Christmas carols are playing courtesy of Bing, Elvis, Louis Armstrong, and Julie Andrews. Outside the dining room window, candy-colored lights glitter on the house a street over. Inside, Sophie and Scamp lounge at my feet, dreaming of squirrels and rabbits, no doubt. The aroma of melted chocolate fills the kitchen thanks to Jessie and Isaak — our last teenager.
Isaak is receiving a lesson in Christmas candy economics and "chocolatiering" while Jessie wears multiple hats: instructor, sous chef, and taste tester. She explains the workings of a double boiler, the importance of temperature control, and which spoon to use for stirring the chocolate. "Use a metal spoon — wooden or plastic spoons can add moisture and ruin the temper of the chocolate."
They start with a mix of melting milk chocolate and special dark chips — "Chips don’t coat as well as block chocolate, but I think they have better cocoa flavor." The bottom pot reaches a boil, and Jessie turns the heat back to medium. Izzie stirs the coating until no lumps remain.
It’s time for the pretzels. Pretzels are a German treat, and Lebanon is locally famous for its pretzels. Keeping with the local theme (Hershey, "Chocolate-town USA" is only thirty minutes away), chocolate-covered pretzels are a favorite treat, and a favorite to add to Christmas cookie platters.
They’re also easily devoured, several disappearing within a minute.
Easy as they are to eat, by contrast, Izzie gets a lesson in the work that goes into dipping them. Each pretzel (we’re using the little heart-shaped pretzels) gets dipped just-so-far by hand before having the excess chocolate shaken off. He learned quickly that the chocolate can scald your fingers if you’re not careful. As the rows of dipped pretzels grows on parchment-covered cookie trays, Jessie follows with red, green, and white nonpareils, adding just the right holiday touch.
By the third tray of three-dozen pretzels, Izzie starts to flag. "I had no idea how much work goes into these things!" They haven’t even begun dipping in white chocolate yet, or baking cookies. Jessie expects to be baking all week, churning out sand tarts, chocolate chip cookies, and seven-layer brownies to go along with the pretzels and dipped Oreos.
It’s work, but it’s worth it, and happily done. The treats are destined for gift baskets for family, friends, and work associates, part of the joy of giving at Christmas. We love giving these gifts; it's a small reminder of the greatest Gift ever given, over 2 millennia ago, wrapped in cloth and resting in a bed of hay in a stable surrounded by livestock, shepherds, kings, and angels.
From our house to yours, Merry Christmas! May God bless you always!