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Secrets Of Holiday Baking And Candy Making

Secrets Of Holiday Baking And Candy Making
Cakes! Cookies! Chocolates! What would the Holidays be without tasty treats and delicious desserts? Sugarplums are dancing in our heads on this These Days Food Hour.

Cakes! Cookies! Chocolates! What would the Holidays be without tasty treats and delicious desserts? Sugarplums are dancing in our heads on this These Days Food Hour.


Caron Golden - food writer of the column Local Bounty for San Diego Magazine and author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff


Carole Bloom - Author of the new book Intensely Chocolate.

Karen Krasne - owner of Extraordinary Desserts two locations in Little Italy and Balboa Park

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Everywhere you turn during the holidays there's food. Little snacks, chips and dips, munchies everywhere. But if you're gonna stretch your calorie intake just a bit this month, why not really enjoy it? It's easier than ever to whip up or scoop up fabulous treats for the holidays, luscious deserts, melet in your mouth cookies that qualify as real presents. This morning we'll be talking about working with incredible chocolates, combining flavors you might not have thought of into sweet treats and tips on holiday confections that can save you time and trouble. I'd like to introduce my guests, Karen Golden is food writer of the column Local Bounty for San Diego magazine, and co author of the blog San Diego Food Stuffs. Karen, good morning.

GOLDEN: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carole Bloom is author of ten cookbooks, her her latest is a new book called intensely chocolate. Carole, welcome to the show.


BLOOM: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Karen Krasne is the owner of Extraordinary Desserts, two locations in Little Italy and Balboa Park. Karen, good morning.

KRASNE: Hi. Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we encourage our listeners to join this conversation. What kind of sweet treat do you look forward to at holidays? Do you plan on making some presents this year in the kitchen? Call us with your questions and your comments about holiday goodies, our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1888895 KPBS. I want to start off by asking you what y'all think about my suggestion to use your extra calories this holiday on something that's really scrumptious? What do you think, Karen?

GOLDEN: Oh, hell, why not? Oh, absolutely. And there's so many great options out there; you know, we're now -- because of food network and you know, food TV in general, and blogging, we are exposed to so many wonderful treats and now, a lot of these products that have been pretty exclusive to professionals are available to the home cook. And so you can really make some fabulous pastries and chocolates, candies, now that you might not have been able to do ten years ago.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. And Karen Krasne, the quality of treats available has really stepped up a notch, hasn't it?

KRASNE: I think so because I think people are becoming more know annual so that helps step everything up. But I think this time and at all times it's about using the highest quality ingredients and making your desert as luscious as can be because you want to enjoy it. So for me, the nonfat, and you know, the sugar frees, unless you have diet concerns, I think those go to the wayside, and you just have to make something that's absolutely delicious.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Carole Bloom, Karen Krasne just mentioned the high quality of ingredients and there's been an explosion in high quality chocolates. Tell us about that.

BLOOM: Absolutely, the last ten or so years as really, as you say, has been an explosion of quality chocolates. There's several artisanal chocolate manufacturers where they actually source the beans from various places around the world and make it into chocolate that is then available to both professionals and the home cook to use. So it's just really an amazing amount there, if you go into a store, say something like whole foods or great news is an available you'll find a huge variety of chocolates to choose from. And I'm with Karen in the sense of, if you're gonna make something, use really top quality ingredients. If your gonna do the extra calories, make it worthwhile. Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we're gonna you can that about in just a moment about what to do with those high quality ingredients. [CHECK AUDIO] My guests are Karen golden, Carole Bloom and Karen Krasne. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. We're talking about holiday cakes and cookies, holiday treats, how to make them, how to buy them, and how to present them. The number once again and 1-888-895-5727. Well, since Chanukah is being celebrated rye the now, let's start with that. You think about Chanukah, you think about savories, latkas and roasted food with Chanukah. But what about sweets and desserts, Karen?

GOLDEN: Well, I always -- I'm a fan this time of year of making rugelach, and traditional rugelachs, which are basically, when you roll them out into circles, and you put a filling of some kind. A lot of time it's a jam and nuts. But I love chocolate in my rugelach, and I'll put chocolate and cinnamon, and you roll them up so they're very pretty little pastries, and you sprinkle some powdered sugar over them. They're also -- they're made with cream cheese and sour cream, the dough. So it's just this luscious bite in the mouth. And I think that's fantastic. As far as other traditional -- there really aren't any traditional Chanukah pastries of I mean, it's not like we have a you'll log. [CHECK AUDIO] [CHECK AUDIO].


KRASNE: Well, I think but I typically think, like for Chanukah, I always think of cheese cakes of I don't know why, I think I go back to this connection of, like, blintzes or something. So we had our Chanukah celebration last night, and I brought a dulce de leche cheese cake. And it went over really well. And --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I can imagine, yes.

KRASNE: And you know, that was after having the latkas and the whole thing, so you want to have something really, really rich, and it was, so we just served really, really small pieces.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Karen, what about the traditional get candies? Anything new in those?

BLOOM: Actually, not that I'm aware of. But certainly you could make your own. I have a recipe in my book for chocolate coins which are based on the French mend iants and they're very simple they're just plain chocolate plain as in not so plain, but then you top them with things like nuts or seeds or candied orange peel or spices. So you could certainly make things like that, and put any kind of topping on them that you wanted to or just giving people really nice chocolate bar system a really nice way to go.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's continue to talk about chocolate. [CHECK AUDIO] I wonder why you chose chocolate to do a whole cook book on.

BLOOM: Well, chocolate is beloved by many, many people.


BLOOM: Oh, yes, don't you know that? Actually I know one person who says she likes chocolate and I tell her that she's missing a gene. Truly, I really do think that's true. But just like there's been an explosion in chocolate in terms of availability and types and high cacow content, also people's pal ats are becoming much more aware. [CHECK AUDIO] to travel the world and explore all kinds of foods and wonderful chocolates. So it just seemed really timely to me, and there are many chocolate cook books out there, but this one really concentrates on using the high cacow chocolates. And because they have a higher can cow percentage in general, it's hard to just go in and substitute them for another chocolate that you've been using. So baking is really a bit of chemistry, it's got the formulas, so to speak, and it's hard to tinker with them and change things. But what I do tell people is if you have a great, say, chocolate cake recipe that you've been making for years and you've been using a particular kind of chocolate, and you want to use one of the newer high cacow chocolates, that's fine. Just actually use less chocolate. So instead of six ounces, use four ounces and it will help balance the recipe, and you'll still have a really deep chocolate flavor. But it is gonna take a little bit of playing with. So that's why I wrote the book, to give people lots of options for using those wonderful new chocolates.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 about holiday treats and chocolates and baking and presenting and making gifts of your food for your family members. 1-888-895-5727. Karen golden, have you been incorporating the higher cacow content chocolates?


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you have favorites?

GOLDEN: Well, I know Carole uses Amano, and I'm a big fine of Amano which is --


GOLDEN: Yeah, and it's a company based in Utah, right?

KRASNE: Right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And actually, I was hoping to bring some in today, because I've been able to get it at Starbucks, of all places. But I think they've rearranged everything for the holidays and they don't have it right nu. You can order it on their website. I like that. I like Scharffen Berger. I know people are kind of up in arms because -- they're no longer independent and -- but I like baking with that. And they have -- what's great about Scharffen Berger too is you can get the different levels of cacao. So you can choose, you know, from various percentages.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what does that mean, actually? A higher percentage of cacao? What does that actually do to the chocolate?

BLOOM: Well, it makes it more deeply flavored and more intense in flavor. So the higher the cacao percentage, the less the amount of sugar. So if you see a package that says 72 percent cacao components, then the rest of it, maybe minus 1 percent, is sugar. If you see one marked 81 percent, that's gonna have a lot more intense flavor because there's a lot less sugar in it.


BLOOM: And they're even making a new category of chocolate now called dark milk chocolate. Which has a higher percentage of cacao in it, so you still get that kind of creaminess, the milky flavor, but a more rich chocolate flavor as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that's why you say people should cut down on the amount of chocolate in an old recipe they have if they're using these higher cacao content. Should they increase the amount of sugar though?

BLOOM: No, no. Of and the point is that the reason they should cut down is the higher cacao percentages has actually more dry ingredients in the chocolate than, say, one with just 50 percent. So that's why I say to cut it down a bit because you're still gonna get a really intense chocolate flavor but you're hope frenot gonna throw you have your recipe.

GOLDEN: The challenge is, a lot of people are used to, like, getting nestly's chocolate chips, and there's a big difference in flavor between a semisweet chocolate chip and a 72 percent cacao bar that you're gonna be cooking with. And even just eating out of hand, our tastes are having to evolve.


GOLDEN: Because what is satisfying to some people, if they have lived their whole life eating a Hershey bar or, you know, nestly's chocolate chip cookie kind of thing, is gonna be very different and not as sweet. So if you're expecting the same kind of bite that you've had in flavor in your mouth that you've had growing up, it's a very different experience. I think some people would say it's a more mature pal at that can appreciate that, as opposed to wanting something very sweet.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Karen Krasne, I'm wondering, how are you incorporating the variety of these higher end chocolates into some of the recipes that you've used at extraordinary deserts.

KRASNE: Well, we've always used Valrhona, that's a type of chocolate that's from France issue it's from the Rhone regional. And that primary he has to do with the way I've been trained in France and using if. And I'm a localist. And I stick with it. And I have noticed that they have really done their marketing very well for people that bake from home as well as professionals. And so they provide all of their chocolates to someone like myself, but now I can pass it on at a retail level to people who would like it bake with it. So we bulk pack, probably at this point, 15 different types of chocolate. So that you can create your own things at home using this level of quality. I just -- I don't know, I think for me, I think I love the sweet chocolates, the bitter chocolates, the really bitter chocolate. I think it's how you use it and what you come up with to present it is really the key.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're very close to needing to take a break. But I do want to get in this one phone call. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Rafi is calling from San Diego, good morning, Rafi. Welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I was just listening a moment ago, and I heard someone -- one of the women speaking mention that they knew of no specific pastry specifically for Chanukah.


NEW SPEAKER: And you may -- you may have slipped your mind or you may have never heard of this, but in Israel, everyone knows about sufganiyot, which are basically jelly doughnuts.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, there's been kind of a head smack here. Karen golden, it slipped your mind.

GOLDEN: Well, the difference is, traditions. Of and I am from an Ashkenazic tradition from is the eastern European Jews and they don't make that. And? Israel, that's a whole other entity because that's -- I think that that's just a cultural tradition from that country that hasn't really seeped into the Ashkenazi tradition. It probably is part of the Sephardic tradition. They are delicious. They are absolutely delicious. But there'd never occur to anyone in my family to make it because that's just not part of our cooking repertoire.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Something to try don't.

GOLDEN: Doughnuts!

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We do have to take a short break, thank you, Rafi, for the call. And we will continue to take your phone calls and talk about holiday foods, baking and making and packing and eating. 1-888-895-5727.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We're talking about your favorite holiday treats and deserts, making thel and eating them. The number here is 1-888-895-5727. If you'd like to share your comments or ask some questions of my panel of guests, Karen Krasne is the owner of extraordinary deserts. Carole Bloom is the author of the new book intensely chocolate. And Karen golden is food writer of the column local county for San Diego magazine, author of the blog San Diego food stuff. Again that's 1-888-895-5727. Let's take a call right off the bat, sandy is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, sandy, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Oh, hi thank you very much. I am trying to track down a recipe for a pastry I had, just had in Hawaii, and I did not remember the name of where I bought it, but I think it was called Annie's naturals, a market that was sort of a vegetarian, a health food market. It was a mango tart with a macadamia nut crust. And it was so good. I've never had a nut crust, I don't know what's in it or how to -- you know I wouldn't know by looking at a recipe if that was what I had or I don't know whether it's baked or what is it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let's typeset the brain trust here and find out. Thank you for the call, sandy. Karen Krasne, anything sound familiar to you.

KRASNE: Well, it sounds like it's a nut crust similar to something that you might use in a cheese cake, but maybe the nuts were not ground really fine. I think it would also depend on what island you were on.

NEW SPEAKER: Okay. It was on the big island, on the south coast, on that belt road.

KRASNE: Yeah, I know where you're talking about. But yeah, no. That -- I haven't been to that bakery. I can't help you with that one.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sandy, let's see what else we can do. Carole Bloom?

GOLDEN: Well, I would say if you wanted to create a recipe like that, for the crust, in any case, you would find just a really nice classic sweet pastry crust, and you could substitute part of the flour with ground nuts, so up to about a quarter to a third you could substitute for nuts. [CHECK AUDIO].

BLOOM: What kind of filling was it?

NEW SPEAKER: Like the kind you would make for a lemon meringue tie, that kind of a filling?

BLOOM: So like a pastry cream type of --

NEW SPEAKER: Well, it was more like maybe it had egg yolk in it?

BLOOM: So was the mango pureed do you think?

NEW SPEAKER: It didn't seem to be. Then it had little slices of kiwi that were arranged on it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sandy, I'll tell you what. We will put our audience on this. Because I know a lot of people have been to Hawaii probably have had that same mango tart. I appreciate your call of thank you so much. You know, a lot of people this time of year, you know, whether it's for Thanksgiving, which of course is past, now they're going into the kitchen 'cause they're gonna bake, they're gonna bake cookies for the kids or they're gonna try to bake up some stuff for the office or maybe they're gonna try to make presents for people they know 678 and I know there are a lot of people who go in, and they're intimidated because they don't do this very often, but when it comes to working with chocolate, Carole, they find that very scary. So how would you introduce someone to the idea of actually making their own chocolate? At least, you know, working with chocolate in the kitchen.

BLOOM: Well, there are a few things that you need to be aware of when you work with chocolate, one is that if you get water or liquid mixed with your chocolate, it's really just a few drops that can cause a problem. Soap you want to make sure that all of your utensils that you use are completely dry. So get the dish towel out, dry them off before you use them. And the reason that it's just a few drops if you think about putting a wet spoon in a sugar bowl, a lot of the crystals will try to stick to the spoon. It's the same idea. All the dry ingredients or the crystals in chocolate will try to stick to that water. And there's just not enough to go around. So when you make a chocolate ganache, as an example, which is a mixture of chocolate and cream, you are actually adding enough liquid so you don't get that seizing or that crystallizing kind of action, and you just get a nice smooth, thicker mixture.


BLOOM: So you want to make sure your utensils are very dry, the way you melt chocolate -- [CHECK AUDIO] [CHECK AUDIO] you want it to set up quickly, and it also -- it won't have any streaks or dots which means that it's gotten kind of funny on the temperature. So tempering will help it stick to the toffee a lot better. And I use a method in my books called quick timering, where I melt about two thirds of the chocolate that I'm going to use, and then the rest is very finely chopped. And then in three watches, I stir it into the liquid chocolate, and what happens is that the chopped chocolate is cooling down the liquid chocolate, and the liquid chocolate is heating up the chopped. And sethey come to an approximate correct temperature. And the way you can test that is just dip your finger in it, and put it on your upper or lower lip, and feel what it feels like. And it should feel comfortable, not too hot or not to cold.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Karen Krasne, being a chef, a pastry maker who has been trained in France, I wonder when -- what would you suggest to a home cook as they're first trying to start to work with chocolate? Is there anything that seems to be easier than something else.

KRASNE: Well, I would practice a month ahead.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're out of time. We don't have a month ahead!

KRASNE: A couple days ahead. I mean, I even do that. I mean, still. And I would think that I'm a professional so I would know what I was do will. But I still don't trust the fact that when I'm doing soming new or it's an event or what not. So I think being comfortable is the most important aspect to it. But I think easy recipes, something that maybe didn't have more than five ingredients in it. You know, don't go and try to achieve some mammoth project. So again, I think it's simplification. I think it's doing something ahead of time and seeing what didn't work. And also if you are able to do it a little bit ahead. It takes the pressure of [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Very true. Karen golden do you work with making your own candies and things of that nature.

GOLDEN: I don't make too many candy, but I do make cookies and cakes and what not. And I think this time of year, you get a lot of invitations to cookie exchanges and stuff.


GOLDEN: And people are making these massive amounts of cookies or requiring that you bring massive amounts of cookies. And I think there are some tricks with that, for people at home who don't do this a lot. And one is to start now and maybe make some doughs that you can put in the freezer. And then periodically, as you have time, bake them off. So that way you're not -- you don't have one day in which you're basically turning your kitchen upside down and you're going crazy with oven times because we don't have a lot of ovens in our homes, you know? So timing is alla a part of this as well. And so I think be, you know, the more organized you can be and maybe if you look at a lot of the recipes for cookies in particular, they're very similar doughs. And so if there are differences in them, at least you can make, like a master dough and then you can use that to make the varieties of cookies that you're using, that you're gonna be making. And that kind of simplifies things too.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, talking about holiday baking, making chocolate, presenting it as gifts. And I didn't want to leave the chocolate making, Carole, before we talk about what you brought in. I think that that is a really good example of the kind of specialness that making your own candies actually brings. Tell us what you brought in today.

BLOOM: I brought in two recipes. One are hazel nut chocolate truffles which are actually from an earlier book of my, truffles candies and confections. And those are kind of a classic standard in my holiday gift giving. I make them every year and now people expect them. So I can't get out of it.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The truth comes out.

BLOOM: And then the other one that I made is a bittersweet chocolate bark with ginger and apricots. So this has just three ingredients in it, dried apricots, crystallized ginger, and bittersweet chocolate. And this is an example of using top quality ingredients. And you could use any kind of chocolate, you could use any cacao percentage that you want to. And this one that I brought in is made with Amano artisan chocolate, and it's their Ocumare, which comes from Ecuador in South America. And they happen to use single origin beans, they're labeled from all these different parts of the world. But as you said, a couple of different candies on I nice little plate make a really nice holiday gift.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the thing that's really nice, is you can tell they're not from See's. They have this homemade look to them, and they smell absolutely incredible. Of and I guess that's the kind of thing that makes it worth all the trouble.

GOLDEN: Yeah, the bark is wonderful. But you could also get the chocolate, I do this a lot, is pick up dried fruits at Trader Joe's or other places, and trader Joe's carries such an ark ray, an interesting array, you can pick up dried pairs, dried pineapple, and you know, melt the chocolate and dip chocolates and then wrap them up into little pretty package. And kids can help with with that too, which is great.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Karen, do you have a favorite cookie recipe because you were talking about freezing your doughs and all that.

GOLDEN: Yeah, there's one. And inn fortunately there's no chocolate enveloped in this.


GOLDEN: But from the time when I was a kid, and when I lived in New York, my grandmother would send me these, and I would feel like I was at home. We called them snow ball cookies. They're basically Mexican wedding cookies, but the way that my grandmother did them, you know, which is the same with all of us, our mothers or our grandmothers, it's a dough that is made with -- I use roasted walnuts, you could use roasted pecans, you roll these into balls and you make them, then when they come out of the oven, you dip them in powdered sugar. And to me, it's just all butter and flour and nuts and sugar, and it's just heaven to me. And I make these all the time. I just love them. And they freeze really well. I keep saying freezing. But if you're single, and you're making this stuff, you need to have a freezer. Because otherwise I would just eat them all.

BLOOM: Or lots of good friends and neighbors.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Karen Kranse, do you have a favorite recipe.

KRASNE: For me, I think it's our chocolate macaroons. Cock on or about net [CHECK AUDIO]. And I love the idea that they're on a cookie tree, and they have a different shape. Most of the time, they look like a little mini volcano. So they're different than when you have a sort of pleater of everything flat. And they're bumpy, and it's just nice. [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what do you like to whip up in the cookie world?

BLOOM: Actually, there's a recipe in the new book, it's cacao nip and choko short bread. They're really easy to make and I just use a fluted end cutter to cut them. And but you could use any kind of cookie cutter. And again, this is a dough you can make in advance, and most doughs you do need to make in advance because they need time to chill. Then you roll them out and cut them and bake them, and dust them with powdered sugar.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about other gifts besides cookies in baked gifts besides cookies? What are cute little things to give that are not your traditional plate of cookies?

BLOOM: You could certainly do tarts or tartlets. And I love tartlets, the small size because they're individual, everybody's got their own, you don't have to share, and they're portion controlled, so to speak. So that's -- something is a really nice gift as well, I think.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Anything like little mini cakes or --

KRASNE: Yeah, I was gonna say, there's all these moulds out now by, like, Kaiser, and Flexicon makes them which is a French company that you can find probably at Sur le Table and Macy's, and lots of little minishapes and you can use any of your batters and add in fresh fruits or sort of a cream cheese kind of -- and swirl it, and I think you can be really creative with the --

GOLDEN: Sweet breads. Banana breads. There's so many varieties on that now too. And like Karen said, they're selling the moulds now, and minis that you can get, and they're very easy. The one thing you have to be careful of is the timing because you can't bake off one of those the same -- you can't follow your traditional recipe for a large cake and bake it in the same amount of time, because you're dealing with much smaller portions. So you'll just over cook everything.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So is there any kind of a change that you'll make just generally if you're cooking with -- trying to make I really, really small cake.

BLOOM: Well, if a recipe, say the whole cake bakes for 45 minutes and you've got it into a bite sized or mini sized form, I would say cut the time in half to begin with. You can always add more time, but you can't take it away. And actually, the book that I wrote before this one is called bite sized deserts and it's all about using a lot of these, you know, mini bundtcakes and tartlet pans and custard pans and things so yeah, they're great as gifts as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We do have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue talking about holiday deserts and holiday baking. 1-888-895-5727. And you're listening to These Days on KPBS.

Welcome back, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Karen golden, Carole Bloom, and Karen Krasne, and we are talking about holiday deserts and holiday baking. And taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. During the break, we just opened a box that Karen Krasne brought in from extraordinary deserts, and it is indeed extraordinary, Karen. Tell us what you brought.

KRASNE: So they're little miniyou'll logs of what we are going to be doing in a large size for the holidays. And they serve as two things, as the center piece, and the sides -- [CHECK AUDIO] and desert, because they're best served at room temperature. And they're basically, it's in between a very dense brownie and a chocolate souffle. Of and they have cherries that have been soaked in tea that is flavored -- raspberry tea, and then those are then incorporated into the mass, which is basically chocolate and all ground roasted almonds and it's topped with a little bit of raspberry jam, and the truffles, and all this stuff which goes on top of them, which could be chocolate shavings, flower petals. [CHECK AUDIO] and they're rolled in edible glitter. So they actually look like the Christmas tree bulbs on them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: They look as good as I know they're going to taste.

KRASNE: Oh, thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for bringing them in, although right now it's a bit of a torture. 1-888-895-5727 is the in be to call. And Eric is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Eric, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I have a question about or I wanted to know your opinion about dark chocolate versus milk chocolate and the trend now, you know, These Days people think that in order to be depend, it has to be dark or in order to be gourmet, it has to be dark chocolate and I actually disagree with that. But I wanted to hear your opinion on that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And let's go to Carole on that.

BLOOM: Well, I think that everybody's palette is different. So some people really love milk chocolate and others of us really love dark or bittersweet chocolate. And as I mentioned earlier in the show, there's a new type of chocolate that's called Dark milk chocolate. So you still get all the wonderful creaminess and milky flavor of milk chocolate, but it has a higher cacao percentage, so it's a more intense flavor. And that would be my choice, and that is why I choose to use when I use milk chocolate in my recipes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there a sort of, Karen, a war between the dark chocolate lovers and the milk chocolate lovers.

GOLDEN: I wouldn't say it's a war. But I think there's definitely a feeling of moral superiority if you are a dark chocolate purist, that kind of thing. And I think that that's just a trend we're seeing of it's not so much that one is worse than the other as it is -- you have to think also about the quality of the ingredients that are going in. And one of the things that Carole and I had talked about earlier over the weekend was the idea ever, you know, you want -- a lot of people love the higher percentage of cacao, but you have to be careful with some of the bars that you find, because some of them are going to substitute out vegetable oil for cocoa butter. And so just the numbers themselves don't necessarily mean that they're getting a high quality chocolate. You have to read the ingredients labels because sometimes you might find that you don't love that high -- higher cacao percentage. And it may not be that you don't like that kind of a bar, it's that the other ingredients aren't very good.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a very good point.

BLOOM: Well, I always encourage people to taste chocolate before they're gonna use it for baking or candy baking because there is so much, there's such a variety out there. And my palette may be different than yours of something that I love you may not love. And so there's so much out there that I really like people to taste plain, then choose what they would like to use for their recipes. And if there is something other than cocoa butter, say a vegetable oil in the chocolate, you can really taste it. It really puts its mark on the chocolate. So I agree with Karen, you do have to read the ingredients label, and it's important to taste.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Karen is calling from Rancho Santa Fe. Good morning, Karen, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. Good morning to you too and happy holidays.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Happy holidays.

NEW SPEAKER: I have a question about substituting sugar for a diabetic and aye tried a lot of the Splenda products and they're pretty awful. And it doesn't make the cookies and the cakes cohesive. So what can be used in place of sugar?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ah. Okay. Anyone want to take that? Anything that can be used in place of sugar?

BLOOM: You can try to substitute -- you could try honey, you could try Agaffe syrup, but again, this is a kind of a chemistry experiment when you're substituting a liquid for a dry ingredient. So it's really difficult. And I'm -- you know, haven't done much working on recipes for diabetics. I did a few years ago develop a few of them but I used what they told me to use which was the Splenda. Of so I don't really have a high recommendation for anything. I can't really offer anything for that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Not so much, huh?

GOLDEN: It's -- I think it's a salad reality that there is certain things that these recipes were created for a reason or these formulas for a reason with these particular ingredients. And sadly, there are things that people may have to forego just because it may not work.

KRASNE: Sometimes you can take a recipe and you can omit the sugar completely and try grinding up really ripe bananas or apple sauce and that can kind of help because they add a lot of natural sweetness. But even at some point, you just -- the cookie's gonna taste compromised.

GOLDEN: I've done that to substitute eggs, for instance, using banana and or squash, cooked squash or apple sauce. I've even done that for chocolate mousse, but you're still putting the sugar in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Things may not be so great for people who have gluten allergies, right, Karen.

KRASNE: That's a huge buzz right now. We are doing so much vegan and gluten free baking, and that's been very easy to do, and that's just come with the ingredients that are available, like brown rice, flour and sorghum, and these kinds of things. But really nailing it for the sugar free has been difficult for us. So we can do the gluten free, the egg free, and we can get some vegan things, but that's about it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The sugar has been hard. Let's take another call, Gretchen is calling us from Escondido.

NEW SPEAKER: I had a question for you about baking banana bread, and pumpkin bread, and persimmon bread which I'm gonna make. [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Gretchen. Mailing it and making sure it gets there okay.

GOLDEN: Over night, maybe freeze it first and then --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Freeze it first.

GOLDEN: Yeah, and get some of those cold wrap, cold packaging items. You know, I used to get a lot of it when I lived out of town, and family would send me, not necessarily the breads, but cookies and things. Up just have to make sure you seal them really well, because I have definitely gotten them and they have been, like, partially opened because of -- you know, the postal services are not kind when it comes to packages of food.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you all something though, when you are presenting baked goodser candies or a food item as a present, do you have any tips to make it look really great, really as a present? Carole?

BLOOM: One of the things that I do with my candy plates is I'll wrap them in a clear cello phone that has little gold flecks or stars on it, and tie it with a real pretty ribbon to match. So it's simple but it's elegant. Another thing you can do is throughout the year is you can find pretty tins or maybe a regular kind of a plate rather than a pepper plate. And the tins are wonderful. And I that also mail very well. You want to wrap them in bubble wrap and send them next day or two-day. And if you're giving a food gift, I think it's a good idea to include a note with it, so people know what it is and how to store it and how to serve it. Karen made a point earlier that the chocolate tastes best at room temperature, and it's really true. Of if you take a truffle or a piece of candy straight out of the refriendlyingerator, just like a good piece of cheese, you're not gonna get the full, open flavor of it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That identifying note is more important for some people rather than others. I can think of my going out into the world and people saying, what? Do you have any --

GOLDEN: I've been going to, what is it? Cost plus and also Michael's, you can find some really interesting things, including if your going to give cookies, one thing I've been getting are the long cellophane bags so that you can stack the cookies and then wrap them. But the person to really ask is Karen, because, I mean, there is not a single desert that she serves that isn't accessorized in some way. And flowers are -- you know, flowers and ribbons and everything else, you could get great ideas going over to the shop and taking a look at what they did.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And just taking a look at what you do. That's so important issue it's part and parcel of the gift itself right.

KRASNE: I think so. I mean, I think that half of it is -- you know the person is receiving this gift, and then you open it, and then you judgeut continue that awe. So of course for us, it's always gotta have the flesh flower petals strewn over it, and I think what we do a lot of times is try to bring in a little bit more of an organic type of a box, something that's some type of a woven -- something maybe. Vietnam or bamboo, so there's a mix of this really over the top chocolate, and the really -- the roses and the gold, but then this earthy grounding exterior.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's wonderful. Now, two of our callers who couldn't stay on the line have questions about baking gifts. And that is, they wanted to know what is the basic cookie recipe that you were talking about that can be frozen, Karen?

GOLDEN: Oh, I think if you were to look -- I mean, the most basic thing would be something, like on the back of, you know, the nestly's chocolate chip bag only without the chips in it. But there are a lot -- basic sugar cookie recipes that you can look for, and spritz cookie recipes and you can then just build on those with different -- extra ingredients like chocolate, like dried fruit, like nuts. I recommend, and I assume that Karen and Carole do too, that if you're going to bake with nuts, roast them a little bit first. It really brings out the flavors of the nuts in a way that just, you know, a raw, a single raw nut just can't produce.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And one of our callers also.ed to know whether or not -- how to convert how altitude recipes. Do we know how to do that?

BLOOM: I think probably Googeling that would be the best thing to do. There is a cook book by a woman named Susan Purdy, I think it's called pie in the sky, and it's all about baking at high altitude.

GOLDEN: We're at sea level so --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly. That's not part of the criteria here. You know, we have gone through this whole -- practically this whole hour without talking about fruit cake.

GOLDEN: Oh, too bad.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, is there something in the last 30 seconds that we have that can separate a fruit cake from something that's a door step.

GOLDEN: I'm taking the Jewish backing out excuse here. I have very little experience with fruit cake. I can't imagine -- I can't think of when I've had a really good one. And it's something I don't have to make so I just don't worry about it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm sure there are people out there as we speak making their holiday fruit cakes who are gonna call in and write in.

GOLDEN: And complain about me and I'm very sorry.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: No, not complain. Enlighten us on how to do it the right way.

BLOOM: I think a lot of brandy or cognac is a good way to go.

GOLDEN: Yes, most moisture.

KRASNE: And les green.

BLOOM: Or make your own candied fruit. Candied orange peel or you can find a good source for really great candied fruit.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We'll have to leave it there. I want thank you all, Karen Golden, Carole Bloom, whose new book is 'Intensely Chocolate', and Karen Krasne, owner of extraordinary deserts. [CHECK AUDIO] if you would like to comment about the fruit cake or anything else, please go on-line, Days. Of you've been listening to These Days on KPBS.