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
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

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