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!
|Peanut Brittle|| |
- 3 ½ cups white sugar
- 1 ½ cups white Karo corn syrup
- 2 cups water
- 4 Tablespoons butter (NOT margarine!)
- 1 pound raw Spanish peanuts
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 Tablespoon baking soda
- 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.
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.
And…it wouldn’t be Christmas without DIVINITY!
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 brand new 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.
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!
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.
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!
Merry Christmas to you and yours.