Despite the best efforts of the Calorie and Cholesterol Cops (CCC) to shame us, there are still those of us who really love to give gifts of goodies made by our own hands in our own kitchens. In order to be dietarily correct, however, I suppose we now have to carry on this annual culinary tradition (well, semi-annual, if you count our summertime zucchini bread orgy) with an eye to those on our gift list.
Over-indulgers are definitely out. We probably should only give our homemade love to those who have managed to retain a grip on the old saw, "Moderation in all things." And, of course, give goodies to those who can tell the difference between "from scratch," and "from a mix." Naturally, we'll eschew those who tend to get all gushy over store-bought stuff.
Whatever. There are still plenty of discerning loved ones who'll appreciate our efforts. And they're the ones who'll be the focus of our fun.
You undoubtedly have a plethora of "traditional" recipes you use for your holiday cooking stints.
Here we suggest some others — all containing chocolate — to add to your usual repertoire. You'll probably enjoy making them as much as your givees will enjoy scarfing them down (in moderate portions, naturally).
By the way, as you consider which goodies you're going to make, also keep in mind that packaging is very important. A proper presentation can make your edibles even more incredible.
We actually buy the crackers that serve as a "magical" base for this chocolate-y, nutty treat, which you can make a couple of weeks ahead, as long as you keep it in airtight containers.
You'll need some parchment paper to line the baking sheets, a pastry brush and a candy thermometer. Be sure to make a space in your freezer large enough for a baking sheet (but only for about 15 minutes).
2 cups walnut halves (about 6 ounces), sliced thin lengthwise, toasted for 6 minutes in a 350-degree oven
About 60 saltine crackers, with salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, plus more to butter the parchment paper
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 pound best quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), in half-inch pieces
Line a 12-by-17-inch baking sheet (with rim) with parchment paper. Lightly butter paper.
Arrange crackers on baking sheet in a single layer and snugged up against each other so that there are no gaps.
In a medium saucepan, over low heat, cook sugar, butter and corn syrup until sugar is dissolved. Brush sides of pan with a moistened pastry brush to incorporate any undissolved sugar crystals into the butter mixture. Raise heat to medium and cook syrup, without stirring, until it begins to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Insert a candy thermometer into syrup and cook, stirring (use a wooden spoon), until a honey-colored caramel forms and temperature reaches 300 degrees. This stir-cooking takes about 6 minutes.
Slowly and carefully pour the caramel over crackers, covering most of them as evenly as possible. Let cool 3 minutes. Sprinkle chopped chocolate evenly on top. Let stand until chocolate is melted, about 3 minutes, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee. Spread walnuts evenly over chocolate. Place in freezer until toffee is set, about 15 minutes.
Remove from freezer and invert toffee on a work surface covered with wax paper. Peel the parchment paper from the toffee. Invert toffee again, then break into large pieces. Package for gifting, or place in airtight containers and refrigerate until ready to package. Makes about 2 1/2 pounds.