Chocolate mortarboards

MortarboardCorn, sweet corn

My little sister graduated from high school a few weeks ago (congrats, Baby!), so I went home for the weekend and of course spent the whole time in the kitchen. Is anyone surprised? I declared myself in charge of the desserts at her graduation party, and since I’m apparently now a professional baker, the expectations were high. There was a lot of pressure. I don’t think anyone left the party less than absolutely stuffed, though, which is clearly how we measure success. I’ll be sharing a couple of the recipes here, including penguin cupcakes. Get excited.

But for today, the impressive but actually quite simple chocolate mortarboards. I saw these as cupcake toppers in a number of places, but we decided to let them stand alone. They’re Reese’s peanut butter cups covered with a chocolate-dipped cookie and topped with a candy tassel. The assembly got a little messy, but it was worth it! They look adorable and taste like everything I’ve ever wanted. But what can I say, I’m a sucker for peanut butter and chocolate.

The only part of this that you actually have to make is the chocolate glaze. I wanted something shiny and delicious but also thin enough to make dipping easy–not a ganache. We settled on a glaze from the Food Network that relies on two kinds of chocolate for really good flavor and corn syrup for sweetness and texture.

Tell me you don't want that right now

So we’re going to back up for a second and talk about corn syrup. We’re all pretty used to it, given that it’s found on the ingredient list of basically everything in a package at the grocery store, but think about it for a second. It’s corn. Like corn on the cob, popcorn, corn tortillas. Sure, it can be sweet, but for baking? That seems strange. What is the main ingredient in tortilla chips doing in my chocolate glaze?

Well, it’s not exactly the same corn. It’s like corn after a makeover. As anyone who’s tried a low-carb diet knows, corn, potatoes, and a few other vegetables get the unfortunate label of starches, the equivalent of being blacklisted in the veggie world. We talked about starches a while ago in vegan pumpkin cookies, but if you need a refresher they’re basically just a bunch of sugar molecules all bonded together. In this case it’s a really long chain of glucose units (go here for more about different kinds of sugars), which provides stability to the living cell in the corn. But even though starch is entirely made of sugar, it’s not sweet. The magic happens when you break the starch down into the individual pieces of glucose–then we taste sugar!

Think of starch as a daisy chain (I loved making those as a kid…): it’s a lot of individual flowers that become something else when you link them all together. If you take the chain apart, you get back to a bunch of single flowers. Turns out you can do the same thing with starch. Acid and some enzymes will break the starch chain into its components, giving you glucose molecules and the sweet taste we all know. High-fructose corn syrups go one step further and turn some of the glucose into fructose, making it taste even sweeter. The really interesting thing about corn syrup is that you end up with a mixture of long chains and individual sugars (both daisy chains and single flowers), which means that you get a sweet taste from the single glucose molecules AND a thick texture from the long chains tangling together–perfect for this glaze.

Chocolate mortarboards

Make them for your next graduation party! The assembly takes a little practice, but that just means that you get to snack on the first few.

Yield: about 30 mortarboards

Chocolate glaze

4 oz. semisweet chocolate

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate

3 T. butter

3 T. corn syrup

1 t. vanilla

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler (a bowl over a pan of water), stirring frequently.

This is a double boiler

When the mixture is fully melted, remove from heat and stir well. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth and glossy-looking.

Glossy-looking

Assembly

Reese’s peanut butter cups (the tall skinny kind, not the short fat kind)

Small square cookies (we used Lorna Doones) Lorna Doones

Sour candy belts Sour belts

Mini chocolate chips

Chocolate glaze (above)

Freeze the Reese’s cups, then unwrap them and place them upside down on a cookie sheet (the freezing lets you unwrap them without taking chocolate with you).

Cut the candy belts into skinny strips, then into pieces about 1 1/2 inches long.

Sorting by color

Dip a cookie in the chocolate glaze, coating both sides. Pick it up out of the chocolate with a fork, and slide it onto a Reese’s cup using a toothpick. Use the toothpick to center the cookie on top of the Reese’s. Top with a candy belt strip and a chocolate chip.

Dip the cookie in chocolate

Toothpick is essential

Adding accoutrementsImpress all of your friends! But that goes without saying…

Tray o' mortarboards