Posted by Móna Wise in Features.

With only a few weeks left before Christmas, we are in full planning mode here on what to make—or bake—to share with our family and friends this year. Every year, we source and stash interesting glass jars and small tins that make handy gift packaging when the time comes. The cool thing about re-cycling (or up-cycling) is that many of these tins and jars are returned (empty) to us in the new year making our collection strong and sturdy for the next season of giving. As much as we enjoy trolling through our favourite recipe books for inspiration, we tend to fall back on our own favourites as they have become requested items over the years. This week, and next, we will share a few recipes that will bring a little bling to your Christmas table and much joy to those on the receiving end if you share them as gifts.

The first recipe is for an old family favourite, Peppermint Bark. It does not get any easier than this. The only skills required to make this delicious treat is the ability to melt chocolate. Peppermint bark is one of those edibles that can be quite costly, but making it at home yourself takes only a few minutes, with the hardest part being the length of time you have to wait for it to cool. And trust me, after you taste this, you will find that to be a long and torturous wait.

The second recipe is for Toffee Popcorn. This time of year you can buy this by the bag full at many of the shops in town but a homemade batch is the best. The hardest part of making your own toffee popcorn is making the caramel sauce. If this is your first attempt then do so when you have few distractions in the kitchen. Once you have mastered this recipe you will find yourself using it as a go to recipe for Christmas, New Years, Easter, and any other reason you can conjure up.

Christmas can be a tough time of year for many due to many reasons such as financial worries, separation from loved ones as these days family members and friends are scattered across the globe for work reasons, or worse again, the death of a loved one. We try to make an extra effort during the festive season to bring a bit of cheer to those in need and give back what we can. Please make an effort to do the same in your community.


Peppermint Bark

What you will need

  • 450g dark chocolate (Callebaut)
  • 450g white chocolate (with as high a percentage of cocoa butter as possible)
  • 4 tsp peppermint essence (use oil and alcohol based, not water)
  • 10 peppermint candy canes

How to prepare it

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
  2. In the top of a double boiler, melt the dark chocolate, stirring constantly.
  3. Using a rolling pin pound candy canes into small pieces and set aside.
  4. Once the dark chocolate has melted, pour it onto the baking sheet and leave it in the coolest part of your house to cool. If you have a marble countertop you can pour it directly onto that to speed things up. Do not refrigerate it tough because a layer of condensation forms making it impossible for the top layer of white chocolate to adhere to it.
  5. Once the dark chocolate has cooled, in the top of a double boiler, melt the white chocolate, stirring constantly. Stir in the peppermint oil and any flecks of dust from the crunched up candy canes, reserving the larger pieces as a topping.
  6. Remove from heat, and pour the mixture on top of the already cooled dark chocolate; spread evenly. Sprinkle the crushed peppermint candy cane on top of the white chocolate and leave ten minutes and slice with a butter knife if you want uniform squares, or leave to chill until solid, 25–30 minutes then break into pieces, and serve. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. An excellent and very easy Christmas present.

Toffee Popcorn

Having a candy thermometer on hand for this recipe is nice but not essential. The caramel for the popcorn needs to be cooked to what is called the hard-crack stage and this is the highest temperature you are likely to see specified in any sweet making recipe. At these temperatures, there is almost no water left in the syrup. Using a spoon drop a little of the molten syrup in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads, that break when bent. To avoid burns, allow the syrup to cool in the cold water for a few moments before touching it. Toffee, nut brittles, and lolly pops are all cooked to the hard-crack stage.

What you will need

  • 1200g of freshly popped popcorn (2 bags of microwave popcorn)
  • 400g of sugar in the raw
  • 120ml water
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 120ml of golden syrup (or Maple syrup)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 480g of mixed nuts, toasted and smashed up a little (we like cashews, almonds, pecans, macadamias)

How to prepare it

  1. Find the largest mixing bowl (or pot) you have and grease it with some butter. You will be using this to mix the popcorn in later and greasing the bowl (or pot) ensures an easier clean up and all the caramel sticks to the popcorn and not the bowl. Once you have popped the popcorn you can pour the correct amount into the buttered bowl and set it aside until you need it. Take care not to allow any un-popped popcorn into the mix as this can cause problems later when trying to eat the toffee popcorn. Pre-heat the oven to 175ºC.
  2. In a large heavy bottomed pot cook the sugar, water, syrup and butter to hard crack stage (149ºC–145ºC on candy thermometer), just before it starts to burn. Do not take your eyes off it because it can go from perfect to burnt in a millisecond. Remove from the heat, add nuts (we like cashews, almonds, pecans, macadamias), vanilla, salt and baking soda and 1 tbsp of water to dissolve it, then pour the hot mix onto the already popped popcorn. Use a plastic spatula to mix it all in (not your hands as this is hot, hot hot!). Put the popcorn mix onto parchment lined baking trays and bake in the oven for a half hour, mixing the mixture to make sure it all gets coated every ten minutes.
  3. Remove from oven one tray at a time. Run your hands under the cold tap and then cover with butter. Form into popcorn balls (carefully) and keep your hands cooled and buttered as much as possible to avoid burning yourself.
  4. It is not necessary to form the popcorn into balls. You can let it air dry for a half hour and once it has solidified into a hard toffee popcorn you can break it up into pieces and store it in an airtight container for weeks on end. We like to store ours in glass jars and share with friends at Christmas time. We hope you enjoy it too.