Homemade candies are a special holiday treat

Making your own goodies is an easy way to enjoy the season and create lasting memories

It’s Christmas time, a season when children go to bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

Sugarplums aren’t exactly common, but candy certainly is standard at this time of year. And while store-bought candies are handy, it’s not that difficult to make your own confections — everything from rich fudges to creamy caramels to crisp toffees — from scratch.

In addition to a fresh homemade taste, you’ll also be creating memories.

 Homemade candy is not only a delicious treat to set out during holiday gatherings, it can be beautiful. Decorate candies with melted chocolate, candy sprinkles — seasonal shapes such as snowflakes and snowmen are fun and add a festive touch — or dried fruits.

And remember, homemade treats make a great gift for family and friends.

Always use high-quality ingredients when making candy, because the final flavor reflects the ingredients used.

And use butter unless the recipe calls for margarine or shortening. These other spreads contain less fat and more water that can alter the results.

Melt the butter over medium heat and keep the temperature under the pot constant to gradually heat the candy mixture.  

Use a heavy saucepan with high sides and a smooth interior. Some people recommend buttering the sides of the saucepan to keep grains of sugar from clinging.

Use a candy thermometer to check the temperature. But make sure to check it for accuracy beforehand by placing it in a pot of water atop the stove. When the water boils, the thermometer should read 212 degrees. If it registers a different temperature, add or subtract the difference to adjust the reading.

Remember when using a candy thermometer to clip it to the pot after the syrup boils, making sure that the bulb of the thermometer is covered with the liquid.

Stir the candy mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved, then stir slowly, gently and as little as possible through the cooking and cooling stages to help prevent crystal formation. Sudden temperature changes can also lead to crystal formation, creating a grainy candy.

Following are candy recipes from the www.dinneratthezoo.com.



Gingerbread Fudge

3 cups white chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup white chocolate melting wafers, optional

    Place white chocolate chips, condensed milk, molasses and butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and melt, stirring frequently.
    Add vanilla extract, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves and stir well.
    Pour mixture into an 8-inch square pan  lined with aluminum foil that’s been lightly greased. Allow fudge to cool completely before cutting at room temperature or in a refrigerator.
    Once the fudge has set, prepare white chocolate melting wafers according to package instructions. Pour melted chocolate into a small zipper-lock bag, snip off the corner, and decorate as desired. Let melting chocolate harden before serving.
    Fudge can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.


Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream, heavy whipping cream or double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup natural unsweetened or Dutch-process cocoa powder

    Place semi-sweet chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Microwave in four 15-second increments, stirring after each, until almost completely melted. Set aside.
    Pour cream into a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat, whisking occasionally,  until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat, then whisk in vanilla and peppermint extracts. Pour over the chocolate and gently stir with a wooden spoon. Once the mixture is smooth, stir in butter until combined and melted.
    Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it on the top of the mixture, and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then place in the refrigerator about five hours, until scoopable.
    Take one teaspoon of the mixture and roll into a ball, then place on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Coat your palms with a little cocoa powder to make  the mixture easier to handle. Roll the rest of the mixture and place on the sheet.
    Roll each ball into cocoa powder to coat. Serve immediately.
    You can layer truffles between sheets of parchment paper in a storage container and store at room temperature or in the refrigerator for as long as one week. You may also freeze them for as long as two months, then thaw them overnight in the refrigerator before serving.


White Chocolate Ting-a-Lings
3-1/2 cups chow mein noodles
2-1/2 cups salted cocktail peanuts
32 ounces white chocolate candy coating
Candy sprinkles

    Mix chow mein noodles and peanuts in a large bowl.
    Melt white chocolate over low heat until smooth, then pour over chow mein noodle mixture and mix well. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and top with candy sprinkles.
    Cool completely and store at room temperature.


Buttermilk Pecan Pralines

1 cup buttermilk
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan halves
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter

    In a 5-quartt or larger pot, bring buttermilk, sugar, corn syrup, baking soda and salt to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches 236 degrees, or soft ball stage. The mixture will foam and rise as it begins to boil.
    Once it has reached the softball stage, remove from heat and stir in pecans, vanilla and butter. Beat by hand until the mixture  is thick and creamy and begin to hold its shape.
    Once it thickens, quickly drop by the spoonful onto two large baking sheets lined with waxed paper to. Let cool.
    Store in an airtight container for as long as two weeks.


Candy Bar Pretzel Bites

Mini candy bars
Pretzels, rectangular or mini
Vanilla candy coating, melted
Red sprinkles

    Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, place  pretzels on top. Unwrap the mini candy bars and place them on top of the pretzels.
    Warm in a 300-degree oven for about three minutes, top with more pretzels and press down gently. Allow the chocolate to harden.
    Dip one side of the pretzel sandwich into melted vanilla candy coating. Return to the covered baking sheet and add red sprinkles.


Marbleized Bark

12 ounces white chocolate chips
1/4 cup assorted colors of candy melt wafers,
Coconut oil

    Put white chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup.
    Place each color candy melt into a separate cup or plastic bag with about 1/4 teaspoon coconut oil.
    Microwave the white chocolate for a minute, then set aside. Microwave the candy melts in for about 30 seconds each, then stir or squeeze the bags to melt completely. Place anything that hasn’t completely melted into the microwave for a few seconds at a time until melted. Don’t overheat or the chocolate can seize.
    When everything is melted and smooth, pour white chocolate onto a parchment lined baking sheet and spread into am 8-by-10-inch rectangle. Cut a small hole in the corner of the melted candy melt bags and drop, drizzle or squirt on top of the white chocolate.
    Take a chopstick or toothpick and pull it through the surface of the bark, swirling to create a marbleized surface. When marbleized, put the baking sheet into the refrigerator to firm up.
    In about an hour, when the chocolate is hardened, cut it into pieces with a heavy knife.
    Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator.


Peppermint Patties

3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, plus extra
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons shortening
1/2 cup holiday sprinkles

    Place condensed milk, peppermint extract and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mixer. Add half the powered sugar and beat with the mixer on low speed. Gradually add the remaining powdered sugar and beat until a smooth dough forms.
    Sprinkle powdered sugar over a piece of parchment paper. Place peppermint dough on the parchment and sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. Roll into a 1/2-inch-thick circle.
    Using a 1 or 1-1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut circles from the dough. If it does not cut easily, place in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up, then try again.
    Transfer the peppermint rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover and freeze for 10 to 15 minutes.
    Place chocolate and shortening in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second intervals until melted, stirring occasionally.
    Using a fork, dip peppermint patties, one by one, in the chocolate, then place on a piece of parchment paper. Add sprinkles immediately.
    Let cool until set, then serve. Store in the refrigerator.


Sugar Cookie Truffles

12 sugar cookies, 2-1/2 inches in diameter
4 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups white chocolate melting wafers or candy melts

    Place sugar cookies in a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Add cream cheese and process until well-combined and mixture can be pressed into a ball.
    Shape cookies into balls that are one to 1-1/2-inches in diameter. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes.
    Melt white chocolate in a medium bowl according to instructions. Remove cookie truffles from refrigerator. Using two forks, dip and roll chilled truffles, one at a time, in chocolate coating. Return to lined cookie sheet and immediately top with sprinkles. Repeat process for remaining truffles.
    Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one week or in the freezer for one month.


Turtle Fudge

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped pecans
30 soft caramel candies
3 tablespoons heavy cream

    Place chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk and butter in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring well, until the mixture is smooth. Add chopped pecans and stir until fully combined. Set aside.
    Place caramel candies and heavy cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20 to 30-second increments, stirring well after each, until mixture is melted and smooth.
    Place half of the fudge in an 8-inch square baking pan that’s lined with foil and lightly greased. Smooth fudge, then pour caramel on top and spread evenly. Add remaining fudge and spread evenly over the caramel.
    Transfer fudge to the refrigerator for three to four hours or overnight, until fudge is solid enough to cut into squares.
    The caramel will soften at room temperature, so it is suggested that the fudge be stored in the refrigerator until serving. It may be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one week.


Peppermint Marshmallows
3 0.75-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Red food coloring
2/3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting

    Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan well, making sure the bottom, sides and edges are fully coated. Set aside.
    In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine unflavored gelatin and cold water.
    Place sugar, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan and stir gently. Clip a candy thermometer onto the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, checking occasionally until it reaches 235 to 240 degrees, soft ball stage.
    Remove from the heat and carefully transfer syrup to a large, heatproof measuring cup with a spout. Turn mixer up to medium speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture. When all the syrup has been added, turn the speed to medium-high and beat for 10 to 12 minutes — the mixture should turn white and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, peppermint extract and salt and increase the speed to its highest setting for one minute.
    Pour marshmallow into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula coated with cooking spray to even it out. Working quickly, drop dots of red food coloring across the surface and, using a toothpick, swirl food coloring into the marshmallow to create a marble effect.
    Tap the pan on the counter a few times to get rid of air bubbles, then sift powdered sugar generously over the top. Let sit about six hours, until firm.
    Use a knife to loosen the marshmallow from the edges of the pan and invert it onto a powdered sugar-dusted work surface. Dust the marshmallow with more confectioner’s sugar, then cut with a pizza cutter into desired pieces. Dip the sticky edges of the marshmallows in more powdered sugar and shake in a sieve to remove excess powdered sugar.
    Store in an airtight container for one week.




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