Articles in Candy

Maple-hazelnut fudge. Credit: Charles Perry

As we slide into the holiday season, my mind turns toward maple: maple syrup, maple frosting — and maple fudge.

The world has quite enough chocolate fudge, in my heretical opinion. Chocolate is certainly majestic, but maple has something wonderful and poetical to say for itself. Nobody who has had a bite of maple fudge will ever turn another down. It’s the ideal Thanksgiving sweet, the boss of all stocking stuffers.

These days, a lot of people seem to think that fudge making is so difficult it has to be left to professionals. Oh, fudge, I say. Homemade fudge is an American tradition. Nineteenth-century college girls are said to have invented chocolate fudge — apparently without spoiling their grade-point average.

The anatomy of a beloved candy

Culinarily speaking, fudge is related to caramel because it involves cooking a dairy product (milk, half-and-half or cream) to the point that it undergoes the Maillard reaction, which produces appetizing browned flavors. Specifically, fudge is related to the 19th-century Mexican candy called panocha, which included the decisive step of stirring in chopped nuts.

Fudge has a luxurious texture because it is whipped as it cools to prevent the formation of large crystals. Small crystals melt easily and appealingly, and a fat-based ingredient — butter or chocolate (or both) — adds its own lusciousness. The faint bitterness of the nuts takes the curse off the overwhelming sweetness of the candy, which is why nuts have become all but universal in fudge recipes.

For maple fudge, the most common nuts are walnuts or pecans, which are both excellent. On general principle, I would first toast them at 350 F until they can easily be pierced by a needle, about 7 minutes. I have also tried toasted coconut as a substitute, which is pretty good, though I was surprised to find that the coconut flavor dominated the maple more than I liked. Ultimately, I decided I favored the version made with toasted hazelnuts. Because, face it, hazelnuts are awesome.

It’s not as hard as you think

Many fudge recipes call for a pastry marble to cool the syrup on, which can make those who don’t own one uneasy. So just use a baking pan instead. (I wouldn’t recommend a cookie sheet without a raised edge, however, because if it isn’t perfectly level, the hot syrup can drip right off.) You do need a good thermometer, but these days any serious cook has one.

In short, the following recipe is somewhat flexible. You can cook the syrup to 240 F or so; you can let it cool to 105 F before beating it; you can beat it longer than the specified time. The crucial thing is that the syrup must reach the soft-ball stage, 238 F at sea level. (If you live at an elevation above 3,500 feet, you are probably familiar with the degree to which you must adjust your temperatures.)

Maple-Nut Fudge

Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Total time: About 2¾ hours (includes cooling time)

Yield: 25 to 36 pieces

Ingredients

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, divided, softened

3 cups sugar

¾ cup maple syrup

1½ cups half-and-half

3 tablespoons corn syrup

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

1½ cups roughly chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts or toasted hazelnuts — toasted for 5 to 7 minutes at 350 F

Directions
1. Line an 8-inch baking dish with aluminum foil (make sure that the edges extend past the rim) and grease with 1 tablespoon softened butter.

2. In a 3-quart pot over low heat, stir together the sugar, maple syrup, half-and-half, corn syrup and salt until smooth. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved, 5 minutes.

3. Insert the sensor of a candy thermometer into the mixture. Increase the heat to bring to a boil and cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the soft-ball state (238 F), about 15 minutes. The syrup will foam up alarmingly but settle down by 225 F. Warning: The heated syrup can cause severe burnsWear an apron and use oven mitts.

4. Remove the thermometer probe from the pan and pour the fudge onto a pastry marble (if you don’t have one, use a 12-by-18-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray). Divide the remaining 3 tablespoons of softened butter into several pieces and dot them here and there on top.

5. Clean the thermometer sensor and stick it anywhere in the fudge. When the temperature measures 110 F (about 5 minutes on a marble, 10 or 12 minutes on a baking pan), scrape the fudge into a mixer bowl with the mixer paddle attached, add the vanilla and beat until the fudge is thick and losing its shine, 5 to 10 minutes.

6. Mix in the nuts. Turn the fudge into the prepared baking dish and let it cool to room temperature, 2 hours.

7. Remove the fudge from the dish by lifting the edges of the aluminum foil and transfer it to a work surface. Rub a chef’s knife with a piece of paper towel wetted with vegetable oil and make 4 cuts in one direction and then 4 cuts in the other, or 5 cuts in each direction, re-oiling the knife as necessary. Wrap the pieces in waxed paper.

If it is not to be eaten immediately, store the fudge in an air-tight container (it can otherwise absorb moisture and soften, particularly in damp weather). It will keep several weeks in a refrigerator, but generally speaking, it’s a gift best given fresh.

Main photo: Maple-hazelnut fudge. Credit: Charles Perry

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Salty licorice stand at market in Mikkeli, Finland. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Whether black as a shiny top hat, or dusted with fine white powder, salty licorice hits you with a blast. Sweet and salty and sour, it frankly takes some getting used to.

The Finns, however, adore salmiakki, as it’s called in their impenetrable language. It’s as much a part of the culture as saunas and Sibelius, Angry Birds and Moomins. A gift of the salty treat to a homesick Finn will bring tears to his or her eyes, in a reticent Finnish sort of way, of course.

Other northern European countries, particularly the Netherlands, share the partiality for both sweet and salty licorice. The Dutch, in fact, claim to eat the most amount of licorice (or drop, as they call it) per person in the world — nearly 2 kilograms a year.

Licorice textures, flavours

Salty licorice can range in texture from fudge-like to hard, with varying degrees of chewiness and elasticity. Many forms have a powdery dusting on it as well. It can be used in liqueurs, vodka, chocolate fillings, syrups and ice cream (gray ice cream!), and found in a dizzying array of shapes, from diamond lozenges to balls, fish, rings, boats, skulls, cars, guitars and cute little animals.

The saltiness also varies from tart to tongue-numbingly sour. Fazer’s “Turkish Pepper Original®” is a hard, salty licorice with a fiery powder center — meant only for “real connoisseurs,” it warns.

The sharp, stinging taste comes from ammonium chloride, which also is used as an old-fashioned remedy for soothing coughs and reducing phlegm.

It was this salty variety that took me by surprise during a recent trip to Mikkeli, the center of the Eastern Finnish Lakeland region.

The town’s lively little marketplace included many vendors — some selling waxy siikli potatoes still coated in rich black earth, others intensely sweet Polka strawberries, and still others offering tiny vendace lake fish dipped in rye flour and fried in butter.

But there also was a licorice stall. Boxes of yard-long cables in fluorescent colors were arranged side by side: The many flavors included mint, strawberry, orange, toffee and banana as well as salty and sweet jet-black varieties.

Memories of licorice

The scene took me back to growing up in Lancashire, England, and going to the corner sweet, newsagent and tobacconist shop — a particularly British institution — for a twist of “Spanish,” a chewy, sticky bootlace of licorice that gummed up your back teeth. “Spanish” is widely believed to refer to the root grown by Spanish monks in North Yorkshire, but there is no evidence for this. Laura Mason in her book “Sugar-Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets” notes that Spanish licorice was apparently better quality than homegrown, and thus a likely explanation for the term.

According to Mason, Pontefract cakes are shiny round licorice coins embossed with a seal, dated 1760. That is when George Dunhill, an apothecary, improved upon the local licorice by mixing the extract with sugar and flour in proportions sufficient to make a palatable cough remedy in Yorkshire, an industrial region where the damp, chilly climate took a bronchial toll.

The eponymous “embossed cakes” are still made there today, although, sadly, no longer with locally grown roots.

Sir John Betjeman, one-time Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, was even inspired to write a poem about love and sex in the licorice fields of Pontefract — although the object of his affection probably never forgave him for describing her flannel-clad legs as the “strongest” in Pontefract.

The best licorice, such as the Finnish Panda All Natural licorice, is made simply, with molasses syrup, wheat flour, licorice extract and aniseed oil. Other good quality licorices use natural acacia gum as a thickener. You can now also buy organic licorice candy.

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Salty licorice stall at market in Mikkeli, Finland. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Licorice in cooking

Licorice has been “rediscovered” in Finland as a flavoring in new Nordic cooking (although whether Finland is Scandinavian, Nordic, Baltic or something unique unto itself is another story). Sensational licorice-spiced crème brûlée is one of the star turns at the excellent Ateljé Finne in Helsinki; and at the beautiful Russian-style Tertti Manor near Mikkeli, talented Jaakko Kinnunen offers an inspired juniper gravad lax with licorice sauce.

But it is the Finnish fondness for salty licorice that really made me blink. In Helsinki, there is a vintage kiosk that sells an extraordinary 91 varieties (precision is a national virtue in Finland) of salmiakki. It is, of course, called the Salmiakkikioski and a magnet for salmiakki-lovers seeking obscure varieties or powerful strengths they can’t get anywhere else.

The acidic, chemical edge of salty licorice inspires either love or hate. I was told that you had to keep sampling until the initial gagging reflex turns into a baffling compulsion to determine its place on the spectrum of deliciousness, and then press on to the final moment of resistance-is-futile surrender. That is when the polar opposites of saltiness and sweetness supposedly merge in Planet Candy satisfaction.

I’m still working on it.

Licorice Spiced Crème Brûlée

Ingredients

  • ⅛ cup (30 grams) strong licorice
  • ⅓ cup (100 grams) sugar
  • ¾ cup (2 deciliters) cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1½ cup (4 deciliters) whole milk
  • brown cane sugar

Directions

  1. Put licorice and sugar into a kettle and add cream. Cook over low heat until licorice and sugar have melted.
  2. Remove the kettle from stove. Mix in egg yolks and milk. Let it rest for about 30 minutes, pour into 5-ounce (1.5-deciliter) ramekins.
  3. Bake in the oven at 203 F (95 C) for about 30 minutes, or until custard is set. Cool and refrigerate for a few hours.
  4. Before service: If any condensation has formed on the surface of the custard, gently dab with a sheet of paper towel. Sprinkle a fine layer of brown cane sugar over the top. Caramelize with a chef's blowtorch. Let rest for about 10 minutes, serve.

Main photo: Licorice stand at a market in Mikkeli, Finland. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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Chocolate-covered peppermint marshmallow pops cool on parchment paper. Credit: Susan Lutz

Around our house, Valentine’s Day is about family and love. And when it comes to dessert my family loves chocolate, peppermint and marshmallows, though not necessarily in that order. I wanted to make a treat that would satisfy everyone’s dessert fantasies. After much contemplation, I came up with the idea for Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Marshmallow Pops.

I had another requirement for our Valentine’s Day treat — it had to be a no-bake recipe. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to bake anything except bread, and I’ll come up with any excuse possible to make sweet treats that don’t involve actual baking.

While thumbing through the dessert section of my personal “favorite recipes” notebook, I stumbled across my recipe for seven-minute frosting. I suddenly realized this could be the starting point for Valentine treats. I love seven-minute frosting. In our family, we eat coconut cake with seven-minute frosting for Christmas, Easter and birthdays. It’s a special occasion cake, but I figured it would be even better if I could get rid of the cake entirely and focus on the frosting. If you’ve ever made seven-minute frosting, you know it’s just a step away from marshmallow. I decided to take that step.

The joy of homemade marshmallows

For most people, marshmallows are unnaturally rounded cubes found in plastic bags in supermarkets. Yet there are an infinite number of ways to make marshmallows. Most call for some combination of sugar, gelatin and corn syrup.

I began my experiment with my traditional recipe for seven-minute frosting, but replaced my usual vanilla with peppermint. I added unflavored gelatin to the mix to give the final product its marshmallow-y sponginess. Once I had made the marshmallow, then let it cool overnight, I used cookie cutters to cut the marshmallow into Valentine shapes. The final steps: Shove it onto a popsicle stick, dip it in chocolate and decorate with candy sprinkles.

This recipe does contain egg, which is important to tell people who might have egg allergies. However, unlike most marshmallow recipes, this one has no corn syrup. I also did a double-check on the food safety situation of the egg whites. According to foodsafety.gov, the egg whites used in seven-minute frosting are cooked with a sugar syrup long enough to kill any salmonella bacterium that might be present.

But because I was planning to share these treats with the all the kids in the neighborhood, I decided to play it safe and make this recipe with pasteurized powdered egg whites. They’re handy to have when you run out of eggs, and I happened to have them in my pantry already.

Get messy and feel the love

Fair warning: this can be a messy affair, as powdered sugar tends to fly, especially if your kids are getting into the act. I experimented with several versions of the recipe, varying the level of sweetness, marshmallow thickness and pepperminty-ness.

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Cookie cutters are perfect for cutting out shapes to make marshmallow pops. Credit: Susan Lutz

This final version appealed to children and adults alike, assuming, of course, that the eater had a love of chocolate and a serious sweet tooth. The dessert is as pretty as it is delicious, and the finished chocolate pops can be used as Valentine Party table decorations or given as gifts.

They would never last that long at our house. I presented my first batch of chocolate peppermint marshmallow pops to my two daughters, which caused their outdoor play to screech to a halt as they snatched the heart-shaped suckers out of my hand. They were such a hit that when my youngest daughter dropped her half-eaten pop in the dirt of our front yard, a river of tears began to flow. The flood stopped when I sighed and told my daughter she could pick it up and eat it anyway. She dusted off the biggest specks of dirt and happily shoved it back in her mouth.

Love can be messy. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Marshmallow Pops

Makes approximately 12 to 15 pops

 Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup cornstarch

½ cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons (three packets) unflavored gelatin

⅔ cups water to mix with gelatin, plus ½ cup water to mix with egg whites

Pasteurized powdered egg whites equal to two egg whites (I used Deb El’s Just Whites. If you use another brand, change the amount of water to whatever is required by the egg-white instructions plus five tablespoons of water.)

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups refined white sugar

¼ to ½ teaspoon peppermint extract

Pinch of salt

24 ounces (two bags) good quality semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil

Assorted sprinkles, coconut, or finely chopped nuts for decoration

Directions

1. Butter a 9-by-13 inch sheet pan with at least a ½-inch edge and line with parchment paper.

2. Sift together ½ cup cornstarch and ½ cup powdered sugar. Use about half this mixture to completely cover sides and bottom of pan. Reserve the remainder.

3. Mix 3 tablespoons gelatin with ⅔ cup hot water in a small bowl. Stir until gelatin dissolves and set aside.

4. Heat about 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler. In top half of double boiler add egg white, cream of tartar, peppermint extract, sugar and ½ cup cold water (do this with top pan off the heat).

5. Place top pan into bottom pan of double boiler, which contains about 1 inch of hot water, still over heat. Use an electric hand mixer to combine ingredients, starting on low speed until combined, then increasing speed to high. Continue to beat ingredients over medium heat for seven minutes.

6. Remove double boiler from heat. Be sure that pan is on a stable, heat-proof surface, like a cool burner. Slowly add gelatin mixture to egg white mixture, beating with hand mixer starting on low speed, then increasing to high speed. Continue to beat for five minute. Do not worry if mixture gets watery and starts to deflate slightly.

7. Pour marshmallow mixture into 9-by-13-inch pan, dust with reserved powdered sugar-cornstarch mixture until marshmallow mixture is completely covered.

8. Let cool overnight.

9. The next day, cut into shapes using cookie cutters that are approximately 2 inches in diameter.

10. Brush off any excess powdered sugar-corn starch mixture.

11. Place marshmallow shapes on lollipop sticks and set aside.

12. Heat chocolate and canola oil in a double boiler over low heat and stir to combine until chocolate is completely melted.

13. Dip marshmallow pops in chocolate until the top and all sides are covered. Add sprinkles or other topping and let harden on parchment paper-lined sheet pan in refrigerator for approximately 10 minutes. (You can dip the whole pop at once, but it may leave a bit of extra chocolate pooling at the back side of the marshmallow unless you’re really careful to scrape off any excess before placing on tray to dry.)

14. When the chocolate has hardened on the front and sides of the marshmallow pop, coat the back side of the marshmallow with melted chocolate. (It is easiest to spoon about a teaspoon of melted chocolate onto back side of marshmallow pop and spread with the back of the spoon.) Place on parchment paper-lined sheet pan with back side up and return to refrigerator until marshmallow pops are completely cool.

15. Pack marshmallow pops in airtight container for up to one week. They also freeze well.

Top photo: Chocolate-covered peppermint marshmallow pops cool on parchment paper. Credit: Susan Lutz

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Ganache-filled chocolates at Durig Chocolatier in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: David Latt

Even the most jaded of adults will stand outside the plate glass window of a chocolate shop and stare at the candies inside with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. On a recent trip researching a series of articles about Switzerland, I spent time with chocolatier Dan Durig who has two shops in Lausanne on Lake Geneva.

To celebrate the holidays and the New Year, Durig generously shared an easy-to-make chocolate ganache. He also patiently allowed me to videotape him preparing his signature vanilla-scented ganache-filled chocolates.

Born into a family of Swiss chocolate makers, Durig learned the craft from his dad, Jean Durig. Growing up near Manchester, England, and vacationing with his father’s family in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Durig lived comfortably in England and Switzerland. So when he was ready for a life change, relocating to Switzerland was easy to do.

Having always worked for his dad or other chocolatiers, he wanted to start his own business in Lausanne. In a quiet neighborhood within sight of Lake Geneva, Durig converted a branch office of BCV bank into Durig Chocolatier.

Locals told Durig the transformation of a bank into a chocolate shop changed the neighborhood for the better. The change was good for Durig as well. Within three years, his business was well established, he won several prestigious awards, he married and had a son. Putting together a team to work in the kitchen and in the front of the shop is, according to Durig, easier in Switzerland than other places because of the country’s well-established apprenticeship program. The clerks who work in the shop go through a retail management program. The chocolatiers learn their craft in a multiyear pastry apprenticeship based on the French model, combining four days of work with one day of school.

Made mostly by hand with the help of a few machines, Durig happily demonstrated how he crafts his chocolates. As he worked, two tempering machines that work 24 hours a day can be heard in the background, keeping separate batches of milk and dark chocolate at precisely the correct temperature. When melted without controlling the temperature, chocolate will cool and harden without its characteristic bright sheen and crispness.

Durig knows his chocolates are only as good as the ingredients he uses. To make his ganache, he sources high quality Swiss organic cream from local dairies and vanilla beans from Madagascar. He buys his cocoa and cocoa butter from quality, fair trade producers in Peru, Sierra Leone and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.

For best results at home, follow Durig’s lead and buy the highest quality chocolate and cream available. Chocolate should be made only with cocoa butter. Cream should not have any chemical additives.

To make the ganache-filled chocolates demonstrated by chef Durig in the video, purchase a candy-making mold in a restaurant or cooking supply store or online. Learning to temper chocolate is not for the faint of heart. Understanding that, Durig’s ganache recipe does not require tempering.

Durig Chocolatier’s Chocolate Holiday Ganache Squares

Using quality ingredients is essential in cooking, especially when making chocolates. After making the ganache, the chocolates should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

If served cold, the chocolates have a pleasing crispness. Allowed to warm to room temperature, they will have a melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. I put the chocolates in individual paper cups for easy serving.

As a matter of taste, I added caramelized nuts to the ganache. A half cup of almond slivers tossed with 1 tablespoon of white sugar and toasted over a low flame added a pleasing crunch to the citrus and herbal notes.

Serves 24 to 36 (about 130 pieces, depending on the size of the squares)

Ingredients

For the mixed spice:

Durig buys his mixed spice ready made. Making your own is easy enough. Once prepared, keep in an airtight container. If ground clove and fennel are not available, grind your own.

1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground fennel

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground clove

Baking paper

For the chocolates:

500 grams (1 pint) cream

800 grams (28 ounces) organic dark chocolate (68% cocoa content), chopped into small pieces

10 grams (2 flat teaspoons) ground cinnamon

10 grams (2 flat teaspoons) mixed spice (see directions below)

100 grams (3 ounces) chopped organic candied orange peel

Organic cocoa powder for dusting

Directions

For the mixed spice:

1. Place all the ingredients into a small, electric grinder and pulverize into a fine powder.

For the chocolates:

1. Bring the cream to boil and remove from the heat.

2. Add the other ingredients to the cream and stir with a wire whisk until the chocolate is melted.

3. Pour into a 10-inch dish lined with baking paper.

4. Cool in the fridge for 4 hours.

5. Cut into ½- to ¾-inch squares and roll each square in the cocoa powder.

6. Set aside on a wire rack or sheets of waxed paper.

7. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Top photo: Ganache-filled chocolates at Durig Chocolatier in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: David Latt

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Durig Chocolatier in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: David Latt

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Turkey Joints from Nora's Candy Shop in Rome, N.Y. Credit: Tina Caputo

When November rolls around and the scent of cinnamon is in the air, you may look forward to traditional holiday treats like pumpkin pie or your mom’s gingerbread. But for people in Rome, N.Y., in the foothills of the Adirondacks, the holidays wouldn’t taste the same without Turkey Joints.

They’re not made from turkey; they’re not even shaped like turkeys. Turkey Joints look like bones. Imagine a knobby 5-inch-long candy, similar in girth to a pretzel rod, covered in a crunchy, pearly-white sugar coating. Inside each “bone” is a creamy chocolate and Brazil nut “marrow.” Bizarre, yes, but also delicious.

Rome residents don’t make Turkey Joints at home; they buy them at Nora’s Candy Shop. Nora’s is owned by the Haritatos family, which began making the chocolate treats in 1919, and they’re still made by the same (secret) handmade process. No one knows for sure where the idea for the bone-shaped candies came from, but they’ve been a local Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition for decades.

“I don’t know how many jars we sell during the holidays,” said Sharon, a Nora’s employee who handles in-store and online sales. “But I will say it’s a lot. All I know is, at the end of the holiday season I am extremely tired!”

As New York Romans have moved away to other parts of the world, the Turkey Joints tradition has spread. Each year, Nora’s ships the candies to homesick people all over the United States, and beyond.

Turkey Joint candy. Credit: Tina Caputo

Turkey Joint candy. Credit: Tina Caputo

I was introduced to Turkey Joints several years ago by my friend Doug Gallaher, who grew up in Rome and moved to San Francisco in the early ’90s. At 45 years old, Gallaher has never known a Christmas without Turkey Joints.

“I don’t know anyone who is from Rome, or who had a relative from Rome, who does not think of them as a holiday food,” he told me. “What I like about them is that they are tied so closely to Christmas memories, but they are a tangible, unchanged thing. My mom still sends me a jar every year in my Christmas care package.”

Like many former Rome residents, Gallaher also gives Turkey Joints to friends each year during the holidays.

“I typically buy between six and eight jars and bring them to holiday parties instead of wine,” he said. “I try not to have any myself until after Thanksgiving and really try to hold out until Christmas Eve. I typically fail at this.”

Turkey Joints sell for $19.99 a jar, and are available only between October and May. (They don’t fare well in warm weather.) Due to the weight of the glass jars and the delicacy of the candies, shipping costs $15 for a single jar — nearly as much as the Turkey Joints themselves. But when you think about it, that’s a small price to pay for a sweet, unchanged taste of childhood, even if it’s someone else’s childhood.

To order Turkey Joints online, visit www.turkeyjoints.com or www.tasteofcny.com. Along with Original Turkey Joints, Nora’s also offers newfangled flavors such as Chocolate Covered Turkey Joints, Coco-Monds (a coconut/almond version) and Peanut Butter Sticks.

Top photo: Turkey Joints from Nora’s Candy Shop in Rome, N.Y. Credit: Tina Caputo

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Filipino Catholics celebrate the world’s longest Christmas, beginning on Dec. 16 (the date of the first of nine consecutive missas de gallo, or dawn Masses) and ending the first Sunday in January with the Feast of the Three Kings. It’s a time of church, prayers and family but also, as I learned when my husband and I spent Christmas in a rural Philippine town a few years ago, an excuse for Filipinos to indulge their joyously insatiable appetites.

“For Filipinos, Christmas is about two things: Mass and eating,” a denizen of Arayat, in Pampanga province, explained to me on my first evening in town.

An ongoing feast

That Christmas it seemed that for nine days my husband and our friend Marc, whose father’s family had a century-old Arayat home that became ours for the holiday, did little else but eat or anticipate eating. Before meals, after meals and in-between meals we sat at the weathered wooden table in the nipa thatch-roofed kitchen watching Lucia, the family’s beloved septuagenarian cook, move nimbly over a wood-fired stove, conjuring feasts from humble local ingredients.

Only hours after rib-sticking breakfasts of campurado, delicious rice porridge flavored with Filipino cacao, and coffee with butterfat-rich buffalo milk, there were multi-course lunches of dishes such as pork and chicken adobo; pinakbet (an umami-rich vegetable stew flavored with bagoong, Filipino shrimp paste); estofado, a Spanish-influenced stew; and huge freshwater prawns stewed in coconut. Dinners described by Marc as “light” before we arrived were nothing of the sort; though they were often composed of leftovers and perhaps some sinigang, the Philippines’ beloved sour soup. We were never left hungry.

If, during the day, we left our roosts at the kitchen table (I was in Arayat to write an article on Lucia’s culinary prowess, so it was only natural to stick close), it was for outings to the homes of bakers and to pastry shops elsewhere in Pampanga, a province renowned for its sweets. We always returned with souvenirs.

A treasure with only four ingredients

One morning, midway between breakfast and lunch, Lucia’s school friend, Damiana, a spry silver-haired woman wearing a shy grin and a turquoise flowered housecoat, stepped through the kitchen door carrying a bowl of strangely soft-shelled fresh eggs and three dalayap (a local lime similar to key limes). It was time to make yemas, candy-coated milk balls scented with lime. Prepared with just four ingredients — including sweetened condensed milk, which was probably introduced to the Philippines during the post-World War II occupation years – yemas are a favorite Filipino holiday treat.

As Lucia carried cans of the milk to the table, Damiana smiled and beckoned me to join her. Stuffed after a few days in Arayat, I was certain that I couldn’t bear to look at another sweet. But journalistic duty compelled me. I’m glad it did. In the intervening years, Damiana’s yemas have made more than a few holiday appearances in my own home.

Lime-Scented Candy-Coated Milk Balls (Yemas)

Filipinos make yemas any old time, but especially around local fiestas and holidays like Easter and Christmas. They require few ingredients and no special skills, but a bit of time. Wrapped with cellophane in colors of the season, they make a festive addition to the holiday table. Use key limes if you can get them, but regular limes will do.

Ingredients

grated zest of 3 key limes or regular limes
13 egg yolks
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
vegetable oil, for greasing
1 cup white sugar
parchment paper and cellophane paper for wrapping

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan place the lime zest, eggs and sweetened condensed milk. Stir until the ingredients are just combined.
  2. Place the pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the mixture continuously, scraping it away from the bottom and sides of the pan. Curds may form – don’t worry, just keep stirring. The mixture will gradually thicken and become paste-like. After 12 to 15 minutes, when a piece of the mixture holds to the spatula when it’s turned on it’s side, remove the pan from the heat and turn the mixture onto a lightly oiled plate. Use the spatula to spread it out into a thin layer. Set aside.
  3. Lightly oil a cookie sheet. When the yemas paste is still warm but just cool enough to handle, rub your hands lightly with oil and roll pinches of the paste between your palms into smooth balls approximately ¾ inches in diameter. Place them on a lightly oiled tray or cookie sheet. Depending on the size of the yemas you will have about 90 to 100 pieces.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the sugar, stirring over medium heat, then turn the heat off. Working quickly, drop a yema into the sugar syrup, give it a quick turn with a fork to coat, remove it and place back on the oiled cookie sheet. If the sugar begins to thicken return it to the heat until it thins. Repeat as necessary until all the yemas are coated. Set aside to cool completely.
  5. While the yemas are cooling, cut parchment paper into 2-by-2½-inch rectangles. Cut the cellophane into 4-inch squares, then cut each square in half on a diagonal. Each square will give you two triangles whose longest edge is 6 inches. There should be 1 piece of parchment and 1 piece of cellophane for each candy.
  6. To wrap the candies, hold a cellophane triangle in your palm, the longest edge parallel to your wrist, the point facing your body. (See slide show.) Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the cellophane, one of its short edges flush with the cellophane point. Place a yema low on the parchment and roll both the parchment and cellophane up and over the candy (the yemas should be enclosed in parchment). Twist the ends of the cellophane to seal.
  7. The yemas will keep at room temperature for about a week. If you live in an especially humid climate you will want to store the candies in an absolutely air-tight container, or in the refrigerator.

Zester Daily contributor  David Hagerman shoots for the New York Times, Travel+Leisure and Saveur, among other publications. To view more of his slide shows, go to davidhagerman.photoshelter.comRobyn Eckhardt is a food and travel journalist based in Penang, Malaysia. She also is a contributor to Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia and has been published in Saveur, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Asia. Her last article for Zester was a double book review, Veggies and Grains Deluxe.

Top photo: Festively wrapped yemas.

Photo and slide show credits: David Hagerman

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Fudge is a tawdry confection of cooked sugar, butter and cream. She makes no apologies for her excesses. She is shamelessly sweet, shockingly fattening and decadently laden with chocolate. She has long been quietly adored — lasciviously eyed at ports of call like boardwalks, amusement parks and shopping malls — she has never learned quite how to dress. She comes to us in chunky blocks which we stuff in paper bags as if this indulgence were something illicit to hide. But we fudge lovers have never required the object of our affections to look fetching. We never require her to be dressed up with doilies, decorated with powdered sugar or stacked on pedestals like her trendy cousins, the artisan cupcakes.

It is time for fudge to go glam! She needs a muse and a catalyst and that, oh great fudge-lover and home confectioner, is you. Dress this lady up in fine clothing and give her some jewels. This holiday season, when you make your favorite fudge, don’t stuff her into that horrible corset of a small square pan as most recipes will instruct you to do. Instead, pour the still-warm fudge on a buttered swath of tin foil that has been laid into a sheet pan. Smooth her over the foil to a slender ½ inch thick – just a fraction of the usual clumsy height.  Then, once the fudge has set, trim her with cookie cutters, dust her with exotic sugars, dip her in the finest chocolate or sprinkle her with carefully roasted nutmeats. Fudge, with her regaldelivery of flavor, decadance and satisfaction deserves the trappings of the richest confections.

Chocolate Courtesan Fudge

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup roasted walnuts, broken

Directions

  1. Grease a half sheet pan or 9 x 12 inch pan.
  2. Combine sugar, and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and continue cooking for about 5 minutes, or until you hit 235°F on a digital or candy thermometer.
  3. Take the pan off the heat and fold in the chocolate, vanilla, salt, and walnuts. Stir vigorously for several minutes, until the mixture is very smooth, then pour into the prepared pan.
  4. Allow the mixture to set, about 30 minutes. Slice with a small fan-shaped or heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Note: This fudge is very rich, so if you can’t find a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, use a paring knife to make small uniform shapes. Keep a bowl of hot water and a damp cloth nearby to clean the cutter or knife after each use. If the fudge is too soft to cut easily, chill for another 30 minutes in the refrigerator.


Susie Norris is a chocolatier, TV producer and author of the book Chocolate Bliss.

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