fluffy nests for my peeps

Awww, two sparkly bird bellies nuzzled atop a buttery mallow nest; Easter candy is the cutest.

I opted out of the traditional coconut nests this year and modified the form of my simple popcorn ball recipe to make fluffier nests for my Peeps.  Shredded wheat and coconut cannot be easy on those soft chickymallow bums.  For the caramel-colored ones, I used the same recipe, except I scorched the butter till golden before melting in the mini-mallows: especially tasty with Whoppers and roasted peanuts.  The decorated nests slide easily into cellophane bags filled with edible Easter grass and make for bright and sugary Spring-colored favors or small gifts for giving.

Assembly can also be an easy interactive treat-craft activity for all ages.  Prepare the popcorn nests in advance and store them in an airtight container (or simply mold them into muffin tins and cover).  When it’s time for the fun, set out supply bowls of jelly beans, nuts, sprinkles, chocolates, Peeps, or whatever works with your company’s aesthetic and dietary needs/desires.  Each person begins with an empty nest and fills it up with whatever it takes to make a sweet, treat-filled home.  It turns out that I like sour jellybeans in my popcorn nest!

snickers surprise popcorn balls

You know surprise cupcakes; the ones where you bite down and find there’s more than just cake in there? I actually never make them myself (my sister does them so nicely with the chocolate cake, cream cheese, and chocolate chips), but I have been tasting out different popcorn ball recipes, and I thought, “these balls could stand a surprise inside.” Chocolate was my initial instict, but chocolate alone seemed much too boring. Something with extra gooeyness and more flavor dynamics… a Snickers, YES. If you eat one of these surprise balls within an hour of assembly, the chocolate is still melty. It’s like you have this great ballgame or movie snack compacted into one efficient junk food treat: mallow, popcorn, peanuts, nougat and caramel, all in the palm of your hand.

I made the less-traditional version of popcorn balls with marshmallows and butter. They are much simpler to make, softer, and there is extra “molding” time in which you can properly stow and hide the Snickers surprise.

Chop or unwrap surprise middles.
Melt 3 T unsalted butter over medium heat.
Stir in 1 C mini marshmallows until melted.
Add 4 C popped corn.
Mix until evenly coated with stickiness.

Scoop out popcorn mix into greased muffin tins or small bowl forms. Press popcorn down into the form and place candy bar bit in center. Cover with remaining popcorn mix and mold into a ball (leave no Snickers trace!). It may be necessary to coat your hands in oil or butter to keep excessive sticking away. Wrap balls in wax paper and store in airtight container until munchie time. Makes 3 baseball-sized treats or 6 mini-balls.

oscars style popcorn balls

Tonight is Oscar night, and this year I made Popcorn Balls to celebrate the Best Picture Nominees84th Annual Academy Awards Sweets: Toasted Coconut Popcorn Balls for “The Descendants,” Black and White Dark Chocolate Drizzled Popcorn Balls for “The Artist” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Marty and Woody Popcorn Balls for “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris,” Salted Cocoa Popcorn Balls for “The Help,” Baseball Popcorn Balls for “Moneyball,” Apple Chip Popcorn Balls for “The Tree of Life,” and Pretzel Barbed Wire Popcorn Balls for “Warhorse.”  I realize that a few are a stretch, but popcorn balls were a much easier feat than movie-themed cupcakes (which is what I did back when there were just five nominees in the category).  Besides, what goes better with the movies than popcorn?  Next year, sugar paper ballots!

teaberry teacakes

Last weekend while poking around antique stores and hardware stores in Noblesville, I spied Teaberry gum. I bought a pack (along with an Esquire cookbook from the fifties), and chewing it took me back in time. Every now and then when we were little, my mom would have a five-pack of Teaberry or Beeman’s gum in her purse that she would split with me and my sister.

Maybe it is the rosy color of the gum, but I have to remind myself that teaberry is actually wintergreen and not a fruit. These teacakes were inspired by that unassuming Teaberry flavor. I baked an old-fashioned white cake, cut out cylinders, sliced those in half, filled the middles with raspberry and coated them in wintergreen infused white chocolate. It may be a bit much for some, but they were cute lil’ cakes that would be nice at the end of a meal with an Americano or in the late afternoon with hot black tea.

P.S. Thanks to all who voted for my treat in the “So You Wanna Be a CakeSpy” contest. The results are in, and I don’t get to be a CakeSpy this time. It was sure fun being included in the list of finalists!

munchy mallow bits

One of my instant hot cocoa dreams has come true!  Jet Puffed now sells those little crunchy marshmallows (that there are never enough of) inside cocoa packets.  They come in a container that looks something like coffee creamer packaging, and so far I have seen them in vanilla, chocolate, and peppermint varieties.  The mallows aren’t puffy at all and seem more like space food to me.  They were super in my mug of chocolate pudding.  If you also prefer crunchiness to squeakiness in your Rocky Road, wait to add the mallow bits until just before consuming.  Otherwise, they rehydrate in the pudding.

Have you seen these yet?  I don’t have any grand plans for them, so far I just like to munch them (like tiny meringues).  Let me know if you have any ideas!

chocolate caramel pretzel sandwich stand-off

Rolos will always be an autumn candy to me. Like the shiny wrapped chocolate caramel mound, the season is covered in new golden colors and filled with sweet treasures. I first enjoyed one of these little Rolo pretzel sandwich treats courtesy of my friend Sara when I lived in Middlebury. What a simple and perfect combination of salty/sweet/chewy/crunchy. We took it to another level yesterday and had a contest to find the best variation, and besides, kitchen experiments and fine motor skills practice go better with chocolate candies in my opinion! The variables included flat pretzels, mini pretzels, Rolos, Riesens and Caramel Creams. The Caramel Creams barely melted, so they ended up being an open-faced variety. After testing, deliberation, a glass of milk and voting, first place went to the Rolo with the flat pretzel (we also thought it looked like a Koala pumpkin face)!

To make your own, just place the candy on top of a pretzel. Pop it in a 250-degree oven for 5 minutes, then lightly press another pretzel on top to complete the sandwich. They are messy if eaten right away but firm up in an hour or so. If you use Glutino pretzels and Rolos, these treats can also be gluten free.