Holidays bring the best sweets

Homemade candies add to gift, potluck plates

Fudge made from chocolate chips and marshmallows is a popular holiday candy.

Photo by Dee Camp
Fudge made from chocolate chips and marshmallows is a popular holiday candy.



OKANOGAN - During the holidays, people trot out their best sweets for family, friends, co-workers, potlucks and bake sales.

Sometimes it’s fun to go beyond iced cutouts, chocolate chip cookies and gingerbread men, and enter the realm of candy making.

Confections can be as easy as melting some chips and adding a few goodies or a complicated as dragging out a candy thermometer and watching the temperature rise in a rapidly boiling sugar syrup.

If you’re inclined to do the latter, just remember the cautions of many experienced cooks: Boiling sugar syrup is culinary napalm. Be sure to have a bowl of ice water handy, so if you spill some of the syrup on yourself you can stop the burning by plunging your hands in the cold water.

If you want to try your hand at candy, let’s start simple. These Cashew Clusters are about a simple as “homemade” candy can get:

Cashew Clusters

6 ounces milk chocolate chips (small bag or half a large bag)

1 1/2 cups cashews

Place chips in a microwave-safe bowl large enough to hold both the chips and nuts. Melt chocolate for two minutes in microwave at half power (50 percent), stirring partway through melting time. (Since microwaves are of different wattages, the melting time may need to be adjusted. With chocolate, always err on the side of not enough time at first. Scorched chocolate is not a pretty sight.)

Pour nuts into melted chocolate and stir to coat. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper or parchment. Allow to cool and set.

This can be made with other nuts, raisins or other dried fruit such as cherries, chopped apricots or cranberries. Or try dark chocolate. Or white chocolate chips.

It’s easy to expand the chocolate repertoire with an easy fudge. This is a popular recipe (some variations use marshmallow creme), but was always a standard Christmas candy in our home when I was growing up.

Fudge

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup evaporated (canned) milk

3 Tablespoons butter

3 cups miniature marshmallows

12 ounces chocolate chips

Combine in an electric skillet set at 280 degrees. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for five minutes. Turn off the heat and add miniature marshmallows and chocolate chips. Stir until dissolved and combined.

Or bring sugar, milk and butter to a boil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring constantly, and cook for five minutes. A non-stick pot works well, reducing the risk of burning. Turn off the heat and proceed as with electric skillet directions.

Pour into a buttered 9x9 pan and allow to sit and chill until firm.

Variations: Semi-sweet, chocolate mint or milk chocolate chips may be used, as can butterscotch, white chocolate or peanut butter chips. Chopped nuts may be added.

This next one isn’t really candy, but is still a welcome addition to a gift basket or buffet tray. In small, zippered bags, it can be used to fill in the cracks when packing cookies for a cross-country trip in the mail.

The recipe comes from Ken Zimmerlee, who wrote about Wauconda happenings many years ago for The Chronicle.

Caramel Corn

2 quarts (8 cups) popped popcorn, no salt or butter

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt (optional)

Place popcorn in a large bowl. Melt butter in a small saucepan. (Non-stick works best.) Add brown sugar, vanilla and, if using, salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Stir in sugar and vanilla, then stir constantly so the butter doesn’t separate.

Pour butter mixture over popcorn. Toss/stir with a large spoon to coat popcorn well. Spread out in a single layer on two 11x14 sheet pans or rimmed cookie sheets lined with waxed paper. Let cool completely. Break up and eat. Store any leftovers in a tightly covered container.

Now let’s take a step into the past and some old-fashioned family favorites from my mother’s cookbook. She amassed hundreds of recipes in a now-dog-eared and greatly cherished book.

The first recipe, Mother’s Fudge, isn’t really fudge in the traditional chocolate sense. It’s more like a homemade marshmallow. I remember my mother telling me that her mother always made it at Christmas.

Mother’s Fudge

3 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

¾ cup water

2 egg whites

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Boil together, without stirring, the sugar, corn syrup and water. Have the lid on the pan for three minutes, the remove the lid and beat the mixture until it spins three long threads when tested.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add salt and vanilla. Pour syrup on egg whites and beat until the mixture thickens slightly; spread in a buttered 8x8 pan. Cool and cut into squares.

Variation: Add ¾ cup chopped walnuts while beating.

I’m not sure of the origin of this next one. My mom’s note, written off to the side of the recipe, is that my dad said it was the best candy she ever made.

Almond Nougat

2 cups granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup light corn syrup

½ cup water

2 egg whites

3 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped, roasted almonds

Cook sugar, salt, corn syrup and water together to hard ball stage (264 degrees), using a candy thermometer. Do not stir. Pour gradually over stiffly beaten egg whites and beat until thick.

Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Pour in buttered 8x8 square pan. Cool. Turn out and cut in 1 ½-inch square pieces. Wrap individually in wax paper.

Finally, a couple of gel recipes. The first is modeled after a famous confection made for years in Cashmere. Although Mom’s recipe book calls the candy by its commercial name, we’ll just call it Apple Gel.

I’m not sure where the second recipe, Cranberry Jelly Candy, originated, but my mother made it many, many times at Christmas. It became part of the plates of goodies she always prepared for neighbors and which were delivered late Christmas morning, giving the families time to open gifts and eat breakfast.

Apple Gel

2 envelopes plain gelatin

1 ¼ cus cold apple juice, divided

2 cups granulated sugar

¾ cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Rose or strawberry extract

Powdered sugar

Soak plain gelatin in ½ cup cold apple juice for 10 minutes. Heat ¾ cup apple juice in a saucepan with sugar. Bring to a boil. Add gelatin mixture and boil 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool until the mixture starts to set. Stir in ¾ cup chopped nuts, 1 teaspoon vanilla and a few drops of rose or strawberry flavoring. Pour into a lightly buttered pan and, when firm, cut in squares. Roll in powdered sugar.

Cranberry Jelly Candy

1 16-ounce can jellied cranberry sauce (the smooth stuff, not whole berry)

3 3-ounce packages gelatin (2 lemon, 1 cherry)

1 cup granulated sugar

½ bottle liquid pectin

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Additional sugar or flaked coconut

Beat cranberry sauce until smooth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in gelatin and sugar. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring often to dissolve. Remove from heat.

Stir in liquid pectin. Add nuts (if using) and stir 10 minutes (cools down and prevents floating nuts). Pour into buttered 9-inch square pan. Chill until firm, about two hours. Invert on wax paper which has been sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Cut in squares with a spatula or knife that has been dipped in warm water. Roll in sugar. Allow to stand a while. Roll in sugar again.

If you make any of these, please let me know how they turn out. I often make peanut brittle and fudge at Christmas, and one year I tried making some coffee caramels (let’s just say those hard candies were good).

But now I’m inspired to try some of these old favorites again.

Dee Camp is a reporter for The Chronicle. Contact her at dcamp@omakchronicle.com.



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