For kids and parents alike, summer break is like Christmas in July. As parents we spend months planning vacations and scheduling camps to somehow make this summer just as good (or better!) than last years. The kids are giddy with excitement with each passing day, until finally school is out and summer break is here.
Right as summer break started this year, one child and then the other came down with pneumonia, added on top of oral surgery for the youngest sandwiched in between. Spending the first precious weeks of summer running to the doctor, taking medicine and staying inside day after precious day, and you can imagine that I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and my kids, too. I needed to salvage this summer somehow.
With little thought or planning, I decided to break out the crafts and celebrate Christmas in July. I dug out the Christmas puzzle that we hadn’t quite had enough time to put together. Then, I bought soft wool and began needle felting delicate balls for a new garland for the mantel. Now all I needed was some special treats to munch on to top off our celebration.
In our family, making candy is as much a holiday tradition as baking cookies. Though summer is typically a time for fruit pies and homemade ice cream, making homemade candy is the perfect treat for a sweltering kitchen.
Candy is simpler than you may think. No oven required and done more quickly than the first complaints of summer boredom. Candy is the perfect summer concoction.
With dreams of marshmallows, instead of chestnuts, roasting over the open fire and cold lemonade, instead of hot cocoa, in my cup; I decide to make the dream a reality and make a batch of rocky road candy. Gooey marshmallows combined with chocolate, nuts and a heavy sprinkling of smoked salt brings us right to the crackling campfire that summer nights are made of.
Most rocky road recipes include sweetened condensed milk so when I found this recipe from Alice Medrich that contains only chocolate, marshmallows and nuts, I knew I had to try it. The simpleness of this recipe allows for the ingredients to really shine. Buy chocolate tasty enough to eat and you won’t be disappointed.
Happy summer and may all your summer dreams come true.
Rocky Road Candy
You will want a candy thermometer to make this recipe (and most candies for that matter). I have a simple one that does the job but am putting an instant-read digital on my wish list. Successful candy making requires accurate temperatures and reading a foggy thermometer is stress I don’t need.
Use any chocolate that you want, but I used semi-sweet Callebrut, found sold in bulk for a good price, that I would highly recommend. Chocolate chips worked fine though and is definitely the most economical choice.
Also, buying regular sized marshmallows and snipping them into quarters, instead of mini marshmallows, is totally worth the extra effort. The quartered marshmallows are slightly bigger and are softer in texture than the minis.
Smoked salt is a finishing salt that I found in the bulk section. Maldon salt would be a great choice and it’s sold on Amazon for a few dollars.
1 cup pecan halves, chopped and roasted and cooled
1 pound chocolate, chopped (see headnote)
1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked salt
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, melt chocolate slowly in a saucepan and stir regularly to keep it from scorching. Once melted, take off heat and scrape into a medium bowl. Clip on a candy thermometer and cool to 90°F. This is important and will help the candy set correctly.
Once cooled to 90°F, dump in the pecans and marshmallows. Stir to coat marshmallows and nuts evenly. Scrape into a log shape, roughly 3×10 and sprinkle with smoked salt. Place pan in refrigerator until the candy is dry and firm to the touch. This will take about 20 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator and cut into thick strips with a serrated knife. I found that pieces 1×3 were a nice size. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Toddlers have truly stolen my heart. Being that my boys are past the age, I can now observe with an impartial eye. I teach baking classes with parents and their children and am absolutely smitten with these passionate creatures. Watching the pure joy that a child gets from whisking flour and then biting into the final baked product is so rewarding. Being around toddlers reminds me to look for the wonder in the small joys of life, be present in my environment and explore with all my senses.
Toddlers liked making and eating these oatmeal chocolate chip bites. They are slightly sweet and resemble a cookie more than a bowl of breakfast mush. We had so much fun mashing bananas and stirring in the chocolate chips. By the time the class was over, there wasn’t a crumb left on their plates. Want to try it for yourself? I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bites
When I say a recipe is toddler approved, please know that I am giving it the highest form of flattery. This recipe is adapted from the cookbook “Home Baked”. They come together in a snap and are the perfect accompaniment to any meal or snack time. I love that these are nut free, which make them an easy choice to bring to the classroom.
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 egg white
1 tablespoon honey
1 2/3 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup nuts or choc chips
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Heat oven to 350 ℉. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix oatmeal, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg white until bubbly and frothy. Add egg white to the mashed banana and honey. Mix for a couple strokes to combine. Add banana mixture to the bowl of oats and spices. Use a rubber spatula to mix. It will look dry at first but keep mixing. Once the banana mixture has been fully incorporated, pour in chocolate chips and mix again. Let rest for 5 minutes. This rest time will soften the oats and make it easier for the balls to hold their shape. Using your hands, firmly press the mixture together to form two inch balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly brown and firm to the touch. Cool and enjoy. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
“Do you want to come with me to a pie contest?” I nonchalantly asked my 10 year old. He answered with an emphatic “yes!” and our mom and son date was set. Once JP knew that he was going, he was excited to help make the coffee coconut cream pies. Coming into the kitchen, he asked if he could crack the eggs. Now it was my turn to answer “yes!” enthusiastically. I had two dozen eggs that needed separated. I had begun this messy task and my hands were cold and covered in a thin film of egg white. Though I like the ease of separating eggs by using my hand, I didn’t think it would be the best option for JP’s first time. We set out two small containers on the table and I gave him a slotted spoon. He tenderly knocked the egg on the table and slowly pulled the shell apart. Gently tilting the egg out of the shell and onto the spoon, he waited nervously while the egg white slowly disentangled itself from the yolk and slipped through the spoon and into the bowl. One after another we worked together to separate the eggs, quickly scooping up any yolk that found its way into the whites. Shards of brown and white shells and dribbles of egg covered the table but it was so much more rewarding to do this task together.
It’s not easy to find common interests with our children. Most of the time either the adult or the child has to indulge the other in order to spend time together. But for JP and I, our interests align when it comes to baked goods. He’s my kindred spirit when it comes to all things dessert related. At the pie contest, we tasted and scored each entry, we talked about flavor and texture and then decided on a score for each of the ten entries. Finally, all the scores were tallied and the winners were announced.
I was pretty sure I knew who two of the winners would be, but I didn’t think that our coffee coconut cream pie would make the list. Don’t get me wrong, I was really pleased with how our pies turned out. I loved the creamy coconut custard and the flaky chocolate coated crust. I especially loved how the coffee paired with the coconut cream. The meringue was beautifully toasted, as well. Yet, I did have some weeping meringue issues. Also, I had only told the organizers that the pie was coconut cream and had left out the coffee part, which meant that all the tasters expected a standard pie. Would everyone hate the addition of coffee when it wasn’t expected? The gently spiced chai masala apple pie was baked to perfection and was awarded third place. The bourbon butterscotch cream pie topped with whipped cream and dotted with pretty chocolate sprinkles came in first. The surprise came when our coffee coconut cream pie was called out for second place. We were so excited! I was so happy to be able to share the experience with my son.
Coffee Coconut Cream Pie
Makes 1 – 9 inch pie
This recipe is based on Stella Park’s Coconut Cream Pie. I added chocolate to coat the crust after baking, infused the coconut milk with coffee beans and threw flake salt on the top of the meringue. I found it easiest to break the steps up into two days and then serve the third day. I added lots of pictures and instructions for each part of the pie.
All Butter Crust
I use Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and make it in the food processor using the dough blade. I find it easiest to have the flour, sugar and salt combined before getting the butter out of the fridge. Bench scrapers make cutting butter a cinch!
This recipe makes a double crust, which I like. Wrap both in plastic wrap and chill the one for the pie in the refrigerator. Toss the other dough ball in a freezer bag in the freezer. This will last for 2 months in the freezer. If the dough is frozen, defrost in the fridge over night before continuing with the recipe.
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, 1/2 inch dice and cold
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 cup chocolate chips
Combine flour, salt and sugar in small bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine. Attach the dough blade to the food processor and scoop the flour mixture into the bowl of the food processor. Add cold butter and pulse 7 times to cut the butter into the flour. The butter will be distributed throughout the flour and you will be able to see pieces of butter. Add the cold water and pulse for another 7 times or until the mixture starts to come together. Turn dough onto a slightly floured counter and knead quickly to incorporate any dry bits. The dough should feel firm and cold. Cut the dough in half and pat each piece into a ball. I like to weigh mine so that I know that my pieces are even.
Chill for 2 hours or over night. While the crust is chilling, separate your eggs for the coconut cream and meringue (ingredients listed below in filling and meringue recipes).
After the dough has chilled, roll out onto a floured counter. Roll the dough a couple inches larger than the pie plate. Dust the counter and rolling pin with flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Transfer to pie plate and gently press the dough to conform to the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use scissors to trim to 1/2 inch all around. Then fold under so that it is flush with the pie pan. Press the dough firmly with a spoon to decorate if desired. Chill until the dough is firm again – about 30 minutes. Move rack to lower third and heat oven to 350°F. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Coat crust in foil, pressing in all around and covering sides. Pour in two cups of sugar (great tip from Stella!) and bake for an hour in the oven.
While the pie crust bakes, infuse the coconut milk with coffee beans (ingredients listed below in filling recipe). Pour coconut milk into a saucepan and add whole coffee beans. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. Once simmering, remove from heat and cover. Test after fifteen minutes. If the milk has enough coffee flavor to taste subtly of coffee, then use a slotted spoon to remove beans. If not, then cover and continue to steep and test again after another fifteen minutes. Once steeping is complete and the beans have been removed, then set aside to cool.
Once the crust is golden brown, remove from the oven and carefully lift out the foil. Pour chocolate chips onto the crust and let melt for a minute and spread. Cool.
Coconut Cream Filling
I made the mistake of originally buying the wrong coconut milk for this recipe. Look for cans with coconut in the ingredients and NOT coconut extract! Make sure to cool the coconut milk after steeping.
1/2 cup (4 ounces) brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (5 ounces or about 8 eggs) egg yolks – save whites for meringue
3 1/2 cups (28 ounces) unsweetened full fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon whole coffee beans
1 1/3 cups (4 ounces) sweetened flaked coconut (plus more for the top of the pie)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium sauce pan, whisk brown sugar, granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon. Add coffee infused coconut milk and egg yolks. Continue to gently whisk as the mixture heats on medium-low. Once wisps of steam appear on the sides of the pan and the mixture is piping hot, then increase heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes. Once the custard is thick and begins to bubble, set a 2 minute timer and continue to whisk. Remove from heat and stir in sweetened coconut and vanilla. Pour in baked and cooled crust and cool until the custard firms and forms a crust, about 30 minutes.
Making meringue is pure joy. Watching the egg whites turn pillow-y and glossy, swirling it on the pie and then watching it puff and toast in the oven is definitely my favorite part of making this pie. Magical. Don’t be shy about cranking up the speed on the mixer. Also, when toasting the meringue in the oven, watch the oven temperature. My oven temp went up to 400°F and caused some weeping and separation on the finished pie.
1 cup (8 ounces – about 8 eggs) egg whites
1 3/4 cups (12 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Shredded coconut (optional)
Flake salt, such as maldon
Fill small sauce pan with 1 1/2 inches water and bring to a simmer. In the bowl of the stand mixer, whisk egg whites, sugar, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla extract. With heat on medium-low, place on top of the pan of simmering water and clip a thermometer to the side. Using a flexible spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as the mixture warms, thins and foams. Heat to 175°F, about 10 minutes.
Remove bowl from heat and using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, whisk on high. Heat oven to 375°F. Place a wire cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Watch in awe as the mixture thickens, turns glossy and quadruples in volume. It will take about 5 minutes. Look for the meringue to be thick all the way to the outer edges of the bowl before stopping the mixer. It will be soft like perfectly whipped cream.
Dollop meringue on top of the custard and make swirls to your hearts content. Be sure to have the meringue touch the crust. Toast for 10 minutes. Open oven door and quickly coat the top of the pie in coconut and sprinkle with flake salt if desired. The meringue will do best with the least amount of temperature change so it’s best to not take it all the way out of the oven. Bake for another 10 minutes. The meringue will have puffed and be light tan all around with some darker toasted peaks. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour. Then wrap in plastic wrap and chill another 4 hours or over night. The goal is to have the pie at 60°F. Serve chilled. Run the knife under water after cutting each wedge. The pie will keep for up to a week if covered in plastic wrap. Enjoy!