Ghosts of Holiday Baking Horrors Past

Dark Chocolate Almond Espresso Truffles:
filling with espresso, crushed toasted almond coating,
dark chocolate drizzle. This is my new favorite.

Chrissi’s Annual Holiday Baking-Palooza was not on the same grand scale as usual, mostly because I don’t have my cookbooks or the same ingredients. Also, I had to consider the highly transitory nature of our population: Most of us are leaving on Wednesday or Thursday for our respective holiday destinations. They don’t want chocolate and other timely items sitting in their fridges for 2 1/2 weeks. Then it goes from holiday treats to science experiments very quickly.

But, this is always the time of year when I remember, with a certain grimace at the scar on my palm, when holiday baking did not go so smoothly. It’s funny now, but back then, I probably should have gone to hospital.

In the past, I have burned and cut myself in the effort to figure out the perfection of certain holiday recipes. My first year of teaching was the most painful: I’ll never forget being on the phone with my mom while opening a bag of chocolate chips with a large knife.

You probably already know where I’m going with this.

Trufflicious 2012: First Pan

I pushed the knife through the bag to cut it, and yeah, my hand was on the other side of it, and the bag put up little resistance to the steak knife. Needless to say, I had stuck the knife about a 1/3 inch into my palm. I told my mom, “I’m bleeding everywhere, I’ll call you back later,” which is, of course, what every mother wants to hear on the phone with their child.

But I was bleeding everywhere, including into the cookie dough. Yes, I did throw it out. My food regulations are high. But, guess what? Per Murphy’s Law, I had no Band-Aids to cover my seeping wound. So, I wrapped a paper towel around it, stuck it out my car window (it was my left hand), and drove over to Walgreen’s, where I calmly explained to the puzzled clerk that I needed gauze, medical tape, and painkillers. I also had to reassure her that I wasn’t performing illegal organ harvesting (who does that in the suburbs and just walks into the Walgreen’s?!?), showed her my bleeding hand, and I was able to complete my purchase. I sat in my car, wrapped up my hand, and called my mom back. I wasn’t dead. Just bleeding. Lesson learned: Don’t talk on your mobile phone, kids, while trying to shove a sharp, serrated knife through a defenseless bag of chocolate chips with your hand right behind it.

Trufflicious 2012: Second Pan

Yeah, I didn’t notice the streak of blood on my silver car door for about a week. One day, someone who parked next to me asked if I’d hit a car with red paint, after I’d just gotten out and closed the door. I was in a bad mood and said, straight up, “No, it’s blood. So?” I really didn’t think about that response until after the guy walked quickly away. It was true, but if you didn’t know the story, you might think I got twenty points for mowing down Rudolph. Lesson learned: When you bleed on your car, tell people it’s red paint. Unless the person asking is a creeper and you want them to think you’re crazier than them so they leave you alone.

Also, in this first batch of baking madness, I melted a plastic bowl in the microwave, which was full of a hot, bubbling mixture that, when exposed to air, turned into a hard crack toffee on every possible surface it touched, and oh, did it touch everything. Microwave, counter, cabinet, and floor. The only way to remove the toffee from these surfaces was to use a hair-dryer on high until it was softened enough to chip off with a butter knife. Now that set me back about an hour. And a lot of patience. Lesson learned: Don’t use a plastic bowl to heat a bubbling, blazing-hot sugar liquid in the microwave. You just want to make holiday treats for friends and co-workers – you’re not turning your place into Wonka-land.

My other moment that year (it was not a good year for novice baking) was the caramel recipe I was trying to replicate. I followed the instructions, put the caramel in an aluminum pan, and let it sit in the fridge for the specified amount of time. After checking on it, it was still gooey and soft; it should be firm and able to be cut into candies. It was very late, so in my genius brain, I thought, “oh, just put it in the freezer overnight!” I listened to my genius idea; I shoved the pan of caramel into the freezer. I just didn’t notice the slight downward tilt of the pan.

The next morning, I crawled into the kitchen and tried to check on my caramel. I pulled at the freezer door.

Flipped Reese’s Peanut Butter Truffles:
filling, peanut butter coating,
milk chocolate drizzle

Nothing.

Pulled harder.

No dice. The door’s not budging.

Finally, I stuck a butter knife in the opening between the seal and the door, and I jimmied it open with a tremendous effort. Any effort at six AM is tremendous, but this was really tremendous.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear (why the heck isn’t the door opening!?!), but strings, both skinny and fat, loads of strings of…caramel. Strings of ooey caramel decorating the freezer from the pan to the door. They became more beautiful the further I pulled open the door. Almost like abstract art – on the inside of my freezer…

See, friends, when I put the pan on a tilt, the hardening and freezing caramel expanded and shifted all of its weight downwards, because, you know, gravity works that way, if you’re into technicalities. I apparently wasn’t. So, the caramel pushed against the thin aluminum pan’s side, shoved it over, and spilled onto all of my frozen food containers, everything on the door, and into the vent. Four years later, when they got rid of my old fridge, I still hadn’t chipped out the frozen caramel from the vent. So, lesson learned: Use a hard pan when freezing caramel, and remember that gravity pulls things down and makes life difficult when you’re not being cognizant of that fact.

Coconut Macaroon Truffles:
filling, crushed coconut, milk chocolate dip

Last year, I melted roughly thirteen boxes of Baker’s chocolate, besides three bags of chocolate chips, in order to complete my holiday baking. I had a new stand mixer (not the Kitchen Aid I secretly dream of), and I thought it would help me. It should have helped me, anyway, if I had put the attachments in correctly. Thus, as I went to turn it on, they whipped hopelessly at the chocolate and cream cheese mixture, and one of the attachments shot out and splattered against the wall. This spun chocolate all over my kitchen, including the ceiling. And, let me tell you, it’s very difficult to lick chocolate off the ceiling. Not that I know, but if you were going to do it, it would be difficult. Lesson learned: Lock in all attachments securely, and don’t try to lick chocolate off the ceiling if you have issues with vertigo.

This year, I stuck to no-bake treats for the very reasons in the beginning. I had to make my truffles at all costs, and yes, it did cost. Expat groceries like cream cheese and Baker’s chocolate – especially the milk chocolate, which I raided one small store for two months ago, bought out the stock, and haven’t seen it since – are a tad on the expensive side. However, it’s a joy to play with chocolate all day. I made four types of truffles, and while they made a grand mess in my kitchen, I was very happy with the way they turned out.

Peppermint Mocha Truffles:
filling, peppermint milk chocolate coating, crushed
peppermint candy cane topping

The only problem was the chocolate that hardened on my countertops – and floor. I couldn’t get it to come up with spray cleaner, and soaking it off didn’t work. I didn’t want to scrape the black counters either, by trying to peel it up with a knife. And, I didn’t want another knife incident, even if I have Band-Aids, packing tape, and Ibuprofen.

So, I heated water in a tea kettle and dumped boiling water on the hard, splattered chocolate. Melted it right off. Heck of a sloppy mess to soak up, but it did the trick. Score for me.

I’ve left you with the pictures of the truffles. Mostly because I want you to be jealous of Trufflicious 2012. Very jealous. 

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