I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am right now! The men in my life just don’t get it, and are watching me jump and squeal with looks of alarm on their faces. Pffft. This is my happy dance and I don’t care who’s watching.
Can you keep a secret? I have this little addiction that I’ve been trying to curb because it gets so expensive. Have you ever eaten ginger chews? Spicy, chewy, tummy-warming ginger chews? I buy mine at the local health food store, and can easily wipe out the handful of candies that come in the box before I even make it home.
I love, love, love them. And yet, I could never find a recipe for them. When I have a recipe idea in my head but don’t know where to begin with the ingredients and measurements, I do what every other person with a computer does: I Google it! I find several recipes, get a general idea of how they’re made, and then experiment until I make it my way. But no matter how hard I hunted, I couldn’t find one single recipe that sounded right. I tried one that seemed to have potential and ended up with a ginger hard candy. A very good ginger hard candy…but I wanted chewy.
With bits and pieces from many recipes, and my last piece of ginger root, I crossed my fingers and finally met with success! Take THAT, Google! I’m not claiming that they’re healthy. I plan to try a batch using agave or honey in the future, but these are basically sugar and ginger, and I.Don’t.Care.
Disclaimer: An hour after I posted this recipe I made yet another batch (thank goodness for frozen ginger juice) because the guys said it wasn’t chewy enough. An additional tablespoon of cornstarch and 5 more degrees made all the difference! After the chews have sat out for 12 hours they are very firm, but after a minute in your mouth they soften up. If you prefer your chews softer, only use 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and bring the mixture up to a temperature of 260 F.
UPDATE: For those who have corn allergies, follow the directions below with the following changes:
Substitute honey for the corn syrup
Use 2 tablespoons tapioca starch (aka, tapioca flour) instead of cornstarch
Reduce the ginger juice to 3 tablespoons
Cook to 270 F.
You may have to play with the recipe a little. Your altitude and your thermometer may be a little different than mine. Start by making a half batch and see how it works for you.
Here, at a fraction of the cost of imported chews, is my recipe for Ginger Chews.
5-6 ounces of fresh ginger root, or enough to make ¼ cup juice
1 tablespoon of grated ginger root (optional)
Prepare a mold. You can use a pan lined with parchment paper sprayed lightly with oil, hard candy molds lightly sprayed with oil (not chocolate molds – they melt!), or combine 2 cups cornstarch and 2 cups powdered sugar and put it in a cake pan. You can adjust the amount if you want deeper molds. Make holes in it with your finger or spoon handle, or press designs with small objects. In the photos, I used a star-shaped ice cube tray.
Juice the ginger root. I use a food processor and process the ginger, skin and all, stopping to stir it several times. You could also scrape the ginger root with a spoon to remove most of the peel, and finely grate it. Place the processed or grated ginger in a small sieve and press out the juice with a spoon. The quantity of juice will vary depending on the freshness of the ginger. Extra can be frozen for another time.
In a medium saucepan combine sugar, corn syrup, and cornstarch. Turn the heat to medium. Stirring often, bring the mixture to a boil and watch the temperature carefully, using a candy thermometer. When it reaches 265 F, remove the pan from the heat and gradually stir in the ginger juice and grated ginger (if you like it very spicy). Be careful and use a long spoon! It will sizzle and spit while you're stirring in the ginger juice.
Pour into the mold of your choice. If you are using the cornstarch/powdered sugar method, pour carefully into each cavity. Pour any extra onto a lightly greased piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle with some of the cornstarch mixture, if desired.
Allow the candy to sit for several hours to firm up, then dust with cornstarch and wrap each piece in a square of waxed paper or parchment.
Combine sugar, corn syrup and cornstarch and bring to boil
Bring mixture to 265 degrees…almost there!
Poured into cavities in cornstarch and powdered sugar.
Whether you eat them as an aid to digestion, to curb seasickness or morning sickness, or just because the hot gingery taste is amazing, these little candies will hit the spot. Excuse me while I go gloat.
What’s pink and purple and yellow and white and green and covered in roses and violas and miscellaneous unidentifiable flowers and filled with bunnies and chickens and baskets of eggs and more flowers and bees and rainbows and clouds….
Gasp. Coming up for air, here.
Panoramic sugar eggs, of course!
For the last week my kitchen and dining room table have been taken over by these eggs. Here’s what happens: I make up a couple of bowls of colored sugar to fill my egg molds with. Then, when they’ve dried for a few hours I turn the molds over and scrape out the soft sugar, which goes back into the bowl. Do you see what happens here? There isn’t quite enough for another whole egg, so I add more sugar and fill more eggs, then scoop the extra back into the bowl. And….repeat.
Somehow I just don’t have it in me to throw away the extra sugar.
The smart thing would be to start with a light color (like pink) and when the pink egg is filled and scooped, add a little extra sugar and a couple of drops of food coloring and turn it into something darker, like purple. At some point, though, you will have to throw away a little sugar. After a week of this madness, I finally reach the point where I can cheerfully do that.
Rather than give you instructions on this blog, here’s the link to a Yummy Northwest column I did a couple of years ago that shows you the basics of making SUGAR EGGS
I made some cute bunnies, carrots, and bees using gum paste. If you’ve never tried working with gum paste, you’re missing out on a lot of creative fun. It’s like playing with clay, only it hardens into something resembling tooth-breaking porcelain. Once made and dried it will last and last. I like to use the powdered gum paste; that way I can just make as much as I want. Keep it in a heavy plastic bag when you’re not using it, because it will dry faster than you’d ever believe.
For my bee I just made a little body, painted it with yellow food coloring, painted on stripes and eyes with black food coloring, and stuck two slices of jelly bean on it for wings.
Gum paste bee on a royal icing flower.
For the bunny, begin with the head. Make a small ball. Give it a small triangular nose and press a mouth (shaped sort of like a soft “W”) under it with a toothpick. Poke two holes in the top for ears. Make ears, dampen the base of them slightly, and stick them in the holes. Poke a toothpick in the bottom of the head where it will connect with the body and let the it dry until the ears are stable. Meanwhile, you can paint the inside of the ears, the nose, and the cheeks with a little pink food coloring or petal dust.
For the bunny’s body, make a ball of gum paste slightly larger than the head. Make two flat feet (press lines with a toothpick for toes) and set the body on top of them. Any time you put two pieces of gum paste together, it helps to dampen the place where they connect. A damp washcloth works perfectly for this. Add a fluffy tail. Add the head, poking the toothpick into the top of the body. If the toothpick is too long, shorten it with a pair of scissors. Add arms, either individual paws or one long piece that stretches all the way around. You can have it hold a candy egg, flower, or carrot if you’d like.
Cute little guys.
Speaking of carrots, I’m SURE I don’t have to explain how to make one, right? But for the record, adding a little food color to the gum paste is simple, but it will get your hands messy. Plastic gloves might be a good option if that kind of thing bugs you. Also, powdered food coloring is easier to work with. If you use liquid, you may have to add a little more powdered sugar to the gum paste too.
Have fun with these! Go to your favorite search engine and find articles on shaping royal icing flowers and little critters – ducks, chickens, lambs, etc. I covered pieces of spaghetti with green gum paste for flower stems and made a basket with gum paste and then brushed it with dry cocoa to give it a light brown color. Use your imagination…or better yet, ask a child for advice! Go through your favorite candy store to find all kinds of potential decorations.
An upright egg with a peep hole.
This one lays flat with a peep hole in the pointy end.
Half an egg on a sugar stand.
Beware. Sugar eggs are addictive to make. Oh, and though everything is edible (well, except for that toothpick) I really don’t recommend gnawing on these. They’re just to look at, okay?
I have to really be in the mood for this…and TODAY IS THE DAY!
Forget for a moment that candy making doesn’t have anything to do with baking. It’s still sweet and good and sometimes challenging. Right up my alley!
Most of my recipes were handed down from my Aunt Pat. We could always count on a big tin of homemade candies on Christmas Eve – the highlight of the evening! She’s gone now, but her torch will be carried on as long as I can wield a wooden spoon and candy thermometer.
Before I start throwing recipes and photos at you, there are a few recommendations I’d like to share.
Make sure your candy thermometer is accurate. A couple of my recipes just go by time (boil for 5 minutes) but most candy needs to reach a very specific temperature to come out right.
I usually just let ‘er fly in the kitchen, but this is one of those times when you need to be prepared before you turn on the stove. If your pans need to be buttered or lined, do it first. Measure out everything, because there will be no time to be looking for the vanilla or measuring the butter when your candy is at the correct stage.
Be careful! This stuff is HOT. Wear oven mitts when you’re pouring candy onto a pan or dish.
Above all, this is not the time to use store brand ingredients. Quality counts when you’re making candy! Good butter, cane sugar…very, very important. I usually avoid corn syrup like the plague, but there are times when it really is necessary. This is one of them! I’ll go back to being conscientious after the holidays.
My favorite – absolute favorite of Aunt Pat’s recipes is her peanut brittle. If you look online, you’ll find many recipes, with a few variations. This is my standard. I’ve tried the microwave brittle, and it was OK, but nothing compares to this. In my opinion, peanut brittle needs to be so thin it melts in your mouth. If you don’t agree, just don’t stretch it out as much. You probably won’t burn your fingertips as often as I do!
Before beginning, generously butter at least 3 cookie sheets or flat pans.
In a large pot, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water on medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Boil until 250 degrees, stirring occasionally.
Add peanuts and butter. Stirring constantly, continue to cook until mixture turns color (310 degrees).
Remove from the burner and stir in vanilla and soda. It will foam up! Stir until most of the foam disappears. Pour onto cookie sheets. Spread as thinly as possible. (Hardens rapidly!) As it cools, pull the edges of brittle with buttered fingers or forks, to stretch thin. After a few minutes you should be able to lift one side and pull and stretch the whole piece even more.
Pour it out on buttered sheets and quickly start spreading!
Lifting and stretching (Oh, boy…I sound like Richard Simmons.)
Almond Roca er… Chocolate Almond Toffee (don’t want to get in trouble with the copyright patrol) was probably my least favorite Christmas candy as a child, but I can’t get enough of it now. The homemade version is much more tender and delicious than the storebought kind – trust me on this. And it’s so very simple. Just remember: use good butter! The times I’ve had this candy separate (a total “fail”) I used cheap butter. I use a heavy skillet – I guess because Aunt Pat did. This is a little challenging with a candy thermometer, so if you want to use a heavy saucepan, that’s fine.
I have no in-process photos, since I forgot to put the card in my camera and there was no time to remedy that situation. If I make another batch, I’ll add them later.
CHOCOLATE ALMOND TOFFEE
1 lb. salted butter (quality counts—buy the best!)
2 cups white sugar
1 12-oz bag milk chocolate chips
Chopped raw almonds (approx. 4 cups)
Generously butter a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Sprinkle in enough chopped almonds—approximately half—to lightly cover the bottom of the pan.
Melt butter and sugar in a heavy pan on medium heat, stirring constantly until hard crack stage (290 degrees). The mixture should just be turning a light caramel color. Immediately pour toffee over the almonds in the pan. Smooth with a spatula.
Sprinkle on the chocolate while the toffee is still hot. Wait a few minutes for the chocolate to melt, then spread evenly over the toffee. Sprinkle remaining almonds over the chocolate. Let harden and break into serving pieces. This keeps well in a covered container for at least two weeks.
How can you resist this?
And…it wouldn’t be Christmas without DIVINITY!
Divinity is the bane of my existence. My kryptonite. And yet, each year, I make the stuff because it’s so…so…well, DIVINE!
It’s tricky stuff! Basically, you will be successful if you follow these three rules:
Don’t make it on a day with high humidity. If it’s raining outside, make something else!
Make sure to cook the syrup to 260 degrees (or a hair higher.)
One time I beat the mixture until it was a dry, crumbly mess, so I tend to shy away from mixing it as long as it needs to set up properly. Big mistake.
If you drop the freshly made candy on parchment or waxed paper, it should hold its shape…like a haystack (only prettier!) but my batch today fell a bit flat, like a thick pancake. It still tastes wonderful and the texture is correct, but with just another minute or two of beating it would have been perfect. I don’t have it in me to try another batch, so you will just have to imagine what these confections should have looked like.
Don’t even attempt this recipe unless you have a sturdy stand mixer. My first batch today was a fail because I tried to use a hand mixer so that I could get better photos. My brandnew hand mixer. My brand new hand mixer that may have a burned-out motor now.
Have I scared you? If so, I’m sorry – it’s tricky, but certainly not impossible. Give it a try. One bite of this candy will make you SO glad you did!
2 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup white Karo
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use Wilton’s clear vanilla for this)
1 cup chopped walnuts
In a medium saucepan bring the sugar, water, Karo, and salt to a boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Once mixture has come to a boil, stop stirring and let it cook until it reaches 260-262 degrees F.
While mixture is boiling, beat the egg whites in a large bowl, until stiff peaks form. Use a stand mixer for this!
As soon as the temperature of the syrup reaches 260-262 F, pour the hot syrup in a very thin stream over the egg whites with the mixer running. Hold the pan up high so the syrup doesn’t get added too quickly. You don’t want to fry those eggs!
Beat the mixture on medium high until it begins to lose its gloss and gets very thick. This could take 10 minutes or more. Don’t give up! Depending on your mixer, you may need to finish stirring it by hand. If you aren’t sure the candy is firm enough, drop a little bit onto a piece of waxed paper. If it holds its shape, it’s done. If it flattens into a puddle, keep mixing!
When the mixture is thick, add the vanilla and chopped nuts. Mix to combine.
Drop spoonfuls onto parchment or waxed paper. Let the candy dry for several hours before putting into a container.
Pouring hot syrup in a thin stream over egg whites.
This is one time when I’d trade my beloved Bosch mixer for a Kitchen Aid. It’s a lot easier to scoop the candy out if it’s in a normal bowl. But…there’s more left over in the bowl for me to eat with a spoon this way. Yay!
Here is a candy that makes a lovely gift. (Merry Christmas to ME!)
Chocolate caramels are chewy but not too chewy – just right. You can wrap them up in parchment and twist the ends, wrap them in waxed paper like a package…ribbons and all, if you wish, or you can dip them in chocolate. I put a little coarse salt on the top of the dipped ones and painted them with gold powder. (This can be found at a cake supply store or online.)
Instead of vanilla I used Kahlua, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it really made much difference. If you have Kahlua, by all means use it, but vanilla is just fine. These are very easy to make, and delightful to receive.
2 cups sugar
1 cup half & half
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white Karo corn syrup
1 cup butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla (or 2 teaspoons Kahlua)
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans (see below recipe for toasting instructions)
Line an 8×8 or 9×9 inch square pan with parchment. Butter lightly.
In a 3 quart pan, combine sugar, half & half, espresso powder, salt, corn syrup, butter, and chocolate.
Using a candy thermometer and stirring constantly on medium-low heat, boil until 248 F.
Remove pan from burner and let the mixture cool until it is approximately 230 degrees (about 5 minutes.)
Stir in the vanilla (or Kahlua) and the pecans. Pour into prepared pan and allow to cool until very firm – 2-3 hours.
Lift the block of caramel out of the pan and set on cutting board. With buttered knife, cut into 1-inch strips. Cut strips to make 1-inch squares.
Wrap individually in parchment or waxed paper, or dip in chocolate and refrigerate just until chocolate is set.
Line pan with buttered parchment. (Just one direction is fine.)
You can tell it’s ready – see how thick it is?
Cut into squares.
Wrap ’em in parchment…
Or waxed paper
Or dip ’em in chocolate!
Gussy them up for that “Wow” factor.
One more recipe for you…
Maple Nut Fudge is creamy and crunchy at the same time. How irresistible is that?
*Update* I found the fudge is firmer if cooked to 235 F. And I tried a batch with lots of toasted pecans, and it tasted just like maple nut ice cream. SO good!
MAPLE NUT FUDGE
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (Karo)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups miniature marshmallows
12 ounces white chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon maple flavoring (like Mapleine)
Line a 9-inch by 9-inch pan with buttered foil or parchment.
In a 4 quart saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, milk, corn syrup, and salt.
On medium heat, stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil and cook until 235 F. (about 5-6 minutes)
Remove pan from the burner and stir in the marshmallows, chips, and walnuts. When the chips and marshmallows have melted, add the maple flavoring and stir for one minute.
Pour into the prepared pan and let set until firm. (Once it’s cool, you may refrigerate it to speed up the setting process.)
Cut into squares.
There are so many wonderful candy recipes waiting to be tried, but tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I am officially out of the kitchen! I hope you won’t wait for next Christmas to enjoy some of these; Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, you know!
I try to stay away from Google when I’m creating a recipe, because I don’t want to be influenced by other bakers’ methods or ingredients. When I’m happy with my recipe I take a peek, and am usually surprised (and yes, maybe a little discouraged) to find out how many other people have already made my “original” idea.
And RATS…it happened again. I thought this was going to be at least a fairly new idea. My son, my husband and I were sitting around brainstorming ideas for caramel corn. (I love my caramel corn recipe, but it’s pretty basic, and I wanted something unusual.) I knew we were on a roll when the discussion turned to bacon. What goes with bacon? Maple, of course! And if you’re have maple, you must have pecans, right?
Caramel Corn with Maple, Bacon, and Pecans. Yeah, baby…come to Mama!
After we’d sampled it over and over and over, I checked the search engine, and pfffft – it’s been done. Sigh. I guess most things have already been done in one form or another – so I’ll just give you MY take on this tasty treat.
Stir it into the popcorn, nuts and bacon. (If you’re making the bacon/maple/pecan version, this will look darker.)
Spread onto two greased baking pans.
Once you start eating it, you won’t stop!
I implore you to cook up the popcorn in a big pan or an air popper. The stuff in the microwave bags is SO bad for you. I know, I know, butter and sugar aren’t exactly health foods, but at least they are real. The microwave bags have a coating inside that is really gross. It’s honestly not hard to make popcorn “from scratch”!
If you want the plain Jane version (just like Cracker Jack), substitute unsalted or lightly salted peanuts for the pecans, and skip the bacon. Use 1 teaspoon vanilla instead of the 1 tablespoon maple flavoring. Or…gussy it up with a variety of nuts. Almonds, cashews, walnuts…all are yummy.
I wish you could see my kitchen right now. I made a peanut batch first. Then I tried the maple/bacon/pecan batch, but wasn’t happy with it (maple syrup in the sugar solution didn’t work out well, and I chopped the bacon and pecans too small) so I tried again. Each of these batches makes about 5 quarts, so just picture 13 quarts (hey, we had to try some of it!) of caramel corn. Yikes! I’m going to have to find someone to give some of this to or else dig out my “fat pants.”
Think crisp cellophane bags with pretty ribbons and a little silk poinsettia. What a welcome hostess gift this would make!
There are times when I really want to eat that huge piece of cake, or a big slab of pie, or a quart of ice cream. But sometimes (especially after a huge turkey dinner) I just want a taste of something sweet, to tell my mouth that I’m finished eating for a while.
Something light, crisp, and airy. Sweet, chewy, and satisfying. Throw in gluten-free and almost fat-free, and you have Chocolate Walnut Meringues.
If you’ve never had a meringue, you’re in for a treat. This recipe produces little delicacies that look like cookies, but dissolve in your mouth, except for the perfect chewy part in the center. They can be a light ending to a heavy meal, or a sweet pick-me-up with an afternoon cup of tea.
Crispy and a little crumbly, with a slightly chewy center.
Meringues cook at a low heat and then are left to dry out in the oven overnight, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. If you store them in an airtight container, they’ll stay crispy for days. They can be piped into any shape you want, which can be a lot of fun. (I had limited success piping the meringue around foil cones to make cornucopias. If you have cream horn molds it might be worth a try!)
I used walnuts in this batch, but pecans are lovely too. You can grate a little dark chocolate in the batter if you wish. I felt the cocoa powder gave it just the right level of chocolate goodness; you can be the judge of that. If you are baking gluten-free, here’s a great list of gluten-free chocolates. I was glad to see that Dove chocolate made the grade.
As always when making any kind of meringue, separate the egg whites and let them stand until they’re room temperature for best results. Use squeaky clean beaters and bowls, and you’ll get perfect results.
I don’t always bake. Sometimes I like to make big messes that don’t involve flour!
A truffle is basically glorified ganache, enhanced with lots of butter. That’s what makes it melt on your tongue, with the satisfying taste of rich chocolate.
I made truffles last night and tried dipping them, molding them, and piping them. By far the easiest method was piping. You can pipe them, let them set, and then roll them in powdered sugar or cocoa for an easy and impressive treat, but I added a bit of peppermint extract to a third of the mixture and then piped it into mini cupcake liners. After chilling in the refrigerator, they popped right out of the liners and into my mouth – a perfect Frango mint.
Dipping them was messy easy. I chilled the truffle mixture and used my smallest cookie scoop for a domed appearance, dipped them in melted chocolate, and drizzled the tops. Then, because I wanted them to look elegant, I painted the drizzle with gold dust. (Yes, it’s edible!)
Dipping the truffle in melted chocolate.
A touch of gold…
Elegant – until you have to lick the chocolate off your fingers…
I wanted to make a truffle-filled chocolate egg for Easter. It would have been fine if I’d used a plastic chocolate mold, but I was too lazy to go dig through the Easter decorations (and no, for the first time in 40 years I didn’t decorate the house this Easter. I promise it will never happen again) so I tried to get away with a metal mold. Huh uh…don’t do it!
Fill the molds ALMOST full – then top with melted chocolate. Chill.
It should have been simple: paint the mold with melted chocolate, chill, fill the centers with truffle mixture, cover with more chocolate, and chill again. When the molds are turned over, the eggs plop out on the counter, ready to be decorated. Mine didn’t plop. Here’s ONE that turned out nicely.
A truffle filled Easter Egg.
It takes a lot of chocolate and two sticks of butter for this recipe, but you won’t regret making these!