Cooks Exchange

Homemade candy makes the world feel good — especially at Christmas

The old song says the candy man makes the world taste good.

Making homemade candy may not make the world feel good, but friends and family are sure to enjoy the confections.

Christmas is just five days away, and tins or bags of homemade candy make good hostess gifts, treat bags for children and gifts for friends, hairdressers, mail persons, nail techs, teachers and more.

Unlike cookies that often are chilled in dough form before baking, candy is quick. Home cooks must work fast when making candy.

Longtime friend Angie Jones of Gulfport is a top baker. She does the most wonderful breads. She is an all-around good cook. In our 30 years of friendship, I have not tasted anything of hers that was bad.

Last week, she shared a photo of the dozens of pralines that she had finished. She sent me the recipe. It is from the Washington Baptist Church old mimeographed cookbook.

“This is my very favorite recipe by Betty Holloway,” Jones said. “Merry Christmas to me.”

I am not a great candy maker, but thought I would give these pralines a try, as well as peppermint bark. My daughter and I love Ghirardelli’s peppermint bark, so I thought I would try making some. I will share the recipe I used and one from Taste of Home magazine for layered mint candies. Another goodie is hot chocolate toffee. I found it on www.howtofeedaloon.com/ . This recipe is easy with only five ingredients and sure to be a hit with the recipient.

I do offer two fruit candy recipes for those who need low-sugar sweets. These I have had in my files for years. One is for a fruit candy using apricots, crushed pineapple, sugar-free pineapple gelatin and coconut. The other is for fruit slices from the Culinary Arts Institute. The fruits used are prunes, dried figs, raisins, nuts and coconut.

Any one of these candies would make a great gift, but imagine giving a Christmas tin filled with homemade chocolates? That’s a thoughtful gift in my book.

Remember there’s still time to try your skills at these treats. Packaging ideas are only limited by your imagination.

Remember to use only unsalted butter in homemade candies or even cakes and cookies. Salted butter can make the candy, cakes or cookies too salty. Most sweets recipes call for at least 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt, so the butter should not be salty.

In all my cooking or baking, I use only unsalted butter. Again, who needs the extra salt?

May my readers have sweet Merry Christmas.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net and Cooks Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

PECAN PRALINES

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon soda

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 1/2 cups pecan halves

In large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, soda, buttermilk and salt. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes (or to 210 degrees on candy thermometer) stirring frequently, scraping bottom of pan. Add butter and pecans. Continue cooking and stirring constantly, scraping bottom and sides of pan, until candy reaches soft ball stage (234 degrees — about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and cool slightly. Beat until thick and creamy. Drop from tablespoon onto waxed paper and let cool.

Submitted by Angie Jones from Washington Baptist Church cookbook

PEPPERMINT BARK

12 ounces chocolate chips

1 pound white chocolate chips

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

1/2 cup peppermint candy, crushed

Preheat oven to 250. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil, letting it hang over the sides. Spray foil with non-stick spray. Pour the chocolate chips in an even layer on the foil. Place in oven for 5 minutes or until almost melted. Remove from oven, smooth with an offset spatula or knife. Place in refrigerator until cold and firm, about 20 minutes.

Melt white chocolate chips in a double boiler or in a metal bowl over simmering water (don’t let bottom of bowl touch water), until chocolate is almost melted. If you are daring, you can use your microwave. Remove bowl from water and stir until completely melted, stirring in extract. Let cool a little bit so it doesn’t melt the chocolate layer when you pour it on top. Pour this over chocolate layer, and, working quickly, spread to cover. Sprinkle with crushed candy (I pressed the candy in just a bit).

Chill until both layers are firm. Lift foil out of pan and shake off excess candy. Trim edges. Cut into 2-inch wide strips. Peel bark from foil and cut each strip as desired. Chill in covered container. Makes about 2 pounds.

From www.food.com/ and www.geniuskitchen.com/

HOT CHOCOLATE TOFFEE

1 cup (or more, to taste) almonds, sliced

14 tablespoons (2 sticks minus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

9 Hershey chocolate bars

Coarse sea salt

Spread a piece of foil about 18 inches long onto a large surface.

Spread almonds across the foil.

Melt the butter with the sugar over medium heat, stirring frequently. Stir until butter/sugar has just turned the color of peanut butter. Carefully pour the mixture over the almonds. Place the chocolate bars over the hot toffee.

As the chocolate melts, smear slightly with your fingers or back of a spoon to cover the toffee. Sprinkle the sea salt over the top.

Let rest about 20 minutes then place in the refrigerator until hardened, up to 1 hour.

Cut into pieces and serve in festive holiday tins.

From www.howtofeedaloon.com/

FAVORITE FRUIT CANDY

1 quart apricots, drained

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple

2 packages sugar-free pineapple gelatin

Ground coconut

Cook apricots and pineapple until fruit is very soft. You may add a small amount of sugar or sugar substitute if you feel the fruit is too tart. Rub fruit mixture through a sieve. Add the dry gelatin and dissolved with some added heating, if necessary. Pour onto waxed paper. Set in a cool place. When set, roll into log, cut and roll in ground coconut.

From ‘Sharing Our Favorites’ cookbook published by the VFW Auxiliary in Pahrump, Nevada.

FRUIT SLICES

1 cup prunes, pitted

1 cup dried figs

1 cup seeded raisins

1/2 cup nut meats

Toasted coconut or chopped nuts

Cover prunes with water and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Rinse figs and raisins, drain and dry thoroughly. Grin fruits and nuts fine. Blend thoroughly, divide and shape into rolls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Roll in coconut or nuts. Chill before slicing. Makes about 50 pieces.

From ‘Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook (1950)’

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