I’ve always loved the old-timey look of envelopes sealed with wax and stamped with a crest– they just look so important and mysterious at the same time. And while I’ve never had a reason to send a letter in such an envelope, an opportunity arose when my daughter decided to have a Harry Potter-themed birthday party.
As you may remember, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry receives a letter (many letters) from Hogwarts regarding his acceptance, and in the movie those letters are sealed with red wax.
While our party invitations weren’t paper invitations, we did have a Hogwarts seal (included in a fancy quill pen set she got for Christmas), and I was determined to use it. The solution: Cookies!
Peanut brittle is one of those old-fashioned candies that no one really thinks about these days– but it’s actually very tasty, and easy to make. It sticks to your molars like crazy and probably causes cavities if you’re not careful, but it’s still good!
My daughter asked me what it was the other day, and rather than just tell her I decided to make some! The basic recipe is the same everywhere– sugar, corn syrup, and peanuts, then add baking soda and butter at the end. It’s a good idea to have your mise en place all set up, since you don’t want your sugar to burn while you’re measuring everything out. The finished candy is crunchy, sticky, and nicely salted, and the batch is just big enough to share without feeling like you’re missing out.
I think boxes of peanut brittle might make nice holiday hostess gifts– or maybe I’ll try it with almonds and a drizzle of dark chocolate, or macadamia nuts, or pecans… so many options!
The other day I was talking with my daughter about s’mores (she’d wanted to make them out of marshmallow peeps), when I mentioned that we could make our own marshmallows at home. She was immediately interested– it had never occurred to her that they could be made at home! Accordingly, the day before Easter we got out the gelatin and sugar and set to work.
The process was unsurprisingly sticky, made slightly more complicated by the fact that we made two different colors and tried (tried!) to swirl them together, but they turned out well– sweet, fluffy, and perfectly delicious when floated in a cup of hot chocolate. In my opinion, homemade marshmallows far surpass storebought– they’re fluffier and less dry/sticky in the mouth, and taste “fresher” than marshmallows that have been sitting in a bag for weeks.
In keeping with the woodland theme, I wanted to decorate my dessert table with various items that you might find on the forest floor– but I wanted to make them edible. Candy rocks immediately came to mind, like the ones I’d used for the Kitty House Cake for a previous birthday party, but the available options were all rather small and I wanted to think bigger. Then I came across a recipe for homemade rocks made of white chocolate fudge– I was sold!
These rocks are really easy to make– you just melt together some white chocolate and sweetened condensed milk, then add cookie crumbs for some realistic speckles and mold the slightly chilled mixture before rolling in powdered sugar. Plus, they look amazingly realistic! I made a half-sheet pan full of rocks with this recipe, including some pretty large ones that I made by wrapping storebought brownie bites (or pieces thereof) in the fudge mixture to bulk them up– I figure that the fudge is sweet enough that no one would want to eat a solid piece of it as big as their fist.
So for her birthday party this year, my daughter chose “Woodland Creatures” as her theme. I admit to nudging her a bit in the right direction a few months ago because I thought it would provide an opportunity for lots of cute themed food, but she really got into it, even giving me a list of things she wanted to include. I’ll give details of how I made things in the next few posts, but take a look at the resulting dessert table…
Included above are a tree stump cake, meringue mushrooms, decorated animal cookies, white chocolate fudge rocks, moss-covered cupcakes, candy acorns, and pads of “moss” made of green-dyed sugar cookies. (Also edible pinecones but they didn’t turn out all that well so I’ll forego posting a recipe until I get it right).
I had *so* much fun putting this party together. I raided the 80% off Christmas decoration section at my local craft store to get the artificial greenery, but aside from that all of the decorations on the table were edible– my version of the infamous Willy Wonka chocolate room. Honestly, I think this is one of the best dessert tables I’ve ever done!
So, once I’d made my cake layers, my fudge frosting, and a peanut butter cream cheese frosting (no real recipe here, I just beat together 4 oz. each of butter and cream cheese, added about 3/4 cup of peanut butter and a splash of vanilla, and then added powdered sugar until the texture was right), it was finally time to assemble the cake.
First, I removed my frozen cake layers and set them on the counter to thaw. After about 45 minutes they were cold enough to be firm but thawed enough to be workable, so I used a long, serrated knife to level off the tops. I stacked them with peanut butter frosting and ran a thin crumb-coat over the whole thing before setting it in the refrigerator to chill for another 20 minutes or so. At this point I will note that I made a mistake in using crunchy peanut butter (what I had on hand) for the frosting, because peanut chunks do not make for a smooth crumb coat. Oh well…
After making the panna cotta tart with all those different kinds of citrus, I had a bunch of peel left over, so of course I had to do something with it! And since I love candied peel, this seemed like a great opportunity. I had grapefruit, Cara Cara orange, and blood orange peel to work with (the clementine peel was too thin and the kumquats required a different technique).
While I’d made candied lemon peel before it hadn’t firmed up as well as I’d expected, instead staying kind of soft and soggy– fine for use in ice cream or baking, but not so great for snacking. I decided this time to try a different recipe from David Lebovitz, who has some great recipes both on his website and in his books. It was basically the same as the other recipe, calling for blanching the peels (three times this time since grapefruit can be bitter) and then boiling in sugar syrup.
Oddly, my grapefruit peels refused to turn translucent, staying stubbornly white while the other peels turned just fine. After boiling and boiling well past the estimated time in the recipe, I finally decided to just let it go and set everything out to dry together overnight. They turned out better than I’d anticipated– still soft, but not squishy or soggy.
Since I like my peel chewy rather than soft, I let these dry on the baking pan, coated in sugar, for a good 24 hours after the initial overnight drying period. They were much better after the lengthy drying time, and I couldn’t stop snacking on them!
My daughter’s class is having a Halloween party and has requested parent contributions to the menu– naturally, I volunteered to bring a dessert item, and asked her what she’d like me to make. After a little debate about ingredients and logistics, we decided on pumpkin muffin balls decorated to look like pumpkins. And I can’t wait to tell you about an awesome discovery I made with regard to decorating icing– but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve had these in the back of my head for ages, and while they didn’t turn out precisely as planned, they did look adorable and taste fantastic, so I’m counting them as a win!
It all started when I saw the boxes of miniature ice cream cones at the grocery store… in Canada. I’d been unable to find the mini cones anywhere near me in the US, but when I saw them on the shelf I recklessly sacrificed suitcase space and picked up three boxes. Totally worth it.
Then they languished in my cabinets for a few months until I had the opportunity to use them. But the opportunity did arise, first at my annual ice cream social, and then when my daughter was invited to a birthday party this summer. Out came the boxes of cones, out came my bag-ful of frozen cake scraps, and I was all set!
For my daughter’s kitty-themed fifth birthday party, the first thing she asked for was “a cake shaped like a house, that’s also a cat.” What could I do but give it my best shot? After all, coming after last year’s castle cake, it should be a snap, right?