Easy Fudge for Last Minute Treats

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Everyone needs a go-to recipe for those holiday dessert emergencies. And, yes, there are dessert emergencies – those times when you forgot you said you’d take dessert to a party, when you need a quick hostess gift or when the stresses of life call for an indulgence. This fudge fits the bill. Yes, it takes a few hours to set up, so it truly isn’t a last minute, but the hands-on requirements are short and then you can rush around doing whatever else you forgot while it sets. And it keeps for days, so you can make a batch and have it ready for when you need it.

This was the only fudge we made when I was growing up, and it is pretty much foolproof. As soon as my mother trusted my brother and me around a hot stove, she let us make it totally on our own. And it always came out right. The marshmallows ensure the fudge will work. Someday I will make real fudge, with no marshmallows, but not during the busy holiday season.

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Yes, this is one of those annoying recipes that use half a can of evaporated milk. Feel free to double the recipe so you use the whole can. I imagine you could buy the small five-ounce can and make up the rest with regular milk, but I have never tried that. I think it would probably work, but don’t quote me.

There isn’t much else to say. The fudge is sweet, very, very sweet. And it is chocolatey and well, fudgy. Use the darkest chocolate chips you can find, and good vanilla extract, as they are the only flavors beyond sweet. Then cut the whole shebang into tiny squares and wrap them up for gifting. Or eat them.

Print the recipe here.

Five-Minute Fudge
Makes 30-45 small squares
Doubles easily

If you want to make a double recipe, use a 5 to 6-quart saucepan and pour the fudge into a 9 by 13 inch pan.

¾ cup (6 oz.) evaporated milk
1⅔ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups chocolate chips, semisweet or dark
1½ cups mini marshmallows
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment if you want to turn the fudge out of the pan to cut it. Set aside.

Combine evaporated milk, sugar and salt in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5 minutes, still stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, marshmallows and vanilla extract. Stir until marshmallows melt and mixture is smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and level top. Let cool to room temperature for about 4 hours, or until firm. Cut into small squares, removing from pan first, if desired. Store in an airtight container for about a week.

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Toffee Bars

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The Christmas baking season has started for us. We were busy baking last weekend and already have gingersnaps, almond shortbreads and chocolate chip doodles in the freezer. When we were planning what to bake this year, we thought we would add a few different recipes to the mix, in addition to our old standbys.

Toffee bars are an old favorite that we haven’t made for a few years. I first made them when I was in high school and then somehow lost the recipe. Rich and I later found a similar recipe on the back of a condensed milk can. Since then we have tweaked the recipe and directions a bit.

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The bars start with saltine crackers as the base. I love how the crackers’ layers separate a bit as they soak up the butter from the bottom and the toffee from the top. Butter and sugar elevate most anything, even plain Jane saltine crackers.

The toffee bars really play up the contrast between salty and sweet. I prefer to use salted butter and ordinary saltines in these bars, to offset the sweetness of the toffee and the chocolate. If you really don’t like the salty-sweet thing, you could use unsalted crackers and unsalted butter, but the bars might taste a little flat.

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As we have made these over the years we have reduced the baking time again and again. The shorter baking time helps the toffee layer to stay soft instead of chewy and overly sticky. We like the texture contrast between the crispy cracker, the soft toffee and the harder chocolate layer.

These go together in minutes and are pretty much foolproof. They are different than the usual Christmas cookie offering and they just plain taste great. You can’t go wrong with buttery, sweet toffee and chocolate.

Print the recipe here.

Toffee Bars
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 50-60 small bars

Don’t be tempted to try these with anything but butter. You need it for both the flavor and the texture.

1¼ cups butter (2½ sticks), NO substitutions
45-50 saltine crackers
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1½ cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt ¼ cup (½ stick) butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Pour into 12 by 17 inch baking sheet, or two 9 by 13 inch pans. Tilt pan to cover evenly with butter. Arrange crackers over butter in one layer, breaking crackers if necessary to fit.

In the same saucepan, melt remaining 1 cup (2 sticks) butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add condensed milk, stirring until combined.

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Pour toffee mixture slowly over crackers and spread evenly. Bake for 5-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them after 5 minutes. When the bars are done the entire top will be bubbly and the edges will just be starting to darken slightly. Don’t cook longer, or the toffee will have a burned taste and be too chewy at the edges.

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Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top of the hot toffee. Let stand 5 minutes, until chips are glossy and soft.

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Spread melted chips evenly over the bars. Let cool at room temperature for several hours until chocolate is set. Refrigerate or freeze to set chocolate faster.

Cut into small squares once the chocolate is set. Store bars in an airtight container, with parchment or waxed paper between layers. These keep at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Homemade Candy Hearts

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I can’t believe that I took the time to make candy hearts this weekend. I am the woman who avoids making cut-out cookies at all costs, runs from the room if anyone suggests decorating said cut-out cookies with icing and uses her rolling pin only for making cinnamon rolls, tortillas and pie crust. I own only a few cookie cutters and sometimes they go years before I pull them out.

I saw a post on making candy hearts on the blog Emmy Cooks. She got the idea and recipe from cakespy.com. I showed it to Calvin and he jumped on it. We planned to do them over the weekend, while Rich was out of town for work. They actually were a lot more fun to make than I thought they would be. I even made a run to Michael’s to get heart cookie cutters (actually fondant cutters, but they were cheap and were small enough for making the candies) and food color markers for writing. Minus the run to Michael’s, the whole process took about an hour, before the drying time. And it was a fun, if sticky, hour.

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I am not going to swear off buying candy hearts, but I will make these again. They are a fun group project – producing tasty hearts with a texture similar to pillow mints. They are sweet, since they are largely powdered sugar, and lightly flavored with vanilla, almond or mint (three separate flavors, not mixed). I followed Emmy’s directions to use a few drops of flavoring and coloring. The flavors are very subtle. I think next time I will use about an eighth of a teaspoon, or a little more, per quarter of the batch.

I took Emmy’s notes to heart (ha!) that the recipe made a lot of candies. I cut the recipe in half, though that meant using only half of a package of gelatin – not sure what I’ll do with the other half. Maybe I’ll try making a batch of pillow mints when the hearts are gone. Our half recipe made 157 (we counted) hearts of various sizes, which were quite enough for us. Feel free to make a double batch if you are feeling crazy industrious.

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Download or print recipe here.

Candy Hearts
Makes 150+ assorted hearts

These take way more powdered sugar than you will believe. Buy a two-pound bag and you will have more than you need. Get two bags if you are doubling the recipe. Only double it if you want a kitchen full of hearts.

¼ cup water
half of ¼ ounce package of unflavored gelatin (about 1½ teaspoons)
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
3-4 cups powdered sugar, plus more for kneading and rolling
food coloring
assorted extracts (I used mint, almond and vanilla)
food color markers

Mix water, gelatin and corn syrup together in a small bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds on full power and then stir again. Pour into a mixer bowl and add 1 cup powdered sugar. Mix well, scraping down the sides. Keep adding powdered sugar, a cup at a time, until the mixture forms a soft dough. You will just be thinking it will never work when it will all come together.

Sprinkle the counter with powdered sugar and turn dough out onto it. Knead dough a few times until it is less sticky and smooth. It will feel like smooth, satiny clay.

Divide the dough into as many parts as you want colors or flavors. I did four colors and three flavors – green and mint, pink and almond, white and blue with vanilla.

Cover the dough you aren’t working with. Add about two drops of color and about 1/8 teaspoon of flavoring extract to a ball of dough and knead and mix until the color is evenly distributed. You can do this on top of parchment, waxed paper or plastic wrap if you are afraid the color will stain your counter. Your hands might get a little stained, but it washes off pretty easily. Repeat with all the dough.

Once all the dough is colored and flavored, start rolling it out, one portion at a time. Keep the remaining dough covered to keep it from drying out. Roll the dough to between ¼ inch and 1/8 inch. Cut out with heart cutters and set on parchment or waxed paper lined baking sheets to dry. Reroll scraps and cut again.

Let hearts dry for 24 hours, uncovered. Once the hearts are totally dry, write messages on them with food color markers. Store in an airtight container for virtually forever.