Holiday candy making - start now!
My mother always made cookies for Christmas and for Christmas morning she would make Swedish tea ring. But I've started my own riff on the holiday cooking. When I was in my early 20s I began exploring making things like truffles and toffee and fudge and brittles...candy. I wanted to make candy. It's a messy process and can take a whole day sometimes, depending on what you're planning to do...but once the recipe is complete, there's more than enough candy to feed an army and boxes of gifts fill up fast. You look a little posh too as you're handing a box of candies to a friend and not just another flour ladened goodie. (I do like the floury baked goods too...but those recipes are for later, they don't last as long as candy does.)
I have three candies that I make each and every year. Each recipe was picked up from a magazine or some one's cookbook that I came across along the way. I would transfer those recipes to a notebook I started when I first moved out of my mom's house....a recipe notebook memoir of sorts. There's no rhyme or reason to the recipes in the notebook, just things that I've enjoyed as I've lived.
I know where to find the candy recipes within the jumbled notebook. The fudge recipe was pulled out of a holiday magazine years ago and was pasted into the notebook just after Vicki King's recipe for BBQ sauce. The toffee recipe was printed from the internet sometime before the turn of the century and has not been added to the pages yet...it still sits in the back of the notebook getting a little more sticky every year. The peanut brittle recipe came in a Williams Sonoma catalog circa 2001. I cut it out of the catalog, made my first batch and then quickly taped that recipe next to Judy Dickhudt's recipe for EggNog so I never lost it.
I've never made Vicki King's BBQ sauce nor the EggNog...instead those recipes have become markers for the recipes I do make.
The one thing that's necessary to make candy is a good thermometer. Without it, it can be very hard to guess the cracking point of the hot sugar mix. Knowing if the mixture is at a soft crack or hard crack can be the difference between making a sauce or a crackly candy with a satisfying crunch. Both options are tasty...but getting the one you're setting out to make is more satisfying for me. So, if you don't have a solid candy thermometer yet, consider picking one up before making these next recipes. I like this one but it does mean you need to have a free hand to check temps from time to time. Another good option is something more like this which comes with a clip so it can be attached to your pan. If you happen to have a meat thermometer lying around that measures pretty accurately and can handle temps above 300F, you can use that too.
Normally I try to take pictures of every step of the process in making a recipe...this time I just couldn't do it. I needed both hands (and my husbands hands at times) to get everything mixed together. So...this time you get the more traditional finished product pictures and an amazing three recipes at once!
Creamy Double Decker Fudge
1 cup Reese's Peanut Butter Chips
1 (14-ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate
Prepare 8x8 inch pan by lining with aluminum foil.
In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine 2/3 cup Sweetened Condensed Milk with Peanut Butter chips. Cook in microwave on high for 1 minute, remove cup and stir. Once the chips are all melted (may need another 20-30 seconds in the microwave) stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Spread mixture evenly in the prepared pan. Next, combine the rest of the Sweetened condensed milk and the semi-sweet chocolate in a measuring cup. Heat on high in microwave for 1 minute, remove cup and stir. Once the chips are melted, stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Spread on to of peanut mixture in the prepared pan. Allow to cool for 2 hours until firm. Cut into 1 inch cubes and store (covered) in the refrigerator
NOW, this isn't an over the top recipe for fudge with 50 steps and a headache thrown in for good measure. It's easy, accessible and decent. I make a few changes to the recipe as I'm want to do. First, I always use the entire bag of Peanut Butter Chips...I think it's an 8 oz bag and I'm not one to hold onto 2oz of random chips...I prefer to have more fudge at that point. I also vary the semi-sweet chocolate I use. Sometimes I use really good chocolate, sometimes I use Nestle chocolate chips...I haven't noticed a real difference. This is one place where we're not going high brow so Nestle is fine. Maybe I'm just not a fudge connoisseur (I'm not) but this recipe is good on a plate of cookies being served as part of an overly sugared event!
The Toffee recipe came from the Foodnetwork.com site, many many years ago. And surprise! It's still there! You can find it here.
Honey Crunch Toffee
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dark rum
2 cups almonds, chopped or sliced and toasted
8 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar, water, honey, and dark rum and cook to 220 degrees F. on a candy thermometer. Add 1 3/4 cups of the almonds and stir while you cook it to hard crack or 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, lay a silpat on a sheet pan or butter a 12 by 18-inch sheet pan well. When the toffee is up to temperature, pour it out onto the pan and place another silpat on top. Roll it to 1/4-inch thick or just spread it with the back of a spoon and let cool.
To temper the chocolate, place it over simmering water, melting it to 115 to 120 degrees F on a chocolate thermometer. Meanwhile, wipe the surface of the toffee with a damp towel to remove any excess butter and let dry for a few minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the bowl from the simmering water, and let cool, stirring until it reaches 82 to 86 degrees. It will begin to set a little around the edges at this point. Return the bowl to the hot (now turned off) water for a few seconds at a time, until it reaches 88 to 91 degrees F. Do not let it go over 91 degrees F or it will go out of temper. Using an offset spatula, spread the surface with the tempered chocolate and sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup almonds. Let it set up at room temperature and then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
Recipe courtesy of Gale Gand
I pulled the above directly from their website. Here's the little things I switch up when making it.
- Use a good rum. Why? Because rum is good. And good rum is better.
- I use all the almonds in my toffee. I'm not so excited about having extra nuts for the top, after you spread the chocolate, so I just use it all at once in the toffee itself. I've also been known to swap out almonds for pecans.
- If you don't have a chocolate thermometer, bring a double boiler up to heat, add chocolate to the top pan and remove the pans from heat (turn off the burner). Stir the chocolate...it will melt from the residual heat left in the boiling water from the pan below. This usually works...but not always. If you have a chocolate thermometer, use it! If not...keep your fingers crossed and try this! How will you know if the chocolate isn't tempered? It will taste and feel a little grainy...it's an odd texture, not nearly as smooth and silky as "normal" chocolate.
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cups light corn syrup
3 Tbs water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups salted peanuts
Line a cookie sheet with a Silpat liner.
In a copper pot over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water and vanilla. Stir until the mixture starts to boil. Cover and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and brush the inside of the pan with cold water. Cook until a candy thermometer registers 280ºF, 12 to 15 minutes more.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, stirring until it melts. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer registers 300ºF, 7 to 10 minutes.
Working quickly and carefully, remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda, stirring constantly until incorporated. Stir in the peanuts. Pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheet and spread evenly. Let cool, then break into small pieces. Makes 3 to 4 cups.
I got lucky with this recipe too....the recipe was still out on the Williams-Sonoma site! You can find their online version here.
Some things I look out for when making this recipe -
- When adding the baking soda, be prepared that the mixture may bubble up A LOT. The first time I made the recipe I could have used a much larger pot. I learned quickly and now make sure I have a pan that will hold at least three times the ingredients than what I am using. A 5-quart pan should be fine for a single recipe. I like a stock pot when I double the recipe.
- I always double the recipe. My mother-in-law loves the stuff. Having twice the normal amount means that I can make sure she has enough for a few months of happiness as well as giving some away to others.
- I've used normal salted peanuts as well as 50% less salt peanuts. I don't really notice a difference. If you have a penchant for more salt in all cases, get the full salt peanuts, otherwise you'll be fine with the 50% less salt ones too.
And then, you're done. You've spent an afternoon mixing up a few things and have many pounds of candy available to spread the love around!
A word on clean-up, I find that adding water to my dirty toffee and brittle pans and bringing it to a boil really helps make clean-up easier. No more sticky mess to scrub, since the sugary mess just slides into the boiling water and wipes up quickly afterwords!