Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Christmas Candy

I'm busy making the caramels today, so this is a repost from Xmas 2007, (although I added Hallie's chocolate covered orange rind recipe to the bottom) but we figure you just can't publish candy recipes too often!

JAN: Every Christmas, I make home-made candy and give it to friends and neighbors. I start with caramels. Do not do this. It's completely insane. Caramels TAKE FOREVER. You actually have to stand at the stove about an hour, slowly stirring hot sugary liquid, remembering not to use your finger to wipe the side of the pot or sneak a taste. You will burn. I've got scars.

Not only that, but if you screw up and let the caramel cook too long, your Christmas gift to the neigbors will break their teeth.

And do they really need all those extra holiday calories anyway? I always wonder.

But maybe because cookies and cakes seem like so much unnecessary flour -- when anyone really needs is the straight sugar and chocolate, I stick with candies. And holiday rituals in our house are set in stone. My daughter, who loves rituals, makes the caramel part less onerous by putting on the holiday CD and keeping me company while I embark on the marathon stir. She also buys the cute little candy boxes at A.C. Moore and handles all the necessary ribbon tying.

But forget about caramels. If you go in for making Christmas candies, you want my English toffee recipe.Actually, it's my Aunt Clare's English toffee recipe -- she's the one who got me started on this candy making business. (although even she was not insane enough to do caramels)

It takes about fifteen minutes, and its absolutely delicious. Just be careful about the pan

Aunt Clare's English Toffee recipe

24 unsalted saltines1 cup butter1 cup packed light brown sugar1/2 tsp. vanilla6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13 by 19 inch pan (or thereabouts) and arrange saltines right side up in a single layer. On stovetop, melt butter and brown sugar. Bring to boil, boil for three minutes, stir at least twice.Remove from heat, add vanilla and pour over the saltines. Spread evenly with a spatula. Bake five minutes. Remove from oven, add chocolate chips, spread as they melt.Let cool ten minutes on a rack. Remove and cut in triangles. BEWARE: If you let the toffee cool too long, it can stick to the pan and be difficult to remove. If that happens, put the pan in a larger pan filled 1/4 inch with hot water and it will loosen the candy on the bottom. Don't overfill.Enjoy!

HANK: Ah, you've been literally burned by candy? When the food fights back, you've gotta watch it. I battled our pop-up timer on this year's turkey (I won. Eventually). And I'm planning a ranting letter to a certain food editor about a fabulous recipe in the paper that was billed as "easy" which took me THREE HOURS on Thanksgiving eve and used every pan in my kitchen. It was, indeed, delicious. But regular sweet potatoes might have been just as good. And take only 15 minutes. (If you want the recipe, just ask. I'll post it. But I'd advise--run away run away.)

Still, family and friends. It makes going all out worth it. And Jan, you think of Aunt Clare every time you make the toffee. That's what its all about.

ROBERTA: I was thinking the same thing Hank. My mother was not much of a cook. She didn't like it and yet she didn't want anyone in the kitchen helping either. She cooked 50's style--everything overdone except for the chow mein out of a can. But when it came to Christmas cookies, she became a machine. We had one of those little screw top presses where you could change the disk so different shapes would be squeezed out--wreaths, candy canes, mini-Christmas trees, etc. And she dyed the dough different colors. Then we put on pounds and pounds of glitter and those teeth-cracking silver balls.

All that to say, it's neat that your daughter's into this ritual Jan--I'm sure she'll always remember it!

RO: All that unnecessary flour? I'm crushed. I'm more like Roberta's mom...a cookie machine. I didn't do it this year (some book thing keeps interrupting me..) but most years I start making my cookie dough in November. Then I pop something like I, Claudius or The Sopranos into the dvd player (for 10 hours of straight video)and make cookies from morning until nighttime - while reciting favorite lines. I've never used the little silver balls though, can you really eat them?

HALLIE: Here it's not a cookie Christmas -- it's dark chocolate covered orange rind. It's completely exhausting and completely worth the effort. I mean, the stuff costs a fortune and what you can make yourself tastes better...provided you've got a half day to kill. Step 1: go to that candy-making Zen place. It's the same as the pate-making and bread-making Zen place. Then, peel lots of oranges, boil the peels, scrap away the white part so it's just the 'zest,' cut in strips, simmer zest strips in sugar(enter candy thermoneter), cool, dip one end of each piece in melted dark chocolate and the other end in sugar (keeps them from all sticking together). Yum.

JAN: Yes, my mother, actually a good cook, made no Christmas candies or cookies, established no holiday rituals, and put up a fake tree. To compensate, I went with the insanity, I lovingly pass on to my daughter.

Here's Hallie's candy recipe:

Chocolate dipped candied orange peel a la Hallie Ephron

- Remove the peel from 4 oranges in lengthwise sections
- Put peel in saucepan covered with cold water; bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until peel is soft
- Drain peel and scrape off inner white part with a spoon (I use a grapefruit spoon w/a serrated edge)
- cut peel into thin strips with a scissor
- Place in saucepan:
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup water
* 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
* strips of peel
- Cook slowly until clear (230 on the candy thermometer)
- Drain in coarse sieve
- Cool peel on wax paper
- Melt dark dipping chocolate in a little frying pan 
- Spill out a little mound of granulated sugar on a plate
- Dip 1 end of each strip of candied peel in melted chocolate, dip the other end in granulated sugar (so its not so sticky and hard to handle), and let sit on wax paper until chocolate hardens


  1. Roberta, your mother sounds just like mine. She was amazing with cakes from scratch, cookies, and anything sweet, but her everyday meal cooking was tiresomely mundane.

    Those silver balls are called dragees, with an accent on the second e. They're so pretty, but utterly useless!

    My youngest daughter recently began a cooking blog, called The Tart's Kitchen. She's a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami, FL, in molecular microbiology, and to relieve stress she cooks. The sweet potato recipe is to die for:

  2. I'm on my way to check it out! (love sweet potatoes)

  3. Aunt Clare's Toffee recipe sounds much like our Christmas Crack recipe, only we add chopped pecans while the chocolate melts. We even add pecans to the sweet potato casserole: sweet taters, Karo syrup, butter, marshmallows, and pecans. It's a southern thing, okay!?! I do sweet breads. yeast rolls, and cookies. A favorite cookie recipe are Forgotten Cookies--egg whites, sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips and pecans. Drop them on the sheet, put them in a preheated then turned off oven overnight. Since we have a wedding (The Only's) the first week of January, I'm not baking as much this year. I miss it. I may have to just make time to get more baking in. It's great for relieving stress.

  4. Those Forgotten cookies sound awesome!!

    And I love pecans, too!!

    (maybe I should move south!)

  5. Jan, the Forgotten Cookies are so easy!
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees

    3 Egg whites
    1 Cup sugar

    Beat until stiff. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix in 1 12oz package chocolate chips (your favorite flavor), 1 cup chopped pecans.

    Line cookie sheets with foil. Drop batter by rounded teaspoonfuls. Turn off oven. Place sheets on two racks in oven. Leave overnight. Store in airtight container.

    I add red food coloring to the batter to turn it pink for Valentine's Day. :D

  6. My only attempt at Christmas candy is is a family favourite peppermint creams. Very simple and quick stirring icing sugar and egg whites together until they form a nice smooth paste adding a little peppermint essence and some food colouring and that's about it. Cutting to shapes at some of those silver balls to break your teeth if you want to and you're done. And I'm writing this with my new Dragon software brilliant.

  7. I made Chritmas fudge the first year I was married. Hubby and I made it together after borrowing my Mom's candy thermometer. Who knew you had to check it, I assumed it worked right.

    Evedently, it was a little under temperture. Needless to say the fudge didn't cook long enough. Everytime we took it our of the fridge to cut it, by the time we were ready to put it in the individual boxes, the cuts were gone and it was a slab again.

    We gave up trying, kept the fudge in the fridge, eating it in small amounts...all ten pounds. It was great!

    Never tried to make candy again, but I do make Christams cookies.

  8. Rhys and Silver James, I'm copying and pasting your recipes into my WORD recipe file for next year!

    Pat -- some candies are easier than others!!