There's something about Halloween candy that brings out the child in all of us and sends even normally restrained grown-ups diving into trick-or-treat buckets in search of Reese's and M&M's.
So it sounds almost sacrilegious to say this, but something terrible has happened to candy corn. In our blissfully hazy recollections, those nostalgic tricolored triangles were melt-in-your-mouth morsels. Candy bars oozed deliciousness, not musty waxiness.
Do not get us started on Cracker Jack.
Store-bought treats may be fine for trick-or-treat night, when you're dispensing candy to an overwhelming horde of zombies, Mileys and Disney characters. But if you're throwing a Halloween party, you may want to up the
Make the treats yourself, says chocolatier Susie Norris, and you'll have candy corn that's better than the original. It's even better than the nostalgic reverie-enhanced original. Your Snickers look-alikes will be fluffy, the nonpareils deeply chocolaty, and the Tootsie Rolls and taffies will melt in your mouth, not glue your jaws together.
Norris was teaching baking and candy-making at Los Angeles' Le Cordon Bleu when she discovered that she and her close friend Susan Heeger shared a common obsession.
"We both had this absolute passion for Halloween candies," she says. "It was this dark secret we kept from our families: how many candy bars we ate at Halloween -- and through October."
But you can take those flavors, she says, "the caramel and nuts and chocolate and nougat and make them very sophisticated -- a Snickers bar, if they fluffed it up." Their new book, "Hand-Crafted Candy Bars" (Chronicle, $24.95, 160 pages), proves the point with recipes for everything from Molten Chocolate-Peanut Bars, a Snickers taste-alike, to Candied Mint and Citrus Bark. Those sugar-crisped mint leaves look particularly Halloweenish peeking from the surface.
Candy corn is simply tinted fondant -- the same stuff wedding cake bakers use to drape their tiered extravaganzas. Make it yourself, and the results are not only creamy, melt-on-the-tongue fabulous, but you can tint and mold it into any shape -- iconic Halloween triangles, sunflowers, ghosts, anything.
And those disappointing sprinkle-strewn nonpareils that always look so good in the jar? You don't even need a recipe for that, say Liddabit Sweets' confectioners Liz Gutman and Jen King. Melt good quality dark chocolate. Pipe little buttons of chocolate on a sheet of parchment. Break out the sprinkles. Let them set for a few minutes. Try not to eat them all in one sitting.
All these candies rely on a few simple techniques: "Tempering" chocolate helps it retain its gloss, for example, and boiling sugar syrup makes it caramelize and eventually solidify. You can use that sugar syrup to make caramel for dipping apples -- or even better, tiny apple balls, carved out with a melon baller. Or you can use the same technique and slightly different ingredients and end up with that boardwalk staple, saltwater taffy. Add peanut butter, says Gutman, co-author of "The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook" (Workman, 417.95, 302 pages), and you get a classic Abba-Zaba.
Make it intensely chocolate taffy, Norris says, and you'll have a Tootsie Roll -- and your kids will raid your trick-or-treat bucket.
The Candy Thermometer
In the same way that you use a thermometer to check the doneness of your Thanksgiving turkey, you need a special thermometer for candy-making. Available at kitchen boutiques and well-equipped supermarkets, these thermometers perch on the side of your pan and measure temperatures from 100 to 400 degrees. If you plan to temper chocolate, you need one that measures lower temperatures, too.
Before you use your shiny new toy, make sure it's calibrated correctly. A pot of boiling water should be 212 degrees. If it's a degree or two off, take that into account when you use it. If it's many degrees off -- like the 20-plus degrees on the dud I just purchased -- you need a new thermometer.