Five-Handed Holiday Baking
“Stop using my bird’s beak to clean your ball peen!” I shrieked at Shel late last night, as we put the finishing touches on our holiday gift baking. Shel, our friend Anne, and I had spent two evenings together making tri-colored sprinkle-laden orange spritz cookies, bourbon-laced salt and sugar glazed pecans with a touch of Aleppo pepper, truffle-lookalike bourbon balls, and stand up and fight over it coffee-walnut toffee. Shel had filled in for my useless right hand on manly tasks like operating the cookie press, chopping ingredients that required a big, sharp knife, and whacking a four pound block of toffee into bite-sized pieces using the afore-mentioned ball peen hammer. And then he got in the doghouse for scraping lingering sticky bits from the hammer using my expensive and delicate bird’s beak knife. But only momentarily.
Anne and I chopped and mixed and stirred and sprinkled and weighed and measured and bagged and bowed in perfect harmony, her two good hands more than making up for my one fumbling one. Her reward was to be Chief Taster, because I don’t eat or even taste these treats. And believe me when I say that she applied herself to the tasting job assiduously, tasting and re-tasting until she was sure that every morsel was worthy of being tucked into a shiny gift bag and handed over to some dear friend.
We giggled like schoolgirls while weighing out the pecans and the toffee, trying to give each of the bags an even portion, counting cookies and bourbon balls and re-checking our calculations far too many times. In the end, despite our best efforts, the toffee came out ahead. One large bag full of toffee stood alone, and Anne and I scratched our heads, trying to think of which of our friends merited this stupendous treat.
Just then Shel wandered into the kitchen to nibble from the small stash of toffee that we had set aside for him. “Did we leave you enough?” Anne and I asked, seeing his ecstatic expression. “Sure,” he replied, “this is plenty.” And then, after a couple more bites, a Christmas miracle occurred. Normally Shel has a lamentable tendency to put the needs of others ahead of his own, and I’m sure he’d previously been thinking only of our friends, when he suddenly burst out with “No, it’s not enough toffee. That stuff is so good.” And so, without a moment’s hesitation, we awarded the large bag of toffee to Shel and Shel alone, his richly deserved reward for all his help and good cheer at ceding the kitchen for two rainy nights to a pair of chocolate-dusted giggling girls who, in between drinking wine and dining on lasagne and roast chicken and creamed Brussels sprouts, managed to produce a hell of a nice collection of sweet treats.
You want to make this toffee, you know you do. And you can. Click here for Orangette’s beautiful recipe, as my one-handed typing is giving out. What I do is double the recipe, which is a bit of work to make, so you might as well make a ton. A double recipe will perfectly fill a half-sheet pan. And with a double recipe, I find that the toffee needs to simmer for 55 minutes to get to 290°. Don’t even think of undercooking it, just do as I did: get yourself a glass of wine and a pair of comfy slippers and prepare to stir the pot for most of an hour. It’s a perfect job for a one-handed baker. And you can believe Shel, the results will be well worth it.