

Ingredients:
1 cup butter, unsalted
1 cup light corn syrup (11.5 oz)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk (or substitute two cups half and half or light cream, I almost always use sweetened condensed milk b/c makes for shorter cooking time)
2 1/4 cup brown sugar (14.5 oz.), white sugar is also okay, but I prefer brown
1 tsp. vanilla
(Note: if you try any substitute ingredients, I’d love to hear how it goes! I’d love to accommodate readers with any dietary restrictions!)

Equipment:
candy thermometer
heavy, 3-qt. sauce pan, or 6-qt. if doubling the recipe, which I always do (having a heavy pan is important, if your pan is too thin it can heat the caramel unevenly and make it separate)
parchment paper (how I love parchment paper, i’ve never found anything that sticks to this stuff)
8×8 or 9×9 pan (or large jelly-roll cookie sheet if doubling recipe)
wax paper for wrapping caramels

Method:

  1. Every time before using a candy thermometer, clip a candy thermometer onto a pan full of cold water and bring it to a boil (make sure the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan). I cheat on a lot of things, but I never cheat on this. Boiling water should read 212°. Once the water is boiling, make note of any difference in your reading, and adjust your reading accordingly when you make the candy (for example, if thermometer reads 210° in boiling water instead of 212°, then take caramel off at 242° instead of 244°). High-altitude note: If you live above 7k feet, see the high-alt info below.
  2. Line pan with parchment paper, even up the sides. Prepare any apples, pretzels, or other things you’ll be dipping. Chop any nuts or prepare any candy you’ll be sprinkling on top.
  3. Cut butter into smaller, even sized cubes for even melting. Melt over low in sauce pan.
  4. Carefully add sugar by pouring it into the center of the pan. If any sugar crystals stick to side of pan, push them down with a damp pastry brush so they do not crystallize the entire batch and make you want to cry. Stir slowly until well combined with melted butter.
  5. Add and mix in corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk (or cream).
  6. Cook and stir on medium for one minute, then to med.-high until boiling. You want to change temperatures slowly so you don’t shock the candy. Once boiling, clip on your candy thermometer (again, don’t let it touch the bottom of the pan). By the time your caramel is boiling, if you have been stirring well, you should have the butter fully blended into the caramel mixture, not separated.
  7. Reduce heat to about medium, adjusting so that you keep a moderate, steady boil. Stir frequently. I’m serious about the stirring. If you let your caramel go too long without stirring, you’ll end up with a separated, greasy batch of caramel. No good.
  8. Temperature does not raise at a steady rate, so watch thermometer closely. If you have any doubts about the accuracy of your thermometer, periodically do a test by dropping a little in cold water. When your thermometer reaches thread stage (230–233°), take out any caramel that you would like to use as dip. When thermometer reaches late soft ball stage (234–240°), dip in a few apples for caramel apples (UPDATE: Click here for  a great pro tip for perfect caramel apples.)
  9. When thermometer reaches 244°, remove caramel from heat (this is low firm ball stage; reaching this stage from boiling takes me about 30 minutes with sweetened condensed milk and longer with cream, though I have had a reader reach it in less time, so watch closely).
  10. Stir in vanilla. If dipping, start immediately. If making caramels, pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Either way, take care not to burn yourself, this stuff is so so hot.
  11. Allow to cool for several hours and use a butter knife or kitchen shears to cut pieces (UPDATE: a clever reader suggested a pizza cutter, another preferred preferred her trusty Santou knife, lightly buttered, thanks Susan!). Wrap in wax paper. Or to save on cutting time, just leave the whole batch out on the counter with a knife next to it and watch it gradually disappear.

And, for handy reference, here is the candy temperature list:

230–233° Thread
234–240° Soft ball
244–248° Firm ball
250–266° Hard ball

High altitude: I so appreciate this note from Debbie: If you live above, 7000 feet,  stop at 227 degrees! I used the NMSU E215 Guide, which I’ve found to be the best reference. I used the lowest temperature listed for chewy candies. It was the perfect temperature. I always select the lower end of the temperatures listed to take into account the extreme drying conditions of H.A!

candy thermometerchecking the thermometer temperature

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