Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Twist on a Classic Christmas Dessert

I've noticed over the past few days and reversion to 80 degree weather that Florida tends to do Christmas a little differently than I'm used to. While there are still neighborhoods full of lights and decorations, many houses are "Under the Sea" themed with rows of blue-lit waves or green-lit algae. Santa Claus is frequently seen in festive holiday...Hawaiian...shirts with sunglasses and a general "I'm sure I have something more important to do, but I'm on island time" attitude. Even the snowmen aren't made of snow around here. I mean, obviously they'd melt in record time and turn into a splash pad, but even inflatable snowmen aren't safe from the beachification of Christmas around here. They're the sandcastle equivalent of a regular snowman. It's kitschy. But it's fun. And also incredibly alarming--literally. Last night we were watching The Santa Clause (because bad 80-90s Christmas movies are the best), and suddenly lights were flashing and firetruck sirens blaring on our street. I thought to myself, this is finally got so hot that Florida set itself on fire. But no, there was no cause for actual alarm now that we know the local fire department decks out their trucks with lights and garland and parades around each neighborhood with Santa on one of them to deliver gifts to children. And for the moms standing outside waiting with their children, there's hot firemen. This is a tradition I can get on board with. You can catch me standing curbside next year with the dogs, "waiting for dog treats," just so I don't look too obvious. All this twisting of tradition had me in the mood to take a classic holiday treat, peppermint bark, and put my own spin on it. Naturally, this meant adding even more chocolate. May I present to you peppermint bark fudge:
I will hold for applause.
So now comes the part where I tell you that once again my sheer brilliance (or overwhelming desire to fit into my 30th birthday party dress) has allowed me to craft a fudge that is only 70 calories per square. I give you a moment to digest this while I digest the fudge, and then I explain how this is possible. Still with me? This is how we're doing things around here from now on. I promise to deliver calorie content because I am so tired of finding the "holy grail of low fat desserts" on Pinterest only to calculate calories and realize whoever blogged it was a big fat liar, maybe even literally, because it's still a 500 calorie dessert. I want to be the exception to the "too good to be true" rule. This entire 8x8 pan of fudge comes out to 2,492 calories. I cut this into 36 decent chunks to equate to 69.22222 calories. My father always used to tell me it's all about math, and damned if he wasn't right. Don't tell him that though, or I'll never hear the end of it. I became an English teacher for a reason, alright. While I have cut calories, I have not cut down on taste. This is still fudge. It is melt-on-your-tongue chocolate and peppermint bliss. It's the flavor of the season for a reason! 
Yes, fat free sweetened condensed milk is actually a thing. Who knew?
Thanks to my manly biceps and linebacker shoulders, I was blessed with the ability to make really great fudge. Since 98% of making fudge is the continual laborious process of stirring chocolate until it melts or your arm falls off (whichever comes first), make the strongest member of your family your sous chef. You can executive chef your way to a bar stool to supervise. To make this perfectly Christmasy peppermint bark fudge, you need:
  • 1 can of fat free sweetened condensed milk, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/2-1 tsp peppermint extract (if you like a normal amount of mint, go for 1/2. If you are someone that likes to eat toothpaste or are just generally really into candy canes, go for 1.)
  • Crushed candy canes (1/4 cup) or 1/4 cup peppermint crunch (found at, where else, Target...because I live there now).
Also needed: cooking spray and foil, or you will have to employ your sous chef to scrape and scour the pan.
Before you begin, line an 8x8 pan with foil overlapping the edges and spray with cooking spray. With fudge, time is certainly of the essence, so be sure you've got all your ingredients measured out and ready to go. I started out by measuring 1/2 a cup of the condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips. I made the chocolate the bottom layer, but you could get crazy and switch it up, or do an extremely thin layer on the bottom and another extremely thin layer on the top to create a peppermint bark fudge sandwich. That would look really cool, but the beauty of fudge is that it should be quick to throw together, and that sounds time consuming. Like, I could watch Christmas Vacation at least twice in that time. So if you're into complicated desserts and kinda hate yourself, go for it. As Ellen Griswold would tell you, “I don’t know what to say, but it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
We're at the threshold of deliciousness.
When you've got half your milk measured out, place the chocolate chips into a medium pan and stir in the milk. Heat on medium while continually stirring with a rubber spatula. Be careful to scrape all the sides of the pan and keep any chocolate from resting on the bottom of the pan too long so it won't scorch. I'd still eat burnt fudge, but I have a dessert problem. Once all the chocolate is completely melted, pour in 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Stir to incorporate, then dump into your lined pan.
This is what happens when you don't work quickly enough.
I took like 10 seconds to sneeze or something and already my fudge had hardened up a little, so it require a lot of pressing, nay, slapping, with my rubber spatula to smooth out into an even layer. Thanks to those muscly arms I was telling you about, it left a lasting impression. Now, place this into the fridge for 10 minutes so that it is firm enough to pour and smooth the peppermint layer of fudge on top.
This photo was blurry because my arms hurt too much to hold the camera still. Labor of love, that fudge.
 When there's about 4 minutes left on the fridge fudge, measure out the white chocolate chips, and dump that in the cleaned and totally, 100% dry (or it will ruin your chocolate) pan along with the rest of the condensed milk. Measure out 1/4 cup of peppermint pieces and have the peppermint extract at the ready. Melt the white chocolate and milk on medium, continuing to stir constantly until no lumps remain (take a 5 second breather and remove the pan from the fridge). Then add in the peppermint pieces and peppermint extract and stir well.
Don't take time to sneeze or anything before layering.
This should be able to pour on nice and smoothly if you don't waste any time. You can use a spatula to smooth out a bit, but I just tilted the pan back and forth until the top layer was even. While the white chocolate was still wet, I sprinkled extra peppermint on top. Because nothing can be too minty! Or pretty. You can recall last week and my sprinkle addiction. Everything should have a topping!
It just looks prettier that way.
Now comes the unbearably hard part...put the fudge into the fridge or freezer to set. I placed mine in the fridge for four hours, but you could probably cut that time in half in the freezer if you're in a hurry. When you gotta eat fudge, you gotta eat fudge. No judgement here.
No sane person would blame you; just look at the stuff.
Now that the Pavlovian response of delicious dessert and drooling is out of the way, once your fudge is set, cut into squares. You can leave in the pan or lift out the foil and cut on a cutting board. I measured out even squares because OCD is one of the myriad of mental disorders I suffer from (I put the fun in dysfunctional), but it does lend itself to some perfectly crafted and portioned food, so there's that. Once cut, you're ready to serve! If you're making your fudge ahead of time, still cut and portion the way you'd like. You can place back into the pan and cover with foil, or you can place into a Tupperware with a layer of Parchment paper in between each row of fudge. In either case, put in the fridge or freeze until the day you're ready to serve. I mean, down here in Florida if I left fudge out on the counter for more than five minutes, it would turn into a small lake of chocolate. Would still eat. Too good not to. The only thing peppermint bark was ever lacking for me was more chocolate, and this totally solves the problem. It's got the right ratio of chocolate to mint layering so no flavor overwhelms the other. Basically, it's a Christmas freakin' miracle. And all thanks to Florida's weirdly beachy Christmas for showing me that sometimes the best way to celebrate is by bucking tradition and doing whatever the hell you want. Even if that includes wearing flip flops and shorts while you go caroling. Tis the season! I'll be back next year with more treats. Enjoy your Christmas, have a happy New Year, and I'll begrudgingly meet you back here for my 30th birthday cake in January. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
It's a good thing I have this fudge to help me cope.

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