It’s a known fact candy bars have a talent for transporting people back to their chocolate-covered and sticky-fingered childhoods. Just the thought of creamy nougat, nuts, and caramel encased by a thin layer of chocolate is enough to evoke memories of after school vending machines purchase and candy-filled holiday baskets.
Thankfully for adults, the bars never lose their charm. Just ask Susie Norris and Susan Heeger, authors of the new cookbook Hand-Crafted Candy Bars. Their book is filled with recipes for making “grown-up confections” from home using high-quality fresh ingredients. Far (but not too far) cries from the dollar bars at the corner store.
Here is some advice from Susie and Susan on becoming a candy-making connoisseur. The list is followed by a sampling of their sweetest recipes.
Study your chocolate. There are plenty of different and great chocolates to work with from around the world. Chocolate falls into four categories: cocoa powder, dark, milk, and white. Each brings different flavor, health benefits, and depth to candy bars.
Make your own vanilla extract. It’s much better, affordable and incredibly easy to make. Take 4 vanilla beans, 1 cup of dark rum, and ½ cup of vodka. Split the beans lengthwise and use a knife to scrape out the seeds. In a lidded glass jar, combine the rum, vodka, vanilla seeds and pods, cover, and shake well, shake every few days. It’s ready to use in a week but the flavor deepens the longer it sits. Oh, and it doesn’t expire just keep adding ingredients as you need them.
Know your sugars. In addition to plenty of chocolate choices, there are just as many sweetener choices. Susie and Susan like to keep it simple, calling on white table sugar, corn syrup and brown sugar. That’s it.
Don’t overpay for nuts. Many candy bars boast nuts, which can get pretty pricy. Susie and Susan’s tip? Buy in bulk at Costco or Sam’s Club. Some of the best nuts (specifically packaged for baking) can be found there and won’t go bad as long as you stash them in a zip top bag in the freezer.
Use better butter. As opposed to nuts, butter is an important investment. The quality of butter varies so much it’s a good idea to buy the best. Experiment with several brands and find one to suit your taste buds and your budget.
Stock your toolbox. Most of what you’ll need to make candy you probably already have in your kitchen. A couple that you might not have: a candy thermometer, an electric mixer with paddle and whisk attachments, a sifter, and piping bags.
—By Alexandra Rose