The Taste of Nostalgia: Homemade Peppermint Patties

It’s a trait of the women in my family that we have food phases. During one of my most fondly remembered childhood food phases, my mom cooked homemade pizza at least twice a week for five weeks straight. For years my sister only ate Inari sushi, California rolls, and teriyaki chicken at Japanese restaurants. She never strayed. I myself had a phase that lasted from probably age nine to thirteen: the chocolate and peppermint candy phase. While other people dabbled in Skittles and Snickers and everything in between, I invariably ate either York Peppermint Patties or Junior Mints. Sure, on Halloween, I took whatever came my way gladly (with the exception of Bottle Caps, which I consider an affront to the concept of candy), but if we stopped for snacks on a road trip or got a treat at the movies, I always, always chose chocolate and peppermint.

The weird thing about food phases is that they end, and often the food which you once so loved sort of just falls off your radar. You hit your limit, or OD, or something like that. I don’t think I’ve eaten a Junior Mint or a Peppermint Patty in, I dunno, maybe five years and I stopped being impassioned about them long before that.

Then, when my sister and I were at See’s Candy a couple weeks ago, she ordered a peppermint patty, and some faded memory whispered to me. The next time I was at a candy shop, I got one myself, and it was like being hit over the head with my childhood, in the nicest way. A long forgotten source of pleasure resurfaced, like a friend you run into unexpectedly after years of absence. And as with that friend, you feel sort of bad that you’ve been out of touch for so long. Why did I let this loveliness go unappreciated for so long?

But hey, there’s a way to make up for the oversight: by creating a scrumptious ode to the altar of chocolate and peppermint with my own two hands. So I did. And you can too. Recipe after the jump…

Continue reading

Chocolate-Covered Honeycomb and A Big, Dire Idea

I have simple desires. I want my life to be about sitting around, or wandering around, and noticing things, and being like, “Wow, this is beautiful.”

Lately, I spend all my time trying to create stuff. Stuff that’s “worth” something. Anything with enough emotional value that it will translate into pennies in my pocket. A girl’s gotta get by. And yet, I think I misunderstand that concept– what it means to make a living. Because I am alive, after all, and not starving nor out in the cold.

Measurements, ink on paper, 6 1/2" x 8"

I put so much weight into the attempt to make a living, to gain some kind of assurance toward future success and security, that I sort of miss out on just living. I get all kinds of anxious when I think about anything that I want to do for joy that might also “make me a living.” I become so worried about whether what I produce will be good enough to do that magical thing–make me a living; ensure my healthy, happy survival–that I choke and cease to be able to do anything joyful at all. Painting, writing, testing recipes, posting here–I am losing all the things I love to the big, dire idea of “making a living.”

An idea that’s not even real in the way I’ve devised it. The most we can do is have enough for now and some for later; pray for rain and vote for politicians who have at least a basic notion of economics. I cannot guarantee myself an apartment of my own within a year’s time or a house and twenty acres of woods within ten. I can strive for those things, certainly, but even if I do achieve them, they are still concepts of contentment and comfort that don’t take the place of looking around in any given moment and being like, “Wow, this is beautiful.”

I am doing my best to learn this and practice it. Right now, I am focusing on the beauty of imperfect, golden sugar crystals and smooth, dark chocolate. It’s good stuff. Crumbly and rich on the tongue, with a flavor that’s a bit like caramel with a hint of malt. You too can practice appreciating beauty through homemade candy…

Chocolate Covered Honeycomb Candy

Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan, which fills about eight goodie bags

1 cup white sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted

1 teaspoon barley malt syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups semi-sweet dark chocolate

Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with generously oiled parchment paper.

In a medium heavy bottom saucepan on medium heat, mix together the sugar, corn syrup and vinegar. Bring this mixture to a boil.

While the sugar is reaching a boil, whisk together the vanilla and malt syrup in a small bowl. This makes it easier to distribute into the cooked sugar later.

After the sugar syrup has come to a boil, continue heating it until it reaches 300˚ F, or hard crack stage, on a candy thermometer. Once it does, turn off the heat and quickly add the baking soda and the vanilla/malt syrup mix. It will start bubbling and foaming like mad when you add the baking soda. Don’t fret–this is what makes it all hole-y and light and tasty. Keep whisking until you don’t see any baking soda bits floating around, which should only take about a minute or two. Work quickly to avoid having the sugar syrup begin to set before you can get it in the pan. While it’s still hot and fluid, pour the sugar syrup into the pan. Let this set until it is completely cool, two-to-four hours. Don’t be sneaky and put it in the fridge to speed up cooling; it will get soggy. Sorry.

Once the honeycomb mixture has cooled completely, pull it out of the pan and break it into pieces. Choose how big based on the chocolate-to-honeycomb ratio you wish to achieve. I went for roughly inch-big chunks, and they were great.  Place these on a another sheet of oiled parchment.

If you are using bar chocolate, chop it into chunks. Put your chunks or chips into a double boiler on low heat and melt them. Turn off the heat when your chocolate still has a few chunks in it; as you whisk it will finish melting from residual heat in the pan, and this will prevent it from overheating and getting crystallized and funky later. Using chopsticks, a dipping fork, or whatever you have handy, drop each chunk of honeycomb in the melted chocolate. Turn it over and swirl it around until it is fully coated. Try to work quickly so the honeycomb doesn’t start to melt. Once it’s coated, tap it on the side of the pan a couple of  times to let any excess chocolate drip off and then replace it on the parchment paper. Continue until all your honey comb is coated. Let them cool in a dry place out of direct sunlight until the chocolate has set. This takes a couple hours in an average temperature room. These can be stored in a sealed container fairly indefinitely, though they generally get eaten within hours of being created. They make awesome gifts and care packages–homemade candy never fails to incite awe.