There are lots of attractions in and around the Denver area, but you might not know that Hammond’s Candies is one of them. This candy factory specializes in old fashioned, handmade candies and has been operating out of Denver since 1920. The cool, dry climate is perfect for making all of the suckers, candy canes, caramels and marshmallows. Fortunately for visitors, Hammond’s offers free tours of their working factory Monday through Saturday all year round.
Peppermint bark is a holiday staple – or, at least, it appears in quite a few stores and a package always seems to make its way under my tree around Christmas. It’s easy to make it yourself and it makes a great holiday gift, as well as being a good treat to put out when guests stop by for snacks and hot cocoa. It is basically a layer or two of chocolate that has crushed peppermints added to the top. The combination of crunchy mint and creamy chocolate is a good one.
But as much as I enjoy crushed candy canes, big chunks of mint can be a little bit too crunchy for my tastes. This year, I topped my peppermint bark off with crushed Peppermint JoJo’s, the Trader Joe’s brand Oreo look-a-like. I’ve used these cookies before in Peppermint Cookies n’ Cream Brownies with great results. They’re crisp, have a nice creamy center and have just enough flecks of real peppermint candy in the filling. They make a great topping for this chocolate bark with all of those different textures!
My chocolate base has three layers, with dark, milk and white chocolate. Each layer must be chilled before adding the next layer, so make sure to allow some chilling time when you set out to make this. Also, use good quality chocolates (I like Dove, Ghiradelli and Guittard) because the chocolate is the most important element of this dessert and it just won’t be the same if you use the cheap stuff.
From the name alone, chocolate bark doesn’t sound particularly appetizing. Chocolate bark is actually a sheet of chocolate that is usually covered with nuts, dried fruits, candies or even additional pieces of chocolate. Its is rustic looking in the sense that it is just thrown together, not laid out with a specific pattern to how the ingredients are placed, and it is broken into shards of various sizes to serve. The name “bark” starts to seem much less unusual when you see a box full of chocolate shards that actually do bear a slight resemblance to rough pieces of tree bark – albeit tasty tree bark.Chocolate bark can be made with any kind of chocolate. Usually, it consists of more than one type layered together. Peppermint bark, where layers of white and dark chocolate are topped with shards of peppermint candies, is very popular around Christmas and the holidays. Almond bark is another commonly found bark, topped with almonds or other nuts. In some stores, you may see blocks of “almond bark” sold. These are blocks of vanilla-flavored faux white chocolate, which usually do not use any cocoa butter, but instead rely on vegetable fats to give them their texture. It is sold as a chocolate-like dip for fruits and as something you can use to make a “real” chocolate bark. Stick with real chocolates and you can easily make a batch of delicious chocolate bark yourself as a lovely, homemade holiday gift.
The folks at Betty Crocker invited me to try and come up with a spooky Halloween recipe using some of the General Mills cereals this year. At first, I wasn’t sure that I could do it. Cereals? What can you do with those besides make rice krispie treats and similar marshmallow bars? But I accepted the challenge and set about trying to come up with a more unusual way to use cereal in some kind of Halloween treat.
What I settled on was these Spooky Peanut Butter Puff Truffles. The centers of these peanut butter and chocolate truffles are made with a surprise ingredient: Reese’s Puffs cereal! The truffle balls are dipped into white chocolate and decorated with semisweet chocolate features to give them a very ghostly appearance. Spooky on the outside, sweet on the inside!
If you’ve ever had Peanut Butter Puffs cereal, or seen it in the store, you’ll know that it’s inspired by Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs candies. They also taste pretty much just like candy, so I wanted to keep that peanut butter candy flavor going. The centers are made with the peanut butter cereal, cream cheese and peanut butter. The two softer ingredients help to hold the crushed up cereal together, but have mild enough flavors that you can still taste the peanut butter candy flavor of the cereal itself. Obviously, the peanut butter boosts the flavor and the candy shell just makes it that much more of a Halloween treat.
I hand-dipped the truffles, since I felt it gave the truffles a better look than trying to give them a smooth outer coating. Use a toothpick to draw on the eyes and mouths of the ghosts. It’s actually a very easy way to decorate the ghosts, plus you don’t need to be extremely precise since you want the ghosts to look spooky.
If you want to play with some cereal yourself, or try this recipe, you can submit photos to Betty Crocker’s Spooktackular Gallery where they’ll showcase your results!
Dove Promises are one of Dove‘s signature chocolates. The two-bite squares are usually plain, solid chocolate with cute little messages printed on the inside of the wrapper. Lately, Dove has been experimenting with new combinations and adding some fillings to these little chocolates. Dove Desserts are the newest additions to their line. The chocolates are the bite-size Promises, filled with complexly flavored filings modeled after popular desserts. There is a lot of potential for new flavor combinations in the future, but the first two in the line are Milk Chocolate Bananas Foster and Dark Chocolate Tiramisu.
I tried the Bananas Foster, knowing that I already like Dove’s creamy milk chocolate, which is the thick outer shell for this candy. The filling is basically a caramel, with notes of brown sugar and a strong banana flavor. When the chocolate was warm (at room temperature) the filling was a little on the soft side. When the chocolate was chilled (an unfortunate, but necessary, action I had to take to prevent a meltdown of my chocolates on a hot day), the filling firmed up somewhat, but remained nice and soft. Real bananas foster consists of caramelized bananas in a syrup of brown sugar, butter and rum. This mini dessert didn’t quite capture the butteriness of the real thing – or the fact that the dessert is usually set on fire for a dramatic presentation – but the banana caramel was actually really nice, matched well with the milk chocolate and was a nice twist for some of my favorite flavors.