Thu04242014

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Homemade gifts sweeten the holidays


Photo By: Megan Kempston/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Megan Kempston/Special To The Town CrierConsider roasted nuts and chocolate bark as easy-to-make homemade gifts this holiday season.

 

Skip the frantic holiday shopping sprees this year and give homemade gifts instead. Following are instructions for two delicious treats – Roasted Nuts and Chocolate Bark – that the entire family can enjoy making, giving and eating together.

Roasted Nuts

Method

Combine nuts with honey or maple syrup (1 tablespoon per cup of nuts), add any spices or mix-ins and stir. Spread nuts on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

Roast at 300 F for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Let cool at room temperature for an hour before packaging.

Tips

Pretty much any type of nut will work in this recipe, as long as it’s raw rather than preroasted.

Reach for Grade B maple syrup instead of Grade A – its deeper flavor works better with nuts and other baking applications.

Variations

Given the large variety of possible nuts and mix-ins (spices, herbs, sugar, salt, citrus zests, flavored extracts and even things like green tea or wasabi powders), there are hundreds of potential variations. Good places to start might be honey-cinnamon almonds, honey-lavender walnuts or orange-maple pecans.

Packaging and storage

Roasted nuts keep well in sealed containers at room temperature for months at a time, and because they’re durable, they make a great choice for shipping to out-of-town family and friends. Try packaging them in clear or decorated plastic treat bags or filling a cute tin with several types of nuts.

Chocolate Bark

Method

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips or chopped chocolate 30 seconds at a time, stirring between microwave sessions, until chocolate is smooth. Pour onto foil-lined cookie sheet or cutting board and spread into thin layer. Add chopped nuts, spices, dried fruit or other toppings. Refrigerate or freeze until the chocolate is solid, then cut or snap into pieces.

Tip

Any moisture – even a drop of water or some residual moisture on a wooden spoon – can cause melting chocolate to “seize,” or get lumpy and grainy. It’s best to use a very dry ceramic or Pyrex bowl and a metal or plastic spoon when heating the chocolate.

Variations

Any type of chocolate, from milk chocolate to unsweetened, will work for chocolate bark, including white chocolate. Besides the toppings, you can stir flavor extracts (like vanilla, peppermint or orange) into the chocolate before pouring it onto the baking sheet, or stir in any of the toppings for a chunkier bark.

Packaging and storage

Chocolate bark keeps best when slightly cool, so room temperature is fine as long as it’s stored away from fireplaces, heaters or the stove. After a few weeks or months, it may develop a white powdery look on the surface of the chocolate, which chocolatiers call “bloom.” It’s harmless, but if the aesthetics bother you, temper the chocolate first – a quick Google search will turn up multiple sites with instructions.

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