Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Peanut Butter Cups!

My friend, David (no, no that's not a photo of a young Paul Newman, that's David!), is returning to America after 3 months of being on a navy ship. He was there to teach philosophy and he'll be going back in just a couple more weeks. I think when you're homesick you miss your family of course but also you really miss food. I'm sure David is craving good Mexican food, a fat juicy burger with a cold beer, and a cheese laden pizza. I know I'm craving all of these things and I haven't left American soil in about 5 years now.
A couple years ago, I made a recipe for peanut butter bars that were supposed to taste just like Reese's peanut butter cups. David was one of my roommates at the time and he loved them- they DID taste a lot like Reese's. He mentioned putting them into cup form. So when I found out David would be back on Tuesday, I knew what I had to do.

First, melt a couple cups of milk chocolate chips (or white or dark chocolate if you prefer that). And spread the chocolate into little paper cups stuck in a mini muffin tin.

I used the back of a spoon and that was easy enough. I was able to make all the chocolate cups without the chocolate hardening up on me. After I made the cups, I froze them. While, they were in the freezer, I mixed

1 c. peanut butter
1 and 1/2 cups of powdered sugar (give or TAKE, maybe closer to 2 cups)
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 tsp. salt

I used my hands to knead everything together like dough because the crumbs tend to hang out by themselves and you want them well mixed in so you have that Reese's peanut butter consistency.

I made this into 24 little balls. It made more than 24 but since I'm planning on making more of these, I just chilled the leftover PB mix. At that point, the chocolate cups in the freezer were set, so I took the muffin tin out and popped the PB balls into the chocolate cups. I pushed them down with the back of a spoon.

I tossed the mini muffin tin back in the freezer. Then it was time to melt some more chocolate!! Couple more cups worth. Melting chocolate in the microwave is a cinch. Just do 30 second increments and stir between each. Once it was ready, I took the cups out and spooned melted chocolate onto each cup.

Then smoothed it out.

Work it!

After that, chill 'em again. Chillin' like a villain. And they're done. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

A perfect reminder of home!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Almond Roca by Nicholas Baker

Guest blog entry by Nicholas Baker!
(You know it's gonna be good when his last name IS BAKER!)

11x8 cookie sheet
parchment or tinfoil
blender/rolling pin
nut mill
Dutch oven/deep saucepan
wooden spoon
measuring cup
teacup filled with water
sharp knife
1lb butter
2 cups of sugar
¾ cup water
about 1lb of pecans
1 ¼ cup chopped almonds
16-17 Hershey bars (or any chocolate bar of choice)

Prep-Before you start cooking, especially if you’re doing it by yourself, make sure to get everything prepped and ready since you don’t want to burn your toffee mixture.

Unwrap the chocolate bars and set aside for later. Try to keep them whole, because it will make it easier when you lay your chocolate on the toffee mixture.

I prefer to buy whole almonds and then grind them using a nut mill, but you can also buy them chopped as well. Make sure you have about 1 ¼ cup and set aside.

Chef Baker uses his nut mill to chop almonds.
Grab your cookie sheet and line with parchment or foil. This will make it easier to break the almond roca once it’s set and firm. Using a blender or rolling pin chop up the pecans. If using a blender, chop half of it first then do the rest as to make sure the pieces aren’t too finely chopped. Dump the pecans onto the lined cookie sheet and spread evenly along the sheet.

Next throw your butter into a Dutch oven or saucepan. I’ve used a saucepan in the past, but your mixture will be prone to boiling over and you will continuously be playing with the heat and trying not to burn yourself. Plus it will save you a lot of time in the long run. So a Dutch oven is best or at least use a deep saucepan. 

Turn the heat on high and melt the butter. Wait until the butter is bubbling, as if
you were waiting for water to boil. Once it’s bubbling add the sugar and water and stir constantly, while keeping the heat on high. The cook time will vary but it can be anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depends on your pan. 

It is important that at this point you do not stop stirring. As it cooks the mixture will start to thicken up and turn brown. As it starts to dark you will do what’s called the “crack test”. Using your mixing spoon drip some of the toffee mixture into a cup of water. Try have it cascade down the inside of the cup, so it drips in the water. The portion that touches the water is what you will be testing. Break/peel it off and if it’s too chewy when you eat it, it’s not ready yet. The key here is that it should harden right about the time it hits the water. I like almond roca a little softer so I don’t want to cook it too long.

Crack test!

You may find you like yours a little harder, so you can adjust to taste.
Once you have reached desired consistency immediately take it off the burner and pour this toffee mixture over your pecans that you had prepped earlier.

Like a beautiful waterfall of toffee.

Take your spoon and spread the mixture evenly over the pecans making sure you get it in every corner. 

Now take you chocolate bars and lay them face down (Hershey emblem down), until the entire mixture is covered. 

You may need to break up some of the bars to get into the corners, but just make sure you don’t see any toffee mixture. Now using a spatula smooth out the chocolate and spread it around making sure that every corner is covered. Make sure that you can’t see any seems of the chocolate bars. 

Once they are all melted and smoothed out, take your almonds and sprinkle over the chocolate, trying to get an even coverage.

The almond roca will need to cool for several hours, so I suggest putting it in the fridge overnight. Make sure you don’t have any garlic or stinky cheese lurking in the fridge or your roca will have an interesting twist to it, ha. Once chilled using a sharp knife cut/break into pieces. 

Now if your roca is softer like how I like it, you can just cut into it fairly easy. Stab into the roca about every inch or so in a straight vertical line. This will help to slowly break up the roca without separating the chocolate from the toffee. Once you have made your stabs go back to the top of the row and cut through. The roca should naturally start to separate and at this point continue to break it into the desired size you’d like. At this point you’re ready to eat the delicious goodness!!

Chef Baker's signature green roca tub.