Mar 11, 2009

A Little Nutty

It's a little bit nutty around here. I thought that after Mardi Gras things would calm down. Wrong. 

I'm glad I scheduled Chocolate Peanut Clusters as this week's blog. It's fitting. Easy and quick for candy...and I sure need that right now (the easy, the quick, and the candy). Oh, and nutty...which I welcome in food form only.

This is my mom's "recipe." It's about as complicated as she gets with candy. I don't think she even owns a candy thermometer. For Pete's sake...she makes pralines in the microwave (and that is just so wrong!). My mom doesn't like recipes that are fussy or complicated or that require specific temperatures or cooking stages. She's told me more than once that if she wants something, she doesn't want to have to wait for it. This is why she does not play well with yeast breads.

This candy doesn't require a thermometer or cooking to a certain stage (like my pralines). It's really just melted chocolate chips and nuts. My mom makes these with peanuts, but I like pecans more. I've even thrown in dried chopped cranberries. Chocolate, pecans, and cranberries are seriously good. But that's probably getting too goofy for my mom.

I do find it funny, though, that my mom thinks this is an easy, no-fuss recipe. If you've never worked with chocolate before, there are definitely some major things that could go wrong.

*Chocolate and water do not get along. If steam from your double boiler mixes with the chocolate...well, no snack for you! The chocolate will seize, becoming a clumpy, pasty, grainy mess. This is why butter and margarine shouldn't be used to thin chocolate. They contain water. Use shortening. Don't cover it either, at least when it's warm. Condensation can form, drip into the pot or bowl, and ruin the entire thing.

*Chocolate can also seize if it is overheated. Don't melt it over high heat. Low and slow, as "they" say. This is also why I don't like to melt chocolate in a microwave. Oh, I know people do it and it's easy and it requires fewer dishes and it reduces the risk of exposing your chocolate to water. But, I feel more in control of the chocolate when I use a double boiler on the stove. And that's a big thing because chocolate is usually in control of me.

Chocolate Peanut Clusters
from Ms. enPlace

½ cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp shortening (do not use butter, margarine, or oil)
1 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

Place both types of chocolate chips and shortening in the bowl of a double boiler (I use a pot and mixing bowl). Melt on low heat, stirring, until the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to get any water or steam in the chocolate.

Stir in peanuts (or other nuts). Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto foil, waxed paper, or into 1” diameter candy papers/cups. Allow to set until firm. Place in refrigerator to speed up the process. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

* Any nut or combo of nuts could be used. I prefer pecans.
* Chopped dried fruit could also be added. Go wild.

linking with:

This is all you'll need for an easy treat.

If you're a regular, you know me by now. I like to be prepared. Isn't that the Boy Scout motto? Coulda been one...well, except for the whole boy thing. Get out the foil, waxed paper, or candy cups you want to use and have it ready.

My fancy double boiler. Why buy yet another kitchen thingy when you can make your own. A pot with a small amount of water and a mixing bowl over the top works just fine. The bowl shouldn't touch the water.

Both types of chips and shortening have been added to the bowl. Melt over low heat. Stir to help it along and prevent overheating one area of the chocolate.

When the chocolate has melted and is smooth, stir in the nuts.

Drop onto foil, waxed paper, or into small candy cups (like muffin cups, only tiny).
Allow to set. I park mine in the fridge for about 20 min. I can't wait for chocolate. Eat. But don't get in my way. You may lose fingers.

I'm ready for another batch, using pecans. I regret taking the photo this way...melt the chips and shortening first, then add the nuts.

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