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Chocolate Turtles Are a Sweet Treat

Today marks the end of chocolate week in my holiday kitchen. Homemade chocolate treats are a gift of my time, and since they are delicious and extraordinarily consumable, they don’t occupy valuable space in anyone’s home for very long.

On Monday, I created chocolate turtles consisting of five pecans pieces (the head and four legs), held together with a disc of creamy caramel (the body), and topped with dark chocolate (the shell). Creating chocolate turtles is a three-step process: building each turtle body, making caramel and adding the shell. Here’s how I made them:

Chocolate Turtles

150 pecan pieces, about 2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar

2 / 3 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate

I arranged the pecans to make the legs and head of 30 turtles on a couple of cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Making the caramel requires close attention so that it doesn’t scorch. I combined the sugar, corn syrup and half a cup of cream in a heavy bottomed three-quart pot. I brought the mixture to a boil, covered the pot and let it boil for two minutes, and then removed the lid and used a pastry brush dipped into water to wash away any sugar crystals on the sides of the pot. I continued to boil the mixture, stirring constantly until it reached the soft ball stage — 234 degrees — and then slowly added another half a cup of cream, cooked and stirred until the mixture reached the soft ball stage again. Then I added the final half cup of cream and continued to cook and stir the caramel until it reached 244 degrees — the firm ball stage. I removed the pan from the heat, stirred in the vanilla and formed the turtles by spooning a tablespoon of hot caramel onto each group of pecans.

For the chocolate shell, I melted 12 ounces of good quality dark chocolate in a double boiler with hot but not boiling water in the bottom. If the chocolate gets even a tiny drop of water in it, it will seize and become a grainy un-meltable mass. Do not despair if this happens, just add a teaspoon of vegetable oil and stir the seized chocolate until it melts and is shiny again. Spoon the melted chocolate onto the caramel turtle bodies and leave to cool until the chocolate has set.

Tuesday was the day I made chocolate-covered almonds. They are simple to make and look as if they’ve come from an upscale chocolatier. I tuck away a few small gift bags of them, decorated with a ribbon and a gift tag as last-minute gifts for unexpected visitors. Here’s how I made them:

Chocolate Covered Almonds

1 1/2 cups un-blanched whole almonds

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 pound best quality bittersweet chocolate

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

I toasted the almonds on a baking sheet for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven. I combined the sugar, water, cinnamon and toasted almonds in a medium saucepan and cooked the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar was golden and granular and the almonds were completely coated and separated.

I poured the sugar-coated nuts, in a single layer, onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and put them into the freezer for 20 minutes.

I chopped the chocolate and melted it in a double boiler over simmering water. When it had melted, I transferred the chilled almonds to a bowl, poured the melted chocolate over the nuts and stirred like mad until the almonds were completely coated. I tipped the now chocolate-covered almonds back onto the parchment lined baking sheet, used two forks to separate any clumps and then put them back into the freezer until the chocolate had set.

I added a snowy coating to the almonds by tossing the nuts in plastic bag with a quarter of a cup of sifted confectioners’ sugar.

Hot chocolate spoons and cubes were the final creation to come from my kitchen this week. Here’s how I made them:

Spicy Hot Chocolate Cubes

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 / 8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons unflavored vegetable oil; anything but olive oil will do

I used a double boiler to melt the chocolate over simmering water. While it had melted, I sifted together the cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper. When the chocolate was melted, I added the vegetable oil and used a spatula to stir in the sugar/cocoa mixture.

I put one tablespoon of chocolate into the bowls of eight Chinese porcelain spoons that I found in an Asian market. I added a tag to each spoon with the these simple directions: To make a sublime mug of spicy hot chocolate, put six ounces of very hot milk in a mug and stir with this spoon until the chocolate has melted.

I used the remaining chocolate to make chocolate cubes with cinnamon stick stirrers by spooning the chocolate into plastic ice cube trays and poking a cinnamon stick into each cube before the chocolate hardened. When I’m giving these spoons to friends who prefer food without a spicy kick, I omit the cayenne pepper. Regardless of how they are packaged, it is important to include directions or the hot chocolate cube will be mistaken for a piece of spicy fudge or a chocolate lollipop.

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at http://www.carolegbert.com.