Eat: Handmade holiday
Nina Barone's Buckeye Bark
Boozy bourbon balls
Here’s a low-stress recipe to make as a hostess gift for last-minute party invitations or for those people who you weren’t expecting to speak to you, let alone give you presents, and for whom you now have to reciprocate. (I would double or triple this recipe, depending on your behavior over the past year.) These confections keep beautifully for weeks in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers. Just pop a dozen or so in a festive cellophane bag and tie with a curly ribbon. For the love of all that’s holly, buy decent bourbon because, let’s face it, you are probably going to be swilling it straight from the bottle at some point this season. Cheers. —W.G.S.
Yield: 3 dozen
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
1 box (approximately 11 ounces or 2 1/2 cups) of vanilla wafers, crushed
1 cup toasted pecans, ground
1 plus 1/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup bourbon
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional nonpareils, colored sugar, or cocoa powder for coating
Remove unopened bag of vanilla wafer cookies from box, and place on a firm surface. Using a largish hammer, smash the bag until you feel better/contents resemble a fine crumb. The bag will probably pop. Don’t panic. Have a sip of bourbon and finish grinding the wafers in a food processor. In a large bowl, combine smashed wafers, ground pecans, 1 cup of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and a tiny (seriously, teeny) pinch of cayenne. In a separate bowl, combine bourbon, corn syrup, and vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients over the wafer mixture and incorporate thoroughly until a sticky dough is formed. Chill dough, covered, in the refrigerator for one hour. Form into one-inch balls and roll in1/4 cup powdered sugar, or in nonpareils, colored sugar, and/or cocoa powder. Store in refrigerator in an airtight container.
Brigadeiros, the no-trouble truffle
Looking to make something a little different this season? These Brazilian treats taste and sound fancier than they really are, but no one needs to know that. Similar to truffles, but made of caramelized condensed milk and flavored with good quality chocolate, this recipe from Saveur calls for stove-top preparation. I prefer this method—which really allows for development of flavor—to the alternative recipes calling for the use of a microwave. This recipe is for the classic chocolate Brigadeiro, but coconut, strawberry, and cherry recipes are easily found online. Since the ingredients aren’t very complicated or expensive, I assuage my chocolate-covered guilt by using organic ingredients and Cacao Barry gourmet sprinkles. —C.G.S.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup sprinkles of your choice
Unflavored baking spray
Bring butter, cream, and milk to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add chocolate and cocoa powder, and reduce heat to low; cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is the consistency of dense, fudgy batter—about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; let cool. Chill in the refrigerator until set, at least 4 hours. Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, portion out the mixture. Spray a bit of cooking spray on your hands, and roll each portion into a ball. Set on wax paper or clean baking sheet. Place sprinkles in a small dish. Roll each ball in the sprinkles until thoroughly coated. Chill in a covered container, up to three days.
Quick and easy Buckeye Bark
Few people can resist a peanut butter center with a chocolate shell. The pairing evokes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, an eighty-five-year-old favorite that has inspired a plethora of homemade confections, including Buckeyes, the hand-rolled peanut butter and chocolate dipped treat on the top of every cookie exchangers wish list. But creating homemade peanut butter cups or Buckeyes can be time consuming. Since time is hard to come by, particularly at this time of year, you should try to skip the Buckeye’s many steps (roll, swirl, dunk, repeat!) if you can help it. Instead, enjoy the delicious pairing of chocolate and peanut butter with less work by making Buckeye Bark. It’s as easy as melting, mixing, spreading, and setting.
Besides being simpler to make, the bark makes for a fun and unusual presentation when gift giving. Packaging ideas include: using a food-safe cellophane bag with a colorful ribbon; wrapping in patterned tissue paper and securing with a sticker seal; or tossing in small white candy boxes and calling the whole thing done. If you’re really pressed for time, present the bark right in the tray and let your loved ones go to town, breaking it off, chip by chip. They won’t mind. —N.B.
Yield: 15 servings
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
2 1/2 pounds Ghirardelli chocolate chips
1 pound natural creamy peanut butter
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Line a rimmed baking sheet (approximately 18”x13”) with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner. Over medium heat, melt half the chocolate in a double boiler, then spread evenly over the baking sheet. Place in the freezer to set; this should take 5–10 minutes.
Once the chocolate has firmly set, beat the peanut butter, powdered sugar, melted butter, and vanilla extract in a large bowl until smooth and creamy. Remove the chocolate layer from the freezer and spread the peanut butter mixture over the top. Return to the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, return to the double boiler and melt the remaining chocolate. Once the peanut butter layer is set, spread the remaining melted chocolate over the top. Return the sheet to the freezer until all layers are frozen. Break the bark into small pieces using a large, sharp knife. Store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to package or serve.
DIY Maraschino cherries
Maraschino cherries have gotten a bum rap lately. Sure, they are blanched in brine to remove any natural color or flavor, and then soaked for a month in sweetener before being dipped in artificial coloring—thus rendering them wholly unnatural. But they are delicious, people! Maraschino cherries practically scream, “Eat me!” However, if you want to make a gift for (adult) friends or loved ones who prefer that the food they eat be “natural” and “healthy*” and—double bonus—contain alcohol, then you can please them with this holiday gift.
U-pick season is long over, but Singer Farms in Appleton sells local frozen pitted cherries (fourpound bags or by the case). I recommend the red-fleshed Balaton, which are on the tart side, because you’ll be adding sugar and spice. A dash of almond extract imparts the aroma Maraschino cherries bring to mind, and the fruit juice provides color for the syrup. These cherries look (and taste) beautiful in a Manhattan, and the syrup can be used to flavor drinks, cakes, and icings. Or you can just eat them from the jar like boozy candy. Allow the flavors to integrate for a week or so before using.—W.G.S.
*The FDA has not assessed this claim.
DIY Maraschino Cherries
Yield: 4–5 8 ounce jars
Total time: 30 minutes
1 cup tart cherry or pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 pounds (about 4 cups) pitted cherries
1 and 1/2 cups Maraschino liqueur, such as Luxardo Maraschino Originale
2 teaspoons almond extract
Combine juices, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and add the cherries. Simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a large heat resistant bowl. Discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in the Luxardo— or other maraschino liqueur—and almond extract. Allow to cool completely. Ladle into clean, lidded jars. Keep refrigerated.