Baking for the holidays

This afternoon, I did some baking for presents for the holidays. First up was this recipe, “Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Marcona Almonds”, from the finecooking.com Web site.

It’s a decent recipe, especially for Chocolate lovers. The bittersweet chocolate plays well with the caramel. I added a sprinkle (about 1/4 tsp) of coarse salt (actually “Alaea Coarse Hawaiian Red Sea Salt”) to the top of the chocolate before it set up.

I would advise keeping a VERY watchful eye on the caramel when it starts to melt, because it goes from “amber” (and therefore still sweet) to “brown” (slightly bitter) VERY quickly.

Also, technique-wise, I would advise dipping the caramel/almond pieces individually into chocolate (and then sprinkle almonds on top), rather than doing what the recipe calls for and just dumping the chocolate & almond on top of the caramel pieces because doing so can result in large-ish areas of chocolate/almond with no caramel. Those pieces, being just bittersweet chocolate and almond and lacking caramel, taste rather too bitter. Dipping individual caramel pieces results in a hefty bittersweet chocolate and almond covering a caramel center, which allows the chocolate and caramel to work together much better.

The second item was “Bow Tie Cookies with Apricot Preserves”, also from the finecooking.com Web site. My twist is a few grains of Coarse Mexican Black Salt on each cookie. I’ve always liked a bit of savory in my sweets.

This recipe has potential, but I had to go through some trial and error before I got decent-looking cookies. The problem is that the cookies puff up quite a bit when baked. They don’t puff up as much as puff pastry, but enough to “spring” the cookies open into squarish cookies instead of looking like “bow tie” cookies. A couple of the reviews of the recipe actually did mention that problem. I shoulda read the reviews before diving in!

Puffed-open bow tie cookies

Also, actually following the instructions (!) and “glue” the tips of the bow tie with egg instead of just pressing them together only helps a little bit. Even “gluing” with egg still results in too many puffed-open cookies.

For the last batch, I try leaving the assembled cookies in the fridge for an hour for the egg “glue” to dry before baking. The yield is better, though about 40% of the cookies still puff open. For those, while they’re still hot, I fold their “wings” into place and put a previously-baked cookie on top as weight to keep the wings in place until the cookie cools & sets up!

Using previously-baked cookies to weigh down the wings of puffed-open cookies. At upper left is an experimental cookie: the same cookie dough in a mini-pastry cup.

Bow tie cookies with apricot preserves, with Coarse Mexican Black Salt