Sugarplums? No way, Santa

While visions of sugarplums may dance through YOUR head (and the Sugarplum Fairy waltz through your dreams), my vision of Christmas candy is much different.

And, if you knew what a sugarplum truly is, I’m betting you’d eschew it for something a bit more compelling.

According to foodtimeline.org, one of my very favorite Web sites, the definition of a sugarplum is “a small round or oval sweetmeat, made of boiled sugar and variously flavoured and coloured… a confection traditionally composed of tiny sugar-coated seeds.”

Now I ask you: with all the chocolate-dipped pretzels, cranberry bark, pecan pralines, and maple-walnut fudge out there, why would you ever have a vision of… seeds?

Of course, back in the day (before Christmas-tree Peeps and red and green Peanut M&Ms), anything sweet was a treat. Pulling taffy or stirring up a batch of fudge was much-anticipated, an occasion around which to build a party.

My grandmother was a traveling teacher in rural Wisconsin, back in the 1930s and ’40s. She’d leave home and her 7 children on Monday morning, and not come back till Friday night. Upon her return, tired as she was, she’d never fail to gather the children and make a batch of chocolate fudge. Sweet reunion, indeed.

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I inherited my grandma’s well-worn cookbook, and her boxes of recipes, hand-written on 3” x 5” cards. But it’s not her fudge I make each Christmas. Instead, I turn to Christmas Delight, a quirky combination of nuts, dried fruit, and marshmallow, rolled in a drift of powdered sugar. It’s not fancy; it’s not chocolate; but it’s surprisingly addictive.

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And speaking of chocolate, this year I figured out a recipe for one of my favorite new treats: Malley’s Nutmallow, “a deliciously chunky loaf of Malley’s secret-recipe marshmallow and crispy walnuts, drenched in dark chocolate.” It took several tests to get the balance of chocolate, marshmallow and nuts in Choco-Mallow just right; but boy, didn’t all of us here on the Web team enjoy the failures!

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to a candy I’ve been making since high school: Dark Chocolate Buttercrunch. Also known as toffee buttercrunch or just plain buttercrunch, this crunchy, buttery, nutty confection, with its dark-chocolate coating, is a wonderful addition to any cookie gift plate.  For step-by-step directions, see the blog I posted last year.

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First up: Christmas Delight, my grandmother’s recipe.

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Combine a can of mixed nuts, almonds, coconut (hidden underneath in the photo above), candied red cherries, and dates. Grandma’s recipe called for dates and figs, but I really like dates better.

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The food grinder called for in the original recipe has been replaced by a food processor. Process everything till chopped, but not puréed.

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Next, melt marshmallows. Grandma would do this atop the stove, of course; I use a microwave. Melt till soft…

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…then stir till smooth.

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Now comes the—ah, “fun” part.  Mix the melted marshmallow with the chopped fruit/nuts. Don’t dawdle; the more the marshmallow cools, the stickier the process becomes. It helps to wet your fingers frequently. And yes, your fingers work better than a spoon, which just becomes hopelessly coated with marshmallow, rendering it ineffective.

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PHEW! Use a plastic bowl scraper at the end to scrape the sides of the bowl and bring everything together; the more you mix in the marshmallow, the less sticky everything becomes.

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Line a 9” x 13” pan with parchment, and grease the parchment. Press the candy into the pan. A pastry roller is a big help in smoothing the top surface. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let the candy set overnight.

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Next day, use a sharp knife to cut the candy into small (1″ to 1 1/2″) squares.

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Place confectioners’ sugar in a bag, and gently shake the squares in the sugar to coat.

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By the way, this makes quite a few candies—up to about 10 dozen.

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Chewy, sweet, nutty… pretty!

Next up: Choco-Mallow.

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OH BOY!

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Here’s what I’m trying to emulate. Malley’s is a chocolate shop in Cleveland, and I’ve become so addicted to their Nutmallow that Halley, our Web projects director, brings me back a box every time she visits her family there.

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Line an 8” square pan (or 9” round pan) with parchment, and grease the parchment. No parchment? Waxed paper or plastic wrap work OK, but parchment works better.

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Cut 12 to 18 marshmallows in half around the circumference. Why the large variation? Use 12 if you’re adding nuts, 18 if you prefer nut-free candy.

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Combine chocolate chips, corn syrup, vanilla, espresso powder, and cream.

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Heat in the microwave until the cream is hot and bubbly, and the chocolate soft.

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Stir…

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…and stir…

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..and stir until everything is well combined and smooth.

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Spread 3/4 cup (about 6 ounces) in the prepared pan.

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Top with marshmallows and nuts; or just marshmallows, if you prefer.

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Spoon on the remaining chocolate.

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Spread to the edges of the pan…

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…covering the marshmallows completely. Refrigerate for 60 to 90 minutes, until set.

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Loosen the edges of the candy from the pan…

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…and lift it out.

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Cut into squares, using a knife dipped in hot water.

So there you have it. Now tell me that wasn’t better than sugarplums!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipes for Christmas Delight and Choco-Mallow.

And, check out our recipes for Dark Chocolate Buttercrunch, Deluxe Chocolate Truffles, Homemade Marshmallows, and Cranberry-Nut Chocolate Bark.

How sweet it is!


PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Caitlin

    Choco-mallow? Never heard of it, but in South Bend where I grew up, we had something pretty similar. Chocolate Charlie – marshmallows and peanuts drenched in chocolate. Do you think I could just sub peanuts into your choco-mallow look-a-like?

    Of course, Caitlin – go for it. PJH

    Reply
  2. Pam Harris

    The minute I saw the photo this morning I thought of adding chopped up Applets and Cotlets to the dates, cherries and nuts. Then everything my husband’s taste buds hold dear would be in the same cookie! I can’t wait to get to the kitchen!

    Have fun, Pam – I’d call these candies, not cookies, but “a rose by any other name…” – PJH

    Reply
  3. Sue

    You’re making me fat! LOL
    I can’t wait to try these. Especially the Christmas Delights,I love dates. Just wondering could you use Fluff instead of melting the marshmallows?
    love,love love all your recipes and stories,Sue

    Hi Sue – When you read the recipe, you’ll see that the tips on the side call for substituting a 16-ounce tub of Fluff, to take a shortcut. Great minds think alike! PJH

    Reply
  4. Trisha

    PJ, do you have an all-time favorite Christmas Cookie?

    Probably Date Pinwheels, if I could ever make them without totally messing up! I believe Susan is going to blog them shortly… I also like pizzelles, and biscotti. How about you, Trisha? PJH

    Reply
  5. Penny

    Oh, PJ! I tried to resist but last week I broke down and made the buttercrunch that you posted some time ago. Yikes! It’s already ALL GONE! And I haven’t had much help making it go either! YUM! Keep ‘em coming!

    Reply
  6. Trisha

    Well, my favorite is a good shortbread cookie. My mother-in-law used to make the prettiest Christmas cookies, but they all tasted so blah. I have been rather turned off when it comes to Christmas cookies. But I will check out the Date Pinwheels. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Andrea

    PJ –
    Can I just leave the cherries out? Will the Delight candy turn out okay still? I only have marschino cherries in the syrup, and to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the candied fruit in, well, candy. I’d rather one in my Brandy Old Fashioned… ;)

    My favorite Christmas cookie is Tre Colore… I still fight with my cousins over the last one, and I’m almost 27! ;)

    Although, anything with dates in it is divine…

    Andrea, since you like dates, just substitute dates for the cherries – no prob. Or you can use maraschino cherries, which is what the original recipe called for. Or substitute nuts – whatever you like. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  8. k8

    I’ll be trying the choco-mallows, but I think I’ll use almonds in them. I’m tempted to use brazil nuts b/c I think it might remind me vaguely of the brazil nut fudge my grandma use to make.

    Reply
  9. Alice

    Do you think I can use good quality (Guittard) candy disks (easy melting for making candy) in the Choco Mallow Recipe and the Dark Chocolate Buttercrunch candy recipe? And can I use mini marshmallows instead of cutting the big ones in half ?
    Thanks

    Yes, and yes, Alice. Sounds dee-lish… PJH

    Reply
  10. Andrea

    Okay…so I made the Buttercrunch. Having not made candy before, I didn’t have the candy thermometer. I used the hard crack guideline, and my toffee turned out solid (yay!), but the toffee is kind of misty gold-white. Did I not cook it long enough? I’m heading to my local Walmart tomorrow to try and find a candy thermometer, just for future reference.

    Also…thanks for the recommendation of foodtimeline.org! What a fun site – I’ll add it to my list of reference sites for that far off day when I’m a reference librarian.

    Andrea, I’m not much of a candy maker – kind of tentative, in fact. But as long as it hardened, that’s the main things. Do you mean it’s lighter-colored than the picture? If so, could just be that you cooked yours a minute or so less than I cooked mine – it darkens VERY quickly towards the end… PJH

    Reply
  11. Alvara

    PJ, It’s hard to keep up with you. Do you ever sleep? I have made most of the cookies that you have published lately. Now I have to try the Chocolate Mallow candy. How about some of your block carmel melted and poured over the nuts that are between the mallows? Sounds decadent to me.

    My cookies are put away in tins and now I have to make my Cinnamon Monkey bread for my paper tree pans. I have already typed up instructions for baking them and will hand the kids frozen trees when they leave here on Christmas Eve.

    Merry Christmas to you and all your wonderful elves at King Arthur. Thank you for all the recipes and the blog. All of us bloggers will be looking forward to what is to come in January.

    Oh my goodness, the caramel melted in between the marshmallows… why didn’t I think of that? I was planning on making some more tomorrow, now I’ll have to try it. Thanks, Alvara! And yes, I sleep from 11 p.m. – 4:30 a.m. – usually… And Merry Christmas to you and your family, too. PJH

    Reply
  12. ML

    As you said not everyone likes nuts so I thought about using graham crackers crumbs. Kinda like S’mores without the campfire. I can hardly wait to make this.

    Oh, my – or chunks of graham crackers, not even crumbs. Or laythe GCs atop the chocolate, then marshmallow, then more chocolate. A whole new treat! Thanks- PJH

    Reply
  13. Ann Cundall

    Instead of graham cracker crumbs, ML could try Golden Grahams cereal in the Choco-Mallows. I use them in my version of a recipe called “Indoor S’mores” originally acquired from the GG cereal bo (it is a favorite of almost everyone who tries it). I plan to try dried cranberries and/or apricots in the Choco-Mallow recipe, too.
    And with regard to the Christmas Delight, one technique that I use to great success with the S’mores, which involves melting marshmallows, is to use cooking spray on everything – microwave bowl, mixing bowl, spoons. It makes the mixing as well as the cleanup much easier.

    Great ideas, Ann – thanks! PJH

    Reply
  14. Gabby

    Is there anything I can substitute for the expresso powder? Can I finely ground instant coffee? I would love to try the Choco-Mallows. I have an old Rocky Road fudge recipe but these look MUCH better!! Thanks!

    Yes, Gabby – crush the instant coffee crystals, or use instant coffee powder – not quite the same depth of flavor, but just fine. Enjoy! – PJH

    Reply
  15. Lee

    Similar question involving coffee – but I want to leave it out – no one here likes coffee. Would we need to substitute something else, vanilla extract maybe??? or just leave it out and not sub anything? It looks simply delicious!

    Sure, just leave it out. But putting it in produces no coffee flavor – it simply heightens the flavor of the chocolate, much as vanilla does. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  16. Marsha Phillips

    I made the Christmas Delight and was able to mix it with a large heat-proof spatula that I kept dipping in cool water. I mainly pressed with the blade of the spatula instead of the handle which would have broken. When all was mixed, I used the spatula to turn the mixture into the pan which I had lined with foil and greased. I then used the little roller to smooth it down.

    Undoubtedly a challenge, but then, those old-time cooks and bakers were MUCH tougher than us. Imagine beaten biscuits; whacking biscuit dough with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes… Enjoy the Delight, marsha – PJH

    Reply
  17. Catherine

    The buttercrunch is divine! I made the christmas delight too, but I used marshmallow fluff like the shortcut recommends, and it did NOT set up. Still yummy, but it never got firm at all. Just FYI. I think using melted marshmallows is a necessary extra step.

    Interesting, Catherine; you didn’t heat the Fluff, did you? And did you use Marshmallow Fluff®, or marshmallow creme or a store brand? Marshmallow Fluff® is much thicker and more solid than “faux” fluff or “creme.” It’s nearly the thickness of a normal marshmallow. Anybody else out there try this with Fluff? Let us know how it went. -PJH

    Reply
  18. Milli

    What a delightful group of candy recipes. Just the kind everybody likes to try. I am going to make most of them and bring to the Christmas gathering for my children and grandchildren to enjoy!! Thank you SO much.

    Milli

    You’re welcome, Milli – hope the candy makes your family gathering a really sweet affair… PJH

    Reply
  19. Kate

    I’m going to spend today’s snowstorm whipping all of these up. One variation I’ll be testing will be using macadamia nuts instead of walnuts in the Choco Mallows. I’ll report back!

    Choco-Mallow is an equal opportunity employer – all nuts welcome! PJH

    Reply
  20. Betsy

    I made the buttercrunch on Christmas Eve. In N. Idaho, my yard has snow up to 2′ in some spots, and the streets have their berms down the middle (for all you snow-wise folk).

    Maybe I’m snow-blind but I could not find a pan or pan size in the buttercrunch recipe. Sheet pan? Half a sheet pan? 8 x 8 brownie pan? I made the toffee center with no problems–easier than I thought. I put the pecans and Ghiradelli 60% dark chocolate chips on the bottom of the pan just like the recipe said, then poured the toffee on top, and then the choc. and nuts again.

    My chocolate chips never firmed back up! The candy was like an inch-thick Heath bar that sat next to a fireplace–the top and bottom chocolate slid away, so you were left with a chocolate-y hand clutching toffee. Tastes great, but it wasn’t what I expected, according to the recipe and the blog comments.

    What size pan should I have used? And where did I go wrong with the choc. chips? I chilled the candy and the choc. firmed up, but with the 8×8 pan I used, the candy was also too thick. I’ll try again, but I’m at a loss to figure out what went wrong… Help!

    Betsy, I make it on a cookie sheet, no specific size. I spread the nuts and chocolate in a single layer, fairly close packed – maybe 12″x 12″, something like that? Then pour the toffee over. Chill to set quickly, or let set overnight. Don’t be discouraged – I think next time will be more successful for you. PJH

    Reply
  21. Roger

    On the choco-mallow bars. Here in the Midwest (Iowa/Nebraska) we have for years had available a candy bar called “Rocky Road” which is a chocolate covered marshmallow with nuts creation. They also have a mint flavored version that I especially like. I would suggest trying Choco-Mallow bars with some peppermint oil added to the chocolate in a small amount.

    Roger

    Reply
  22. Sarah

    Okay, I’m lucky, I live in Cleveland and can get Malley’s wonderful nutmallow anytime. But I still love the idea of making my own! I’m a dark chocolate fan, but unfortunately the rest of my family only likes milk. Would the recipe still work well if I substituted milk chocolate chips?

    We have not tried this recipe with milk chocolate, but suggest you use a good quality milk chocolate chip without a lot of stabilizers so the candy will be stiff enough to cut and munch, not eat from a spoon! Irene at KAF

    Yes, Sarah, it should be fine. Use milk chocolate bars or chips or however you can get it. Whatever consistency it is when you start, it’ll be slightly softer in the finished candy, so make sure to start with something hard. PJH

    Reply
  23. Annie

    Thank you for a great set of recipes. While the choco-mallow appealed first, the incredible nature of the Christmas Delight inspired me — a take on Turkish Delight? This is a lost recipe of the past and I thank you profusely for so willingly sharing it!
    Wonderful Annie! Happy (early) Holidays to you! ~ MJ

    Reply

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