Project for the day: Items for the Cookie Exchange

I am getting ready to host my 7th annual Cookie exchange at my home. I love this event. Not only is it a ladies only party filled with great friends, food and of course cookies, but it always makes me feel the holidays are here! I think it is my second favorite party I play hostess to, right after my Friend Thanksgiving...only wish they weren't so close together, so I could spread the good times out :)

The premise of this event is that each guest brings 5 - 6 dozen cookies to the event as well as an appetizer. Then we divvy up the cookies so you end up with a variety and then spend the rest of the night enjoying the appetizers, drinking festive beverages and chatting (or watching a holiday movie if people are just too run down from the holiday hustle and bustle to handle keeping up their end of a conversation :) )

This year, I made two delicious treats (which ironically neither of which is a cookie...hmmm). I made dark chocolate truffles (half with milk chocolate coating with a dusting of cinnamon and the other half with white chocolate coating and a dusting of cocoa) and then chocolate covered caramel pretzels.

First the truffles: These are time consuming and messy, but simple.

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (I did part dark, part semi-sweet)

First put the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl. Heat the cream on the stove until simmering. Pour it over the chips and wait a minute or so and then stir! Once it's well blended, put in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to let it solidify a little bit. Then scoop/pour it using a melon baller or small scoop onto a wax-paper covered cookie sheet. This is mostly to make sure the quantity is approximately the same. (You should get about 48 truffles from this batch.) Once you've scooped it all, pop it into the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Then comes the extra messy part (take off all rings first), and pick up the cold, yet soft chocolate and quickly roll it in the palms of your hands to form balls. Do this step quickly as the chocolate will get more messy the longer its been out of the freezer.

After you have completed this, pop it back in the freezer for about 2 hours or so. You want something that is nearly frozen through for the next step. (However you could just roll these in cocoa, or nuts, or whatever and call it done if you don't like chocolate coating).

First, get your chocolate coating (I use white and milk chocolate flavored almond bark for mine as they harden up nicely and are easy to use). Heat a few ounces until smooth, then get out the tray of frozen truffle centers. You want them as cold as possible as you go as the coated candies will get less and less impressive as they start to warm.

Quickly dip the chocolate center in the almond bark and then put it back on the tray. I use a spoon to drop in and quickly coat/remove. I also put a glop of almond bark on the tray, put the chocolate center on top and then coated that way. Either works (I'm sure someone out there has a way to make these look fabulous, but here they look good (but not store-bought :) ). While the coating is still wet, dust with cocoa, sprinkles, salt, sugar, or cinnamon. I did milk chocolate with cinnamon and white chocolate with cocoa so I would have a nice contrast on the tray for my items. They taste much better than they look and the centers are gooey and rich. (if you like Lindt's truffles, it's a similar texture to that, though not nearly as perfect looking).

The Second item: Chocolate covered caramel pretzels.

These are my super easy, yet addicting take on turtles.

You need milk chocolate almond bark, small pretzel twists, and homemade caramel (recipe below).

First start by spreading a thin layer of melted almond bark (slightly larger than your pretzel) on a wax-paper covered cookie sheet. While still wet, place a pretzel on top (this will prevent dipping and makes this much cleaner). I did two sheets full of these, which ended up being 80 pretzels. While that chocolate bottom hardens up, make the caramel.

CAUTION: This is really, really hot! (I ended up with a third degree burn on my finger because of this, so you should really be careful that you don't accidently get any on you and also feel truly privileged that I am still sitting here typing this with a quite painful finger).

Ingredients in a microwave safe glass bowl (preferably a batter bowl with a handle):
1/8 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup

Mix all the ingredients and pop in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir. Put in for 30 seconds more. Stir. put in for three additional minutes, stirring each minute. By the end of this time the caramel will be bubbly and smooth (and caramel colored). Do not cook longer (which is how I burnt my first batch, and burned myself while disposing of it). Stir it a bit and then put this in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Don't go much longer or you will end up with a solid block of caramel, and you kind of want to be able to pour this into the pretzels.

This batch will be enough caramel to fill 80 pretzels. So, by the time your caramel is ready, so are the 80 bases you have already made with the chocolate. Carefully, and quickly spoon a little bit of caramel into the holes of the pretzel. Once you have filled all 80, you can let this sit for a few minutes to fully cool, or move right on to the next step.

I demonstrated the next step partway through the caramel step (as I had just a tiny bit of chocolate left after I finished the bottoms.

You melt some more almond bark and spoon it over the whole thing, spreading to the edges so it (mostly) covers the pretzel.

Here they are done and ready to harden. (then you just peel them off the tray, and put in a large bag in the refrigerator for up to a week (for both these and the truffles) or in the freezer for longer (just pull them out a minute or two before serving...that is if you can keep from eating them all :)

There you go. My cookies are ready! Bring on the party!

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