Many of us have Christmas traditions. The one I have developed since I started writing Cooks’ Corner is to feature cookie recipes one week of December and candy another; this holiday season is no exception.
Thoughts of candy at Christmas brought back a lot of sweet memories from my childhood days. Uncle Bill brought our family a box of ribbon candy almost every year. Included were several different flavors and colors of thin and somewhat brittle strips of striped confection that were looped back and forth, creating a ribbon effect.
Our stockings contained other types of candy. Peppermint barber poles were often seen poking out of the tops. Inside were various forms of hard candy, including wrapped cinnamon and butterscotch discs, along with root beer barrels. If my parents managed to get to a health food store in downtown Knoxville, there would be carob-flavored candy bars to take the place of the chocolate I cannot eat. My favorite of those was the mint-flavored variety.
A lot of gingerbread houses are constructed during the Christmas season, but my mother crafted candy houses. She would purchase an assortment of hard candy for her building materials. A particular type of icing became the mortar that held it all together. The assembly went in stages, as she would have to wait for the icing to dry before she continued on to the next phase. The roof was usually made with peppermint sticks; if Mom wanted a more shingled look, she used mint pillows.
Another one of Mom’s traditions involved gumdrops. She had a small clear plastic tree that sat on a red base. It looked like its leaves were missing until we stuck colored gumdrops on all the branches, which were pointed just for that purpose. After the holiday, we ate the gumdrops, but the candy house made its way to the trash can.
Reminiscing aside, I have candy recipes to share. I tried a couple of new (to me) recipes that I found in my stack of newspaper and magazine clippings. Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares remind me of dipped peanut butter balls; however, they are much easier to make since there is no dipping involved. I used butterscotch chips on mine instead of chocolate so I could eat them. They are quite tasty and very simple to make.
The next candy I tried was a different story. It had to be cooked, stirring constantly, until it reached the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer. I did that just fine. Then it was to cool. After that, it needed to be beaten with a wooden spoon until it could be shaped. I beat and beat and beat and beat, but it stayed too soft. I beat some more. And then some more. I finally developed blisters on my hand, and although it was still soft, I could at least shape it into the suggested logs and roll it in cinnamon. As the mixture cooled some more, it was easier to form. I was in too big of a hurry and started beating while it was still too warm. The candy was okay, but I didn’t think it was anything to ever make again until I ate a piece the next day. By then, the cinnamon flavor had dispersed throughout the whole piece instead of just being on the outside, and I changed my mind about the outcome.
The other recipes are favorites from the past.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Candy Squares
1 cup butter, melted
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 1 packet)
1 cup peanut butter
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips (may use butterscotch)
Line bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over ends.
Stir together first 4 ingredients until well blended. Press mixture evenly into prepared pan.
Melt chocolate, using directions on package. Spread evenly over mixture in pan. Chill 30 minutes.
Lift out of pan using foil as handles. Cut into 1-inch squares, or whatever size you prefer.
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a heavy saucepan, stir together first 6 ingredients until the butter melts.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook to soft ball stage (234 degrees on candy thermometer), stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Cool.
Beat hard with a wooden spoon until mixture is a consistency that can be shaped. Roll into small logs.
Put ground cinnamon on a sheet of waxed paper; roll logs in cinnamon to coat. Cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces.
Keep candy refrigerated.
Chocolate Mint Fudge
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk, divided
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 ounces white chocolate
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 or 3 drops red food coloring
2 or 3 drops green food coloring
In a 2-quart micro-proof bowl, combine 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk with chocolate chips. Microwave on High for 3 minutes or until chips are melted. (Time and power level may need to adjusted for higher wattage microwaves.) Stir in vanilla. Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly in the bottom of a foil-lined 8-inch square pan. Place pan in freezer. Set remaining mixture aside.
In a 1-quart micro-proof bowl, combine remaining condensed milk with white chocolate. Microwave on High (adjust if necessary) for 1 to 3 minutes, stopping to stir occasionally until melted. Stir in peppermint extract. Divide peppermint mixture in half; color one half with the red food coloring and the other half with the green food coloring.
Spread pink mixture on top of the chilled chocolate layer and return pan to freezer 5 minutes. Remove from freezer and spread green mixture on top of pink layer. Return pan to freezer to set layers.
If necessary, melt reserved chocolate mixture again in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes. Spread on top of peppermint layer and return to freezer to set.
Cut into 1-inch squares. Store in refrigerator. Yield: 64 squares of fudge.
Coconut Yule Trees
3 cups flaked coconut
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup butter (or margarine), softened
1/4 cup half-and-half cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 to 4 ounces dark chocolate confectionary coating
Green sugar and red-hot candies
In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients; mix well. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet; cover and chill for 1 hour. Shape into trees (triangles with trunks); return to the baking sheet. In a double boiler or microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate coating. Spoon over trunks of trees or dip trunks in chocolate coating; set aside to harden. Decorate tops of trees with green sugar and red-hots. Yield: about 2 dozen.