Best Ever Almond Toffee

Almond Roca

My friend Heather made this for me one Christmas and I’ve been making it ever year since. On average, I make at least 3 batches every holiday season to give away as gifts. It is seriously delicious. It is not hard to make, but candy can be finicky and a bit of a science experiment, so a good tip is to never walk away from it. Small deviations from the exact instructions will result in a complete do-over.

Almond Roca
From Heather’s fabulous kitchen

Makes about 2 pounds

  • 1 1/2 cup sliced almonds (divided)
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz of good quality dark chocolate, broken up

Bake 1/2 cup of almonds on a non-stick cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until toasted and aromatic. Set aside to cool.

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and set next to stove.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When butter is melted, stir in granulated sugar, warm water and salt. Attach a thermometer to the side of the pan making sure that the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan. Cook sugar mixture over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F. The temperature may stall a bit between 218 and 223 degrees but again, it is important to monitor the temperature closely and to not walk away from the candy.

At 240 degrees, add remaining 1 cup of almonds to the sugar mixture. Stir constantly, keeping heat at medium, until mixture reaches 295 degrees F. If temperature is not rising at a slow and steady rate, raise heat very slightly. When the mixture reaches 295 degrees, immediately remove from what and stir in baking soda. Pour onto the parchment lined pan and spread to desired thickness – it does not need to reach the edges of the pan. Mixture will begin to firm. Note: Do not forego the cookie sheet and pour it onto parchment on top of a marble or granite counter – this will result in your candy cooling too fast and affect the chocolate’s ability to adhere properly to the candy.

Scatter dark chocolate pieces across top of hot candy and let chocolate melt on top of the candy as the candy firms. Using back of a spoon, spread melted chocolate evenly over firm candy. Sprinkle with toasted almonds over melted chocolate. Let candy cool for 30 minutes at room temperature. Transfer to refrigerator and chill for about 1 hour to firm chocolate. Break into pieces.

Christmas Treats

Plate for Santa

Christmas Cookies

Merry Christmas! I am sharing some Christmas cookie recipes from my mother-in-law. I could eat a million of these pecan rocks and I really like this half recipe of Toll House chocolate chip cookies that result in a flatter, crispier cookie than the one that is currently on the package. The rolled chocolate cookies are a nice alternative to the traditional sugar cookie and fun because you get to use cookie cutters. Enjoy!

Pecan Rocks

  • 1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
  • 6 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cut finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream butter, add sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Sift in flour, mix thoroughly, add nuts. Roll into balls – they do get bigger when they bake so don’t make them too big. Bake for 35-40 min. Cool completely and roll in powdered sugar.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from the Tollhouse Recipe

  • 1 cup and 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 7 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
  • 1 tbsp hot water (optional for flat crispy cookies, do not use if more fluffy squishy cookies are desired)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, salt and baking soda and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Add the egg and water and mix. Gradually mix in dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop tbsp sized spoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 min.

Rolled Chocolate Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg or 2 yolks
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder or 2 oz melted unsweetened baking chocolate

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add chocolate. Fold int dry ingredients and form dough into ball. Chill dough in refrigerator for 1 hour. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out into Christmas cookie shapes with cookie cutters. Bake for 8-10 min.

Toddler Birthday Cake

My little man recently turned three and I made him a birthday cake. My original plan was to use my kid’s birthday as an occasion to try out the Halekulani coconut cake recipe I found, but hubby pointed out that a three year old cannot have a plain, simple, all-white cake and the birthday cake needed to be something fun. Wanting to avoid colored frosting in a can and knowing my own limitations when it came to pastry bag decorating, I made the mistake of going on Pinterest, the place to go if you’re ever feeling like you need to feel inadequate in life. First of all, who are these people who make fondant at home!?! Also, it is ill-advised to go on Pinterest the day before an event.

After some searching, I found these “Easy Little Pandas” on a great baking blog called Bakerella and figured I can make mini chocolate cupcakes instead. I didn’t use the cupcake recipe from Bakerella but used the Barefoot Contessa’s chocolate ganache cupcake recipe instead.

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
From the Barefoot Contessa Parties Cookbook

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 16 oz can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add flour and mix just combined – do no overbeat. Pour batter into lined mini-muffin tins and bake for 30 min or until set in the middle. Let cool thoroughly in the pan.

While I usually frost these with chocolate ganache, for the pandas, I made the swiss buttercream recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Swiss Buttercream
From Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 13 tbsp of unsalted butter softened (1 stick and 5 tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers. Transfer mixture to a big bowl and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Mix in vanilla. Add the butter a stick at a time and whip for about 10-15 min until it reaches frosting consistency. During the whipping process, this frosting will look like it might curdle but just keep whipping and it will come together.

To decorate, I piped a glob of frosting onto the top of each cupcake. I did not having “sanding sugar” and found that unless you go to some specialty baking supply store or order it online, you cannot find such a thing at your local grocery store. Since this was a night-before-the-party kind of baking project, I used white sparkling sugar I found at Safeway and powder-fied it with a couple pulses in a coffee grinder. I also had a hard time finding edible ink pens so I used black frosting in a tube to create the eyes.

Panda Cupcakes

Although these were not completely impossible to recreate like most other things on Pinterest, between dividing out the white confetti pieces from the rest of the colors, separating out individual tiny flakes of chocolate jimmies and carefully placing the three parts that make up the panda eyes and mouths onto a million tiny cupcakes, I would not exactly call it “easy.”

In the end, I wanted little man to have a real cake so I made the Halekulani cake without the coconut. The sponge cake was light, springy and delicately flavored and the pastry cream was amazing. I frosted it with the whipped cream frosting from the recipe and used the same cupcake decorating technique to put two more panda faces on the cake.

Panda Birthday Cake

Little Miss came out to Davis to help celebrate and everyone had a choice of chocolate panda cupcake or a piece of delicious birthday cake or both. The birthday boy was beyond excited about his birthday cake and his little face when he saw the cake made all my fretting totally worth it.

Birthday Boy

My Favorite Muffin

The delectable baked goods from Mrs. Scott’s kitchen have previously been documented here at three squabbling asians. I have fond memories of walking through her door, plopping down at the kitchen counter, and chatting with Mrs. Scott in front of a plate of these banana chip muffins. She always seemed to have a batch ready when I showed up at her house – which was often.

Having moved away from Mrs. Scott’s kitchen years ago, there has been a notable dearth of banana chip muffins in my life. So, finding some overripe bananas in my fruit bowl recently, I procured the recipe from Mrs. Scott and soon the familiar aroma of banana muffins filled my house. Since I got the recipe two months ago, I have made these at least 5 times. There also always seems to be “extra” bananas in the fruit bowl recently.

Banana Chip Muffin

The recipe makes a dozen muffins and after I eat a couple, I individually wrap the rest in saran wrap and stick them in a ziplock in the freezer. They defrost well on the counter, in the microwave, or the toaster oven and are a great complement to your morning coffee or just as a snack at any time of day.

Mrs. Scott’s Banana Chip Muffins
adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

Makes one dozen amazing muffins

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1 tbs hot water
  • 1 tbs instant coffee or espresso
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mash bananas, add combined water and coffee mixture. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 min). Add egg and mix well. Add banana mixture and mix. Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips.

Divide batter into a well-greased muffin pan and bake for 25-30 min until tops are brown and toothpick comes out clean.