Sweets Clinic Office Hours

Tuesday's chat ended with a bunch of lingering questions over some pressing issues in the holiday sweets department. Below, a few are included to whet your whistles. And as always, chime in when you deem necessary or if you've got a sweet question that needs attention.


Arlington, Va.: Do you have a good truffles recipe? A friend of mine told me that she loves the things I bake and wanted know if I knew how to make truffles. She has been through a bad year and I would like to surprise her with something special but have never made truffles.

If your pal has requested truffles, it might be really fun to make them together. Truffle-making is a team activity and in fact, I highly recommend it, particularly for first-timers. A few years back, I taught a friend who was gearing up for a massive batch of 300 for her sister's wedding!

Anyway, here's the truffles recipe I've been using for the past five years or so with consistently good results. The link will take you to a how-to video we did a few years back. Have a chocolate ball!

Arlington, Va.
: What is the difference between cream and whipping cream, if any? I made chocolate truffles last weekend, and the recipe said to use cream. I found whipping cream and used that. The mixture didn't harden after an hour, so I put it in the fridge and left it in overnight. Now it's firm but now I have to let it thaw out a bit so I can roll them. I thought that the mixture wasn't hardening because of the cream I used.

I know, it's confusing to translate all that cream lingo. I'm assuming you want to know the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream.

There are two kinds of whippable cream: heavy whipping and light whipping. The difference is in the milk fat. Heavy whipping contains the most, between 36 and 40 percent. Light whipping is slightly lower, between 30 and 36 percent.

Here's where things get confusing: Heavy whipping cream is also sold as "heavy cream." But light whipping cream? Its occasional alias is "whipping cream."

This of course is different from "light cream," which is also sold as "table cream" or "coffee cream," and CANNOT BE WHIPPED.

Got all that?

My suggestion, particularly when you're making truffles, is to buy anything with the word "heavy" on it. As this relates to your mixture taking time to harden, it's hard to say. The ganache -- that mixture of cream and chocolate -- does need at least an hour in the fridge to set up. When the mixture is good and hard, I take my bowl out of the fridge and scoop the ganache into balls onto baking sheets. I return the ganache balls to the fridge for more set-up time, before rolling and decorating. This is key, methinks.

And a reader in Silver Spring, Md., wanted to know.:
I've thought of making truffles for Christmas presents, but I need to ship them. What's the best way to package them?

Truffles need refrigeration at all times. So if you're planning to ship, you'll need some dry ice or ice packs and ship overnight to keep your hand-rolled treasures nice and cool. Otherwise, your truffle recipients will have a nasty mess of chocolate mud. If you place in gift boxes, I'd probably line with wax or parchment paper. Plastic, although not as pretty, is a great way to store truffles.

Fairfax, Va.: Does everyone really like receiving plates of holiday cookies? I've totally abandoned doing this, because I generally end up with plates and plates of other people's favorite cookies, while I really only like my grandmother's cookies (and those only in very small doses). Cookies start feeling like a nuisance to me. But I'm happy to make them, and (from the giver's perspective) they're a nice low-cost gift... do people really want them?

Last week, I wrote about how baking cookies is one of the few things that pulls me out of holiday-grouch mode. Maybe instead of big ol' plates, the packaging (and serving) could be smaller, more compact. I had fun last week putting a handful of cookies in a used berry pint container from the farmers' market. It looked festive yet contained no more than eight or nine cookies.

Thoughts from others who gift homemade cookies? Weigh in on this crumbly matter in the comments area below.

Edgewater, Md.: I see that you are going to resurrect your blog from last year for Christmas cookies. I lost my recipe for the sugar cookies with frosting (I think that's correct). They were the best.

See if this link to Seasoned Greetings, last year's holiday blog, gets you on the track to sugar cookie heaven. Check the comments area of the post, where a reader submitted a sugar cookie recipe with frosting. I've also dusted off the link to A Baker's Dozen, a collection of reader-submitted cookie recipes from a few years ago.

Kitchen Tools
Hand Mixer?: My son and I burned out my hand mixer Sunday mixing up some ginger snaps (I knew there was a reason I used a wooden spoon to add in the flour even though the recipe says mixer...) I think I'd had it 15 years. I have no counter space and can't wait til Christmas (more cookies). How do I choose a mixer?Low end at Target or is it worth it for a working Mom of three who bakes once in a while but mostly mixes to get any added features?

I'm betting that mixer you had for a good long 15 years was your basic vanilla variety. Sometimes the simple straight-ahead things in life are the best. I, too, have an old goat of a mixer and have been quite happy with its five speeds and eject button. What more do you need? Use the money you save for something delicious.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 7, 2006; 11:22 AM ET Candy , Cookies , Winter Holidays
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Regarding getting cookies as gifts... I think that reader was in the minority about feeling that cookies are a burden. Most of the folks that I know are very happy to receive cookies at any time of year.

I saw the Food Network christmas cookie special last week and they profiled a woman who makes thousands upon thousands of cookies each year. She distributes them on 15 pound trays and has a guide (like in a chocolate box) to go with them! She remodeled her kitchen for an industrial size mixer, fridge and stove!!! That might be overkill...

Posted by: healthyg | December 7, 2006 1:44 PM

My favorite ganache variation is my famous sour cream chocolate truffles. Simply substute sour cream for half the cream, and proceed. I use a bitterseet chocolate, and sometimes some finely ground instant coffee (Lusianne for the chicory!) and usually hide the rich dark ganache in milk chocolate shells. My wife won't let me eat many because of blood sugar issues, but I love to give them away almost as much as I love eating them!

Posted by: Angus in WV | December 7, 2006 2:01 PM

I would love a recipe for a white chocolate bark with cranberries, pistachios, and candied ginger. Or any candy with candied ginger. Any ideas?

Posted by: Ginger | December 7, 2006 3:00 PM

Cookies might be a better gift for people who don't like to bake. I bake several batches of Christmas cookies each year, and by the time Christmas comes, I'm sick of cookies.

Truffles, however would be graciously accepted and happily devoured.

Posted by: WMA | December 7, 2006 3:40 PM

Kim, here's a non sequitor. Is the salt that you put into a bread maker necessary? Does salt play any role in the rising? Can I make a saltfree bread? Thanks.

Posted by: Sharon | December 7, 2006 4:33 PM

Hey Kim-- I've been trying to find the recipe for your fab & fun lollipops, to no avail! All I can dig up is the link to the slideshow, which is lovely butdoes not include measurements! Can you post it, pretty-please? This is just the thing to make with my niece and nephew this Christmas... :-)

Posted by: Divine Ms. K | December 7, 2006 4:37 PM

The thought behind cookies as gifts is always welcome, no doubt. But I have received plates of cookies that seem to have gone through Katrina! Not really very appetizing. A few cookies (5-10) in perfect condition, in a nice container are a definitely tops!

Posted by: Leah | December 7, 2006 6:26 PM

A small number of delicious, homemade cookies, carefully packaged, is always a tasteful gift.

If you are getting sick of making cookies, try making spiced or candied nuts. These are especially good for people who appreciate something a little healthier, can't have lots of sugar, or who have long commutes.

Posted by: Loam | December 8, 2006 3:00 PM

Does anyone know how to make soft, chewy ginger cookies? I have a great recipe that uses only canola oil and is supposed to be soft, but the cookies turn out crisp. They taste great, but I do like a good chewy cookie. Any thoughts on how to make them happen?

Posted by: susie | December 19, 2006 10:54 PM

Cool!hand mixer

Posted by: mixer | December 21, 2006 1:50 AM

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