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.
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.
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.
First up: Christmas Delight, my grandmother's recipe.
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.
The food grinder called for in the original recipe has been replaced by a food processor. Process everything till chopped, but not puréed.
Next, melt marshmallows. Grandma would do this atop the stove, of course; I use a microwave. Melt till soft...
...then stir till smooth.
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.
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.
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.
Next day, use a sharp knife to cut the candy into small (1" to 1 1/2") squares.
Place confectioners' sugar in a bag, and gently shake the squares in the sugar to coat.
By the way, this makes quite a few candies—up to about 10 dozen.
Chewy, sweet, nutty... pretty!
Next up: Choco-Mallow.
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.
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.
Combine chocolate chips, corn syrup, vanilla, espresso powder, and cream.
Heat in the microwave until the cream is hot and bubbly, and the chocolate soft.
..and stir until everything is well combined and smooth.
Spread 3/4 cup (about 6 ounces) in the prepared pan.
Top with marshmallows and nuts; or just marshmallows, if you prefer.
Spoon on the remaining chocolate.
Spread to the edges of the pan...
...covering the marshmallows completely. Refrigerate for 60 to 90 minutes, until set.
Loosen the edges of the candy from the pan...
...and lift it out.
Cut into squares, using a knife dipped in hot water.
So there you have it. Now tell me that wasn't better than sugarplums!
How sweet it is!