It's been a long December. Historically one of my favorite months, this year it was a rough one somewhat lacking in Christmas magic. The holiday season is my absolute favorite with the music and the lights and trees and shiny ribbons and gift wrapping. Absolutely love everything about it, despite the crazy shopping and gifts part of it. I find it all amazing so I look forward to it all year long and capitalize on the season as soon as Thanksgiving is over. This year, however, was the first year I can remember feeling like a grown-up and like the Christmas magic was lost. Between work stress and personal drama, Christmas got away from me (cue Carrie Underwood singing Where Are You Christmas? on repeat).
|I do love Christmas trees|
Trust me, I still did the tree thing (a real tree because how else would I get the proper scent?!) and wrapped presents and decorated. I even hosted an ugly sweater party and wore a fabulously hideous creation from 1993. But for the most part, I was checked out this past month. However, there was plenty of therapeutic baking going on which brings me to the relevant part of this post. Homemade gifts. So when the going gets tough, bust out some butter. I was extremely well stocked on the butter front and ventured to create homemade goodies for my friends.
|Showcasing the fabulous sweater. It has bells too.|
The largest of these endeavors was coconut almond caramel popcorn from none other than Shutterbean. Caramel popcorn to me always comes in those giant tins sold by the Boy Scouts at random. This was so simple, I may have to do this more frequently for myself. Which means you too can create caramel popcorn at random, it's not strictly a holiday food like Christmas cookies.
Popcorn is made the old fashioned way with raw kernels in a pot rather than the microwave. I would also like to note that now I have a large supply of popcorn kernels for future consumption. While popping the kernels, shredded coconut is toasted. According to Shutterbean, the coconut will brown slightly however my coconut was either too generic or too old to look that fancy. It still tasted like coconut though so we're all set there.
|All that remains is the caramel sauce|
The popped popcorn and plain almonds are layered in a 9x13 pan with coconut on top. Next comes the caramel sauce, my favorite part of the recipe. I wish I had a before-baking soda picture because the mixture expanded in a magical fashion. So you melt all the delicious things like butter, sugar and corn syrup together and poof goes the mix with the final addition of baking soda. This is poured over the popcorn mixture to make a sticky mess of amazingness. The whole lot is baked in the oven for another half hour. Once all the work is done, spread the mixture over wax paper to cool before packaging and mailing to friends. Make sure you take a few bites just to be sure it's kosher.
|Nice and fluffy|
I was also going to venture to make caramels I read about in Bon Appetit magazine but Shutterbean beat me to it and I don't have a candy thermometer so a minor set back there. The remaining almonds were spiced and toasted under the supervision of Joy the Baker (vicariously, she unfortunately was not actually in my kitchen).
|Toasted almonds from JTB|
The last homemade gift was simple bark. This is almost a cop out, it's so easy but I was rummaging through my miscellaneous baking supplies and using things up as I went. Melt chocolate (white chocolate or milk chocolate or dark chocolate, any kind with sugar really) in a double boiler and spread thinly over wax paper. Spread the chocolate to whatever thickness you would like your bark to be. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle with dried fruit or candy. For the dark chocolate, I added dried raspberries on top but for the white chocolate, I crushed candy canes to make a peppermint bark. Once the chocolate has dried/hardened, break apart and package into cute baggies. I was worried the chocolate would later melt so I kept them in the freezer but I believe this was an unnecessary precaution.
At any rate, for the first time ever, I'm happy that December is over. I can't believe it but I actually took my Christmas decorations down already and happily so. As Meet the Robinsons says, keep moving forward. Time to move on to a new year and new adventures. Lucky 2014, here we come!