This year I really feel like we have perfected the homemade chocolate and candy making. Following is an overview of the things I have made: fudge, truffles, chocolates, and caramels.
I have added to the caramel, truffle, and fudge sections to share some of my new knowledge. Check out some new recipes, tips, and suggestions for these candy creations below!
Also, I have added a new section on making chocolates using molds and flavourings. It's an easy way to create some beautiful candy for any time of year.
Christmas Candy (aka "Christmas Crack")
I started off with a recipe off of Craftster for "Christmas Crack", which is essentially just saltine crackers, butter, and brown sugar topped with chocolate. (Click on the link for step-by-step directions)
Sound weird? It is, kind of, but it made for a pretty sweet snack. Honestly, I don't know that I will be giving any of it as a gift, but it at least gives my husband something to nosh without having to dive into my more labour intensive - and expensive - chocolates.
.They picture above is what the "crack" looked like with the chocolate freshly melted on. After a couple hours in the fridge it hardened into something like this:
Next, I made caramels from this recipe:
***If you want to try making these yourself, I highly recommend investing in a good candy thermometer. I splurged and bought a digital one (they are around $30 CAN) and it made all the difference in the world with my candy making.
First, I put all the ingredients in a large pot (the mixture expands a lot during the cooking process) and, using a whist, boiled it all together until it reached 120oC. I started boiling it on a fairly low temperature and then slowly increased it over time, rather than boiling it on a higher heat right away. This was just based on my own intuition, since sugar burns easily, but it worked really well. It took about 30 min for the mixture to reach the appropriate temperature.
After the mixture reached 120o Celcius, I poured it into my lightly greased Pyrex dish and allowed it to cool.
Note: For the caramel to harden properly, it needs to boil for a bit at the maximum temperature. However, watch it VERY carefully, as it is a very fine line between perfection and a burnt mess.
A couple hours later I tried cutting the caramels, but they were still a little gooey. However, after a night in the fridge they became perfection! Which was great, because it was then time to dip them in some delicious chocolate.
If your batch does end up a little soft and gooey, you can always freeze them and then cut them into small squares and cover them in chocolate. That is generally what I do with this recipe (it's one of my Christmas traditions, now, although the first time I did it because I "wrecked" the caramels).
Also, this year I made my own version of "Turtles" by adding chopped pecans to the caramels and covering them in chocolate. Mmmmm!
Picture of caramel au naturel.
Chocolate Dipped Candies
The chocolate part was easier than I had anticipated, but then I had the experience of my sister to draw on, which made a huge difference.
We chose Bernard Callebaut chocolate because of its known quality and the relative ease with which we could get large quantities. Super Store and Pricesmart/Sav-On have it in bulk in Canada, which is definitely the most cost effective way to go. We covered a couple hundred candies with $20 worth of chocolate :)
First we had to chop the chocolate blocks into small pieces so it would melt easily, and then we heated water in a pot on the stove. Once the water was boiled we placed the chopped chocolate in the bowl and submerged the bottom of the bowl in the hot water. We had to use a makeshift double boiler (a metal bowl fit snugly in a pot) but it worked just fine. It's important to do small batches of chocolate at a time, as you do not want the chocolate to harden before you are done dipping the candy. Remelting the chocolate is generally not something you want to attempt, as it will separate and look terrible.
It also helps to keep the room you are working in relatively cool. This also helps prevent the chocolate from separating while it is hardening on the candy.
To coat the candy was a relatively simple (and messy!) process. We made sure each piece was thoroughly coated with chocolate before placing it on a parchment covered cookie sheet to dry. Using candy dippers (relatively cheap and easy to find at any kitchen gadget shop) makes a world of different in the appearance of your chocolates.
We used milk, dark, and white chocolate. Another good investment for working with chocolate is a candy thermometer/spatula combo. This allows you to work with the chocolate while keeping an eye on the optimal melting and working temperatures for each kind of chocolate.
In addition to the caramels my sister had made some truffles which we also coated with chocolate, and in the end we had over two hundred pieces of chocolate covered goodness.
We have been keeping these in the fridge until we give them as gifts - the shelf life is probably three to four weeks for homemade chocolates and candies if refrigerated.
And voila! After only half a day's work, you have quality handmade chocolate covered candies to give to family and friends for the holidays, or for any day you want to be a very welcome house guest or potluck participant!
I've decided to add a "how to" for the truffle portion of this candy making event, since I've been making them on the weekends of late.
First, you need to find a good recipe. I used this one from The Joy of Baking. , pretty basic but easy to follow and gave excellent results. I made the basic truffle recipe and allowed it to chill overnight, then rolled the truffles and coated them in chocolate another night.
I had some issues with my chocolate not melting when I added the whipping cream/butter mixture, so I had to put the mixture over a heated double boiler to get it to melt completely. This caused some separation in the chocolate. Not a huge deal, but if you are not coating in chocolate, this may affect the appearance of your candy.
A picture of the whipping cream and butter mixture heating up, and the chocolate chopped and prepared, waiting to be melted.
For flavour I just added some vanilla extract, but I am going to experiment with mint extract or some Baileys, I think. The vanilla flavour was kind of lost amidst the cocoa.
I used bittersweet chocolate for the truffles, so the chocolate flavour was a bit overwhelming. Next time I think I'll stick to semi-sweet, or add some sort of stronger flavour to compensate. I do recommend sticking to a high quality chocolate, however. Cheap chocolate will ruin your truffles.
Picture of the chocolate I used - generously donated to me by a friend (all he asked for was for me to share some of my finished product!)
After leaving the truffle mixture in the fridge overnight to cool and set, it is time to roll your truffles! If you have a melon baller you can use that to make this step a LOT easier.
Finally, the fun part - decorating your truffles.There are many, many things you can do. We dip them in or drizzle them with chocolate, or roll them in cocoa powder, ginger sugar, confectioner's sugar, or similar topping. You can also put nuts, dried fruit, or other toppings on the truffles as the chocolate coating dries. This is a great way to make your truffles look more professional and to tell the different flavours apart.
Flavour suggestions from the types we have made over the years: orange; cranberry; mint; almond; Bailey's; ginger; cheesecake; maple; and coconut.
One handy tip - one of my sister's truffle recipes didn't set property, so we added coconut as a binding agent and covered them with chocolate and they worked perfectly! And were super delicious, I might add.
Since we didn't make enough candy to give to everyone on our list, I ended up making several batches of fudge as well. A couple of the recipes I used are described below.
Old Fashioned Chocolate Fudge Recipe
1 1/2 c Milk
4 oz Unsweetened chocolate (sqs)
4 c Sugar
3 tb Light corn syrup
1/4 ts Salt
3 tb Butter or margarine
1 1/2 ts Vanilla
Combine milk and chocolate in medium-size heavy saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate is melted. Add sugar, corn syrup and salt and cook, stirring constantly, to boiling.
Cook, without stirring to 234F on a candy thermometer. (A teaspoonful of syrup will form a soft ball when dropped into cold water.) Remove from heat at once. Add vanilla and butter or margarine, but do not stir in.
Cool mixture in pan to 110F, or until lukewarm; beat with wooden spoon until mixture thickens and begins to lose its gloss. (This will take about 15 minutes.)
This recipe is a little more challenging to make, because it is "traditional",and doesn't rely on trick ingredients like marshmallows or condensed milk to work.
Some links to a few other great fudge recipes (and reviews of my personal experience):
1. I call this one "idiot proof fudge" and is a great recipe when you want to bring fudge to a get together or are short on time
2. This butter pecan one is good but I would recommend easing up on the confectioner's sugar, as the batch I made was a little crumbly.
3. This one is just too indulgent not to love.
4. And for the peanut butter lovers:
Making chocolates in molds is an easy way to make delicious gifts and pretty desserts for dinner parties.
You can make chocolates using dark, milk, or white chocolate. In addition, you can melt flavoured candies and pour those into molds as well, then coat them in chocolate for a yummy flavoured candy. Melt the chocolate or candy using the method described above (boil water, then placing a bowl filled with the chocolate or candy into the previously boiled water) and then pour into molds to set. Put them in the fridge once poured and they should be cool enough to remove in about 2 hours.
Chocolate and candy making supplies (sorry for the poor quality, the picture is from my phone).
I use silicon molds as I find they are the easiest to remove the chocolate from, as well as the more durable. Plastic molds don't last long, are difficult to clean, and it is harder to remove the chocolates from them.
I also use molds with unique shapes and depressions so that I can fill them with other types of chocolate or candy for a neat looking appearance. Chocolates are pretty simple to make, but you can be very creative and make some gorgeous looking candies.