Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baker's Delight: Candy

I love to make candy! It's usually fairly easy, tastes delicious, and makes a lot. It can frequently be gluten-free which is very nice when making a tray of sweets or giving a gift to someone with a gluten intolerance.

My biggest tip about candy making is to choose quality ingredients. The higher quality the chocolate, the better the sweet. I buy brand-name chocolate chips and chocolate bars - I find the store brands to generally be too waxy. This time of year is a great time to stock up because they are often on sale!

These nut clusters are simple and taste so good! Make them small and they will be perfect bite size pieces of goodness.



NUT CLUSTERS
(I adapted this slightly from my friend, Micah!)

12 oz. can of salted peanuts
6 oz. Semi-sweet Chocolate chips
6 oz. Butterscotch chips
2 oz. White Chocolate or vanilla chips
Milk or cream

Melt the semi-sweet and butterscotch chips in the microwave. Stir in peanuts and drop on waxed paper. Melt white chocolate chips with a splash (less than a tsp.) of cream or milk to thin and drizzle over finished clusters.

(I often double this recipe and use 2 cans of peanuts, 1 whole bag of semi-sweet chips and 1 whole bag of butterscotch chips - I think they are 11 oz. each.).

These cherries make any sweets tray beautiful. I started making them about 5 years ago when I thought a recipe looked unnecessarily complicated. I've made them with dark, milk, and white chocolate. Most often, I make the dark and white and sometimes I drizzle them with the contrasting chocolate. This year, I kept it simple...just dark chocolate...so far. They are quick to disappear and it seems I never make enough. The key to making them great is the chocolate.



CHOCOLATE DIPPED CHERRIES

1 jar Maraschino Cherries w/stems
Chocolate (I always use Ghiradelli - I especially like their melting chocolate available at the holidays in a bulk size at warehouse stores)

Drain the cherries in a colander. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave (instructions for each particular chocolate are on the package). Dry cherries thoroughly with paper towels before dipping. Dip in chocolate, shake of excess, and put on a waxed paper lined tray or pan.

The amount of chocolate will depend on the amount of cherries - I've done anywhere from a couple dozen cherries to 10+ dozen. Figure about 11 oz. of chocolate for two small jars of cherries. If you have chocolate left, save it and re-melt it for other candy dipping or drizzling.

These are so delicious and I can't stay out of them! My husband was so disappointed when they all disappeared on goodie trays.  They are very rich so cut them small.



LAYERED CANDY BARS (DOODS)
(I've slightly adapted this from my friend, Merrilee!)
1 stick of butter, melted

1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

Mix the butter and crumbs in a 9X13 pan and press down on the bottom.

Sprinkle on top:

1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 package butterscotch chips

1 c. coconut

1 c. pecans


Drizzle over all:
1 can Eagle brand Condensed milk

Bake for about 25 min. at 350 degrees.  Cool, cut into small pieces, and enjoy!


Another great and easy candy is covered pretzels. They are so pretty to serve and the salty/sweet combo is wonderful!




CANDY-COATED PRETZELS

1 package almond bark or chocolate almond bark
1 bag small pretzels twists
Sprinkles of choice (or drizzle with chocolate)

Melt the bark according the package. Dip pretzels and place on waxed paper lined tray. Sprinkle with toppings. Let harden and store in an airtight container.


My all-time favorite (and a favorite of many in my family) is Butter Pecan Fudge. It melts in your mouth and has this rich, buttery goodness that is incredibly decadent. I'm seriously kicking myself for forgetting to take a picture of it! This is the best I have - it's on the bottom tier. It was completely gone. I'm pretty sure another batch or two will be made between now and New Year's and then I'll take a proper picture.



BUTTER PECAN FUDGE
(Taste of Home)


1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. confectioners' sugar
1 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

In a large heavy saucepan, combine the butter, sugars, cream and salt. Bring to a boil over med. heat, stirring occasionally. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla. Stir in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Fold in pecans.

Spread into a buttered 8-in. square dish (I line mine with foil and then butter it to make it easy to pull out and cut). Cool to room temperature. Cut into 1-in. squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 1-1/4 pounds.

HAPPY CANDY MAKING!