We’ve talked about holiday cookies this year and shared some recipes, but we have yet to really delve into that other big category of Christmas treats: candy. I know lots of folks who wouldn’t think to whip up a batch of candy outside of December, but when the wreaths and ornaments come out they start dreaming of fudge, peanut butter balls, pralines and other special-occasion treats.
It doesn’t take a “Sweet Genius” (anybody watched that bizarre show?) to know that candy is so fickle – just a few degrees in temperature or a little too much humidity can ruin a whole batch. I have even heard people say that a woman should not make candy at certain times… and that’s as far as I’ll go with that interesting advice.
Here are a few candy-making tips from my favorite candy cookbook, “Field Guide to Candy” by Anita Chu:
- Cook sugar on a clear, dry day. Sugar absorbs water, so excess humidity can lengthen the process or prevent the candy from turning out right. Chu advises turning on an air conditioner to make the kitchen cool and dry.
- Use a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, at least 3-quart size. Chu recommends aluminum and copper pans because they conduct heat evenly. Use unlined copper pans. The best thing is a “sugar pot,” or a large, all-copper saucepan.
- Watch for crystallization that can ruin sugar syrup. If a stray sugar crystal or particle gets in your syrup, it can turn the entire mix into a mess. You must throw out crystallized sugar syrup and start from scratch with a clean pan. Chu says agitating the syrup at the wrong time can cause crystallization.
- Prevent crystallization by using “doctors” or “interfering agents” such as cream of tartar, lemon juice, corn syrup, butter and cream.
If you’re looking for some beginner-level candies to make, try chocolate-covered strawberries (to go fancy, dip in white chocolate, then dark chocolate, leaving a “V” of white chocolate visible in front. Draw on buttons and a bowtie with dark chocolate to make tuxedo strawberries). Also fairly easy are preacher cookies; chocolate-covered dried fruit, such as apricots or apples; stuffed dates; peanut butter balls or buckeyes; chocolate bark; rum balls; pecan pralines; candied nuts; chocolate-dipped pretzels or potato chips; crispy rice treats; and potato pinwheels.
I am going to share recipes here for stuffed dates, rum balls and pralines. I would love to hear about what kind of candy you make around the holidays, and any candy-making tips you have learned over the years.