Almond buttercrunch toffee– a great last-minute gift!

I am at the end of the second year of a 3-year postdoc, and one of my colleagues recently lamented that I was going to leave soon, and she suddenly smiled, finding the bright side of my remaining year: “we still have TWO seasons of your Christmas cookies!”

As I have spent more time in my postdoc, I’ve made more friends and I now have a core group of colleagues with whom I socialize– which is fantastic– but that means an additional 4-5 people for whom I need to make holiday treats. This year, I decided to make candy. I have made caramels in the past, although they are temperamental and time-consuming to wrap. I’ve also made chocolate truffles, which are also messy and time consuming. I decided to branch out and make fudge, and this delicious toffee.

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I went straight to our baking guru, David Lebovitz, and decided not to toy with his recipe, as experiments with candy can often be disastrous. It is simple, and the only special equipment you need is a candy thermometer. Otherwise, it’s a super easy and quick recipe, and the results are delicious.

As a bonus, when you chop the toffee into pieces, you get little shards of toffee, nuts, and chocolate. Don’t let them go to waste! They would be awesome as an ice cream topping or sprinkled on top of your morning yogurt.

Next year, I may substitute the almonds for pistachios. Or I’ll cut back on the almonds and add chopped dried cherries to the top. The possibilities are endless!

Peppermint & cookie ice cream

I don’t miss a lot about college. But one thing that I was introduced to in college (do you hear me, fellow Wellesley alums?) was peppermint stick pie, a peppermint ice cream pie that was served at “Holiday Dinner”– who knows what it’s called now… probably Holiday Dinner is now not inclusive enough, so it’s just called Winter Festival or End of Semester Dinner, or something like that.

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While I am not a big eater of candy canes, the use of peppermint around Christmas is appealing (okay, I know I am a hypocrite, as many of you who are friends of mine on Facebook know of my vendetta against all things Pumpkin Spice), so I have to say that I appreciate a good peppermint ice cream at the holidays. We also had leftover Thin Mints in the freezer that we had purchased from a sweet little Girl Scout in the summer. I’ve been waiting to find a great use for these cookies, and this was definitely a great mix-in for the peppermint ice cream.

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Korean sweets!

The two PhDs were recently on tour in South Korea (okay, one of us went to a conference and the other one offered to carry luggage) and we took the opportunity to eat our way through Seoul and then Busan.

At this time of year, it’s pretty warm in South Korea. One of the things that everyone indulges in the heat is patbingsu, which is a shaved ice dessert. They are available nearly everywhere, in a variety of forms with different toppings. After a couple of hours of walking around a really cute neighborhood called Bukchon, full of little boutiques filled with artisanal jewelry and pottery, we stopped at a cafe recommended by our Time Out Seoul book– Cafe Margot. They recommended the raspberry shaved ice, and it wasn’t on the menu, so I asked the kind woman who worked there and she knew exactly what to bring me. I did not know what to expect.

IMG_0998This was no joke. On top of the shaved ice was a delicious combination of sweet red beans, mixed berries, a raspberry sauce, and condensed milk. Two spoons– yes. This was a mountain of shaved ice for two. It was seriously one of the most delicious, refreshing treats I could have asked for. It was so hot and we were so exhausted from wandering around that it was the perfect mid-day treat. The condensed milk added a tiny bit of creaminess to the shaved ice that was an unexpected and delicious component.

While we were shopping for souvenirs, Jess was also interested in a little bready treat filled with red bean paste. A good friend of mine from grad school, who lives in Seoul and served as our intrepid guide and generous host, told us that it was called “poop bread” because of the spiral shape it took– it looked, well, like a turd. It didn’t really, but Jess was game to try it anyway.

IMG_0995Jess looked initially dubious, but she reported that it was delicious.

IMG_0996I have to say, calling it “poop bread” kind of turned me off. But I’m glad Jess was brave enough to try.

One of my favorite Japanese desserts is mochi. I have loved fresh mochi since I was a kid– a glutinous rice cake filled with red bean paste (or more recently, ice cream) but I heard that in Korea you can get rice cakes of different flavors, so I was immediately on the hunt for these little mounds of deliciousness.

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Clockwise from top: sesame seed, green tea, cinnamon, yellow deliciousness, black sesame. Our favorites were cinnamon, sesame, and yellow deliciousness. (Sorry, we have no idea what the yellow one was, but it was sweet and yummy.)

IMG_0987As you can see, on the inside, they are gooey, sweet, and sticky, and filled with… yes, red bean. Are you sensing a trend here? Asians love red bean as a dessert. I have to admit, I’m not actually a huge fan of red bean because I am not a huge fans of the pasty, heavy texture of beans. But I will make an exception in some cases (like mochi, or a mountain of shaved ice).

All in all, this was a delicious excursion into sweets from Korea. I clearly need another vacation there so I can continue to sample their desserts!