Thursday, December 05, 2013
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Special feature from LDN's Home for the Holidays magazine

Sweet memories

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[December 05, 2013]  Traditions are what make the holidays so wonderful. The songs, the food, the greetings and gifts, and best of all, time spent with family and friends.

But, what is the sweetest tradition in this season?

Children, we all know, love candy. If you dared ask them, most children would swear they could live on candy. And apparently they are correct. Don't the ubiquitous "they" say that of all the food groups you could choose from, you could survive on a chocolate bar?

Who doesn't have a winter holiday memory with candy in it? Candy canes or dishes of sweetened nuts can be found in nearly every home.

If you are over age 40, maybe you remember the days when you received a mixed package at school, or after an event, with hard candies, nuts in the shell, oranges, apples, a box of Cracker Jacks with a prize, and always a peppermint candy stick or cane.

This might be presented in a simple brown paper bag handed out when exiting on the last day of school before Christmas. Or it might be a chock-full red mesh sock, big enough to fit a giant, also handed out at the door when leaving a big party. The larger socks might even have brightly colored, foil-wrapped chocolates in Santa shapes or gold coins, or chocolate creams, whole candy bars, or small boxes of candies, such as Milk Duds or chocolate-covered mints.

Hmmm, interesting that these bundles of sweets with enough calories to fuel a rocket ship were always bestowed when children were headed out the door.

For centuries, people have made candies and given them as gifts. Whether homemade or store-bought, candy is one of the favorite gifts in this holiday season.

When it is homemade, it conveys a special message. People know that they were being thought of kindly and for an extended period of time, as the special sweet took some time to make and to be packaged.

Ask any Logan County Board member. For years now, all during their December meeting, board members' eyes stray to the package with their name on it that sits in front of each person. It sort of looks like enjoyable torment as the meeting wears on because no one will open their box during the meeting. But they all know what is in it. If you watch carefully, at some point you will catch the corners of each person's mouth curl upward for a grin as they glimpse that box.

What's in the box, they all know, is the famous homemade fudge made by JoAnne Marlin, made especially for each and every one of them.

Across the street in the Lincoln City Council chambers, the same has been going on for years. Aldermen look forward to seeing and tasting what Marilyn Armbrust has prepared for them as a holiday treat. Mrs. Armbrust does something different each year. It's always cute, cheerful and scrumptious. But, typically, the aldermen get cookies. So, that's a different story.

If you have not tried making candy before, candy recipes are easy to find online.

Before you begin, here are a few basic tips:

  • Use a heavy pan for any recipe that calls for heating or cooking.

  • Use a candy thermometer, even if the recipe gives cooking time in minutes. Use the guide on the thermometer to decide the temperature.

  • Use a timer.

  • If it says to stop stirring at some point, don't stir again. Even a grain of sugar from the side of the pot can cause crystallizing, and the candy becomes grainy instead of smooth.

  • If you are beating egg whites for stiffness, be sure all the utensils, beaters and the bowl are free of any grease or oil, and it helps if everything in this process is chilled first.

  • Generally speaking, it is better to avoid high-humidity days, but especially if you are making recipes that require stiffly beaten eggs whites and sugar, which is to provide volume.

  • When beating sugar into egg whites, add sugar steadily and gradually; don't just dump.

  • In candy making, ingredient substitutions are common, but you will want to follow the process directions closely.

  • Allow yourself plenty of time. This should be fun.

  • And, most important to remember, if it doesn't turn out right, don't tell anybody. You've made a new recipe and it tastes just as good.

Candy making can call for some quick and timely actions. So, you will want to get completely organized before you begin.

Set out all the measuring instruments, utensils, thermometer, bowls and pans, and the ingredients you will be using. Prepare your final containers, which may be buttered or oiled cake pans, or cookie sheets or boxes lined with parchment or wax papers.

Setup for the final product usually takes some time, so it's better to have it done before you start.

Read through the recipe a couple of times to become familiar with what you will be doing and to see if there is any setup you will want to do before starting, such as if you would need to set a hot pan into a pan of cold water. Or, you might need extra space in the final steps, such as if you are to be pulling taffy, which takes lots of room and scissors.

OK, you've picked your recipe, you have everything ready to go. Now it's time to turn on your favorite holiday music and enjoy starting a new tradition.

Here is a recipe you might try. Christmas Butter Fudge is made with simple ingredients. It was taken from an old candy book. How old? The book has a recipe from Lady Bird Johnson when her husband was president of the United States, and another recipe is from Mrs. Otto Kerner when her husband was governor of Illinois.

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So, this recipe is at least 50 years old. Considering the year, where it calls for milk, that probably means you will want whole milk. Today, people drink lower-fat milk, which might not be good for fudge. You might try using either evaporated or condensed milk as a substitute if you don't have whole milk on hand.

This fudge can be dressed up for the holidays with nuts or candied fruit, according to your taste. Its simple base allows you to use your imagination to create your own unique look and taste.

Christmas Butter Fudge

4 cups sugar
2 cups milk
1 stick butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Optional to mix in or place on top:

1/4 cup finely chopped candied cherries
or candied fruit
1/4 cup blanched pistachios

Combine sugar, milk, butter and salt in a large saucepan; bring to boil, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.

Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until thermometer reaches 236 degrees.

Remove from heat and set the pan in another pan of cold water. Do not stir or beat until the mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

Add vanilla and beat until candy becomes thick, creamy and loses its shine. When it begins to set up (take a firmer form), if nuts or candied fruit are desired, quickly fold those in.

Pour into a buttered 8-by-8-inch pan.

When firm, cut into squares. Leave plain or dress each square with chopped candied fruit; candied, zest or slivered curls of lemon, orange or lime rinds; a pecan or walnut half; chopped peanuts; shaved chocolate curls; sprinkle with cocoa or dried espresso powder; or how about a chocolate-covered espresso bean on some of the squares.

You can dress this up by placing individual fudge squares in a paper candy cup, place in a box and add holiday-colored, candy-covered almonds or peanut M&M's between papered pieces.

Here are a few suggested websites that offer traditional candy recipes and new twists on old favorites. One of the advantages to online recipe sites is that some provide reader comments, which can be quite helpful in candy making.

All Recipes

Martha Stewart


    You can count on Martha Stewart for wonderful recipes and great presentation.
    This year she's worked up some sensational brittles of all sorts, a couple of delectable chocolate truffles  ever considered an Earl Grey tea truffle?  or how about making old-fashioned pulled peppermint candy sticks, pralines, fudges or toffee. Of course, Martha will show you how to gift wrap or package these for the most stunning presentation also.

For more traditional tastes, try Southern foods for more terrific holiday candy recipes.

If candy making doesn't appeal to you, you can't go wrong with a trip into a good candy store. At Abe's in Lincoln, Helen Rainforth has ordered in from all her favorite candy makers  Godiva, Long Grove, Ghiradelli and Abdallah, which offer high-quality candies and chocolates.

The store is most popular for its caramel corn, cheese and buttered popcorn that are made fresh on the premises daily and ready to go in your choice of tin for the perfect gift.

There are also all the newest and best gourmet products, such as soup starters, condiments, coffees, teas, and many more great food gift or party items to choose from.

Bear in mind that when you give someone candy, you may be held liable for continuing a new "sweet memory."


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