By Michele E. Buttelman
One of the joys of the holiday season is to bake cookies, cakes and other holiday goodies for friends and family. Many bakers are hesitant to make candy or other confections because it seems complicated.
However, there are many holiday candy and confection recipes that are very simple and will impress your giftees when they open a tin of your handmade holiday sweets.
Many recipes need nothing more than a reliable candy thermometer and will take less time to prepare than a batch of Christmas cookies.
Slow Cooker Candy Clusters
My cousin brought these to our Christmas celebration a few years ago and everyone was suitably impressed. They didn’t last an hour. It was the candy everyone reached for first. The best part of this recipe is that you can make your candy clusters to include only your favorite add-ins. I like pecans and cashews but peanuts, almonds and walnuts can also be used. Here’s my creation:
46 oz milk chocolate chips, Ghirardelli
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips, Ghirardelli
12 oz white chocolate chips, Ghirardelli
2 cups chopped pecan pieces
2 cups chopped cashew pieces
1 cup broken pretzel pieces
Red and green M&Ms
First gently roast your nuts on a cookie sheet in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake 7 to 8 minutes for nuts like pecans, walnuts and almonds, stirring once. Nuts burn quickly so keep a close eye on them.
Place the milk, semi-sweet, and white chocolate chips in a crockpot. Cover and turn to the crockpot to warm.
Let the chocolate warm for one hour, or until chips are melted.
Stir when melted.
Add in the nuts and pretzel and mix until coated.
Drop by tablespoon onto parchment or wax paper lined baking sheets. Press M&Ms and sprinkles on the top of the clusters. Let the candy sit at room temperature until set.
Store in airtight container. Keep at room temperature or freeze if needed.
These are worth the effort. I’ve been making meringues since home economics class in high school. I also love peppermint so this seemed like a natural to me. These literally melt in your mouth.
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red food coloring
Heat oven to 200°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large metal or glass bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar. Set bowl over (but not in) saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until sugar has dissolved and whites are very warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove from heat and using electric mixer, beat on low speed, gradually increasing speed to high, until glossy soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Beat in peppermint extract. Beat in red food dye until you get the shade of pink you desire. Do not overmix.
Fit pastry bag with 1/2-inch round pastry tip. Spoon egg white mixture into bag and pipe 1-inch circles onto prepared baking sheets. Or just drop spoonfuls of meringue mixture onto baking sheet.
Bake meringues until just set on outside, 60 to 75 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.
I had the best home economics teacher in high school. She liked making candy as much as we liked making and eating it. I made so much of this toffee that I finally got tired of it.
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup finely chopped almonds
Combine butter, sugar, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat; stir constantly in one direction until butter is melted, about 5 minutes.
Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with a sheet of parchment paper, letting it overhang two sides of the dish.
Once the butter has melted, stop stirring and bring mixture to a boil. Once boiling, cook, stirring only 2 to 3 times, until it turns a dark amber color and the temperature reaches 285F on a candy thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes.
Immediately pour toffee into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top and let sit until they soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a spatula to spread softened chocolate into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle nuts over the chocolate and press down slightly. (I wearing a plastic food storage bag over my hand to minimize the mess).
Place toffee in the refrigerator until set, about 1 hour.
Lift hardened toffee out of the baking dish with the parchment paper. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.
Lillian’s Rum Balls
When I was just out of college I went to work for a major metropolitan newspaper in Los Angeles. One of my co-workers was a crusty, older lady, who seemed tough as nails. She scared me. But she made the best rum balls. I was so touched when she gifted me her recipe.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup baking cocoa
12 ounces vanilla wafers, finely crushed
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup Myer’s Original Dark Rum
Additional confectioners’ sugar, coconut flakes or powdered cocoa.
In a large bowl, mix confectioners’ sugar and cocoa until blended. Add crushed wafers and walnuts and toss to combine. In another bowl, mix corn syrup and rum; stir into wafer mixture.
Shape into 1-in. balls. Roll in additional confectioners’ sugar, coconut flakes or powdered coca. Store in an airtight container.