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Cooking on a Shoestring: Hand-Dipped Chocolates–a fun and frugal gift!

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Cooking on a Shoestring: Hand-Dipped Chocolates–a fun and frugal gift!

There’s one homemade gift that I love to give, and pretty much everyone I know loves to receive: chocolates.  So this time of year, I round up a few of my favorite little elves and churn out a variety of chocolate-dipped candies and treats that our family can give as gifts and share with others throughout the holidays.

We usually dip pretzels, marshmallows, peanuts, Oreos (regular and the delicious Candy Cane flavored ones from Aldi!), and peanut-butter-filled Ritz crackers in both light and dark chocolate.  Other options include caramels with pecans for turtles, cashews, almonds, and pretty much anything else you can think of that would taste yummy coated in chocolate.

It’s a fun, well-received gift, and when you consider how many gifts you can give from a pretty modest monetary outlay, it’s fairly frugal too.  A huge 10-lb bag of good chocolate costs about $28 at Hartville Chocolate Factory  (it’s cheaper per pound to buy a big bag, but you can find melting chocolate for about $2.50-$3.50/lb at a variety of places).  I’ve also found supplies at Bulk Foods stores in Amish Country and closer to home.

Then add in all the dippers—this is where couponing can help!  We usually see coupons and sales for Oreos, marshmallows, and Ritz crackers, and I usually get my peanuts at the Rite Aid Black Friday sale…lots of ways to help keep the cost down, but still give a tasty, thoughtful gift!

An investment of around $50 will provide gifts for my kids’ teachers, bus driver, and Sunday school teachers, plus our co-workers, friends, church helpers, mail & newspaper carriers, and any other special people we’d like to show your appreciation to with a gift, but can’t go crazy buying for.  I’ll get at least 25 gifts out of the candy I make, so it’s well worth the time and money.  It also allows me to have something ready to take to holiday parties—prep once, then I just need to arrange it on a pretty Christmas plate and we’re ready to roll!

So here’s how I do it:

You can use a double-boiler if you have one, but I’ve found it’s just as easy to use the microwave.  Working in manageable batches, warm your chocolate in a microwavable bowl on 50% power 30 seconds at a time, stirring between.  You can also use a small crock pot set on low to keep the chocolate warm and dip-able!  When it’s creamy and smooth, you’re ready to dip.

Do one piece at a time.  Toss in whatever you want to dip, make sure it gets covered with chocolate, then lift it out with a fork.  Tap the fork on the edge of the bowl to allow the excess chocolate to drip off, then gently set it on a wax-paper-covered cookie sheet to cool.  I do the marshmallows first since they won’t leave crumbs or salt in the chocolate like some of the other dippers.

Pretzels are always a big hit: regular size, mini, and pretzel rods.

To dip pretzel rods, I pour the melted chocolate into a tall insulated mug so the chocolate can reach most of the way up the pretzel (the uncovered part makes a nice “handle” for holding it!  Before the chocolate starts to harden, you can decorate with sprinkles or something else festive.  Crushed candy canes are especially good on chocolate-dipped Oreos, and you can also find red, green, and white melting chocolate if you want to drizzle some different colors on your treats.

Spread peanut butter between two Ritz crackers and dip it.  It sounds weird, but it’s delicious in milk chocolate, and dipped in dark chocolate is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world–no lie!

I like saving peanut clusters (or other cluster-y things) for last.  That way you can just dump your ingredient (peanuts, cashews, other nuts, raisins, Rice Krispies, or whatever else you can think of) into whatever melted chocolate is left, and you don’t have any waste.  You can get little holiday-themed paper cups for these (they look like tiny cupcake wrappers), or you can just drop them by spoonfuls on the wax paper and let them cool.

Craft stores sell lots of cute boxes or bags for packaging your treats for gift giving.  You can even take advantage of one of the free/cheap label offers to customize gift tags for your treats.

If you’ve never tried this before, I encourage you to give it a shot.  Start with a few pounds of chocolate and some dippers .  Remember to melt the chocolate on low power in the microwave so it doesn’t scorch or get too hot, and make sure you don’t get any water in the chocolate.  As you work, you may need to lightly reheat the chocolate and add more—don’t be in a hurry, because if the chocolate gets burnt it’s not good.  Have fun, be creative, and enjoy a frugal and super yummy gift to share with the special people in your life!

Have you made chocolates before?  Have something fun to dip that wasn’t on my list?  I’d love to hear others’ suggestions and tips—I’m by no means an expert, so I love to hear what others do.  Sound off in the comments or on Facebook!

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