The holiday season is looming, and many of us feel pressured to give at least a small token of our love or gratitude to everyone important in our lives. For some, that can add up to quite a few people! I know as well as anyone that thinking up creative gift ideas is a difficult feat, and is made most trying as many are simultaneously preparing for company and planning feasts!
One of my holiday gift standbys has been (and will always be) this: chocolate. I used to buy it in a store, but after my love of cooking and baking set-in, I now enjoy home-making the sweets. I love thinking up creative flavors, new ways to wrap/present them, and overall take pleasure in putting my own vegan, allergy friendly, eco-friendly flare on what I gift to loved ones!
Besides, do I really want to spend the time and money looking for the “perfect” chocolate to fit the person I wish to receive it? When I make them myself, I can adjust each individual chocolate to fit my friend’s tastes. And of course, the effort put into home-made goodies is greatly admired and appreciated by most folks :).
Here a few tips and tricks for simple chocolates:
Use good chocolate! We can’t all afford fair-trade organic chocolate (myself included), but do yourself a favor and purchase chocolate that uses real cocoa butter! No partially hydrogenated palm oil allowed now, you hear? You can give your chocolate a sophistication boost my melting in a square (or five) of 100% cocoa bakers chocolate, available in the baking isle of most grocery stores.
Ahh, I’m burning! Melt you chocolate right– use a double boiler! If you don’t have all the fancy equipment, just use a metal bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. It’s that easy, and yields the best melt. Plus, you can leave it simmering for hours, and the chocolate will stay consistently perfect.
If you must use the microwave or (god forbid) the toaster oven, watch it like a hawk and stir it often. If done properly, the chocolate will melt evenly (been there, done that). But if you leave it in there too long, get ready for a bad burnt smell (been there, done that, too!).
Think up lots of yummy flavors! Here a some to get you started:
- Dark chocolate coffee– mix in roasted coffee beans, or arrange them on the top. I bet coffee extract would be equally yummy.
- Herb infused chocolate (such as lavender, rosemary, and mint)
- Peanut Butter Cups (This time I used plain pb, and mixed quinoa flakes in for added flavor)
- Other flavors of nut butter cups, such as almond, pecan, walnut, sesame, and more. Click here for a partial list of nut butters available from Artisana. Mix in goodies and extra flavors into the nut butters for a twist. To assemble a nut butter cup, fill your foil cup or mold halfway with hot chocolate, drop in a little ball of nut butter, and top off with more chocolate.
- Xtreme chocolate chunk cups (drop in 100% cocoa chocolate chunks)
- Red chili pepper chocolate– Mix in red chili pepper flakes. Add some 100% cocoa chocolate chunks for a boost.
- Nut topped chocolates– just place a nut on the chocolate and voila! Choose from walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, and more.
- Coconut butter peppermint swirl cups– mix peppermint oil or extract with coconut butter and swirl into into the hot chocolate (works best if you swirl it into each individual chocolate, as opposed to the whole batch).
Creatively package your goodies! This is a great opportunity to craftily re-use materials from around the house in the wrapping process, for instance:
- Wrap the gift/chocolate in newspaper. It looks cool while using an abundant resource. I mean, why use glittery wrapping paper when newspaper can give color and interest, all while being eco-friendly?
- Use little old boxes, tubes, jars, and other containers to package up your treats. Tie them off with a bow and you’re set!
To mold or not to mold? In many craft stores, plastic candy molds are available in abundance. I, for one, have several of these (some in Christmas-y shapes!), but I did not use them for this particular batch of chocolates. They can be very temperamental and if worse comes to worse, gouge marks are not too attractive on an otherwise gorgeous chocolate flower or tree. They generally work well, but to avoid any mishaps, greasing them a bit may help.
However, last year, I had a stroke of luck when I found these adorable golden candy cups at a thrift store. They have been awesome, to say the least. They look cute, and are designed to perfectly peel off the chocolate. However, you could easily use paper muffin liners– I’ve used them, too!
What flavor chocolate would you make?