Saturday, November 29, 2008

Homemade Candy, Farm Journal Editors; Kneaded Chocolate Fudge

"How long has it been since you've cut creamy-smooth squares of chocolate fudge to pass on a plate to guests?" asks Nell B. Nichols, food editor of the Farm Journal and editor of Homemade Candy (copyright 1970). The introduction to the book is titled "Everyone Likes Candy!" and this enthusiasm carries throughout. I could come up with some poetic claptrap to talk about why I'm featuring this book now, at the start of Advent, but Ms. Nichols provides a handy reminder:
With the approach of Christmas, when you "deck your halls with holly" and decide on the most prominent spot for your tinseled tree, candy also moves to stage center -- indeed, it becomes a kitchen campaign! The candy treats you make before the holidays are a friendly greeting to relatives and neighbors who stop by to nibble while they talk. Homemade candy also is something special to share with people far away. Packages holding coffee cans, stuffed with love and candy, travel from home kitchens to servicemen and students around the earth."
So, if you're ready to start your kitchen campaign (or if you just share my abnormal curiosity about transforming sugar into candy), let's get started. The book is divided into two uneven sections: a large section on candy, and a much smaller one on confections, "first cousins of candy." Before the recipes come, there's an extended and somewhat tortured metaphor about candy making as theater, but the general tips about what kinds of sugars and other ingredients are used are sound. The biggest thing to remember when making candy that requires heat is this: hot sugar is very very very very very very very very hot. Do not underestimate it. If you get it on you, you will be very very very sorry. Let's avoid the sorts of tears that can come from a kitchen failure and an E.R. visit.
Kneaded Chocolate Fudge

Ideal candy for mailing -- pack unsliced rolls into cans or mailing tubes

2 squares unsweetened chocolate, cut into pieces
1 c. milk
3 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vinegar
2 tblsp. butter or margarine
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped nuts

Combine chocolate and milk in 3-qt. heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until milk is scalded and chocolate is melted. Stir in sugar, corn syrup, and salt.

Place over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. If sugar crystals form on sides of pan, wipe them off. Cook at a steady, fairly low boil without stirring to the soft ball stage (238°F). Remove from heat. Very gently stir in vinegar. Add butter without stirring. Cool until lukewarm (110°).

Add vanilla and beat until candy loses its gloss and starts to thicken. Stir in nuts.

Pour into lightly buttered pan or large platter. Let stand until cool enough to knead. Knead with fingers about 5 minutes.

Shape into 2 rolls, each about 2" in diameter and about 5" long. Wrap in waxed paper or foil and store in refrigerator or other cool place until ready to use. Slice slightly on diagonal in 1/2" slices, wiping knife during cutting if fudge sticks to its blade. Makes 20 to 22 slices, or about 2 pounds.

Candy Christmas Trees From an Iowa farm kitchen comes this suggestion: Knead fudge and mold in lightly oiled or buttered Christmas tree gelatin salad molds (3 1/2" long and 3" wide in broadest part is a good size). Cool and unmold. With a little encouragement from a knife at the base, the "trees" slip out easily. Decorate simply with white or tinted Ornamental Icing (see Index). Include at least one "fudge tree" in each gift box and one in the center of a plate of candy to promote conversations and compliments.
By all means, let's promote conversations and compliments! I used to make fudge using nothing as precise as this recipe. I remember little about it other than all the cooking was done in the microwave, and it didn't need any kneading. It was no where near as good as proper candy shop fudge, but here's the thing you should know: even bad fudge is better than no fudge. If you try your hand at making fudge, even if it doesn't come out perfectly the first time, it'll be tasty. A lot of people have candy-making fear, thinking it's some sort of old granny magic. Abandon that thinking, and think of it as a chemistry experiment. Temperature and time are important; follow the recipe to the letter in those respects, and you'll do just fine.

Homemade Candy says that the two mistakes people make with fudge is beating it too early, and too little. Wait. Wait. Wait until it's lukewarm. Keep that candy thermometer in the pot, and do not jump the gun. And then, beat, beat, beat. You could beat it by hand. You could. I'd suggest that powered appliances are your better bet here, though.

This week, we'll get lots of homemade goodies you can give to coworkers, neighbors, friends and family. Impress the heck out of them, save money over store bought, and avoid the Chia Pet problem -- no one has to wonder what to do with a plate of candy, after all. We'll also be seeing more goodies from guest blogger John, with the Women's Institute cookbook he's pilfered from his mother's shelf!

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