Holiday Book Reviews – 300 Best Homemade Candy Recipes

Fudge

I don’t know about you, but this is the week when my Christmas shopping always begins in earnest. So, for the second year in a row, I’m bringing you three book reviews to help you cross a few names off your list.

I received a review copy of 300 Best Homemade Candy Recipes from Robert Rose Inc. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

My mother’s aunts were tiny women with very strong arms. That’s because they were raised in an era without stand mixers or food processors to help them in the kitchen. One of the things they used their strength to make, in quantities great enough for the whole extended family, was the French Canadian specialty sucre à la crème. This simple fudge was something we looked forward to at Christmastime and my great-aunt Leona taught me how to make it when I was a teenager. Until very recently, sucre à la crème and truffles were the only candy recipes in my repertoire.

Enter Jane Sharrock’s 300 Best Homemade Candy Recipes. I’ve been curious about candy making for some time now, so when I got the opportunity to review this book, I jumped at it. Sharrock’s cookbook covers most of the categories of candy you can find in a kitchen and some, like lollipops, that I never dreamed you could make at home.

Sharrock began collecting candy recipes when her mother gave her a treasured pressure cooker that was perfect for making candy, along with a small booklet of candy recipes. Sharrock went on to try to preserve the candy recipes from earlier generations, which lends her cookbook an air of nostalgia. Reading through the recipes, I get the sense that these candies populated the tables at church bazaars and community potlucks, in the days before mass-produced sweets took their place.

This means that for the most part, the recipes use ingredients that you’d easily find at the supermarket. The few specialty items, like candy coating, can be found at baking supply stores. But, just because these recipes are old fashioned, doesn’t mean that they’re all unsophisticated. The pralines, divinity, and nougats would make a sweets table shine and even recipes that were thought of as homey, like taffy, seem very impressive these days. You won’t learn skills like tempering chocolate or making marshmallows from scratch, but once you’ve mastered this book, taking your candy making to the next level will be a breeze.

What I like best about this book is that it teaches you a wide range of candy making skills, includes troubleshooting advice and photo demonstrations, and even guides you through the steps you’d need to take if you were trying to recreate a favourite candy without the recipe.

I think after working through some of Sharrock’s categories of sweets, next year’s holiday treat boxes will be the best they’ve ever been. In the meantime, I’m going to give Sharrock’s tuxedo fudge another try. I forgot to put the coconut into the bottom layer and added it to the top, instead. As a result, the bottom is creamy, but the top is a bit dry. Following the instructions should make my next attempt perfect. Thanks to Robert Robert Rose, Inc., I’m sharing the recipe with you. If you’re still on holidays next week, it would be a great way to start filling your freezer with goodies before the New Year’s resolutions set in.

Boxed

Tuxedo Fudge

Makes about 3 1/2 lbs (1.75 kg)

8- or 9-inch (20 or 23 cm) square pan, lined with parchment or buttered
2-quart heavy saucepan
Candy thermometer

Coconut Layer
2 cups (500 mL) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter or margarine
1/4 cup (60 mL) light (white) corn syrup
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125 mL) sweetened flaked coconut

Chocolate Layer
2 cups (500 mL) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter or margarine
1/4 cup (60 mL) light (white) corn syrup
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125 mL) pecans, in large pieces (optional)

1. To make the coconut layer: In heavy saucepan over low to medium-low heat, bring the sugar, salt, butter, corn syrup and milk to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to boil. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar crystals on the sides of the pan. Remove the lid. Cook, stirring only as needed to prevent scorching, to the soft ball stage (234°F to 240°F/112°C to 116°C, with 236°F/113°C recommended).
2. Remove from the heat. Cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Add the vanilla. Beat by hand until the candy begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Stir in the coconut. Spread the candy into the prepared pan. Cool at room temperature while making the chocolate layer.
3. To make the chocolate layer: In a clean saucepan, combine the sugar and cocoa until well blended. Add the salt, butter, corn syrup and milk. Bring to a boil over low to medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to boil. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar crystals on the side of the pan. Remove the lid. Cook, stirring only as needed to prevent scorching, to the soft ball stage (234°F to 240°F/112°C to 116°C, with 236°F/113°C recommended).
4. Remove from the heat. Cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Add the vanilla. Beat by hand until the candy begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Stir in the pecans, if desired. Spread the chocolate layer over the coconut layer in the pan. Cool and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.

Gift Giver’s Guide: For the sweet tooth, the nostalgic, and the cook who wants to extend their gifts from the kitchen beyond cookies and squares.

You can find the rest of this year’s reviews here and here..

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Holiday Book Reviews – The Healthy Slow Cooker

Closeup

I don’t know about you, but this is the week when my Christmas shopping always begins in earnest. So, for the second year in a row, I’m bringing you three book reviews to help you cross a few names off your list.

I received a review copy of The Healthy Slow Cooker, Second Edition from Robert Rose Inc. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

I know that I post a lot about French food and desserts around here, but most of the time I try to cook healthy meals. It might seem challenging to do so when trying to balance the needs of an omnivore with a vegan-ish, gluten-free eater, but it isn’t really. We never ate very much bread with our meals and there are plenty of great grains that can satisfy our carbohydrate requirements. As for protein, I’ve always been of the mind that meat and dairy shouldn’t be the primary focus of weekly meals, so we were already eating a largely plant-based diet before my partner started his move toward veganism.

What can be challenging is making sure we have enough variety in our diet, so that we’re covering all the nutrient groups as we eat across the week. It’s easy to get into a routine, making the same few dishes over and over, with a little experimentation on the weekends. Much better to find ways to change things up more frequently.

One of my favourite ways to do that is to make use of my slow cooker. Not only can I fill it and forget it for the workday or overnight, having a large slow cooker means that I can make recipes in quantities that allow me to package and freeze several meals’ worth.

Unfortunately, a lot of slow cooker cookbooks focus on heavy meals that cycle through a limited roster of protein-starch-vegetable combinations. So, I was happy to find The Healthy Slow Cooker has a variety of recipes, both meat and plant-based, with a focus on using nutrient-dense ingredients. The best part is that all the recipes are gluten-free.

Judith Finlayson is well-known to Canadians as a writer and editor, but has become especially famous for her prolific publication of useful cookbooks. Many of them are slow cooker cookbooks, focusing on different health needs or dietary practices. The Healthy Slow Cooker is in its second edition, which came out earlier this year. This means that the recipes are updated, but more importantly, the nutrition tips and health information are more current now, too.

Those tips and information boxes, called “Mindful Morsels” and “Natural Wonders” are a welcome feature of Finlayson’s book. There are the kinds of information you might expect, like the sections breaking down the nutritional benefits of mushrooms or bell peppers, which help bring home the reasons for eating a wide variety of foods. But there are also sections that go into more depth, explaining the role of elements like fatty acids and micronutrients in our diets, why some foods which should always be bought from organic sources, or shopping with environmental concerns and sustainability in mind.

The recipes come from a number of culinary traditions, including Caribbean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian flavours. They also make use of common ingredients, without ignoring some of the ingredients (think edamame or sunchokes) that have been showing up more and more in markets. There are lots of vegan or vegetarian dishes, while many of the recipes that weren’t explicitly vegetarian or vegan could easily be converted, like her Sweet Potato Coconut Curry. And most of the truly meat-based meals are freezable, ready for those times when I’m eating solo.

When I was deciding which recipe to share with you, I thought about how much of a boon fresh, vibrant food is on the winter table. Even though summer vegetables are long gone, many of them are available frozen, almost as nutrient-rich as when they were picked. Finlayson’s take on succotash was exactly what I was looking for, incorporating corn, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and edamame with the warmth of paprika. It’s bright on the table, filling, and a good match for many different main courses. Best of all, it’s freezable, letting you enjoy it across the coldest months. (If you make it in summer, you can use garden-fresh ingredients and freeze some of it for winter.)

New Age Succotash

reprinted with permission from Judith Finlayson’s Healthy Slow Cooker

Serves 8

1 Medium to large (3 1/2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 tsp (10 mL) dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cracked black peppercorns
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) no-salt-added tomatoes, including juice, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) vegetable stock
4 cups (1 L) frozen shelled edamame
2 tsp (10 mL) paprika, dissolved in 2 tbsp (30 mL) water
4 cups (1 L) corn kernels, thawed if frozen
2 roasted red bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup (125 mL)finely chopped parsley leaves

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

Add edamame and stir well. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Stir in paprika solution. Add corn, roasted red peppers and parsley and stir well. Cover and cook on High for 15 minutes, until corn is tender and mixture is heated through.

Variation
Spicy Succotash: For a livelier dish, stir in 1 can (4.5 oz./127 mL) mild green chiles along with the red peppers.

This is a terrific side for a braised tofu dish, or more traditionally, for a big platter of ribs. Finlayson includes a recipe for a corn and chile polenta in the cookbook, which would be a nice addition to either of these meals. Really, though, this dish would fit whenever you’d otherwise consider serving the usual boiled, steamed (or canned) vegetables.

I’ll be coming back to this cookbook often, both for the recipes and the information.

Gift Giver’s Guide: For the busy, the gluten-free, and those who want variety and flavour in their healthy menus.

Come back tomorrow for a review of a book that brings vegetarian eating to a new level.