Road Trip Snacks: Apple Slices

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Today the Pie and I are actually on our way back from our first vacation in forever. We ended up driving to and from our various destinations because we like road trips, and one of the best parts of road trips, aside from oddities you stop at and the stellar conversation, is road snacks.

I made these before we left out of 2 apples that had been sitting in the fruit bowl for too long.

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This is a super simple operation. Preheat your oven to 225°F and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.

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Now slice up your apples. Give them a good scrubbing and run them through a mandolin cutter or food processor so you have super thin slices. You don’t have to worry about coring them, but you will want to remove any seeds you find because those are poisonous. And poisoning yourself is never a good idea.

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Plop them on your parchment and season if you like (options include cinnamon, Chinese five spice, lemon, and maybe a little bit of sugar if you have tart apples). These ones are unseasoned. I also only had room for two baking sheets so the apples overlap. This means they will stick together once dried, but I’m okay with that. Apples is apples, after all. If you want individual rings (instead of a fun sheet you can break apart) then make sure to keep ’em separated.

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Bake the apples for 1-2 hours, until they achieve your desired level of crispness (this will depend on how thick the slices are). Store in an airtight container and enjoy!

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Fast-Tip Friday: Drying Herbs

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If you’re lucky, you still have time to run out and grab the rest of your late-summer herbs from the garden and do something with them before it’s too late. If you’re me, then while you were out of the country for work the temperatures dropped below zero and now all your basil is a disgusting black mess.

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HOWEVER, there’s still hope for a good number of your other hardier herbs.

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Since the summer, I’ve been hauling baskets of herbs inside to process. Some end up in butter (because mmmm, butter), and some, like the lemongrass stalks you see in this basket, go in the freezer. But most of them, I dry. It takes almost zero effort on my part and then the herbs are there for me to mix and package as gifts: spice rubs and herbal teas are quick and easy to make.

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What makes it easiest is this handy-dandy herb dryer that I picked up from Lee Valley. Hang it somewhere out of the way with good air circulation (for us, that’s over the side of our main staircase), and then just shove it full of fresh herbs.

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The mesh will allow air to circulate on all sides, meaning nothing gets mouldy or soggy, and some of your herbs, like lemon balm, will dry in a matter of days. And you didn’t have to do ANYTHING!

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Added bonus: for the few days it takes these herbs to start to dry up, the hallway smells like pizza or lemons or whatever we’ve got in the shelves.

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Quick Paper Napkin Fold

Folded Napkins 20For the upcoming shindig, the number of attendees means I simply don’t have the appropriate number of fancy linen napkins available for each person. Not only that, but I have no interest whatsoever in ironing all that stuff. Nope. So paper napkins it is. But they lack a certain … pizzazz on their own. Folded Napkins 21

I ALSO have no interest in sitting down and folding fifty napkins into something ridiculous and elaborate. So here’s something super quick you can do.

Folded Napkins 2Grab your napkin and orient it so the corner where all the folds intersect is at the top and at the bottom it’s all open in four separate sheets. Folded Napkins 4

Start folding up each sheet towards the top corner, but leave a little bit of space between the top and the sheet you’re folding up.

Folded Napkins 5Repeat with the rest of the four sheets, flattening it into this stepped pattern. Folded Napkins 6

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Flip it over. Looks like a Superman logo.

Folded Napkins 9Take the top side of the Superman logo and fold it across about one third. Folded Napkins 10

Do the same with the other side of the Superman logo.

Folded Napkins 11Flip it back over. Isn’t that pretty? Folded Napkins 12

Then I took a rubber stamp and added a bit of extra fancy to the whole thing.

Folded Napkins 14Tada. Now do forty-nine more! Folded Napkins 16

Jam Session: Saskatoon Berries

Saskatoon Berry Jam 27You may remember that last year I surreptitiously liberated several service or Saskatoon berries from city property. This year it rained on Canada Day, our national holiday, and between thunderstorms I went out and hauled in about 4 litres of them. Everyone who passed through the kitchen during our Canada Day get-together asked where I’d gotten so many cranberries. I got a little testy explaining that they were service berries each time. I guess they DO kind of look like cranberries, but whatever. Saskatoon Berry Jam 2

I decided to make jam out of all my berries (and I actually ended up with so many berries that I had some leftover even after two batches of jam). I bought two dozen of the wee 175mL Bernardin canning jars and popped them into my canner to sterilize. I turned on the stove and brought those to a low boil.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 4I put the rings aside and put the discs in a heatproof bowl. Saskatoon Berry Jam 3

I heated a kettle and poured almost boiling water over the discs to let the rubber soften.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 9I gathered my other canning tools and had them handy. Always use non-metallic implements when making jam. Saskatoon Berry Jam 12

I get very irritated when I make jam because I always end up either burning myself on boiling sugar or burning myself with steam or hot water and everything ends up sticky and it’s already hot making jam in the summer so I decided to double my batch so I wouldn’t have to repeat the process in the same day. When you do this you have to make sure that your proportions are exact so you don’t mess up your ratios of acid to sugar to pectin.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 23The recipe I used is from the Bernardin website and advocates the use of the crystallized pectin, but the liquid stuff had been on sale so I used that instead. The process is a little different using liquid pectin in terms of when you add the sugar and stuff so the process below reflects that. Saskatoon Berry Jam 7

It’s a good idea to pre-cut the packages and sit them upright in a cup so they’re handy when you need them.

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Now that all your canning stuff is ready to go, you can get onto the actual jam component. Grab your berries, about 9 cups service berries (for a single batch, though in these photos that’s doubled), and plop them in a pan. I like to use my Lee Valley maslin pan because it’s kind of designed for jam and candy making and I love it. Plus it has a great handle that is very useful. Mush up your berries with a potato masher so they don’t explode on you later and so all the berry goodness gets out there early on. Saskatoon Berry Jam 6

Tip in as well 4 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine (apparently this helps prevent it from foaming too much but I don’t think it helped in my case).

Saskatoon Berry Jam 8Start heating the berries on medium-high and give them a good stirring. Measure out 6 cups granulated sugar and add that in as well. Saskatoon Berry Jam 10

You’ll find the berries very quickly become way more liquidy.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 14You want the berries to be at a decent boil that doesn’t go away when you stir (watch out for flying berry juice that can burn you). Saskatoon Berry Jam 16

When you get to that state, grab your pectin and quickly add it to the jam and give it a quick but thorough stirring.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 17Let it come back to a rolling boil again and leave that for 1 minute before removing the jam from the heat. Don’t burn yourself! Saskatoon Berry Jam 18

Skim off any foam with a non-metallic utensil. The jam foam was always a huge treat for us as kids to eat with a spoon. I offered it to the Pie and he refused it. I was miffed about that.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 19Grab your jars from the canner and drain them. Saskatoon Berry Jam 20

Fill them with your jam, leaving about 1/4″ of headspace between the jam and where the lid will go. Use a wet towel to wipe off any jam on the edge of the jar where the disc will need to be tightly sealed.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 22Plop the disks onto the jam jars and add the rings and tighten to fingertip tightness. Return the sealed jars to your canner and bring the water back to a boil and leave it for the time required by your canner and the number of jars you have in there. Saskatoon Berry Jam 21

I set my jars on a cookie rack to cool completely. These are the first batch of my DIY holiday gifts this year.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 26And I bought some overflow jars for myself, knowing I didn’t have enough jars for the jam I made. And I quickly filled the overflow jars, and then a bunch of plastic containers I had lying around. SO MUCH JAM. Saskatoon Berry Jam 25

Some Tarts, of Sorts

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There was a day a couple weeks ago where it was absolutely pouring out and it was a super-depressing, totally un-summery day.

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So I went grocery shopping and found that fresh figs were on sale, as well as some reasonably local strawberries. So of course I bought a whole bunch.

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And then I had to figure out what to do with all this gorgeous fruit.

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But I had some puff pastry and some good ol’ custard-in-a-can. So let’s make a tart — or two!

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So I sliced up all the figs and strawberries, nice and thin, about 1/4″ thick.

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And then I drooled a little bit, because look at all that awesomeness.

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I’ve never baked with canned custard before, so I wasn’t sure if it would solidify after cooking. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to beat one whole egg into the custard for insurance.

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I also spilled a few drops of Grand Marnier orange liqueur in there and it tasted amazing already.

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I created a quick glaze by mixing some honey with some egg white I had sitting in the fridge.

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Then I preheated the oven to 375°F and rolled out my two sheets of pastry onto parchment paper.

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I added a few spoonfuls of my custard mix and smoothed it out with the back of a spoon. Not too much – you don’t want it spilling everywhere once it heats up.

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Then I laid out the fruit. This one was all fig.

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This one I alternated fig and strawberry.

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Then I took a silicone brush and smoothed the egg white glaze over the fruit. I shoved those in the oven, one at a time, for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure the glaze and the custard aren’t burning.

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Let those puppies cool almost completely before cutting them up.

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I still had some glaze and strawberries and custard left, and there was a cup of that delightful rhubarb curd I made earlier. What should I do?

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I decided to whip together a wee bit of shortbread (butter, sugar, flour), which I pressed into a pan and baked at 375°F for 15 minutes.

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Then I mixed that gorgeous curd into the custard I had left over.

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Poured it into the pan on top of the shortbread.

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Then lined it with the strawberry slices.

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Glazed it with what was leftover.

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And then I baked it for about half an hour. It’s kind of like a rudimentary flan. It was so tasty!

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And so was the tart!

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Tim Tam Slam

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A little while ago my mentor at work found a new job and left us. She’s from PEI, Canada’s weirdest, smallest province, where they get way too much snow, grow way too many potatoes, and you can drive across it way too quickly (because it’s so small). And she’s famous for something that I only knew around the offices as “the Tim Tam Slam.” And on her last day we all gathered around in the kitchen and she showed us exactly what that phrase means. And now I’m going to show you. This is so not a summer beverage (I don’t even know if it’s a PEI thing), but it doesn’t matter. You need to know this if you don’t already, and you’re going to thank me for putting it on the internet for everyone to see. If you DO know this, you’re going to thank me for putting it on the internet for everyone to see.

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First, you need to grab yourself some Tim Tams, which are Australian chocolate cookies. So if you’re not in Australia you can get them in the imported cookie section of your regular giant grocery store, or in one of those fancy shops that sells imported food. Then you’re going to want to chuck them in your freezer for a while. This isn’t necessary but it makes the whole experiment work better.

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Then you make yourself some of your favourite hot chocolate. This stuff has marshmallows in it.

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Don’t be a heathen. Mix it with cream (or non-dairy whatever) first to form a paste so you don’t get lumps.

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Is your hot chocolate ready to drink? Okay. Grab the Tim Tams out of the freezer.

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Take a cookie and bite off just a tiny bit of one corner. Just a wee bit so that the middle filling is just exposed.

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Then take another wee bit off the opposite corner. I always take too much off one corner, but it’s not a huge deal. Just don’t go crazy and bite off a huge piece. It’s hard to resist, but you can do it.

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Then take your cookie, and pretend it’s a straw. Yup, a straw. Dip the cookie so that one of your bitten corners is submerged in the hot chocolate. Then put your mouth over the other bitten end and suck it like a straw. It will take a few pulls for the hot chocolate to make it through.

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Now you only have a few sips of chocolate through the cookie before the heat of the hot chocolate melts the whole bottom of the Tim Tam.

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When this happens, shove as much of the cookie in your mouth as possible. It is amazing and dissolve-y and definitely worth repeating. That is the Tim Tam Slam. Aren’t you glad you know?

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Chex Blox

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I thought the name I had come up with for these was pretty cute but one of my coworkers objected and decided they should be called “Chexicans” instead, because of the tenuous (maybe) connection of almonds to Mexico. Then he came up with Chex Yo Self, Chex-o-Slovakia (because Nutella was invented in the Czech Republic), and Early Chex Out (“like early check out, because if you eat too many you’ll die at a young age”). Then he arrived at “Dirty Chexican” because it made his fingers sticky. So I told him I would let you guys decide on a name because you are way smarter than he is. Annnnnnd GO!

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In any case, these little blocks of whatever-they-are are well-received wherever you want to take them. Aside from a wee bit of butter (that could be replaced with margarine), they’re dairy free, and the rice cereal makes them totally gluten-free as well. For nut-free folks you can easily skip the almonds. I totally made this recipe up as I went along so there’s no reason for you not to play around with it too!

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I started with a big-ass bowl and into it I dumped a whole box (about 5 cups) Chex cereal. It was the honey-flavoured but you could use plain too. Then went in about 1/2 cup sliced almonds (use any nut you like – these were on-hand), 1 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut, and 1 cup chocolate chips. Or about those amounts. I didn’t measure anything. I gave that a good stir.

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Into a small pot on the stove went about 3/4 cup Nutella and 3/4 cup peanut butter. The one picture I didn’t take doubles of is of course the one that turns out blurry.

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I stirred that around until it was fully melted and amazing.

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… okay so this one’s a little blurry too.

In another pot I melted about 2 tablespoons butter.

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Then tipped in a whole package (about 5 cups) marshmallows.

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Stirred that up until it melted. SO GOOEY.

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Then I added the hazelnut peanut butter to the cereal and stirred it for a little while.

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Then went in the marshmallow and that got stirred around.

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I plopped it into a high-sided baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pressed it down into place. You can shove it in the fridge to speed up the hardening process but it will happen on its own on the counter if it’s not too hot outside.

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When it’s hardened you can cut it into blocks.

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Store whatever doesn’t get eaten in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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Super Fast Cinnamon Rolls

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As you know, I’m on a quest to create the best cinnamon bun out there, for my tastes, at least. People are very particular about their cinnamon buns: some like them frosted, some like them dry, with nuts, with raisins, with nothing … I like mine soft and sticky AND frosted. Raisins are okay but nuts I can usually do without.

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I don’t make cinnamon buns very often because of all the kneading and rising that they entail (and my current house is a little too cold at the moment). But these ones were easy – they’re not actually cinnamon buns in the way you’d expect – and they served to assuage my craving until I have the time and the temperature to do another batch for real. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. I wouldn’t skip the parchment paper, as the sugar coming out of these will caramelize and stick, so it’s better that it sticks to the parchment and not your pans.

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Grab a small bowl and dump in about 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1/2 cup softened butter. Or less. You might want slightly less, as mine oozed everywhere. But if you like to live dangerously, then follow me!

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Give that a good mooshing with a fork or pastry cutter or even your hands, doesn’t matter.

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Now grab a package of thawed puff pastry (you will need to think far enough ahead for this to grab the box out of your freezer and chuck it in the fridge the day before, but that’s not that hard) and roll out the two rectangular sheets. If you bought the stuff that comes in blocks, then just roll it out flat.

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Sprinkle the sugar mixture generously and evenly across the surface of the pastry.

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If you’re feeling like going further, add a sprinkling of raisins and crushed walnuts as well.

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Carefully roll each sheet up into a tube. Chuck that in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to stiffen up.

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Slice each tube into disks about 1 1/2″ thick. I think I ended up with 8 buns from each tube.

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Lay those flat on your baking sheets and shove them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden and the butter is all melted.

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Remove the sheets from the oven and carefully slip the still-hot buns onto a sheet of waxed paper or parchment to cool completely. Feel free to flip them upside down while they’re still warm and oozy if you like your sticky part to be on top.

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If you leave them in the pan they’ll stick to the caramelized sugar at the bottom and then they won’t come off and you’ll be sad.

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When they were cool, I mixed together about 1/2 cup icing sugar with 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste and a dribbling (probably 1 tablespoon) of whipping cream.

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Doesn’t that glaze make your mouth water?

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I dumped it into a small plastic bag.

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And piped it onto the cooled buns.

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Try not to eat them all at once, okay?

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Peppermint Patties

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This was yet another “baking” episode Cait and I got up to – except it involved no baking whatsoever. If you’re not a fan of peppermint patties, then you won’t like this. If you ARE a fan, well, then, maybe you’ll like these, which we made from a mish-mash of these two recipes. Just a warning: if you make these puppies around Christmas time, you may have to search a bit to find peppermint extract in the grocery store. Cait and the Pie and I went to three separate stores before we nabbed the very last one hidden at the back of a shelf. If you’re making these for your Valentine tomorrow you may have some better luck!

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Now, you’re basically making a peppermint-flavoured fondant as the centre of these babies, so let’s start with that.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, dump in 2 1/4 cup icing sugar, 2 tablespoons softened butter, 2 teaspoons peppermint extract, and 2 tablespoons cream.

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Start beating it on low speed until incorporated (so you don’t get a face full of icing sugar), then increase the speed and beat until you have a solid, smooth mass.

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Now take your fondant and roll it into a long snake between 1″ and 1 1/2″ in diameter (any bigger and the patties will fall apart as you manipulate them).

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Wrap the snake in waxed paper and chill it for about 45 minutes or so. If you shove the snake into an old cardboard tube from a paper towel then it won’t deform while in the fridge.

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In the meantime, plop 12oz chocolate (dark is probably best, but it’s your choice) into a double boiler with 6 teaspoons shortening and let that melt. The shortening is what will give the chocolate a shiny, harder exterior once it hardens again. The magic ratio for shortening to chocolate, if you’d like to use it in other recipes, is 1/2 teaspoon shortening for every 1oz chocolate. And as it happens with every chocolate-dipping recipe, depending on the size of your patties and how quickly you get this done, you may need to melt more chocolate.

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Anyway, let the chocolate cool to almost room temperature (because otherwise you’ll melt the patties when you dip them and that would be bad). Take your snake out of the fridge and slice it into little disks about 1/4″ thick. To avoid the patties warming up and getting floopy, I put half of them back in the fridge.

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Using chopsticks or a fork, dip the cold patty into the cool chocolate and flip to coat. Lift it out of the chocolate and let it drip for a few seconds. Set the patty on a sheet of waxed paper to harden completely.

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The demented ones are the ones that Cait did. I take no responsibility for them.

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Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Enjoy!

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Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites

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Cait and I made these on one of our baking evenings where we wanted to put in as little effort as possible. While it’s inspired by this recipe, I had trouble locating large amounts of the ingredients it required so I ended up changing things around. My process shots for this are also terrible and blurry, and for that I apologize, but you can probably figure out how to make these for yourself without them. They are a quick and easy contribution to a potluck, picnic, or gift, and are simple enough that you can do this with small children if they want to make their own gifts.

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Start with a bunch of pretzels. Lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 250°F.

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On top of each pretzel, place one chocolate-covered caramel. The original recipe called for Rolo candies, but I could only find the miniature ones at Bulk Barn so I opted for these salted chocolate caramels instead and while they were wildly expensive, they were totally worth it.

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Grab a number of pecan halves equal to the number of pretzels and caramels and set them aside. Pop the tray with the caramel-topped pretzels into the oven and leave it there for 5 minutes or so, until the chocolate is melty and the caramel is squishy. The time it will be in the oven is dependent on the size and type of your caramel.

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Pull the pan out of the oven and press a pecan half into each caramel. Cait was concerned about the structural integrity of the underlying pretzel so she was unwilling to squish the pecan and caramel down with any force. As a result, when the ones she made were cooled, the pretzel came off the bottom and chaos ensued. So make sure to press the pecan down firmly into the caramel and in doing so, push the caramel into the pretzel to hold everything in place.

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Set those aside to cool and harden, then store in airtight containers until you eat them all.

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You can see that we have our festive Christmas tins ready to go here. I know it’s February, but tins are tins are tins, right?

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