I managed to maintain my record of ‘things not quite turning out how they were supposed to’ when it comes to confectionary. I love making sweets and chocolate treats. It’s the ultimate in science and cooking and appeals very much to my practical and logical sensibilities. There’s always something that doesn’t go quite right but this gives me the opportunity to do some research which also appeals to my bookish tendencies.
I give the gift of food at Christmas. It is THE best gift of all. It’s fun to try new things and even if my efforts don’t quite make the grade for gifting I can chalk it down to experience, eat it and then try again. I’ve previously written my top tips for successful edible gift giving (The gift of food: 6 top tips for successful edible gift giving) and managed for the most part to heed my own advice. I was hoping to make more but time was not on my side. I realised if I wanted to sleep at all in the run up to Christmas I needed to stick to just the two treats. The problem being I selected treats that need some time in the fridge or to cool down before being finished which means spreading it out over a couple of days. I had to balance making sure they get there in prime condition with making sure I make the post to ensure they get there at all.
The biscuit recipe is from the ‘Brilliant Baking’ booklet that came free with Issue 18 of Jamie Magazine. It’s a fine texture biscuit made with cornflour and oats and should have been decorated with white chocolate but I had some dark leftover from the peppermint creams so I used that instead. I love the sweet spicy heat you get from the pink peppercorns. The biscuits presented no problems but unfortunately I didn’t have many to test because I made such a small batch (in contrast to the time I made 150 chocolate truffles and only needed 80).
The peppermint creams were a completely different beast altogether. I’ve made them before but it was a different recipe and the method didn’t use sugar syrup so I didn’t need a thermometer. When I cook I have a tendency not to trust either myself or the method or my instinct. To compensate for that I’ll put something back in the oven for a few more minutes or wait till it gets a couple of degrees hotter or add a little more of something for luck. I’m sure I’m not alone in this strategy. A made the peppermint creams from ‘Sweet things’ by Annie Rigg. The temperatures required for confectionary are specific and there’s a reason for that. After making fudge a couple of years ago I discovered (after 6 attempts to get it right!) that the temperature difference between fudge and scotch tablet is a mere 4ºC (I think but don’t quote me on that) so you’ve really got to keep an eye on it. When making the peppermint creams I didn’t quite believe my eyes and so let the temperature creep up from 114ºC (which is what the recipe wanted) to 116ºC.
All of the peppermint creams I made were individually shaped and hand finished. This is what happens when you don’t follow instructions. After a stint in the fridge I was meant to roll out the peppermint fondant and then cut into shapes but it wasn’t for rolling. Not. At. All. Imagine the most awkward pastry you’ve ever dealt with. The kind of pastry that cracks round the edges no matter how careful you are and then sticks to the rolling pin so you end up ripping a chunk out of the middle. It was unyielding and annoying and I almost cried into my hands.
So I had to hand roll little blobs of it and shape each one individually into something that resembled a disc, which explains the quaint irregular shapes you see in the picture. I think the reason I couldn’t roll it was the slight over cooking of the sugar syrup. The only cost of the over heating was more effort on my part. I don’t think the quality or the texture were affected. They were peppermint creams and they were teeth achingly sweet. And this time I made sure there were a few left over to test for quality control. Oh! And not forgetting the purpose of the exercise; I managed to spread edible happiness and joy at Christmas time to my nearest and dearest! MERRY CHRISTMAS!