My mom is a huge candy fan. Looking back, I still don’t understand why she wasn’t a whole lot bigger than she was, considering she always had it on hand. Her purse was usually a good bet for a Mars bar, or a Mounds, or a $100,000 bar on any given day. For a real splurge, she especially adored turtles, and thanks to the marketing genius of companies like Brach’s, Russell Stover, and later, Godiva, Valentine’s Day meant a box of chocolates in the house, under her jurisdiction.
At Easter time in our house, like most others in New Orleans when I was growing up, I imagine, the candy box of choice was Elmer’s Heavenly Hash. The local department stores – Maison Blanche and Krauss’ – were piled high with them during the season, in all their gleaming cellophane glory. Coming out of a sweet-deprived Lent, it really did seem like a little slice of heaven.
But back to Valentine’s Day. People like to ask me, being a pastry chef, what my favorite Valentine’s dessert is, and I have to say, no fancy-flavored, gold-dusted truffle has ever moved me like a nice nutty piece of fudge. First of all, there’s nothing more tedious than rolling ganache in to little balls. But even if someone else is making it, there’s still nothing more appealing to me than a perfect morsel of fudge, preferably studded with pecans, thanks to my Southern bias. The smooth, soft chocolate with the crunch of a fresh roasted nut is an ideally balanced texture. The richness is decadent. I’m talking about Heavenly Hash, but without the marshmallow, which can put even my seasoned sweet tooth right over the edge. So while we’re at it, as I prefer the complexity of a little salt in my sweets anyway, let’s sprinkle these lightly with a fine hand-harvested French salt. There you have it: in my professional opinion, the perfect offering for Valentine’s Day.
Salting sweets is nothing new in the professional pastry industry. Ten years ago, any high end restaurant worth its salt (forgive the pun) had a dedicated pastry chef experimenting with various methods of achieving that intriguing juxtaposition of flavors. And it’s certainly getting trendier all the time. I’m proud to say it’s been a lifetime habit of mine, personally. I used to salt my watermelon as a six-year old; nothing fancy, just table salt, but think how that would bring out the sweetness! I grew up hearing my dad, who is from Havana, tell about a favorite childhood treat: jumping into Cabañas Bay with a whole fresh peeled pineapple. As he and his buddies swam, their pineapple bobbed along, soaking up enough salt water to emphasize the sweetness; after about 30 minutes, they would haul the fruit back to shore for an instant picnic. It’s a good story, but probably not something you’d want to try in today’s waters…
This fudge, on the other hand, is definitely worth trying, and perfectly safe. With only a handful of basic ingredients, the only slightly exotic one being the imported fleur-de-sel salt, it cooks up quickly and sets without a fuss in a nice tidy pan. If you want to show some extra effort, you could cut it in squares and set them in little brown candy cups in a pretty box. But a big heap of it piled high on a plate can’t fail to make a big impression, either. So give it a try – and remember: nothing says “I love you” like thousands of sweet little calories.
Heavenly Hash Fudge
Yields: 16 squares
1 cup sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3⁄4 pound semisweet chocolate (preferably 58%–61% cacao), finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups toasted pecan pieces
1 1⁄2 cups mini marshmallows
Lightly coat an 8-inch-square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place a
10-inch-square piece of parchment paper in the baking dish, coat with nonstick cooking spray, and set the dish aside.
Bring the sugar, evaporated milk, and corn syrup to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the syrup reaches 220°F (it will have a foam of finely textured bubbles on top like the foam on a beer), about 8 minutes.
Turn off the heat and whisk in the chocolate, vanilla, and salt until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let it cool for 3 minutes (you shouldn’t feel any heat if you touch a dab to the bottom of your lip) and then stir in the pecans and marshmallows until combined.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet and spread it into a somewhat even layer using a rubber spatula (it’s okay if it’s a little bumpy and rustic). Tap the pan on your work surface a couple of times to compact, and then cover flush with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Place a deep bowl or pitcher of hot water next to your work surface. Invert the chocolate onto a cutting board and carefully remove the parchment paper. Dip a chef’s knife or pizza wheel into the hot water and cut the bar into 2-inch squares. Place the heavenly hash in paper candy cups, wrap in decorative foil, or arrange on a serving platter and refrigerate. Let the candies sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.
i was wondering if you could share the recipe for the chiken/grape salad-the one that is pictured on the croissant above?
Sandra Neuheimer-Huller in Chicken Salad: A Southern Staple on April 19, 2014 at 9:37 am
Where do I buy these magazines
in A Basketful of Traditions on April 19, 2014 at 7:22 am
I WISH I COULD COOK.
COULD I COME WORK FOR JUST ROOM AND BOARD AT YOUR NEW RESTURAUNT IN PIGEON FORGE FOR THE SUMMER?
I WENT TO COLLEGE NOT FAR FROM THERE - HIWASSEE COLLEGE.
YOU WOULDN'T HAVE TO PAY ME, I WOULD WORK FOR FREE JUST FOR THE EXPERIENCE.
19 SPENCER WAY
KINGS PARK, NY 11754
HAPPY EASTER! CHRIST IS RISEN!
TAMMY L LEVAN in A Basketful of Traditions on April 19, 2014 at 3:31 am
You have some great tips. Can't wait to read your other blogs! Please give Aunt Peggy a big hug from me and here is one for you! (((HUGS))) See you in May!
Jaci Pardun in 10 Quick Household Tips on April 18, 2014 at 10:05 pm
Paula, I am glad to know that I am not the only person who makes Easter Baskets for their adult children and mail them across the United States. My Daughter lives in Long Beach, CA and I not only sent her a basket but her husband and my granddaughter Reese. We also buy special Russel Stover Bunnies for each child too. My husband has the list in his phone... Sara .. Cookies 'n Crème.... Sidney and Stephen.. Peanut Butter Etc. It one of my favorite things to do for my kids.. no matter how old they get. And passing it along to my Grandchildren. It's even more special to me knowing we share a family tradition.
Blessings and Happy Easter!!
Sharon Cason-Card in A Basketful of Traditions on April 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm