Salted Chocolate Toffee

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I never had success making toffee until a friend shared her recipe with me. It’s not a difficult process, but I somehow managed to throw enough unsuccessful batches in the trash over the years that I thought maybe I was missing the toffee-making gene.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally happened upon a recipe that worked perfectly the first time without a fuss. As I am usually want to do, I have altered it a bit over the years, adding brown sugar and vanilla, and sprinkling the top chocolate layer with coarse sea salt to add texture and a pleasant saltiness that so well complements the sweet, rich caramel essence of the toffee. This confection is firm, but also so luxuriously tender that it will melt in your mouth.

The key is in cooking it patiently to the proper temperature. Watch the caramel carefully as it cooks. Once you place the candy thermometer in the saucepan, stand at or near the stove as the toffee cooks. Don’t do dishes or answer the phone, as the mercury zooms to the final temperature during the last few minutes of cooking.

This toffee is as pretty as it is tempting. The chocolate layer and sprinkling of sea salt add complexity of flavor and texture, as well as an understated, minimalist panache. Arrange the pieces in an attractive dish for parties, place them in cellophane bags tied with ribbon for tasty gifts, or keep some stashed in your pantry whenever the mood for an extravagant sweet hits.

Makes 1 1/2 pounds

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the butter in the pan and heat over medium heat until melted. Stir in the sugars, corn syrup, and water and bring to a boil. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and cook the toffee to 290ºF (soft-crack stage), about 10 minutes, watching carefully as it approaches this temperature. Remove the toffee from the heat and quickly but carefully stir in the vanilla extract. (Be careful as the toffee might spit a bit when the cool extract hits the hot mixture.) Pour the toffee evenly onto the prepared baking sheet and set aside for about 5 minutes until it begins to harden.

Sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly overtop and let it sit and begin to melt, about 30 seconds. Spread the chocolate over the toffee until it is completely melted and smooth and set aside for a few minutes, just until it starts to set. Sprinkle with salt and set aside on a wire rack in a cool area until firm, about 1 hour.

To serve, break the toffee into pieces. (Store in an airtight container in a cool area for up to 3 weeks.)

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Double Chocolate Meringues

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Double Chocolate Meringues

I have been making meringues for years. They are sweet and satisfying, but also so light and delicate that one almost never has to fear feeling overindulgent when consuming a handful.

Take your time when whipping the egg whites and sugar. Using superfine sugar isn’t absolutely necessary, but I do think it dissolves more quickly and makes the finished meringue smoother. After the sugar is completely incorporated, continue whipping the meringue until it is very thick and glossy. It is tempting to rush the process, but the final minutes really do make a difference and increase the stiffness of the batter. The more dense and stable the meringue, the easier it will be to pipe onto baking sheets, and the higher and lighter it will be once baked.

When possible, prepare these crisp morsels when the weather is dry and cool. I have prepared them when the humidity is high, but it is risky. Any moisture in the air will likely result in tacky meringues, and they will stale rather quickly. The good thing is, however, that no matter when you whip up a batch, they are sure to be consumed in no time.

Makes about 48

4 large egg whites

1 cup superfine sugar

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder

1/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin beating on high speed. When the whites are frothy, sprinkle in about 1/4 cup of the sugar. Continue adding the sugar gradually, every minute or so, until it is all incorporated. Whip the meringue until it is thick and glossy and holds medium-stiff to stiff peaks, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the cocoa into the meringue, add the chopped chocolate, and fold until combined.

Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch-diameter round tip and pipe rounds, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets. (Alternatively, you can spoon similar-size mounds onto the baking sheets.)

Bake until the meringues are puffed, fragrant, and possibly cracked, about 1 hour. Turn off the oven, open the door a little, and allow the meringues to cool on the baking sheets. Remove the meringues from the baking sheets and store in airtight containers or re-sealable bags.

Erica’s Christmas Biscotti

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(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Corbett)

My sister has been making many varieties of biscotti for years, so when I was looking for a Christmasy version, I knew she’d be my best resource. This is one of her favorite biscotti recipes, and now one of mine, too. Incorporating roasted pistachios, chewy dried cranberries, and sweet white chocolate morsels, they are not only pretty, but also delicious enough for dessert or a snack served with coffee or tea. In addition, unlike many biscotti, these are surprisingly tender and delicate. They still satisfy with their crunch, but their firmness quickly gives way to a more cookie-like consistency.

Makes about 36 biscotti

1 cup dried cranberries or cherries

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

3/4 cup shelled roasted pistachios (salted or unsalted)

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the cranberries in a small bowl and pour enough boiling water over them just to cover. Set aside to soak for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth and light, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, drop in the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just nearly incorporated. Drain the cranberries and add them, along with the pistachios and chocolate chips, to the batter, mixing until just incorporated. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat into a disc. Divide the dough in half, transfer both halves to one of the prepared baking sheets, and shape both pieces into 13-by-9-inch logs.

Bake until fragrant and light golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly on the pan, about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut each log on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheets and bake until golden brown and firm, 20 to 25 minutes, switching the pans on the racks about halfway through baking. The biscotti might require more or less time in the oven to crisp properly, but watch that they don’t brown too much on the undersides. Set the biscotti on wire racks to cool completely on the baking sheets. Store in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.