I'm a little bit of a sucker for home shopping on television. Not that I really buy anything - except for the time, several years ago at this time of year, that my pale, unadorned legs emerging from the hem of my nightie made me believe in the assertions of the lady selling a Caribbean suntan in a tube.
She was just so perky and so bronzed, and the way she wore that flimsy plastic glove and smoothed the orangey gel on her uniformly tinted leg convinced me to run for my credit card and call. The tubes of goo remain today, boxed and unopened, on the top shelf of my medicine chest. I just know that I'll end up streaky and sticky if I try it. I won't be able to follow the instructions just so, because I never can. I was born to improvise.
Which brings me to the subject of this essay: candy.
I've been making holiday candy for more than 20 years. I just got the idea one day, many years ago, to melt white chocolate and make candy out of it. I've used microwaved, liquid chocolate to enclose all sorts of crispy things, from breakfast cereal (plain corn flakes make a surprisingly delicious candy, and nobody knows what it really is. You can tell them it's toffee.) to nearly every sort of nut. And I started out with white chocolate over chewy candied and dried fruits, which through the years has also earned its share of fans.
So, I've developed some skills. But last year, I took the enterprise one step further. Instead of simply chipping a brick of solid chocolate into pieces, melting it, stirring in something crispy or soft and then dropping it by tablespoons onto waxed paper, I created an actual recipe.
I wanted to think, as they say, out of the box.
One of the signature flavors of the holidays is ginger. I asked myself how I could make a nice spicy ginger candy, something to rouse the palate after a heavy holiday meal, using the melted-chocolate skills I already had, and a little bit of invention?
Here's how: Start with ginger snaps. The little, brittle cookies in the big sack. Buy an equal amount - about a pound - of crystallized ginger. Take the cookies and put the whole bagful in your food processor. Whiz them until they're tiny, tiny crumbs. Then open the processor and add the ginger. Whiz again, combining the ingredients, and you'll get crumbs more the size of cornmeal.
Then - and here's where I surprised even myself with the invention - with the processor running, add water in tablespoons through the feed tube. It won't take more than four or five before the contents pull together as a mass, similar in texture to cookie dough.
Ta da! Roll the dough in balls, place on waxed paper and then drizzle with white chocolate. The result is no-cook ginger bonbons! They don't need to be cooked because there's nothing raw in them to begin with. The more liquid you add, the stickier the dough and the moister the bonbon. I made them for the first time for Christmas 2009 and they were a solid hit.
But the holidays are over, you say. Like my pale, speckled legs, we're chilling in the doldrums of winter. But read on, for there is romance ahead.
The bonbon recipe was expanded for 2010. Using the same method of dry cookie, sugared, preserved fruit and water, I created a pineapple-coconut version that began with vanilla wafers. To the crumbs I added candied pineapple, and when the dough was made, I worked in some sweetened coconut.
And here's a tip: if you replace the tablespoons of water with rum, you get pina colada bonbons. Just a hint.
And now for the romance, a version that may cause your intended to fall in love: chocolate-cherry. I made these for 2010 as well. Whiz chocolate animal crackers in the food processor, then add candied cherries (not maraschino cherries, but the candied ones used for baking). Then add your tablespoons of water, make your dough and roll it. Drizzle the bonbons with melted white chocolate and before it sets, sprinkle each candy with red crystallized sugar, such as used for cookies. To really fancy up the whole thing, place each bonbon in a fluted paper cup when set.
These worked wonderfully during Santa season. They were my hubby's favorite. But I wager they'll be equally useful when Cupid is the character whose favor one seeks. Because doldrums of winter or no, it's only about a month until Valentine's Day.