The World’s Best Hostess Gift: Homemade Candy!

1/29/12 Please note alterations I have made to this post after spending the holiday season revisiting the recipes to make 40 pounds of the stuff to send to my nieces and nephews as a  Christmas. treat.

The party season is in full swing, and with it comes the age-old question of what to bring as a hostess gift. There are always the old stand-bys, wine or flowers, of course. But if you really want to throw ‘em into a dead swoon, try one (or both, I often bring some of each) of the following recipes. Guaranteed, your gift will be the hit of the party (if your hostess decides to share, that is).

My Butter Crunch recipe appears to be quite unique (in modern terms that means that even with endless Googling I am unable to find a recipe online that’s really similar). I have nary a clue as to where it came from. But, I’ve been making and serving it for over 40 years, leaving in my wake hordes of craven devotees. Make it and you, too, shall fall captive

The Peanut Brittle requires that you get your hands on some raw (unroasted) peanuts. I usually have good luck finding them in health food stores, sometimes in the bulk food section, and other times packaged in plastic see-through containers like those used to package granola and seeds. However, recently I have found that the companies that grow peanuts seem to be following the same principle as all other growers of late: grow it till the vine can’t hold it up any longer, thus ensuring optimum $$$ for each unit on a plant. So this year when I made candy (40 pounds all told!) to send to my wonderful nieces and nephews, I found myself faced with way-too-large Spanish (NOT — Spanish peanuts are small, roundish little guys –these were gigantic. The only thing they shared with a real Spanish peanut was that they still had their skins on!) Again, just don’t get me started! This clearly explains why we can no longer find a “loose bin” potato weighing less than 3/4 pound — 12 ounces, when in fact the ideal size for a serving is a lot closer to 1/4 pound — 3 to 4, not 12 ounces). As I say, don’t get me started.

I finally remembered the name of the company from which I used to order my Spanish peanuts when I had my gourmet popcorn company. I checked out their website and they apparently still carry the small round ones. I highly recommend that you try them, especially if you are making multiple batches. Here is a link to their site: Albanese Nut Company.

There are just a couple of important things I need to share with you before you embark on your first candy-making adventure.

1) Candy-making is NOT something you want to share with your young children. (I made both recipes yesterday and made my 9-year-old granddaughter Carly sit across the kitchen to watch me). By the time the candy is ready to pour onto the baking sheet, it is a seething cauldron of molten lava. Think Vesuvius, 79 AD. Is that graphic enough for you? It’s easy enough to make, but you need to be out of range of anyone who could 1) accidentally get burned by the molten mass, or 2) interrupt you in any way during the final steps so that you get distracted (and therefore burned by the molten mass).

2) I would not attempt making candy for the first time without a candy thermometer. If you learn to make it at someone’s apron strings, you can pretty quickly pick up what “thread stage” looks like, and how to differentiate a “soft ball” from a “hard ball”, but you should not, in my opinion, try to do it by eye and nose when you are learning alone. A candy thermometer can be found easily, and they are very inexpensive and easy to use.

3) Candy cooks at its own crazy pace, and you should be vigilant. Everything will seem to be dragging along as though it will never get done, and then as it approaches the appointed temperature, it starts to get hotter by the second. So make sure you are right there at the stove from about 300° F till the end. That way you won’t be caught off guard when it starts to make its mad dash to the finish line.

4) IMPORTANT TIP: The way to get hardened candy off your pan and utensil is to pour a small handful of salt in the: pan, then fill it with COLD water and let it sit for a bit. The saline solution will completely dissolve the cement-like stuff that’s stuck on there.

 

BUTTER CRUNCH

From my ancient files

3 cups sugar

2 cups butter

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped, split use

12 ounces good-quality chocolate chips

Cream sugar and butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook over  high heat and stir in half the nuts. Cook untll it begins to take on a mahogany color, and becomes fluid. For me this happens at around 330°. It can overcook quickly at this point, so watch it carefully. Pour onto a rimmed cookie sheet, and spread it out to fit the whole surface of the pan. Set it aside to cool (faster outdoors in winter, or in refrigerator or freezer) Bring it back to room temperature before spreading on the melted chocolate, or the chocolate will harden before you can get the nuts sprinkled on.

Melt the chocolate bits over hot water or on low in the microwave at a low setting. Using a silicone or other spatula (I use my mini offset spatula), spread the chocolate over one side of the candy. You will probably not need the entire amount of chocolate, so plan on using any leftover to make a nice cup of hot chocolate to enjoy while your Buttercrunch is cooling. Immediately sprinkle with the nuts (if you wait, the chocolate will harden and won’t “receive” the nuts,). Break into pieces and serve.

PEANUT BRITTLE

From my ancient files

3 cups sugar

1 cup white corn syrup

½ cup water

3 cups raw whole peanuts, preferably small Spanish ones (see source above)

1T butter

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

Bring the sugar, corn syrup and water to a boil over high heat, until threads spin (250º F on a candy thermometer). While it’s cooking, put the butter, salt and baking soda into a cup, for quick dumping. Add the peanuts and stir constantly, about 15 minutes, till the peanuts are a brownish-gold and you can smell the toasting of the peanuts, about 302° F on your candy thermometer. If you end up using larger peanuts, you should put them in at 225° F, as the size drops the temperature of the candy, and they take longer to roast. Make sure to stay with the brittle most of the time to give it a necessary stir from time to time; if the peanuts are allowed to sit on the bottom of the pan too long, they can begin to burn. Take off the burner and add the salt/butter/baking soda mix, and stir rapidly to blend. It will foam up dramatically, so be prepared. Immediately pour onto a rimmed cookie sheet that you have sprayed with cooking spray or greased, and spread out on the pan. When cool, break into candy-sized pieces.

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