I have working internet again. At home. To go along with the other two things I can’t live without: indoor plumbing and Diet Pepsi electricity.
Not that I’d think that I could ever get tired of using Chick-fil-A’s free wifi (hello, Spicy Chicken Biscuits!) but holy cow, was I tired of packing up the entire house just to go use Chick-fil-A’s free wifi. I have no idea how the pioneers did it.
I picked this week’s Project Pastry Queen challenge, Texas Pralines. It’s a food blogger’s dream: photographing blobs of brown.
Which only runs second to a food blog reader’s dream – looking at pictures of blobs of brown. So, you know… sorry. And they might have been prettier blobs of brown if I hadn’t gotten distracted.
But I got distracted. So they’re ugly, delicious little blobs of brown.
Pralines. They’re really just another way for Southerners to work pecans in to dessert, one that doesn’t require a fork. They’re sweet candies studded with chunks of roasted pecans. They’re pretty simple and quick, as far as candy-making is concerned. I used honey in place of the corn syrup for another layer of flavor and added the scrapings of a vanilla bean.
And then I beat the pralines for a minute too long – they should have flowed from the spoon onto the baking sheet instead of just… falling off the spoon. So if you’re going to use a mixer for the final step, don’t walk away to unpause the last 3 minutes of the season finale of Hart of Dixie! While it is your (spoiler alert) typical Zoe train wreck, it can wait for you to finish the pralines.
You can check out how the other PPQ members tackled candy-making this week here. Next week, we’re taking on the Mahogany Cake, a decadent chocolate + coffee combo. And I need to find 5 someones to come help me eat it.
Texas pecans make this southern favorite shine.
2 1/2 cups whole pecans (I used halves)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups sugar
2 Tbsp honey
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
Scrapings of 1-2 vanilla beans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350.
Spread pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 7-9 minutes, until fragrant.
Remove from oven and set aside.
Over medium heat, stir together the buttermilk, baking soda, sugar, honey, and butter.
Clip a candy thermometer onto the pot and cook until you reach softball stage (~234-240F).
Turn off the heat and remove the candy thermometer. (At this point, I transferred it to my mixer bowl).
Beat in the pecans and vanilla.
Beat by hand with a wooden spoon for ~10 minutes (or by mixer for 3-4 minutes), until the candy has lost its sheen and is thick enough to just flow off of the spoon.
Drop heaping tablespoons onto a sheet of wax paper.
Let the candies cool completely and then wrap individually in plastic wrap.
One of my husband’s favorite candies are Andes mints. They typically run a close second to peanut butter cups but during the holidays, they take the top position. When we were hammering out the details of our Christmas gift baskets, we came up with a super easy way to incorporate Andes mints with Grasshopper Chocolate Bark: a minty green (white) chocolate layer, a semisweet chocolate layer, and chopped Andes mints.
The beauty of chocolate bark is that the flavor combinations are limited only by your imagination. Or your pantry. It’s super easy to put together: you chop chocolate (the time-consuming part), melt it, pour it into a pan, and then let it cool. And thanks to that overpriced shiny kitchen store in the mall, people can’t get enough of it at Christmas time.
A couple of notes on working with white chocolate: “Real” white chocolate is finicky. It doesn’t melt like regular chocolate – it’s delicate and can easily be overheated or seize. And considering how pricey it is, that’s a problem. If you’re going to use a pricey white chocolate, be sure to heat it gently and slowly in a double boiler (or a glass bowl set over a simmering pot of water, ensuring no water gets into the bowl). Mint extract and food coloring (I use Americolor gel paste) contain some water and can cause the white chocolate to seize – but it always smooths out for me after adding a little more vegetable oil. If you’re really worried about it, you can always omit it or add the mint extract to the darker chocolate layer. My favorite brand is Peter’s – I get it in 10 lb bars from a bakery supply. And if you’re wondering, yes, I used the entire 10 lb bar this Christmas
And then there’s white baking bars or melting chips (this is not candy coating or almond bark). This isn’t white chocolate but it has a similar buttery, sweet taste. And it melts much more reliably. If you’re melting down a few bags of baking chips or chopped baking bars, you shouldn’t have any issues at all. I’ve melted down Ghiradelli, Bakers, and even Nestle white baking chips before with great results.
Grasshopper Chocolate Bark
A minty chocolate bark made with white chocolate and Andes mints.
One last Christmas treat. Just one, I promise! Because by the time you read this, I’ll very likely be running around like a crazy woman just before our trip to Indianapolis to see the Texans & Colts play. A trip that heavily relies on the weather to keep us from celebrating Christmas snowed-in in an airport in Missouri, without our kiddo. As soon as I finish packing, I plan on taping all of my fingers crossed.
So you remember that cookie exchange that I went to a couple of weekends ago? The one I’ve been talking about nonstop? Well, these brownies are one of the reasons I can’t shut up.
My friend Viula’s contribution to the exchange were brownies, topped with a peppermint frosting, ganache, and candy cane pieces.
If you are a chocolate + peppermint fiend like I am – and will continue to be for approximately another 5 days – you’re going to want to give these a try. They’re really easy to pull together, I didn’t even use a mixer. You simply bake up your favorite brownie (I used the box of Ghiradelli brownies that I keep hidden in the back of my pantry for emergencies. Because this was clearly an emergency.) and top it with a peppermint frosting, melted chocolate, and some crushed candy.
Your friends will love you. Your family will, too. And you’ll get a little more mileage out of those stretchy-waisted pants until the new diet starts on January 2nd.
Peppermint Frosted Brownies
Your favorite brownie dressed up for the holidays: topped with peppermint frosting, ganache, and peppermint candies.
Your favorite brownie recipe or mix (for an 8x8 pan), baked and cooled
For the mint frosting:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp milk (I used skim)
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1-2 drops red or pink food coloring
For the topping
3/4 cups chocolate chips
3 Tbsp butter
12 peppermint candies, roughly chopped (optional)
Bake your favorite brownie recipe/mix in an 8x8 pan, according to package directions.
Remove from oven and let cool to room temp.
Melt butter in a medium bowl and add milk and peppermint extract.
Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.
Add 1-2 drops of food coloring, just enough to tint the frosting pink.
Spread over the brownies in an even layer and let sit until the frosting has crusted, about 10 minutes (it won't stick to your finger when you touch it).
Melt remaining butter and chocolate chips in a small bowl.
Pour over the frosted brownies and spread evenly, and then sprinkle with candy pieces, if using. (When stored, the candy will absorb moisture and start to melt. If not serving by the next day, consider adding the candy pieces just before cutting and serving or omitting.)
Refrigerate until set. Cut with a sharp knife, dipping in hot water and wiping dry between cuts for a crisp, clean cut.
Will keep 5 days in an airtight container without candy pieces, 3 days with.