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       Volume I - November 29, 2008

The Best Candy!
by Alice Osborne

The candy dilemma kills us. We love candy, kids love candy, WHO doesn’t love candy? But with all the rotten additives (high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, bovine gelatin, etc), it’s gotten a bad bad rap. Does this mean we need to leave it completely alone?
There’s something about total restriction that works against us. A recent New York Times article, “6 Food Mistakes Parents Make”, says that a large body of research shows that if a food is restricted, children just want it more, and that other studies show that children whose food is highly restricted at home are far more likely to binge when they have access to forbidden foods. So our assumption is that this goes for adults as well (we know it goes for Alice, for sure—watch out Swedish Fish!).

So how so we indulge once in awhile in treats without exposure to a rainbow array of sickly sweet, and quite frankly, terrifying ingredients?

Well lucky us—we stumbled upon a source for candy that meets any number of requirements: Vegan, organic, fair trade, gluten free, non-allergenic, kosher and Feingold. Imagine! The source comes from a mom-and-daughters candy team who started a Web site called Natural Candy Store. It’s extra terrific because you can browse by category, and each candy is labeled with an easy-to-identify icon telling you which categories it falls under. The candy they have selected meets strict quality standards, and the good ol’ taste standard of yumminess as well.

Of course, the truly best candy is probably the candy you make at home. With that in mind I pulled these out of the Care2 recipe collection. Have fun!

Yield: about 1 lb

1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 cup sugar (substitute Sucanat, available in health food stores, for a whole food sugar)
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
Candy thermometer

Butter enough cookie sheets for each child to have one. Combine the molasses, vinegar, sugar and salt in a pan and place over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Cover the pan and cook without stirring until the syrup has reached the firm-ball stage (240 F). (You’ll need to uncover the syrup to take the temperature.) Add the butter bit by bit at this state, and continue boiling the syrup on a low heat until it reaches 270°F.

Very, very carefully pour the taffy equally between the cookie sheets. The syrup is dangerously hot, so make sure you don’t spill any, and keep all children away while you pour. Oil yours and the children’s hands. Let the taffy cool for five minutes or so, and then use spatulas or candy scrapers to start turning it until it is cool enough to handle. Pick up the glob of candy, and starting pulling it out in a strand—a foot or more—and then folding it back on itself. Keep working it this way until the color becomes opaque, firm and elastic (this can take up to 15-20 minutes).

  Download this recipe.

Yield: about 2 lbs

This crunchy and healthful confection tastes better than peanut brittle–plus it’s a whole lot easier on the teeth, and has more nutritional value! The gorgeous amber color makes it as pretty to look at as it is mouth-wateringly delicious to eat. It also makes a gorgeous gift wrapped in cellophane or presented in a pretty tin.

2 cups hulled pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoons salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Butter an 11- by 17-inch baking sheet; set aside. Toss pumpkin seeds with vegetable oil and transfer them to a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until seeds crackle and pop and become light golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in salt. Cool on a clean baking sheet.

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, mix sugar, water, and corn syrup, stirring until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring until mixture registers 290F on a candy thermometer, 30-45 minutes.

Remove from heat and quickly stir in toasted pumpkin seeds and butter until just combined and the butter melts. Immediately pour mixture onto the buttered baking sheet and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Allow candy to cool on a rack until hard.

Flex the baking sheet, loosen and remove the candy, break it into pieces, and store in an airtight container in a cool place or in the freezer.

This crunchy popcorn combined with nuts and seeds and covered with buttery candy topping is so yummy, nobody will know it’s a lot healthier than the original. Make extra–it’s a winner!

  Download this recipe.

Yield: about 2½ qts

2 cups walnuts or other nutmeats
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
2 quarts popped popcorn, unsalted and unbuttered
1 1/2 cups sugar or Succanat
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

You’ll need 3 baking sheets for this project. Grease two of them very lightly and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.
Spread nuts and seeds on the third baking sheet. In the preheated oven, toast nuts and seeds for 7 minutes, stirring once. Turn oven off. Remove the baking sheet; spread the popcorn on top of the nuts and seeds. Return to the oven to keep warm.
Bring the sugar, maple syrup, water, butter, and salt to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Boil, partially covered, until the mixture reaches 290F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and then stir in the cinnamon and vanilla.
Quickly transfer the popcorn mix to the largest bowl you have and pour in the hot liquid. Working quickly–it will soon stiffen–stir to coat the entire mixture. Spread on the greased baking sheets and cool for 30 minutes. Break the mixture apart; store in tins or plastic bags.

  Download this recipe.

Yield: about 1 lb

In the American Northeast, when the maple sap flows, it brings the trees back to life. Native Americans introduced maple syrup to the early settlers and it’s a treat we can feel good about. Tapping the trees doesn’t hurt them, and maple syrup is a more nutritious for us than refined white sugar. For one thing, it has twice the calcium of milk!

The process of making this traditional candy is simple and fascinating, and the result is sheer delight, mineral-rich, creamy and sweet, like eating concentrated tree energy.

What you do:
Using a candy thermometer, in a sturdy saucepan with high sides, bring 2 cups real maple syrup to a boil.

Turn heat to very low and allow the syrup to continue boiling without stirring until the thermometer reads 233F. Be careful that it doesn’t boil over - once maple syrup finally decides to boil, it really boils. When the reduced syrup has reached 233F, remove it from the heat and allow to cool, still without stirring it, until the thermometer reads 110°F.

Now beat the reduced syrup with a wooden spoon, vigorously for several minutes. A transformation takes place: As you beat, the syrup gradually turns a pale caramel color and becomes stiff enough to hold a shape.

Place in candy molds or form into patties and allow to cool completely. Then unmold and enjoy.

  Download this recipe.

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