Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Traditions & Homemade Candy

Chopping down a tree with my siblings and mother.
(I am the smallest, in the blue hat.)

With Christmas only a week away, I am counting down the days until I travel home to see my family. As the youngest of three siblings, the holidays are a treasured chance to see three generations of my family—from my parents to my nephews.

For us, Christmas isn't about the carols or the presents, it's about family tradition. Like many families, our traditions include chopping down our own tree, but we also have some fairly singular habits, like the talent show in which everyone is required to perform prior to eating Christmas dinner. Mind you, what passes as “talent” in my family is rather flexible, and ranges from the true talents of my operatic cousin to the “stupid human” talent of my brother lighting matches with his teeth. It’s difficult to say what my favorite tradition is, simply because we have so many. My parents and I will exchange Christmas ornaments—as we do every year—and Christmas morning wouldn’t be complete if my parents didn’t initially claim that “Santa didn’t come this year.”

One of my favorite pastimes:
spoon licking.
The list of traditions is lengthy, but one of the traditions I value most is spending time in the kitchen, making candy with my mother. The recipes were passed to her by her own mother—a woman I never knew, but love and admire dearly based on the wealth of stories I’ve been told. Though she passed away before I was born, there’s a sense that she’s present when we make candy since we make candy using a heavy, wood-handled pot  that was originally hers. While I don’t yet have children of my own, I hope that one day I will be able to teach them how to make candy—and laugh off their protestations when their arms hurt from stirring.

With my mother’s permission, I’m publishing three of my favorite candy recipes. There are others, but some family recipes must remain sacred. A final word of advice—if your children are anything like me, be sure to employ your kids as taste testers and candy guardians. Otherwise, the candy may disappear before your guests have even arrived.

Peanut Brittle
Ingredients: sugar, light corn syrup, raw Spanish peanuts, butter, salt, baking soda and water

  • Cover a large board with heavy foil and grease with a small amount of butter
  • Boil 3 cups of sugar, 1 cup of light corn syrup and ½ cup of water in a heavy, uncoated saucepan until the mixture ‘spins a thread.’ (This means that the mixture forms what looks like a thread when it drips off the spoon, though apparently a temperature equivalent is roughly 215° F–235° F.)
  • Add 3 cups of raw, Spanish peanuts to the mixture and stir continuously until the mixture reaches 300° F or “hard crack.”
  • Pull the mixture off the stove and stir in a tablespoon of butter, 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  • Pour the mixture onto the greased board and let cool.
  • Once cool, the peanut brittle is easily broken off the board into bite-size pieces.

My siblings and me with our dog on Christmas morning.
Ingredients: pecans, butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips

  • Chop a cup of pecans and spread them into the bottom of a greased 9-inch baking pan
  • Melt one stick (½ cup) of butter in a saucepan, then add ¾ cup of brown sugar.
  • Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture boils, continue cooking for 7 minutes.
  • Pour the mixture over the pecans. Top with 1 cup of chocolate chips.
  • Cover the pan with a cutting board or something similar to trap the heat.
  • Once it’s cooled slightly and the chocolate chips have melted, spread the chocolate into an even layer.
  • Allow it to cool and then break into small pieces.

Stained Glass Candy

Ingredients: sugar, light corn syrup, flavoring oil or extract, food coloring, powdered sugar and water

  • Cover a large board or several cookie sheets in heavy foil, then sprinkle with powdered sugar
  • In a heavy saucepan, over medium heat, mix 1 cup water, 1 ½ cup light corn syrup and 3 ¾ cups of sugar.
  • Cooking, stirring occasionally until it boils and becomes clear.
  • Continue boiling, without stirring, until it reaches 300° F or “hard crack.”
  • Remove from heat and add 1 tsp of flavoring oil or 1 tablespoon of extract*
  • Stir in food coloring to desired hue and pour onto the foil covered cookie sheets.
  • Allow it to cool and then break it into small pieces.

*in my family, we use the following oil and food color combos:

This blog was written by Blake McCarty, Media Manager.

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