One of my favorite parts about the holiday season is making homemade gifts for friends. Ninth grade marked the beginning of this tradition, when I handed out clear bags of my simple chocolate-covered toffee to classmates. Doing this made me realize that giving handcrafted gifts with a personal touch felt more unique and heartfelt than anything I could buy at the store. I know my friends agreed. I received requests for that toffee every Christmas until graduation, and we all remain close to this day.
Every December since then (and I won't go into exactly how many there have been), I have spent the month happily mixing, baking and boiling my holiday gifts. Up until two years ago, I would start my routine in mid-November by picking out a few recipes to make in bulk that year. These decisions were mostly random, based solely on mood, palate and favorite cookbook at the time. Some years I baked batches of biscotti and quick breads, and others I patiently hulled berries for homemade jams. All of my offerings were delicious and well received, but I was never smitten enough to consider them worthy of repeat performances.
When my daughter was born two years ago I decided it was time to stop relying on personal whimsy, and start looking for a true signature gift. Something that was homemade, delicious and so completely fabulous that everyone would ask for it year after year. In effect, I was looking to recreate the popularity of my simple toffee, albeit in a grown-up setting. Also, in becoming a Mom my available free time for gift making was drastically reduced. So, not only did I need to find recipe that was unique and mouth-watering, but also could be assembled within a reasonable amount of time.
After experimenting with several compote and chutney ideas I decided to scrap the fruit frenzy and return to a favorite source of inspiration, my mother-in-law's recipe collection. An experienced home cook with an incredibly discerning eye, her recipe binder is to home cooking like Vogue is to high fashion. Her well-honed sense of taste has helped her curate an exceptional collection ranging from the classics to the obscure. Sure enough, when leafing through the pages I found a cute recipe card bordered with apples that had instructions for Rhoda's Hot Fudge Sauce. I could tell right away that Rhoda and her sauce recipe had great potential.
One afternoon while my daughter was napping I whipped up a quick batch and knew instantly that I had a winner. I drizzled some sauce over a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and helped myself to a big spoonful. It had a silky smooth texture and deep chocolate flavor, unlike any other chocolate sauce or syrup I had ever tasted. It was perfect. To give it an extra holiday kick I substituted peppermint extract for vanilla, which made it taste like a sophisticated chocolate candy cane. Needless to say, I wasted no time in filling jar upon jar to give away to friends.
December is not exactly prime ice cream season, but it is with this sauce in the fridge. The first year I gave this out my friends, equally in love with the sauce as I was, reportedly dispatched husbands to the store for their favorite brands of vanilla. Recommending that they buy two pints to make sure there was enough to go around. As if that wasn't enough, I also received news that several couples caught their spouses sticking fingers right in the jar to sneak a taste when they thought no one was looking!
This reception was all the confidence I needed to know that I had succeeded in my quest. This sauce is now, and will always be, my signature handcrafted gift for the holidays. It has become a running joke that a few recipients actually stock up on vanilla ice cream in preparation for its arrival. Knowing this makes me smile. I will happily give jars to friends, both new and old, with the sentiment that it is heartfelt holiday token from our home to theirs.
Rhoda's Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce
Yields 4 cups
2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 cups brown sugar 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt 2 cups heavy cream 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces 2 teaspoons peppermint extract (substitute vanilla, if you don't want the mint flavor)
Directions: In a double boiler over medium heat stir in cocoa, sugars and salt. Add the cream and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the butter is melted and the sauce comes together and is smooth and glossy. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Then, remove the bowl from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the peppermint extract. Store in the fridge and re-heat when ready to use.
Storage notes: This sauce is great to packages in glass jars for gifts. When pouring the sauce from the bowl into the jar it is helpful to use a kitchen funnel if you have one available. This sauce will stay in the fridge for up to two weeks or more.
Serving ideas: In addition to ice-cream, this sauce is excellent drizzled over slices of pound cake, cheesecake or a meringue. The version made with vanilla extract is also delicious served with poached fruit.