Sweet treats for food-loving friends

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 30, 2011

Beate Christoph of Marzipan Confections creates holiday-themed snowmen.  (Dan Pelle)
Beate Christoph of Marzipan Confections creates holiday-themed snowmen. (Dan Pelle)

Marzipan Confections

Beate Christoph’s South Hill kitchen is filled with snowmen, eggplants and oranges. It’s not as odd as it sounds – they’re actually made of marzipan, an almond candy popular in Christoph’s native Germany. She shapes and colors the almond-flavored dough into confections she sells through her wholesale business Marzipan Confections.

Hand-shaped marzipan candies are easy to make and children love to help. “It’s like playing with Play-Doh. It sticks and dries fast,” says Christoph. “Knead the dough in your hands so it gets warm,” she advises. If it’s too sticky, add a little powdered sugar. “The best way is to experiment,” she says. “Just roll it around and make shapes.” Three round balls can easily become a snowman, and a small round oval of marzipan rolled in cocoa powder looks amazingly like a potato. Fondant tools are ideal for carving and creating, but knives and cookie cutters work well, too.

You can color your creations after they’re finished with a paintbrush dipped in food coloring, or color the marzipan before you start by kneading in a few drops of food coloring. If you store the confections in an airtight container, they’ll last several weeks, and can be eaten as they are, or added to a plate of holiday cookies. Find marzipan in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, or buy larger quantities from Marzipan Confections. Visit the website odense.com for video tutorials and more marzipan recipes.

Chocolate-dipped Dried Fruit

Dipping fruit in chocolate is so easy, but the results are impressive and make great gifts. Choose large pieces of moist-looking dried fruit, which will last longer than fresh fruit. “Dried pineapple works great, and the color is nice with dark chocolate,” says Rachelle Blackmer, owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Spokane Valley. Dried apricots, pears, candied pineapple and papaya spears are fun too. Maraschino cherries “are easy to dip and look great on a plate of cookies,” says Blackmer. Melt about a cup of chocolate chips in the microwave, stopping every 30 seconds to stir. Dry the cherries and, holding each by the stem, dunk them completely in chocolate, shake off the excess and set them on wax paper to dry. They’ll last about two weeks.

Blackmer uses semi-sweet Guittard chocolate, which is available by the pound at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. “I like the combination of bitter and sweet,” she says, but milk or white chocolate will work just fine. For an added touch, dip the fruit, set it on wax paper and immediately sprinkle it with toasted coconut or hazelnut pieces. Chocolate-dipped dried fruit should be stored at room temperature and will last two to three weeks.

Candied Citrus Peels

These sparkling, tangy peels make an unusual candy treat. They can be enjoyed plain or chopped up and added to cookies and fruitcakes. Candied orange peels dipped halfway in chocolate make a visually stunning gift when wrapped in a cellophane bag, or treat yourself and enjoy a piece with a cup of afternoon coffee. (See recipe below.)

Angel Food Candy

“It’s an old-fashioned candy. It’s kind of crunchy, but once you bite into it, it starts getting chewy,” describes Sherri Noble of Carolyn’s Cakes, Candy and Cookie Supplies. Angel food candy, also known as honey comb, is simple to make and requires only a few ingredients (see recipe below). You will need a candy thermometer, and Noble suggests using a digital one.

Angel food candy can be enjoyed plain or dipped in chocolate. Noble recommends using Guittard’s chocolate candy melts. “They are much more user friendly,” she says. Carolyn’s also carries Paramount crystals that can be melted with any chocolate to make it creamier and easier to work with.

Caramel Popcorn

Caramel popcorn in a decorative tin makes a welcome gift and it’s perfect to have on hand for entertaining holiday guests. Be sure to start with plain unflavored and unbuttered popcorn, preferably air-popped. Experiment with flavored caramels until you find your favorite. (See recipe below.) For a lighter treat, mix 8 cups of popcorn with 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and toss with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a sprinkle of salt.

Here are some recipes to try:

Marzipan Candy Canes

Courtesy of Beate Christoph, Marzipan Confections, Spokane. These festive no-bake confections are easy to make and fun for children to help assemble.

6 ounces marzipan

Red food coloring

Reserve a chunk of uncolored marzipan about the size of a walnut and color the remaining marzipan with 2-3 drops red food coloring, kneading it until color is uniform. Divide red marzipan into four even pieces and use your hands to roll each piece into a rope about ½-inch in diameter and then form candy canes. Divide the plain (white) marzipan into four even pieces and make thin ropes about the same length as the candy canes. Twist the plain marzipan around each red candy cane to make “stripes.” Allow candy canes to dry completely and then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: 4 candy canes.

Marzipan-Filled Dates

From “Brittles, Barks and Bonbons,” by Charity Ferreira. You can also try this recipe using dried apricots instead of dates – just make a slit at the top large enough to fill with ½ teaspoon marzipan. These are perfect for dessert or as part of a holiday candy or cookie assortment.

1 pound dates

6 ounces marzipan

Cut the dates almost in half length-wise and remove the pits without completely separating the two halves if possible. Break off 1/2-inch chunks of marzipan (a little smaller than 1 teaspoon) and shape them into ovals with your fingers. Place the marzipan in the center of each date and press the halves together, leaving a little marzipan showing. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week.

Yield: One pound of stuffed dates.

Caramel Popcorn

From “Candy Making Basics,” by Evelyn Howe Fryatt.

8 cups popcorn

30 vanilla caramels (about 13 ounces)

2 tablespoons water

1/8 teaspoon salt

Keep the popcorn hot and crisp in a 300 degree oven. Combine the caramels and water in a large glass measuring cup. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir until melted and smooth. Transfer the popcorn to a large buttered bowl. Pour the melted caramels over the popcorn and toss until well coated. Butter your hands and carefully shape the mixture into 2-inch balls. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: about 8 cups.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Dried Cranberries, Apricots and Pistachios

Courtesy of Rachelle Blackmer of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. If you don’t have the time to dip individual pieces of fruit, this bark recipe is the answer. “The cranberries are bright and the pistachios give it a pretty color,” says Blackmer, who encourages people to experiment with the recipe, using their favorite combination of dried fruit and nuts.

1 pound of semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces

2/3 cup of pistachios, shelled

2/3 cup mixed dried cranberries and dried apricot halves

Line a 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pan with waxed paper (or use any pan that has a 1-inch high side). Sprinkle the fruit and nuts on the wax paper.

Melt the chocolate in microwave-safe dish, stopping every 30 seconds to stir the chocolate until smooth. Pour the chocolate over the fruit and nuts and smooth with a spatula. Let it set at room temperature until dry. Break into pieces.

Yield: about 1 1/2 pounds bark.

Candied Citrus Peel

From “Brittles, Barks and Bonbons,” by Charity Ferreira, who writes “the peels of navel oranges, Meyer lemons and ruby grapefruits make delicious candy.”

5 medium oranges, 6 lemons or 4 grapefruits

2 cups sugar, divided

1 1/2 cups water

Wash the fruits thoroughly. To remove the peels without tearing, slice off the stem end of the fruit, then make vertical cuts about 1 inch apart through the peel. Carefully peel off the scored sections of the rind. With a sharp paring knife, trim away as much of the white pith from the peel as possible. Cut the peel length-wise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

In a small pan, cover the peels with water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving peels. In the same pan, stir together 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the water over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved. Add the peels and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 40 minutes. Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet and use a slotted spoon to transfer peels to rack. Let them stand for about an hour, until almost dry.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place the remaining ½ cup sugar in a bowl. Roll the peels in the sugar to coat, shaking off excess. Place the peels on waxed paper and let them dry completely, about 4 hours. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one month.

Yield: 8 ounces of candied peels.

Angel Food Candy

Courtesy of Carolyn’s Cakes, Candies and Cookie Supplies

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 to 1 1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate for dipping (optional)

Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil so that it hangs over the edge of the pan by 1 to 2 inches. Butter the foil. In a large deep saucepan stir the sugar and corn syrup together. Bring to a boil and using a candy thermometer cook the mixture until it reaches 300 degrees (hard crack stage). Remove the mixture from the heat. Add the baking soda and vinegar and whisk vigorously until well mixed. The mixture will become light and foamy. Quickly pour into buttered pan. Leave on rack to cool. To unmold, pull the foil out of the pan and peel it off the candy.

Break the cooled candy into chunks with a sharp knife. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double-boiler and partially dip or drizzle the angel food candy with chocolate. Store in single layers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

Yield: About 60 chunks of candy.

Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance food writer. Visit her blog at chefonthego.net or contact her at kharrington67@earthlink.net.


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