Holiday Baking- Give it a Whirl

This year, having been drowning in my day job, I have been unable to bake as much as I would have liked.  In fact, I have not even had a chance to dig out an old Christmas mug to drink my morning coffee in.  Although, before I got too busy, I was able to create an amazing caramel apple pie. I am not a pie maker, so I had so so so much fun creating this real, traditional looking lattice pie...but with a filling of homemade caramel and spiced apples..  

So that was my accomplishment... until I got antsy and decided to make Bourbon Balls.  Having spent the last five years in Nashville, Bourbon Balls are a big thing for the holidays.  Being from San Francisco, I never thought of attempting them, until now.

  So, I walked a mile in the cold to a run-down corner liquor store in Washington DC's NE side, to buy the bourbon. We had bourbon at home, but since it was Brian's $150 15-year Pappy Van Winkle, I did not think he would be too happy with me if I used it in my baking experiments.  By the time I got to the store I could barely mouth what I wanted since the frigid air had frozen my mouth muscles.  Don't you hate when that happens? I put the bourbon in my backpack, like a desperate college kid, and then stopped by the grocery store on the way home, to pick up some fresh pecans.  I then toasted the pecans and mixed the bourbon with my best Ghirardelli chocolate.  Instead of cookies crumbs, which usually make up the inside of bourbon balls and are a key ingredient, as they soak up the bourbon, I used a homemade coffee spice pound cake.  When they were finished, I covered them in coconut.  While I wouldn't say that they were the most beautiful bourbon balls that I have ever seen, they tastes so so incredibly delicious.  The strong bourbon, the fresh chocolate, and the moist spice cake with freshly toasted pecans.  

After that, I was satisfied with taking culinary risks.  For a few days.  Then I started dreaming of sugar not really, just thinking about a pistachio brittle.  Since pistachios are one of my absolute favorite foods, and I had a 2-lb bag of the freshest, most deliciously roasted, lightly salted, pistachios burning a hole in my cupboard, I decide to share them. 

I used a recipe adapted from Food and Wine for Nut Brittle.  
2 cups sugar
1/2 water
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
12oz roasted pistachios 
(if using  unsalted nuts, add 1/4 tsp to the mix, or sprinkle on top at the end)
Mix all those together in a pot on the stove and cook until it turns a dark amber.  Cooking it until just the right moment is the hardest part. You must cook it long enough so that the caramel will become brittle when cooled, but not so long that it becomes burnt.  Remove it from the heat, add in the baking soda and the pistachios and mix well.  Then spread it thinly on a cookie sheet (sprayed with cooking spray). Let it cool, then simply break it into shards!

Not so simply.... as I was adding in the pistachios I accidentally spilled about a 1/2 cup of my sugar mixture onto the red hot burner.  A massive cloud of dark smoke erupted over my stove.  I grabbed my old dull chopping knife and quickly proceeded to scrape off the burning sugar from the hot burner with the back of the knife.  I hit the vent switch over the stove in hopes that it would funnel out enough smoke so that the incredibly loud fire alarm start screaming. Then I realized that my caramel pistachio mixture would begin to harden if I did not stir it immediately.  I dropped the knife and returned to my mixture with the stove top still smoking profusely but out of danger.

The brittle turned out absolutely amazing.  Caramelly rich, perfectly crunchy, and nothing better than biting into those delicious freshly roasted pistachios.
So let this be a little inspiration for you.  Experiment with those holiday cooking ideas, using the time as an excuse to take a few steps outside your culinary comfort zone. Sometimes things turn out okay after all. And if they don't...there is always next year.  


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