In previous years, around the holidays I've put together individual tins or trays of cookies to share with friends and family, but this year I took a slightly different approach. I still made cookies, but instead of making a big tin for each family, I made just one tray with several different cookies for each gathering we attended. For the edible gifts, I went with caramel popcorn, homemade marshmallows and these adorable hot chocolate on a stick treats. They were well received, and it was a fun change of pace from the norm.
The recipe for the fudge blocks, which originates from King Arthur Flour, is super simple. You combine heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk and lots of chocolate to make fudge, which is then cut into squares and popped onto the end of a lollipop stick. You can eat the fudge just like that if you want, or an even better idea, I think, is to add it to a cup of hot milk, swirling until the fudge melts and you're left with a creamy mug of rich hot chocolate. Another blogger took the idea one step further and added a marshmallow on top of the block of fudge, which I thought was ingenious, and thus imitated it. I made my marshmallows using this recipe from Alton Brown. If you've ever wanted to try your hand at homemade marshmallows, I recommend this recipe highly. Marshmallows really aren't difficult with the right equipment (a stand mixer and a good candy thermometer) and good directions, though they can be a bit messy.
A few tips for planning purpose:
- The fudge has to sit for at least 12 hours before cutting and the marshmallows need at least 4 hours so these can't be whipped up at the last minute.
- On that same note, while this recipe is super simple, the assembly and packaging takes time so plan accordingly.
- If you're going to add a marshmallow to your stick along with the fudge, let me save you the trouble of making the mistake I did. Do not put the fudge blocks on the sticks first. You will not be able to slide the marshmallow down the stick to sit on the fudge without making a giant sticky mess of the stick. Instead, slide the marshmallow up the stick first, estimating how much room you need to leave below for the fudge block. It's better to underestimate, as you can always slide the marshmallow up more, but if you overestimate it'll be nearly impossible to slide the marshmallow down to eliminate space between it and the fudge.
I realize the holidays are over so maybe you're not looking for edible gift ideas, but it's still really cold in lots of area (and will be for the next several months) and hot chocolate is a welcome treat on a chilly winter night. Give these a go now and then when you make them next year around the holidays you'll be an expert :) I made the batch I gave as gifts with bittersweet chocolate (and unsweetened, per the recipe) but plan to try a batch with milk chocolate this week. Also on my list? A combination of chocolate and mint chips for a minty version of this treat. One thing's for sure - there won't be any shortage of hot chocolate in our house this winter!
I want to say a giant thank you to Jane over at Makes and Takes for inspiring me to try these and for her adorable packaging ideas. She also shared instructions cards you can download and print if you want to make these treats and package them for others.
On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to share a really neat Christmas gift I received from one of Shane's cousins, Kieran, this year. He put together a "cookbook" featuring ten of the most popular recipes from my site - how cool is that? It was a complete surprise when I opened this gift. Kieran has administrator privileges on my site, including full access to my stats, which enabled him to discover the top recipes, so he was able to put this gift together without me having any idea.
The book features a copy of each recipe as it appeared on my site, along with one of the pictures that I included in the post. Shane was really excited to see that several of his personal favorite recipes (like the no bake peanut butter squares) were among the top ones on my site. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of this gift, and am so glad to have it as a keepsake.
Hot Chocolate Blocks
from King Arthur Flour (as seen on Makes and Takes)
1/2 cup heavy cream
14 oz can (1 1/4 cups) sweetened condensed milk
18 oz (3 cups) bittersweet chocolate (chopped chocolate bars or chips)
4 oz (3/4 cup) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
wooden or lollipop sticks
Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the chocolate out easily.
In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and condensed milk over medium-low heat until steaming, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and add all of the chocolate. Stir gently just to cover the chocolate evenly, then let sit for 10 minutes.
Return the pan to medium-low heat and use a whisk to stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Once melted, whisk vigorously until the mixture is thick and shiny (it won't take long). You can add flavoring at this point if you're so inclined.
Pour the chocolate into the pan and spread it as evenly as you can. Let sit for at least 12 hours so it can set.
Use the foil (or parchment) "handles" to lift the chocolate out of the pan and turn it over (so the top is facing down) onto a cutting board. Remove the foil (or parchment). Slice the chocolate into squares just slightly bigger than 1" on each side - the easiest way to do this is to do divide the block into sixths in each direction. Use a long knife to make the cuts, and heat your knife under hot water and wipe clean after every few cuts for the smoothest edges.
Insert a wooden or popsicle stick into the center of each chocolate block. Wrap in waxed paper, parchment or plastic wrap to store. To serve, swirl the chocolate in a cup of hot milk until melted - you can use more or less milk depending on how chocolaty you want your beverage. Alternatively, you could just eat the chocolate off the stick too.