The week of Thanksgiving is the most stressful time of the year for me. I work in retail, specifically with resets for new and upcoming sales, so not only do I get to deal with stress from work there is added stress from coordinating family time. On top of just trying to coordinate things I also work overnight shifts so that the sales floor is ready for all the early morning sales. Yep that’s right I’m one of those workers trying to not have a panic attack while there’s pretty much a stampede of crazed sale driven people in front of me.
Between work parties and family gatherings and general survival, I tend to go a little heavy on baking and cooking during the hours I am not asleep or at work. This year I decided to do a ton of sweets besides helping with Thanksgiving dinner.
I started with my first holiday batch of fudge. It’s a super simple recipe and nearly impossible to mess up and equally as impossible to find someone that dislikes it.
I always start by prepping my pan. There is not a lot of time to pour the liquid fudge into the pan before it starts to harden. I use a quick spritz of cooking spray in each corner of the square pan then lay down cling wrap. Making sure to press as flat as possible and to have excess cling wrap hanging off the edges. This excess cling wrap will make removing the hardened fudge really easy.
For my recipe I combine a bag of milk chocolate chips and a can of sweetened milk in a microwaveable bowl and blast it in the microwave for 30 second intervals and stirring in between until the whole mixture is smooth. Once its smooth, slowly and carefully pour the fudge into the prepped square pan. Then spread out into the pan as evenly as you can. Then the most difficult part, waiting 24-ish hours for the fudge to harden in the fridge. You can cut the hardening time by placing the fudge in the freezer but sometimes it affects the consistency of the fudge. After the fudge has hardened all the way through, cut into smaller squares and enjoy.
This year I tried out a new creation, lemon puppy chow. I got really excited when I found this because it’s an allergy friendly recipe (gluten and nut free).
The recipe is fairly simple and similar enough to traditional puppy chow that it was easy to figure out where I went wrong. Apparently I forgot how measuring cups worked and put in too much lemon juice which made the sauce too thin and made the cereal very soggy. To compensate, I threw it in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up. The flavor was super delicious but the execution could definitely use some more practice.
Thanksgiving dinner was supposed to be a little bit more of a relaxing time for me. I was lucky enough to get 3 hours of sleepy between the end of my shift and heading over to my Grandparent’s place. Once I got there I was informed that it is now my responsibility to finish the cooking. Nothing says “welcome to the holidays” like being told to feast sized meal on 3 hours of sleep. Luckily my amazing Boyfriend is also an awesome kitchen assistant and we both got this lovely meal all put together and on the table.
After all this baking and extreme weather changes ( it was seriously 50 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny one day and 20 degrees and light snow in the course of 6-ish hours) I ended up with a really really bad sinus infection. As much as I wanted to continue making more sweets or even attend work, I was unable to even sit up in bed without feeling dizzy.
After a week of rest and some delightful sinus medications, I was back to making treats because my holiday work party decided to occur a little earlier than normal this year. In addition to making more lemon puppy chow, I also made some strawberry flavored meringue ‘cookies’. I call them ‘cookies’ because I discovered my favorite way to eat these is to make thin-ish discs and then smash or cut them into shards.
I start by allowing 3 eggs to warm up for a minimum of 30 minutes. Its important to get the eggs to as close to room temperature as possible. After allowing the eggs to warm up they must then be cracked and have the whites and yolks separated. The whites go in the mixing bowl and the yolks are not needed so I tend to just throw them away. I also add cream of tartar, flavored extract, and a pinch of salt to the starting mixture. Normally vanilla extract is used for this recipe but any flavored extract can be substituted. I turn on the mixer and allow it to whip itself up to a very frothy consistency before I begin adding in the granulated sugar. It is important to add the sugar into the mixture a little bit at a time and allow it to be fully incorporated into the mixture before adding more sugar. Once all the sugar is added, allow the mixer to whip it up into a nice marshmallow like consistency that leaves a peak when the whisk attachment is removed and turned upside down (approximately 10 minutes of whipping).
This is the messy part, I prep the baking tray while the mixer is doing its thing to keep the overall mess as contained as possible. preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. If your oven is unable to go that low bumping the temp up to 300 will also work, you will just need less baking time because it will cook a little bit faster. I prefer to line my baking pan with a nice flat sheet of parchment paper. I have also previously made this recipe using aluminum foil and still had some delicious ‘cookies’, the only difference is a short baking time and a much higher chance of over baking. I also prepare my piping bag so that I can make the meringue look all pretty as a disc.
Once the meringue is able to hold a stiff peak I start filling up a piping bag with whatever start tip I’m feeling in the mood for (typically #32) and start piping my cookies. Since these cookies don’t really grow in size like normal cookies they can be placed much much closer together on the baking sheet without issue. Once all the meringue is piped out (or I run out of space), I put the tray into the oven and wait.
This is where things get a little tricky, most recipes state 40- 45 minutes for a baking time. I wait until they are no longer sticky and hold their shape after a gentle finger poke. They should also have a slight brown/caramel color on them. Depending on the oven I’ve achieved this between 30 minutes and 60 minutes. I recommend checking at the 30 minute mark and then 5 or 10 minute increments after that until the right doneness has been achieved. Then pull the meringues out of the oven and allow to cool. I’ve never really timed how long it takes for these to cool completely, I’m normally in the middle of whatever I happen to be binge watching on nextflix. I’d estimate 30 minutes is more than an adequate amount of cooling time.
Once the discs have cooled and hardened its time for my favorite part. If I’m having a super stressful day I put some of the discs in a zip top baggie and smash to bits but, tonight was a very chill night so I got a sharp knife out and cut them all into halves allowing the discs to break anyway they wanted to from the pressure. I prefer to do this method while still on the baking tray since I can then carefully pick up the parchment sheet and slide the shards into a zip top baggie.
I now have my portable treat bag ready to go to work with me, If it makes it that far. I had made a tester batch earlier. 1 co-worker got 1 shard before my workday turned crazy and I ended up stress eating the whole baggie. oops!