For those of you who thought I had forsaken chocoholics, cookie swappers take heart. Coconut was the start, but chocolate brings it home. If you live for the best dark morsels gracing your holiday cookie platters, then this week is all yours.
Chocolate peanut butter truffles
A quiet hour in your kitchen, a little patience, and a craving for a peanut buttery chocolatey treat are all you need. This recipe makes about 60 small candies, and they are very elegant at that size, but you can make 30 to 40 larger ones if you prefer. You might not use up all the chocolate coating or chopped nuts if you do that, of course, and you'll be forced to make a puddle of bark for baker's treat. Oh, dear.
3 cups icing sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1/4 cup unsalted butter (no other)
1/2 cup good quality smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 cups chopped best quality dark chocolate
2 tsp. shortening (Do not substitute butter or oil.)
3 cups finely chopped peanuts
Sift together icing sugar and cocoa and set aside. Melt butter and peanut butter together in a heavy pot over low heat. Add milk and bring just to the boiling point. Stir in vanilla. Add icing sugar and cocoa mixture all at once, stirring vigorously until completely incorporated. At this point you will think something has gone horribly wrong, because the mixture will seem crumbly and dry instead of smooth. Don't worry. As soon as you can handle it comfortably, knead the mixture with your hands until it forms a cohesive mass. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until cold. When ready to form truffles, microwave chocolate and shortening together in a shallow bowl 30 seconds at a time on medium power, stirring after each cycle, just until melted and smooth. It takes a minute in my microwave but they're all different - just be careful not to overheat the chocolate. Allow to cool a minute or two. Place peanuts in a second shallow bowl. Pinch off small bits of the filling and roll into even balls - the heat from your palms will fix what seems to be a texture problem. Dip in the chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, then in the peanuts. Place in small paper candy cups or on a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie tray. Refrigerate until firm, about half an hour or so, then store in a tightly covered container. Don't let them get too warm but you don't have to refrigerate - perfect for the cookie exchange.
Triple layer chocolate fudge cashew bars
These are over-the-top fudgy goodness, but what else do you want with a cup of tea and good company? The base resembles chocolate shortbread, the centre is creamy and smooth and the top is a crumbly-chewy mass of chocolate and nuts.
1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup unsalted slightly softened butter (salted butter or margarine will work.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet miniature chocolate chips (divided)
1 cup coarsely chopped cashews
Sift together flour, white sugar, brown sugar and cocoa. Cut in butter to form a crumbly mixture - a food processor makes this easy work. Whisk together egg and vanilla and stir into crumbs. Mix well. Set aside 1-1/2 cups of this mixture and press the rest firmly into a greased 9 by 11-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes. Microwave condensed milk with 1 cup of the chocolate chips about 1 minute or until smooth - check often so as not to overheat. Spread evenly over base. Combine reserved crumb mixture with remaining 1 cup chocolate chips and cashews and sprinkle evenly over the top. Press lightly with your fingers. Bake 25 minutes longer-the centre should look not quite set. Cool completely in pan before cutting into bars.
Black bottom cupcakes
Seasoned bakers probably already have a recipe for this old favourite, but I keep getting asked so here it is. These are really difficult to screw up and they taste amazing. They're also pretty on a platter with a few of those truffles and bars.
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. vinegar
4 tsp. vanilla
For the filling, beat together cream cheese, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Stir in egg and vanilla until thoroughly combined, then add chocolate chips. Set aside. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla and stir, all at once, into dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly and divide among 24 medium-sized, paper-lined or well-greased muffin cups. I actually line them with paper and give them a quick spritz of non-stick spray, just to make them come out perfectly. Spoon a dollop of the cream cheese-chocolate chip mixture carefully onto the top of each cupcake. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until the centres look dry and are starting to take on just a hint of golden colour. A tester poked into the chocolate part only will come out with a moist crumb attached, but no raw batter. You don't want to overcook these so, in the pursuit of perfection, I recommend you take one out and split it down the middle. If the centre is still gooey, give them another 5 minutes. You will be forced to eat the tester, of course, but this is the cook's burden to bear. If you prefer smaller cupcakes, use 60 miniature muffin cups and reduce baking time to 10 minutes.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, N.L., A1E 4N1.