Toffee for Christmas – Watch Party Idea

This post was part of our holiday celebrations in 2020, but we wanted to bring this wonderful recipe back for you!

At the SSO offices, December means one thing…our Director of Administration is bringing Toffee to work.

Natal Laycock’s role at the SSO is an important one (not just because of the toffee!), and we all think she’s part super-human as she handles work, home, kids, even piano lessons! In her 6 years at the SSO, her toffee has become the stuff of legends – its not every day that someone has made toffee for you, so when it happens its a memorable moment.

We invaded Natal’s toffee making this year to steal her recipe for you to give a try as a pairing with our Candlelight Christmas concert!

 

Delicious – let’s get started!

Here’s what you need – Ingredients:
1 can condensed milk (Orignal, not low fat)
1 cup cane syrup (ie Roger’s Brand)
1/2 cup butter (scant)
2 cups golden or brown sugar

But you’ll also need…
Heavy bottom sauce pan (2.5L or larger)
Long handled wooden spoon
Candy thermometer (optional, but recommended)
cookie sheet
parchment paper (or extra butter)

Optional – up to you, but not in ours:
chopped nuts

Now let’s get to it!

Step 1: Line the cookie sheet with parchment, or grease with butter and set aside. If using nuts, sprinkle on the sheet now.

Step 2: Combine all ingredients into sauce pan, and set the burner to at least med-high.

Step 3: Stir continuously, scraping the bottom, so the sugar does not burn to the bottom of the pan. The mixture will begin to change color, and fleck with darker pieces.

Warning: boiling candy splatters, and it burns!

The mixture will need to boil until it reaches over 300*F (hard crack). This will take roughly 20 minutes, depending on your burners. Keep stirring and scraping! Stick the candy thermometer in after about 10 minutes, ensuring it stays below the surface, and off the bottom of the pan to get an accurate read.

Step 4: Once the mixture has reached hard crack, remove from heat and pour over prepared cookie sheet.

Optional step: ‘score’ the toffee when it is partially set. Leave the toffee out at room temperature. Drag a butter knife across the surface to create break or ‘score’ lines in roughly the size of the pieces you want to make. If the toffee sticks to the knife, or the lines fill back in, it’s still too hot.

Step 5: Set tray in fridge/freezer/snow bank until set and then break apart. If you’ve scored it, turn the toffee upside down so the score lines are facing down.

Step 6: Break it up! As you can see from the video, even a screwdriver works…

Important: Store in a ziploc bag, or sealed container, and keep refrigerated.

It’s an incredibly tasty treat that is worth all that time standing over the heat! And once you’re done, it can be enjoyed with a number of classic holiday drinks…hot cocoa, milk, tea, coffee (Baileys optional!), and peppermint schnapps.

If you’ve never tried to make homemade toffee, this is your year. Let us know how it turned out!

Leroy Anderson’s Music is Christmas

Not many people do their best thinking during a heat wave. Then again, most people are not Leroy Anderson. The original idea for the light-hearted orchestral romp known as “Sleigh Ride” was born in the mind of the American composer during a heat wave in July of 1946.

Finished in February 1948, the instrumental piece would not receive its classic lyrics until 1950 (when lyricist Mitchell Parish added in the bits about riding in a sleigh and other fun wintertime activities). The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. It quickly became one of the orchestra’s signature songs, and the 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl in celebration of the Christmas season. So catchy was the main melody that other composers of the era tried to pass it off as their own. The main melody of “Sleigh Ride” was used without credit to Anderson in the 1949 western “Streets of Laredo”, scored by Victor Young. Sleigh Ride lyricist Mitchell Parish worked with Young around this time, which might explain how the latter got his not-so-bright idea to “sample” Anderson’s work. That very same year, The Andrews Sisters created the first ever recording of Parish’s vocal version, and the popularity of Sleigh Ride sped off like… well, like a Sleigh Ride!

Although the piece is often associated with Christmas, appearing on more Christmas compilation albums than one can even count, its lyrics leave out any mention of a holiday. Perhaps this is what lends a universal appeal to Sleigh Ride. The song is noted for the characteristic sounds of a horse clip-clopping its way down a country road, and the sound of a whip is featured in most versions to give the illusion of the horse being spurred into motion. The percussionist shines in this piece, for it is they who oversee the creation of these sounds on temple blocks and a slapstick, respectively. Toward the end of the piece, a trumpet imitates the sound of a horse whinnying. 

Sleigh Ride was written in seven-part rondo form, with the first rondo episode utilizing an unusual modulation to the third (and then the second) note of the scale. This is not easy to sing, and therefore many recorded versions of Sleigh Ride err on the side of caution by changing the harmonies or omitting this first rondo altogether. This decision was made for the 1963 cover made by the American girl group the Ronettes. This Phil Spector-produced recording is easily the most popular version outside the traditional pop standard genre, charting yearly until it became the group’s second-highest chart hit in the US (after “Be My Baby”). This version of Sleigh Ride features the beloved “Ring-a-ling-a-ling, ding-dong-ding” background vocals, and makes use of the clip-clop and whinny of a horse at both its beginning and end. That’s two adorable/scary horse sounds for the price of one Sleigh Ride.

But Leroy Anderson was no one-hit holiday wonder. Composing “A Christmas Festival” in 1950 during his time as an arranger with the Boston Pops Orchestra, Anderson originally conceived of the wintertime smash-hit when Arthur Fiedler (the conductor-in-chief of the BPO) requested a favor of him. Fiedler needed a piece of music that would cover two sides of a 45 or 78rpm ‘single’ for the holiday season. Anderson did not disappoint. He created an orchestral medley of well-loved Christmas songs and carols into a compelling concert overture. The main theme of Christmas Festival relies on the tunes of ‘Joy to the World’, ‘O, Come all ye faithful’ and ‘Jingle Bells’, but other favorites (such as ‘Deck the Halls’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘God Rest you Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, ‘The First Noel’ and ‘Silent Night’) are also utilized to great effect. Relying on subtlety to pull off such an ambitious combination of Christmas music, the arrangement of Christmas Festival boasts exceptional  orchestration that provides each instrument with a moment to shine. 

Despite numerous contributions to the American orchestral standard genre, Leroy Anderson will be remembered for his prolific contribution to the musical soundtrack of the holiday season. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) have repeatedly lauded “Sleigh Ride”, as it consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most-performed songs written by an ASCAP member. ASCAP named “Sleigh Ride” the most popular piece of Christmas music in the U.S. in 2009–2012, based on performance data from over 2,500 radio stations. And, while Johnny Mathis’s has become the most popular vocal version, Leroy Anderson’s recording remains the most popular instrumental version. As Steve Metcalf put it, “‘Sleigh Ride’ … has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.” For giving us all a song to feel merry and bright about in these dark and chilly days, we salute you Leroy… and that strange trumpet-horse you rode in on. 

 

Watch party ideas for a Night at the North Pole!

This post was created for our 2020 concert A Night at the North Pole, but we loved the recipes so much we decided to bring them back!

We all need a little Christmas this year – so for our live stream concert of A Night at the North Pole, we have a few ideas to get you in the holiday spirit!

Let’s start with something to drink – hot cocoa is pretty much the must here. It looks like the weather outside during the live stream won’t be frightful, but that does not mean you shouldn’t enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.

This recipe is made with a combination of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The cocoa powder adds the distinct “hot cocoa” flavor, and the chocolate chips melt into the mixture making this drink extra creamy, rich and luxurious. A splash of vanilla extract rounds out all that chocolaty flavor and makes this what we consider the perfect Homemade Hot Chocolate.

  • Place the milk of your choice in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Using milk instead of water, makes this hot chocolate extra creamy and flavorful. We prefer whole milk or 2% milk, but you can choose any milk that you choose (You could even use unsweetened almond milk).
  • Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar, and heat until warm.
  • Once the milk is warm, add chocolate chips, whisking until they melt into the milk.
  • Add a splash of vanilla extract.
  • Serve immediately, topped with your favorite garnishes: marshmallows, whipped cream, chopped chocolate, crushed candy canes or more.

Now, the reindeer notably enjoy their cocoa with some Bailey’s, or Kalhua, or Peppermint Schnapps….merely spirited suggestions…

For a special treat, we turned to the SSO’s Principal Bassoon for inspiration!

As Stephanie notes, this recipe gives you a delightful light (and pretty easy!) shortbread cookie to enjoy.

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1/4 cup of corn startch
  • 1/2 cup of icing sugar
  • 1&1/2 cups of flour

 

Place all your ingredients into a bowl, and beat for 10 minutes with an electric mixer.

Once the dough is consistent, drop by spoonful onto a cookie sheet.
(this is where you can add an extra topping if you want!)

Bake for 10 minutes at 320°F (160°C)