Yield: approximately 16 to 20 pralines
I grew up in Texas and Mississippi near New Orleans, so I know pralines. But I was just always a little intimidated to make them, as my mother, a talented cook, would lament how hers would “sugar.”
It’s tricky because pralines are not smooth like caramel, but they are not crystalized either. If you have ever enjoyed a praline frosting on a cake or brownies, that’s the mouth-feel you want: smooth-ish, but with a hint of fine sand-like texture.
Yesterday pretty much house-bound in this East Coast snow storm and with company coming to make vegan tamales for dinner, I wanted something small but sweet and keeping with the Mexican theme. Missing my Mama on that gray, blustery, cold and snowy day, I decided to channel her candy-making prowess–she made mean English Butter Toffee even if pralines eluded her–and give it a whirl.
But, first, I did a little research to pick up a few tips, e.g. use a large pan, avoid skimping on the butter or doubling the recipe (as you can’t dip them fast enough before the mixture cools) and, most importantly, after removing the mixture from the heat, stir until the pan just begins to “talk” to you, meaning that there is a slightly “sandy” scraping sound to your wooden spoon as it strikes the sides of the pan. Then, waste no time spooning up the candy, as it will cool quickly from there on out.
Invited to friends’ home for dinner tonight and not wanting to show up empty-handed, I decided to make another batch this morning and get even closer to perfection. And I did. The trick I discovered is in the stirring phase once you remove the pan from the heat. Not only do you need to listen, but you need to look. The mixture will first turn a translucent amber color, like maple syrup. But as you continue to stir, it will begin to become almost imperceptibly more opaque. That moment of transition is the sweet spot, if you’ll pardon the pun, and the exact time at which you should begin to quickly spoon up the mounds, as the mixture will cool quickly from that point on and become more “sugary” than desirable. With a half batch of candy, the magic moment came at about the 2 to 3 minute mark.
Pralines are made from such simple ingredients that you are likely to have on hand what you need at any given moment. I happened to have on hand coconut sugar, so that’s what I used and loved the real south-of-the-border notes the undertones of coconut lent to the candy.
Regardless of the kind of sugar you use, remember, whatever streaks of praline goodness are left in the bottom of the pan belong to the cook alone.
2 1/4 cups cups coconut sugar or 1 1/2 cups natural sugar (I use demerera) + 3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy creamer or your favorite plain non-dairy milk
6 tablespoons vegan butter
2 teaspoons agave nectar or molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups pecan halves or pieces
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper, Silpat, or parchment paper. Attach a candy thermometerto the side of a 4-quart saucepan, but avoid letting the tip touch the bottom. Place all ingredients in the pan and set over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon as the mixture melts and then comes to a boil. Once boiling, stir continually until the thermometer registers 238 to 240 degrees, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and stir, stir, stir until you feel resistance, candy becomes slightly more opaque, and you hear a faint “sandy” sound of spoon against side of pan. Then, quickly, drop mixture by spoonfuls onto prepared pan. Cool completely. Serve, or wrap individually.
My adored late mother (sadly, she passed away on October 2), Sallie Gough, and I made this candy every Christmas, but it is indescribably buttery, silky, and crunchy any time of year…say, for a New Year’s Day party.
I made it this year for my annual Christmas, Channukah, Curry & Confections party–where it was a big hit (any leftover crumbles are divine over vegan ice cream)–and made a batch to leave with my father and sister before I left their home in Mississippi and returned to Virginia after Christmas.
1 pound butter/vegan butter
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
8 to 12 ounces vegan dark or semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup or so sliced, slivered or finely chopped almonds
Butter a cookie sheet with shallow sides and set aside. In a saucepan with a heavy bottom over medium heat, bring butter and sugar to a simmer, stirring frequently. Whisk together water and corn syrup in a small cup and stir into butter and sugar mixture.
Attach candy thermometer to side of saucepan without letting the tip touch the bottom, and continue to cook mixture until it turns a golden amber color and registers about 300 degrees on the thermometer. You may have to cook it to 350 degrees to achieve the desired color.
Pour immediately onto cookie sheet and spread evenly. Allow to cool completely. Melt chocolate and spread over toffee. Sprinkle with nuts and store in refrigerator until cold. Break into pieces and return to refrigerator, covered.
I am slowly working my way through a box of seven different candy bars from the good folks at Go Max Go Foods, makers of vegan candy bars that will remind you of some of your childhood non-vegan favorites, but are no mere knock-offs.
As if the flavors and textures alone weren’t enough to tempt, their commitment to ethical and non-GMO sourcing is the icing on the cake, er, the coating on the candy bar.
In this recipe, cookie dough and Jokerz candy bars “complete each other” like Batman and his nemesis for a wildly delicious double dose of peanuty, nougatey, chocolatey goodness.
2 Go Max Go “Jokerz” candy bars, sliced lengthwise and then across to create 12 pieces each
1/2 cup vegan butter
2 tablespoons crunchy “natural” peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar + 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar (for rolling)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup mini vegan chocolate chips or 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Slice each candy bar lengthwise and then across to create 12 pieces each. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Beat in 1/4 cup powdered sugar until fluffy. With mixer on low, mix in flour and sea salt followed by chocolate chips or peanuts. Shape generous tablespoons of dough around each candy bar piece to form a ball and place cookies about 2-inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake for approximately 8 minutes or until set and light golden brown, watching carefully during the last minute or two. Avoid over-baking or they will split open and the candy bar will ooze out. Cool for 5 minutes. Place remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a shallow bowl and roll each cookie in it to coat. Place cookies on wire rack to cool completely. Roll again in powdered sugar before serving, if desired.
If you think peanut butter cups are good, try peanut butter cups topped with layers of creamy vanilla ice cream and decadent chocolate ganache for a frozen peanut-topped treat.
If she’d had to chose, Cleopatra certainly would have chosen these over Mark Antony!
The Good Folks at Go Max Go Foods sent me a bounty of bars recently, so stay tuned for more creations and visit them on Facebook!
2 packages Go Max Go Cleo’s peanut butter cups (each package contains two cups) or the vegan peanut butter cup most readily available in your area.
1 pint vegan vanilla ice cream, softened and stirred until creamy
1/4 cup vegan soy or coconut creamer
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
Garnish: 4 large peanuts or 2 teaspoons chopped peanuts
Line 4 muffin tins with 4 muffin liners and place one Cleo’s peanut butter cup in the bottom of each. Top each with 1/4th of the ice cream, smoothing the tops. Freeze. Meanwhile, heat soy creamer to just before simmering on top of stove or in microwave. Whisk in chocolate chips until smooth. Cool to room temperature and top each ice cream treat with one-forth of the ganache, smoothing the tops. Garnish with one large peanu tor 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts. Refreeze for at least 2 hours. To serve, remove each treat from the muffin tin, which may require a knife to pop it loose. Peel off muffin liners and discard, serving on top of fresh liners, if desired. Allow to soften slightly before serving with a small sharp knife for the initial slice through the bottom.
I am SO sorry for being neglectful of my blog! The spring at most high schools, including in art departments, is especially busy. Plus, last weekend, I was honored to serve as a Council Chaperone for a favorite student (one of many, many) at our school’s amazing Leadership Workshop at Triple-R Ranch from Friday to Sunday. This week was the last of the quarter, so grades had to be posted by 2:30 p.m. yesterday, but we taught all day instead of having a “Teacher Records Day” because of our district’s Snow Day Make-Up plan. And I leave shortly to visit my family for a week. Whew!
But, I did want to post this recipe for Vegan Peeps for Easter–I hope it’s not too late–before I “hop” on a plane. With the few ingredients on hand, they go together quickly and would be fun to do with kids or a group of friends.
These birds travel nicely nested in a bowl, as I took them to some friends’ house for an Easter dinner last year.
We joke about them looking like Easter Toucans.
Each day this week, I am featuring 4 of my favorite Blooming Platter Valentine’s treats from the past and one brand new one which I’ll post about mid-week, as it may require a quick trip to the grocery store.
I am always surprised when someone says they don’t care for peppermint and chocolate together, as I think it is a divine marriage of flavors, perfect for Valentine’s Day.
If you agree, you will love my Vegan Peppermint and Chocolate Patties. I created these easy and beautiful treats in 2011 to share with our beloved IB and fine arts assistant principal.
I apologize that my photography wasn’t better way back then, two cameras ago, but I think you can get the delectable idea.
About mid-week, I will post my new 2015 creation to give you time to shop for the few ingredients you may not have on-hand like dried apricots, hazelnuts, and espresso powder.
First up are my beautiful Vegan Chocolate Truffles.
These “Peeps” that I created–which I think look more like Toucans!–were inspired by “Ugly Ducklings” sold at a local Mediterranean restaurant called Azar’s.
I wanted to take the store-bought ones to an Easter dinner on Sunday, but the restaurant was closed and I could find no recipe, so I decided to “wing it,” so to speak. Fortunately, the ingredients are few.
I’m so glad I did, as they are super simple and so unique! I apologize for not having them ready to share with you in advance of Easter, but they are nice for spring in general, and certainly next year!
Resting in decorative cupcake liners and tucked, along with softly colored wooden eggs, into their straw nest, they looked peepin’ adorable and were also a rave in the taste department!
They seem especially appropriate for spring, but the ingredients are pretty season-less, so enjoy all year when a festive presentation and a little decadent bite is in order.
Approximately 1/2 cup (or slightly less) almond paste (I purchase it in a can on the baking aisle of the grocery store)
16 pitted dates, opened out (be sure to use fairly moist ones)
1-9 or 10 ounce package vegan chocolate chips
8 whole roasted and lightly salted cashews
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Using your fingers, mold a scant tablespoon of almond paste into an egg shape. Moisten your fingers if your paste seems dry. Then press into one of the dates, pressing another date over the top to encase the almond paste inside, forming an egg or bird body shape. Continue with all remaining dates and almond paste. Cover and refrigerate them for about a half hour. Melt chocolate in microwave in a narrow deep bowl for ease of dipping. (For 9 to 10 ounces, I have found that 1 minute on full power, a slight stir, and then 20 to 30 seconds at full power, followed by a good whisking works in my microwave.) Pierce each date-almond paste ball with a toothpick. One at a time, dip them into the chocolate, covering completely, and place on prepared baking sheet. Remove toothpicks and “patch” hole with a dab of melted chocolate if need be. Then, one at a time, dip half of each cashew into the chocolate and attach it to the top of each “body,” slightly toward one end, with the cashew “beak” curving into the body and touching at each tip–chocolate toward the center–so that it is secure. Refrigerate for a half hour or until chocolate is hardened. Arrange as desired and serve.
Note: you will have some chocolate left over, but when it gets low, it is difficult to coat the date-almond paste balls.
Recipes for fudge abound. But today’s cooks seem to opt for foolproof methods that either call for marshmallow cream or condensed milk (both non-vegan ingredients) to prevent that unappetizing and very disappointing sugar crystallization.
Though the area where I live has come a long way in terms of vegan grocery accessibility, we still don’t have vegan condensed milk that I know of. I’m sure I could order it online, but when I get ready to make fudge, it isn’t with much advance warning. No, it’s a response to an intense and irrepressible craving!
A couple of years ago, Jonesin’ for 7-layer Bars and racking my brain for a condensed milk substitute, it suddenly occurred to me that Cream of Coconut was about the same consistency and sweetness. So, I substituted it, and it worked beautifully! This year, craving some post-holiday holiday fudge–because I never got around to it before Christmas–I wondered if Cream of Coconut could be substituted for condensed milk in a simple fudge recipe.
Indeed it can! And, though I love the taste of coconut, it is undetectable. The fudge just tastes like deep, dense,-yet-silky chocolate with nuances of sea salt and vanilla.
For my fudge redux, I modified a recipe that I found online in a number of ways. In addition to the Cream of Coconut substitution, I also used vegan butter and vegan chocolate: a no-brainer. But then I also added 1/3 cup of cocoa for greater depth and density, a pinch of coarse sea salt because I love the way sugar and salt play together, and, though most fudge recipes don’t call for it, I added a spot of vanilla extract for a little bit of complexity. And I wouldn’t change a thing!
Because vegan chocolate is rather “dear,” I opted for 9 ounces (the size bag that I can purchase here) instead of a pound of chocolate chips/chunks as the original recipe called for. But, certainly, if you don’t mind spending about 10 bucks on the chocolate alone, use a pound or 18 ounces (2-9 ounce bags of chips) and the full can of Cream of Coconut, doubling the other ingredients as well.
Recipes calling for a pound of chocolate are typically made in an 8-inch square pan for a nice thick slab. But, even though I only made about half of a typical recipe, I still used an 8-inch square pan and felt that, especially with a generous coating of crushed peppermint, the slab was plenty thick. This candy is very rich! But if depth is important to you for appearance, just use a 4 x 8″ or 5 x 9″ loaf pan.
Regardless, I think the results are fabulous and hope you agree!
9 ounces vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips/chunks
1/4 cup vegan butter
7 ounces Cream of Coconut (not coconut cream, milk, etc.; Coco Lopez is a common brand)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8th teaspoon coarse sea salt
Optional: 3 to 5 ounces soft peppermint sticks, crushed
Oil an 8-inch square pan with non-stick spray or vegan butter and set aside. In the microwave or in a double boiler, melt together vegan chocolate chips/chunks and vegan butter. Remove the bowl or pan from the heat and whisk in Cream of Coconut, followed by cocoa powder, vanilla extract and coarse sea salt. Pour fudge mixture into the prepared pan, lightly smoothing the top. Let cool to room temperature and then either cover and refrigerate until cold and very firm, several hours or over night or, first, sprinkle the top with optional crushed peppermint, pressing lightly with your palm to adhere it to the surface, and then chill. Slice into squares and serve immediately, refrigerating any leftovers.
Since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow(!), I wanted to direct you to three oldies-but-goodies that I created in years past to celebrate the national day of love. Just click on the title to be taken right to the post with that recipe. Happy Valentine’s Day from the Blooming Platter!