Thursday, December 10, 2009

Favorite traditions: Making candy for Christmas

This weekend we’ll start making Christmas candy.

Well, I will, anyway. My use of the plural first-person might be a little optimistic. I’m hoping that the kids will find it enough fun that they’ll want to help out, but if not, I’m happy to do it on my own.

December is the only time of year that I make candy, and I make a lot of it, because it’s my favorite gift to give. I’ve never been a big fan of cookie assortment plates as gifts, although I do think they look very nice at parties. Last week I gathered with a dozen friends for a cookie exchange; everyone went home with numerous varieties of cookies that other people had made, and I’m going to use my take to make up a plate for an event we’re hosting this weekend. But in general, I find cookie plates kind of unappealing if they require packing and transporting. I don’t like the way the cookies all slide around on the plate or the way the flavors mix: peanut butter next to mint next to almond next to molasses.

What I do like about candy is that it feels so genuinely festive to me. I do far more baking all year long than I probably should from a caloric standpoint; we’re almost never without a batch of homemade cookies or brownies in the house, and it’s not unusual for an afternoon snack or weeknight dessert at our house to include cupcakes, biscuits, muffins or any number of other rich treats. But I make candy only during the Christmas season.

I make truffles from a recipe we’ve had since my childhood. Really they are faux truffles, more like little balls of fudge: chocolate and butter and confectioner’s sugar. But they look so pretty rolled in cocoa and tucked into a small candy box. My mother gave me a new recipe last year for peanut brittle which takes five minutes to make and is delicious, so I’ll make that as well. Two years ago a friend who made the best toffee I’ve ever tasted for our church fair gave me her recipe for that, and I added it to my repertoire. The Crate & Barrel holiday catalog gave me the idea to make white chocolate bark studded with chopped candy cane pieces, which adds some variety of color for my candy medley. Then maybe some peanut butter buckeyes to round out the collection.

None of these is complicated or even necessarily very authentic within the realm of candy making. None even requires a candy thermometer. But candy is a novelty to me, one of the few culinary treats that I restrict myself to once a year. In the past, I’ve made baked goods along with candy for gifts for my kids’ teachers; we’ve filled baskets with cookies, breads, scones, muffins. This year I think we’ll skip the baked goods. They’re more time-consuming and require more clean-up. (For some reason I cannot seem to take out flour in my kitchen without creating an instant mess.) Not everyone necessarily likes candy, but I figure the people we give it to can enjoy it or serve it to guests or regift it.

So it will be a candy-making weekend, no doubt full of sampling since that’s an integral part of the cooking process for me. Once a year it can’t hurt too much. We’ll find holiday-themed containers to pack them in and the kids will take them to school the day before vacation when everyone brings in teacher gifts. I acknowledge that I may enjoy the candy ritual far more than any of the beneficiaries do, but that’s okay. Part of what makes this time of year special is returning to favorite traditional annual activities, and for me, rolling 300 truffles in cocoa is all part of the merriment of the season.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, you are making my mouth water! Every one of the candies that you are making sounds absolutely divine. We have had friends that have made almost all of those, but I've never heard of someone making truffles, or candy cane bark for that matter.

    I'm so impressed -- and so jealous of your recipients. Makes me wonder if we shouldn't start a similar tradition. I like how you say the candy doesn't create as much mess (definitely a downside in baking). Would you be willing to share a recipe or two?