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.

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.

Cupcakes & Coffee Cake

Spice

As I mentioned in the post below, Little Miss demanded that I make coconut cupcakes for her bridal shower. While I am normally not a coconut person, I make exceptions for a few coconut items – the coconut cake at the Halekulani in Honolulu and the coconut cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa store in my hometown of Bonac, aka East Hampton. The Barefoot Contessa was a specialty store on Newtown Lane that sold prepared foods, delectable dessert items and $4 lattes back in 1992. Not being much of a baker, my mom was a frequent shopper and when I worked in town, I always had a friend or two who worked there that would sneak me a cupcake or two. I always said that when I got married I wanted a cupcake tower full of coconut and chocolate ganache cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa instead of a wedding cake.

Alas, by the time I got married, the Barefoot Contessa store was no longer (I had to settle for an equally amazing wedding cake made by the talented pastry crew at the Halekulani), but its proprietor, Ina Garten has made quite a name for herself with a slew of cookbooks (I even accompanied her to a book signing party as a bookseller when her first cookbook came out) and a show on the food network. I love her cookbooks and watching her show, not just because it reminds me of home and features places and people I grew up with, but because her recipes are easy and delicious. Her cookbooks are filled with all the stuff from her store that I used to love (see shrimp salad) including this recipe for coconut cupcakes. Through the years, I have made these cupcakes for birthdays, baby showers and bridal showers and have converted all my friends, including Little Miss, into coveting these cupcakes. This recipe can also be modified into a layer cake.

Coconut Cupcakes
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten

Makes about 18-20 large cupcakes or 3 dozen small cupcakes and 1 dozen large cupcakes

  • 3 sticks of butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 oz sweetened, shreeded coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degeees.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after every addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In three parts, alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk to batter, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined and fold in 7 oz of coconut.

Line muffin pan with paper liners (I usually make a mix of mini muffins and regular sized muffins). Fill each cup to the top with batter. Bake for 20-30 min, until tops are brown and toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 min then remove to cooling rack to cool completely. Frost with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with coconut.

Cream Cheese Icing
Note: This is a halved recipe since I always found I had way too much icing left over but if you’re into lots of icing on your cupcakes, double the quantities here.

  • 1 package (1/2 lb) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 stick of butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3/4-1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Blend together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add powdered sugar to taste and mix until smooth.

Streusel Coffee Cake
I also included the recipe we attached to the bridal shower favors for a moist streusel coffee cake that I make when I have leftover plain yogurt that I need to use up (why are those containers so big?). This recipe is not from the Barefoot Contessa but is always a big hit with my co-workers.

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 stick cold butter
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter room temp
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

Mix first five ingredients together to make streusel. Set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix eggs in one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in vanilla.

Fold in dry ingredients and yogurt alternately in thirds beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour half batter into a bundt pan, sprinkle with streusel. Pour in rest of batter and top with streusel. Bake for 55 min in bundt pan at 350°. Cool on rack.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

Editor’s note – catastrophe!!  I had all these great pictures of the cake, and the kids in their costumes (see below), but then my camera freaked out and somehow has eaten the pictures.  It also won’t take any new pictures.  Something about the memory card maybe?  Either way, not awesome.

After having a brief mini-meltdown, I made a double batch of consolation pumpkin muffins (recipe needs work, stay tuned) and decided to post this anyway.  The cake was delicious and the recipe was already typed out, so up it goes.  GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!  Apologies for the photoless post.  Anyone know anything about digital camera repair?

* * * * * * *

Now, I love making layer cakes, but you don’t really come across that many reasons to make them in everyday life.  So I had to take advantage of the office Halloween potluck.  We’re pretty serious about our potlucks.  Three big tables of food, decorations, little kids in costumes trick-or-treating around the office, the whole nine yards.  The perfect excuse for a cake!

I don’t have one of those cake carriers, so I brought the cakes, frosting, and plate separately and assembled the cake there.  It worked out pretty well, and my friend Sasha helped me decorate it, but note to self: get one of those!  It turned out really cute.  Wish you could see it . . .  =(

Pumpkin Spice Cake
adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (packed) brown sugar (whichever kind you have)
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 15-oz can pure pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest

Put the oven rack in the center and preheat to 350.  Butter 2 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans.  (Save the parchment scraps!  They will come in handy for frosting.)  Sift the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt into a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, mix the spices together.  Reserve one teaspoon for the frosting, then add to the rest of the dry ingredients.  With an electric mixer or in a standing mixer with paddle attachment, mix sugars and oil in a large bowl – it will be grainy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing in well after each one.  Add pumpkin, vanilla, and orange zest, and mix well.  Add flour and mix until just incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, and smooth out the tops.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pans on a rack.  When cool, loosen the edges with a table knife and invert the cakes onto a rack or a plate.  Peel off the parchment.  If the cakes are really round on top, you can flip them over and trim down the domes using a serrated bread knife.  Since that’s the cook’s treat, you’re really hoping for domed cakes…

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

  • 10 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 16 oz (2 pkgs) cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces each, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of one orange

Using either a standing mixer with paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer, beat butter, sugar, and reserved spice mix until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.  Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla and orange zest, and beat until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.

Place one cake right-side-up on your serving plate.  Tuck parchment scraps leftover from baking under the edges of the cake, to catch stray frosting.  Plop a big dollop of frosting in the middle, and use an offset spatula or a table knife to spread the frosting evenly toward the edges, stopping just a little short of the edge.  Put as much or as little as you want in there, but remember you still need to frost the outside!  Keep a glass of hot water nearby, and if your knife is sticking to the frosting, give it a quick dunk into the water every now and then.

Place the second cake top-down on top of the frosting, making sure it’s centered and even.  Frost the top, again from the center out.  Now the sides.  I like to go around, section by section, just to slap enough on there to cover – don’t worry about neatness yet.  Just get enough on there so the dark cake doesn’t show through.

When the cake is evenly and fully covered, take the spatula or the flat side of the knife and smooth out the top and sides of the cake.  I (actually Sasha) decorated mine with halloween candy we had sitting around, but candied orange peel or candied pecans would look really nice.  When you’re all done, gently pull out the parchment scraps from under the cake and your plate should be nice and clean!

Now, imagine that there’s a picture of a moist, rich, fluffy, autumny cake right here.  Sigh.