Candy Canes And Popcorn Balls

British actor Ewan McGregor, right, and French actress Eva Green, center, are seen during the filming of "The Last Word," on the banks of the River Clyde, in the Broomielaw area of Glasgow, Scotland, Monday, Sept. 21 2009. AP Photo

Long before Whitman's, Cadbury, Hershey's, Leo Hirshfield's Tootsie Roll, Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, or M&M/Mars' Snickers bars hit the scene, edible holiday treats found their way into the world through the love and labor of an adoring mother, grandmother or aunt.

Brief timeline:
Sweet candy was even consumer by the caveman, who ate honey from beehives. Fast forward to ancient Egypt, where Arabs and the Chinese prepared confections of fruit and nuts candied in honey.

By the Middle Ages, sugar became so costly that candy became a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford. In England and the Americas, boiled sugar candies were fairly commonplace by the 17th century.

The early 19th century brought sweet making to the home with the advance of mechanical appliances. Homemade hard candies like lemon drops and peppermints thus became popular.

With the advent of the "penny candy" in the mid-1800s, American factories had launched a cultural phenomenon that lives on today (despite inflation).

So what's old has truly never gone out of style. Now, Chef Michael Chiarello has placed the sugar in your hands. Here are his recipes for candy canes, seasoned popcorn balls, homemade fudge and butterfingers.

But first he advises to keep in mind three things:
  1. Be Extremely Careful - high heat temperature of the sugar could cause severe burns

  2. Employ The Use Of "Silpats" - silicon mats that prevent the hot sugar from sticking (they can be a little costly, but they last a very long time)

  3. Use Rubber Gloves - to protect the hands from burning during the cane formation process

The Recipes:

NapaStyle Recipe DOL-059 (inverno-feste)
© NapaStyle, Inc. 2002
By M. Chiarello, D. Shalleck

Base Christmas Candy Cane Recipe
With two colors, makes about twenty pieces
(adaptation from Jacques Torres)


Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus one tablespoon water
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoons peppermint, wintergreen or anise flavoring
1/2 teaspoon red, green or white food coloring

Method:
  1. Working with sugar can be challenging. The various processes and stages of cookery are contingent on high temperatures of syrup. Much care should be taken if children are present. It is prudent to read some background information about sugar cookery that is found in many reliable cookbooks and on the Internet.

  2. The process of making the candy canes is helped with the use of silicon mats called "silpats." They come in two sizes and can be found in most kitchen and houseware stores, catalogs and suppliers. For this recipe, three of the smaller size will be sufficient.

  3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a cookie sheet with a small silpat on the top rack inside the oven.

  4. For two or more colors, stagger the cookery by 15 or 20 minutes to make the process of forming the sugar syrup into a workable mass easier.

  5. In a two-quart non-reactive saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and vinegar. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and insert a candy thermometer. Bring the sugar syrup to 320 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be necessary to keep the inside of the saucepan clean while the sugar melts and cooks. To do this, dip a clean pastry brush in cold water, then brush the inside of the pot just over the syrup line to keep crystals from forming.

  6. When the syrup is a couple of degrees from the desired temperature, carefully add the flavoring. Immediately transfer the syrup to a silpat pastry mat by pouring slowly onto the surface. Add the food color to the syrup and swirl with a wooden skewer to blend it into the sugar syrup. Do this very carefully and do not touch the syrup. It will remain VERY hot for quite some time.

    To keep the syrup from running off the mat as it begins to cool, gently lift the mat from the sides to keep the syrup contained. As the syrup cools, it will become malleable along the sides. As it does this and using the silpat mat as a tool, fold the syrup onto itself toward the center of the pool. Continue to do this until a soft mound results.

    When the hardened syrup can be handled, gently knead and pull the sugar until it becomes glossy. This will also incorporate the color throughout the mass. Transfer the soft candy to the oven to keep it warm. Keep an eye on it and keep rotating the sugar and the tray to keep the temperature consistent.

  7. For the second color, repeat the process as above after the first 15 minutes of cookery.

  8. Place the two or more colors enough apart so they do not touch each other. To make a candy cane, carefully pull a small amount from each color, about an ounce, and cut with a scissors. Form each color into a one-inch by three-inch rectangle.

    Place each piece on top of each other. Working on another silpat mat on another sheet tray placed over the open oven door, roll the sugar until it is round and apply a small amount of pressure while doing this. It is important to keep the sugar warm and slightly soft while you do this. Gently twist and pull the sugar to begin the candy cane then continue to roll in the same manner.

    Repeat this process until the candy "rope" is eight to ten inches long. Carefully transfer the rope to another silpat on a work surface. Shape one end of the rope to finish the candy cane. Let cool up to 30 minutes. This can also be done on a lightly butter smooth marble or stone surface. Repeat procedure for each candy cane.

    It is important to maintain the warm and soft texture of the sugar at all times when making the candy canes. This will take some practice both with the process of making the candy canes and finding the best way to keep the heat consistent.

    When the candy canes are hardened, they can be held up to three days if kept in an airtight container. Parchment or wax paper works well once cooled and ready for storage in the containers.

NapaStyle Recipe DOL-058 (tutti stagione)
© NapaStyle, Inc. 2002
By M. Chiarello, D. Shalleck

Caramel Popcorn And Variations

Caramel Popcorn Ingredients

Makes about 10 cups

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn

1 1/2 cups caramel syrup (recipe follows)

Method:
  1. If using a wire popper, no oil is necessary. Heat the oil over high heat in an electric skillet or large pot with a lid. Add the popcorn and cover. The corn should start popping within a minute.

  2. For best results, do not over-crowd the pan by making too much in a batch and if possible, keep the pan moving from time to time. The whole cooking process will not take more than a few minutes. When the popcorn is light and fluffy, transfer to a large mixing bowl and reserve.

  3. Remove the syrup from the heat and pour over the popcorn. Stir the corn gently with a wooden spoon until well coated. When the corn is cool enough to handle with lightly buttered fingers, form into balls, clusters or press a small mound on wooden sticks.

Light Caramel Syrup
Adaptation from Kay Rentschler

Ingredients
1 cup granulated syrup
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Method:
  • In a one-quart stainless steel saucepan, combine all of the above ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. When the butter melts and liquid is simmering, stop stirring, place a candy thermometer in the pot and cook until the syrup registers 245 degrees Fahrenheit. During the cooking, use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to brush down any sugar crystals that form along the interior sides of the pot. When the sugar reaches about 230 degrees Fahrenheit, it is a good time to start making the popcorn.
Variation with dried cranberry, orange zest and rosemary

One recipe caramel popcorn (see above recipe)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon rosemary oil
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
3 tablespoons orange zest

Method:
  1. In small skillet, melt the butter on low heat. It should not begin to separate or foam. Stir in the rosemary oil, then remove from the heat. Reserve. The butter needs to cool to a temperature so it can be touched.

  2. From the above recipe for the caramel syrup, when the syrup reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit, stir in the cranberries and orange zest. Proceed as per the recipe for coating the popcorn.

  3. Coat fingertips with the butter and oil mixture then carefully form the caramel popcorn into two-inch diameter balls. Make sure that the cranberries are incorporated into the popcorn. Transfer to a serving platter. Repeat procedure until all of the popcorn has been formed.

Variation with crushed peppermint candy canes

One recipe caramel popcorn (see above recipe)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons peppermint extract
8 ounces crushed candy canes

Method:
  1. In small skillet, melt the butter on low heat. It should not begin to separate or foam. Stir in the extract, then remove from the heat. Reserve. The butter needs to cool to a temperature so it can be touched. Place the candy canes in a wide, shallow sided bowl.

  2. Coat fingertips with the butter and carefully form the above caramel popcorn into two-inch diameter balls. Gently coat the popcorn balls in the crushed candy canes by lightly pressing them onto the caramel. Transfer to a serving platter. Repeat procedure until all of the popcorn has been formed.

Variation with jalapeno chilies and cacao "nibs"

One recipe caramel popcorn (see above recipe)
1/3 cup green jalapeno chili peppers sliced thin crosswise
1/3 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs

Method:
  1. In addition to the recipe for the caramel syrup, when the syrup reaches 234 degrees Fahrenheit, stir in the jalapeno chilies and the pumpkin seeds. When the syrup has cooled to room temperature, add the cacao nibs to the syrup. Proceed as per the recipe for coating he popcorn.

  2. Coat fingertips with a little butter then carefully form the caramel popcorn into two-inch diameter balls. Make sure that the jalapenos, pumpkin seeds and cacao nibs are incorporated into the popcorn. Transfer to a serving platter. Repeat procedure until all of the popcorn has been formed.

  3. Cacao nibs are roasted, shelled and crushed cacao beans. They have a bittersweet flavor and are a wonderful addition to cookies, ice cream and are a great substitute for nuts. They can be found at www.scharffenberger.com

NapaStyle Recipe (inverno)
From Michael Laukert's family recipe
By M. Chiarello, D. Shalleck

Signora Laukert's Chocolate Fudge
Makes about two pounds

Ingredients:
3 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups evaporated milk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces chocolate chips (or chopped semi-sweet chocolate)
1 jar (8 oz.) marshmallow cream
1 1/4 cups chopped nuts or peanut butter (optional)

Method:
  1. Line a 9x9x2-inch baking dish with foil extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Butter the foil; set aside.

  2. Butter the sides of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. In the saucepan combine the sugar, milk and butter. Cook and stir over medium high heat to boiling. Carefully clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook over medium-low heat to 238 degrees Fahrenheit, soft-ball stage, stirring frequently. This should take 20 to 25 minutes.

  3. Remove from heat. Fold in the chocolate chips then the marshmallow cream. If using nuts or peanut butter, they can be folded in at this point. Pour the fudge mixture into the pan and allow to cool at room temperature.

  4. When candy is firm, use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Cut into squares. The fudge can be stored for up to three days in an airtight container.


NapaStyle Recipe (inverno)
Adaptation from Better Homes and Gardens.com
By M. Chiarello, D. Shalleck

Vanilla Fudge
Makes about one pound

Ingredients:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
broken nuts (optional), candied citrus peel, other confections

Method:
  1. Line a 9x9x2-inch baking dish with foil extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Butter the foil; set aside.

  2. Butter the sides of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. In the saucepan combine the sugar, evaporated milk and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium high heat to boiling. Carefully clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook over medium-low heat to 238 degrees Fahrenheit, soft-ball stage, stirring frequently. This should take 20 to 25 minutes

  3. Remove saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and vanilla but do not stir. Cool without stirring to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (about 45 minutes). Remove candy thermometer from saucepan. Carefully stir butter into cooked mixture to incorporate. Beat mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until fudge becomes very thick (about 8 minutes total). Immediately spread fudge into prepared pan. Score into squares while warm. If desired, tip each square with a nut piece, candied citrus rind, or other. When candy is firm, use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Cut into squares. The fudge can be stored for up to three days in an airtight container.

Michael Chiarello - Chef, vintner, former restaurateur and author of several cookbooks, the latest of which is entitled "Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking: Wine Country Recipes for Family and Friends." Chiarello is also own his own company called Napa Style which markets a line of signature flavored oils.
  • Tatiana Morales

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