English Toffee for a Homemade Holiday Gift

English Toffee

English Toffee

Last year was the first time I passed out homemade gifts. I was a bit hesitant at first: Did it make me look cheap? Would giving gifts to people I don’t usually exchange with be uncomfortable? And what if whatever I made wasn’t impressive enough?

English Toffee

Luckily, my doubts were unfounded and completely ridiculous. I discovered that most people appreciate a homemade gift, especially if you package it with a pretty bow. Sounds a little silly, I know, but it’s what I believe.

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The loaded fortune cookies I made last year were a huge hit. Not only did the giant cookies make for a striking presentation, but they also tasted great. Unfortunately, they also took forever to make.

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So this year I decided to try something new, something I’ve been wanting to make for years but was always just a little afraid: English toffee. It’s a favorite table snack at events like weddings and holiday get-togethers, but I wanted to try a homemade version.

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Now that I’d finally worked up the courage to make English toffee (and purchased a much needed candy thermometer), I needed a recipe. After scouring the Internet and taking recommendations on Twitter, I wound up combining the two that looked most promising: Busy Cooks and Paula Deen (afterall, the woman knows butter). My favorite thing about the Busy Cooks recipe was that it called for chocolate and nuts on both sides, something every good English toffee should have. Also, I noticed that many recipes used walnuts or almonds and usually instructed to mix them into the toffee itself, but I’ve always known it with pecans so that’s what I stuck with and used them only on the outside of the toffee.

English Toffee

Here’s the recipe for rich, buttery, sweet and super crunchy homemade English toffee. Oh, and did I mention that it’s really easy?

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Cake Balls

Cake balls

I hate wasting food of any sort, but to throw away perfectly good cake? I don’t think so.

After making the devil’s food cake with malt chocolate frosting, I was left with a baggie of cake scraps leftover from trimming the layers, not to mention about a cup of frosting. Inspired by the Pioneer Woman’s recent endeavors in making cake balls (definitely visit her blog for more creative ways to use the cake balls along with other great recipes), I decided to try it myself.

Cake and frosting Combined cake and frosting

Rolled cake balls

Coincidentally, my friend was due to give birth to her second child (a boy – welcome to the world Ethan!) last week so I decorated the cake balls and brought them to the hospital in honor of the occasion.

These cake balls were delicious and super cute to boot! The flavor possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cake and frosting. Note that the “recipe” below is really more of a technique – just use your judgement for consistency and remember you can always make extra frosting (I’d estimate a 3 to 1 ratio cake to frosting).

Dark cocoa candy melts Melted chocolate

Blue candy melts Decorated cake balls

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Homemade Holiday Gifts: Loaded Fortune Cookies

Decorated fortune cookie

For years I’ve been wanting to make big fortune cookies but never had the right occasion to do so. But this year with the economy in the crapper and all, I decided to make holiday gifts rather than buy them. Which of course led me straight to the loaded fortune cookie.

In reality, fortune cookies are nothing more than a tuile cookie formed with origami-like fancywork. The batter is simple – melted butter, powdered sugar, flour, egg whites, and a pinch of salt and dash of almond extract I added to the recipe.

Melted butter and powdered sugar Egg whites

But this isn’t to say I didn’t encounter challenges – there was plenty of trial and error. For example, the oven temperature was too high with the first cookie I attempted, making it impossible to form. I was able to fold it in half, then nothing.

The idea is to bake the cookie until the edges turn light brown and the batter is dry, then quickly remove the cookie from the pan with a spatula and place it upside-down on a dry towel. You then have to move quickly and carefully – the cookies are hot! – and place the “fortune” (or in this cake “Happy Holidays” typed on a strip of paper) in the center, fold the cookie lightly in half with the loose “creased” side closest to you. Then, place your thumbs in the center of the fold and place your index fingers in the openings on both ends. Pull the ends toward the center to form the traditional shape, then set aside to cool. Seriously, oye.

Strain batter Batter circle

So, moving on to to cookie attempts #2 and #3, I decreased the oven temperature and also used a thinner layer of batter. I was able to form the cookie shape but the final product was extremely brittle.

Attempt #4 used a thicker layer of batter which I cooked a bit longer but not quite long enough. This time the cookie was difficult to form because the batter hadn’t dried enough but at least it wasn’t brittle.

Finally, by attempt #5, I got it right. I used the same amount of batter as #4 but cooked it longer – about 11 minutes this time. And then, as is my luck, I was out of batter.

Formed cookies With chocolate

It was fine. I proceeded to decorate all the cookies with semi-sweet chocolate and multi-colored sprinkles (I had tried desperately to find those little edible silver balls but when I finally tracked them down I realized they were way overpriced – $15 for a small container!). Then I wrapped up the one presentable cookie and brought it to bring to my friend Heather’s house for her dinner party. She and the other guests were extremely impressed with my little gift, so much so that they didn’t even notice the bottle of wine I brought with it.

Bagged fortune cookie

As for the not-so-pretty cookies, I’ve slowly been eating them and can report that they taste much better than the small, stale fortune cookies I’m used to. I even did a side-by-side taste test with the cookie that came with my Pad Thai last night. Trust me on this – once you make your own (or eat one of mine) you’ll never go back to the other kind.

Tomorrow I’ll be making many more of these so I can start handing them out. I’m hopeful the other recipients will like them as much as Heather and her friends did.

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