Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Sweet Side of Snow

I'm sure there are a million reasons that our neighbors think we are weird.  And most of those reasons are completely valid too.  Somewhere in that list is "they have this bowl out on their deck all winter".  We do.  I have a big bowl that I put out every winter in anticipation of snow.

Let me tell you why.  My kids love sweets.  I love sweets too.  I think it's a Dutch or a Swedish thing.  Or a human thing.  And somehow, treats that you can't get anytime you want are even sweeter.  So what does this have to do a a bowl of snow?  I use that bowl of snow to make some of our most appreciated winter goodies.

At the first sign of a snowflake in the air, my kids start getting giddy.  "Mama, do we have enough snow in the bowl yet?  Is it snow caramel time?"  Their eyes gleam.  Their little mouths start to salivate.  Their minds become a single track, leading to delicious sugary confections that only come on snowy days.

So, the purpose of the bowl is so that I have fresh, unadulterated snow.  Relatively clean.  For sure, don't use the yellow stuff!  And yes, I do realize that the quality of our precipitation might not be completely pure.  But let's face it, I'm not doing this every day.  It's probably still less dangerous than what most people drink in their coffee mugs every morning.

Once the bowl is full of snow, I get my ingredients ready.  It doesn't take much, just pure maple syrup and butter.  Use real maple syrup on this one...trust me.  Sometimes I add in a pinch of salt and some spices, if I'm feeling sassy that day.  We tried Chinese 5 spice in these this year, and it was awesome!  Plain old cinnamon would work well, or pumpkin pie spice.  Maybe even a little cayenne, if you're daring! 

Take a cup of the syrup and a half stick of butter (1/4 cup) and put it in a small saucepan.  (Again, I would suggest real butter.  I'm not sure how well the fake stuff will work in this method.)  Heat it over medium heat on the stove to a boil, stirring a lot, then mix in any spices, and keep it boiling for 5 minutes or so.  If you have a candy thermometer, you want it to get to about 230 degrees.  If you don't have a thermometer handy, you can do the spoon test.  Stick a spoon in the freezer when you begin, and when the caramel is ready to go, you can drip some on the spoon and it should harden up to a chewy, taffy-like consistency.  

*I should note here that the kids should probably not be helping you at this point.  Hot sugar is like molten lava.  Trust me, you don't want to have to deal with a sugar burn.*

Once you've hit that point, bring your magma, I mean, your caramel to the bowl of snow.  You can bring the bowl in to you, but on this day, my kids were playing outside, so I brought it out to them.

Drizzle the caramel over the snow.  It will melt it a little, but should stay pretty close to the surface.  Let it sit for a minute or two, and it will get harder and more chewy.  If you can wait that long.  It's hard to do.

And that's pretty much it!  Yes, it's a lot of sugar, but it's a once (or twice, maybe) a year treat for us here.  And I'm totally okay with that.

My helper couldn't wait to dig in
Another snowy favorite that we sometimes use our snow bowl for is snow ice cream.  It's also quick and dead simple. Put the snow into small bowls for each person, add a bit of vanilla extract, a bit of sugar, and some cream, all to taste.  Mix and enjoy.  You can also use chocolate syrup instead of the sugar and vanilla, or even those flavored syrups they use in coffees, if you have some.  Or some juice, and make it more of a slushee.  Have fun with it, and remember, spring is on it's way!

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