Using Your Creative Power: Homemade Holiday Gifts & Toffee (RECIPE)

December 13, 2010 § 12 Comments

“Why should we all use our creative power…? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold, and compassionate…” –Brenda Ueland

There’s something special about receiving a homemade gift for the holidays. It feels personal, in that good way. The gift itself, and the story that hopefully accompanies it, tell you something about the person giving it to you: his talent for baking, his family’s dedication to making the best limoncello, her thoughtfulness in remembering how much you love the smell of fresh pine when she hands you her home-made wreath.

I’d like to think that the joyful, alive energy that imbues people as they create that gift for you also gets passed from giver to receiver.

We all have a creative side. Perhaps, for example, you can (or want to) produce scrumptious candy, capture arresting photographs, craft creamy goat cheese, fashion delicate jewelry, cultivate Christmas cactus, or make the best, unexpectedly spiced popcorn anyone’s ever had.

Whatever your creative power (whether it’s something you’ve done all your life, you’ve just begun, or you’re interested in starting), is there a way for you to use it this month to give someone a distinctive gift and a tale about yourself?

By giving something homemade, you may also give yourself a gift: moments where, in flexing your creativity, you feel generous, joyful, lively, bold, and compassionate.

To inspire you, following are:

1 — A starting list of food- and garden-focused homemade gifts that we’ve received or given over the years

2 — An easy yet elegant molasses almond toffee recipe that you can make and bring to a holiday party or make a double batch of and wrap in shiny boxes or crinkly cellophane bags tied with shimmery ribbon to give away

············

Starting List of Food- and Gardening-Focused Homemade Gift Ideas

  • Chocolates (toffee, truffles, peppermint bark…)
  • Limoncello made with lemons from your backyard
  • Preserved or pickled produce from your garden
  • Tennessee Christmas cookie recipe accompanied by homemade cookie mix and a bottle of bourbon, from a Volunteer State native (just received this on Sunday; cannot wait to make these and eat ’em with bourbon!)
  • Orchids you raised
  • Sausages made with your old family recipe

············

MOLASSES ALMOND TOFFEE

adapted from the Tartine cookbook recipe

Yields: Approximately 1.5 pounds

Total Time: 45-60 minutes active plus time for toffee to harden

Planning Notes: When cooking, I like prepping as I go to save time. With candy-making, however, I recommend reading the recipe all the way through and measuring all ingredients beforehand because you need to work quickly once the sugar starts cooking. When cooking sugar, keep a small bowl of ice water nearby in case you burn yourself. I’d also get a candy/oil thermometer for this recipe.

Ingredients

2 cups almonds (you can do all of them sliced or 50/50 chopped/sliced)

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup golden brown sugar

3 tablespoons water

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon blackstrap or other dark molasses (molasses has a slightly burnt, sour flavor; if you don’t like that taste, you can probably use corn syrup or rice syrup instead, though I haven’t tested the recipe with those)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4 or 1/2 inch pieces (I like 70%, but you can use a less bitter chocolate if you like your toffee sweeter)

Toffee mise en place

Cooking Instructions

1 — Line 13-by-18-inch baking sheet or pan with parchment paper or nonstick liner. Spread half of almonds over the bottom of the prepared pan (if you’re doing 50% chopped almonds, use the chopped ones here).

2 — Clip candy/oil thermometer onto a 2-quart, heavy saucepan, ensuring the tip is at least one inch above the bottom of the pan. Place butter in pan and melt over medium heat. (The size of the pan is important; you want it to be small enough in diameter so that the thermometer is submerged at least a couple of inches in the toffee mixture so you get an accurate reading.)

3 — As soon as butter is fully melted, add sugar and stir to combine fully. Then stir in water, molasses, and salt.

4 — Cook, stirring very occasionally, until the mixture registers 295 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. This will take about 7-10 minutes, and the mixture will become a slightly dark caramel color (it’ll be darker than a regular caramel because of the molasses).

5 — Immediately remove from heat as soon as the thermometer registers 295. Stir in the vanilla and baking soda (the baking soda makes the toffee crunchy), ensuring the baking soda is thoroughly incorporated. Be careful; the soda will make the mixture bubble up.

6 — Pour the hot mixture evenly over the almonds in the prepared baking pan/sheet. Work quickly, as it’ll start to set up immediately. Use a lightly oiled rubber or metal spatula to spread out the toffee if necessary.

7 — When the toffee has cooled to the touch but is still warm, spread the chopped chocolate over it and let the toffee’s heat melt the chocolate. Smooth the chocolate with an offset spatula once it’s fully melted; you may need to spread bigger chunks to get them to melt.

Chocolate melting on warm toffee

8 — Sprinkle the remaining almonds over the top, pressing them gently into the chocolate with the open palm of your hand so they stick.

9 — Let cool and harden completely. Break into pieces. They’ll keep in an airtight container for several weeks, but don’t freeze.

Notes on the Recipe

  • The original recipe calls for toasting the almonds in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-10 minutes. I thought that toasted almonds, bittersweet chocolate, and the molasses combined to make a candy that was a tad too bitter, so I decided to reduce the bitterness by leaving the almonds untoasted.
  • The original recipe also called for 1 3/4 cups of granulated sugar, but I like the mellower flavor of using some brown sugar.
  • The first time I made this, I plopped the butter, sugar, water, molasses, and salt in the pot all at once (per the recipe). Because they started at all different temperatures, the sugar burned before the mixture reached 295 degrees Fahrenheit. Throwing out that batch was sad. That’s why I now melt the butter first, then mix in the sugar, then add the remaining stuff (thanks, candy-making-expert-mom-in-law, for that tip!).

Enjoy using your creative power this holiday!

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