How Sweet It Is

This past weekend I graduated from my social work masters program!!! It’s been two years, 60 credit hours, 21 courses, 2 field placements, and lots of student loans, but I can officially add three letters to the end of my name!

My family, both my family and my fiancé’s family, came in from out of town to celebrate with me and we had a lot of fun!! We ate a lot, drank a lot, and laughed a lot. I love when all of the family can get together, those times always seem to go by too fast!

After the commencement program, all of the fam went to dinner at Rosebud Trattoria. It was sooo good. I had a pasta dish (can’t remember the name) that had shrimp and lobster in a blushed cream sauce, it was delicious. I tried a bite of everybody’s dish at the table and everything was tasted amazing. The portions were huge, my fiancé had the veal parmigiana and it was like of the cow. And the prices weren’t bad considering we were in downtown Chicago. I definitely recommend it!

So, I really like baking and making sweets but I don’t often get the excuse to make a batch of cookies or a cake without feeling guilty about all the butter and sugar, i.e. calories. But I thought graduating from my masters program was a pretty darn good excuse. So, after dinner we went back to my place to have dessert, drinks, and just enjoy the company.

For dessert I made two recipes from David Lebovitz’s blog. If you don’t already have this bookmarked, do it! His pictures a beautiful and the recipes are amazing!! I need to get his book, Ready For Dessert, it looks awesome (hint hint for any upcoming holidays).

So I made Coconut Macaroons and Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee. Both were delicious. The macaroons were different from any other macaroons recipe I had seen, the directions were to cook the dough in a large skillet before baking. It was very easy since I could cook the mixture ahead of time and then chill until I was ready to bake. The cookies had a nice soft/chewy texture and wonderful coconut flavor. If you love coconut, like me, you will love these cookies!

Coconut Macaroons

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makes about 30 cookies

adapted from David Lebovitz
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2½ cups unsweetened coconut (found in the organic food aisle)
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all the ingredients, except vanilla extract, in a large skillet. Heat over medium-low heat while stirring constantly, making sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the skillet. After about 15-20 minutes the mixture will look very gooey and before the mixture scorches, remove from heat. Transfer mixture to a bowl and let come to room temperature, and from here you can chill in the fridge for one week or in the freezer for a couple months.

When ready to bake preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If the mixture was in the fridge, let come to room temperature, this will make it easier to handle. Shape the dough into small rounds, about 1 1/2 in. diameter. Bake 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and delicious!

The other dessert I made was Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee. It had some of my favorite ingredients: almonds, dark chocolate, and butter! I was a little intimidated by making candy but after reading the recipe I decided that it didn’t sound too hard and if all else failed I would still have macaroons to serve… I’m glad that I tried to make this candy because it was really easy and really good. The toffee layer was crispy and buttery tasting, and it blended well with the dark chocolate and almonds. I also sprinkled a bit of sea salt in between the toffee and the chocolate layer, so every now and then I would get a salty bite mixed with the sweet toffee. Definitely make this if you want to impress the pants off of your dinner guests.

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

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adapted from David Lebovitz
  • 2 cups toasted almonds, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • course sea salt

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Sprinkle half of the nuts on the cookie sheet, making a rectangle about 8 in. by 10 in. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and mix water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook until the mixture reaches 300ºF by a candy thermometer or hard crack stage, try to stir as little as possible. If you don’t have a candy thermometer you can test the sugar mixture in ice water. Check out this article explaining how to do the ice water test, it even has a handy video to show you what to look for.

Once the mixture reaches hard crack stage, remove from heat and mix in baking soda and vanilla. Pour the mixture carefully over the almonds in an even layer. You can spread it out a bit if it’s uneven but try not to overwork it. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over the toffee, if using. Pour the chocolate chips over the toffee and leave for 2 minutes. After the chocolate has melted, spread with an offset spatula in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining almonds over the chocolate and let cool.

Once the toffee has cooled and hardened, break into pieces. Enjoy and brag about the delicious candy you just made!!!

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