I have never made any secret of my love for candy, and have often written about it in this column.
I grew up on Bunté Tango Bars and chocolate-covered cherries, both of which seem to be scarce or nonexistent now, but I still have several other favorites: marzipan, See’s brown sugar squares (available in California), crystallized ginger, those lovely colorful fruit slices you find at good candy stores, truffles, tiny jelly beans and dulce de leche when I get near a Hispanic grocery.
Recently I discovered chocolate bark which was new to me but has apparently been around for years, according to my daughter — a simple 10-minute treat you can make at home for wonderful gifts — and munching yourself.
Winter visitors Sue and Ron Gregory come to Marco every year, and friends of theirs back home own a place called the Sweet Shoppe in Burton, Mich. From them, you can order all you would need to make the bark (call 810-742-7670).
In addition to many types of chocolate, including one that’s sugar-free, they sell several kinds of crushed hard candy flavors for bark. They also have molds, boxes and other items for making candy and cakes.
A closer source of supply is the Chocolate Forest, 4402 S. Del Prado, Cape Coral 33904 — call 945-4949. They carry exotic flavors such as tangerine and boysenberry, as well as all that the Sweet Shoppe offers.
These are Sue’s directions, and they couldn’t be easier.
2 cups chocolate discs, white or dark
½ cup crushed candy flavoring
Melt chocolate slowly in top of double boiler over simmering water — you can also do this in a large glass container in a microwave on low heat — stirring occasionally until smooth and almost liquid. It does not need to be too hot. Sprinkle crushed candy flavoring on a Sil-pad or cookie sheet covered with parchment or waxed paper. When chocolate is ready, pour gently over candy and then spread with a spatula to thin it as evenly as possible. Try for a quarter-inch of thickness. Chill in refrigerator briefly until hard, then break into pieces and store in airtight tins.
Alternative directions are to mix the crushed candy with the chocolate before pouring it onto the Sil-pad or cookie sheet. The end result is pretty much the same.
Other recipes call for a pound of chocolate and 1 cup of candy, and others vary the amounts, calling for 12 ounces of chocolate with ¼ to ½ cup candy. It depends on your own taste buds. The best approach is to try these recipes — you get to sample a lot of candy and they all taste good anyway.
NOTE: All flavors, especially the lemon, lime and orange, work wonderfully with white chocolate; with peppermint, I prefer the dark semisweet chocolate. Take your pick. Many people use only white chocolate.
I’ll bet the first person who ever made peppermint bark was stuck with a surplus of candy canes after Christmas, but whoever did it deserves a medal. You can make your own flavoring by whirling lemon drops, candy canes or small peppermint pinwheel candies in a blender until coarsely ground — stop blender before the candy turns to powder.
I think cinnamon red hots would also work well, although half a cup might be too much. Experiment with your own favorite hard candy. Use chocolate chips, squares or other kinds of chocolate from the market if you wish, but the quality might not be as good as when you buy from a professional shop.
In my Valentine’s Day article, I discussed this subject at length and recommended that real fans read Mort Rosenblum’s book Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light. Professionals and true aficionados won’t settle for lesser quality — Mark Beatty at the Black Truffle here on the island orders his supply of El Rey chocolate from South America.
Most of us don’t need to be so fussy, but high quality ingredients do matter. I still recommend the book to anyone who’s interested in this subject — it’s sort of the Bible of chocolate, containing history, legend, scandals, supply sources and many other facts.
Bark is not the only sweet treat that Sue makes — she also does sugared nuts that are wonderful and just as easy as the bark. Here’s her recipe:
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 cups mixed nuts, unsalted if you can find them
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Whip egg whites until almost stiff, gradually adding sugar and continue beating until stiff. Beat in cinnamon. Add the nuts and stir gently to coat them. Spread them on a sprayed cookie sheet with sides and toast them for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, turning them halfway through. Spread nuts to dry on waxed paper and then store in airtight tins. These also make nice gifts.
In Mexico, I had nuts like this with a bit of hot chile powder added, and they were sensational. Feel free to innovate with this recipe.
Here’s one last sweet recipe: a friend at church gave me this for use at coffee hour — or any time you want a special treat to serve guests. It’s almost as easy as the candies above and might remind you of chess pie from your childhood.
Line 12 to 18 greased muffin cups with your own piecrust pastry and bake as usual, or purchase small shells at the market. Here’s the filling:
2/3 cup soft butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup (or use maple syrup)
2 beaten eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter and sugar, then add remaining ingredients. Fill pre-baked pastry cups 2/3 full and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then cut temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 5 minutes or longer, until tarts are slightly firm and form a crust.
IMPORTANT: cool tarts in the pan completely, or they will break when you remove them. They are very fragile.
Marion Nicolay is a regular contributor to the Marco Eagle. Contact her via e-mail at email@example.com.