The season to be harried is upon us. Holiday parties and family gatherings may leave you little time to appreciate the season — and the reason for the season sure isn't shopping till you drop.
Instead, choose one or more of these easy candies to make, and give them to people whose lives you'd like to sweeten. None requires finicky fiddling or special equipment. They're so easy that even noncooks can make them, and so fast that you can make several kinds in a single afternoon, although some require easy night-before prep. Three have booze, two are as innocent as babes. The spirits can be omitted from all but the bourbon truffles, if you wish.
Of course, no one has to know if you just make them for yourself.
Here's a more upscale, sophisticated (and adult) version of the popular kids' treat called puppy chow that combines sweet-hot-smoky-chocolate.
Measure 9 cups of your favorite whole-grain cereal — Rice or Corn Chex, or even Cheerios — in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt together 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/4 cup butter and 8 ounces premium dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or better). Stir in 2 tablespoons of rum, a teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and chipotle powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Pour the peanut butter mixture over the cereal; stir well to blend. Set aside at room temperature to cool completely. When cooled, sift in 1/2 cup cocoa powder; toss to coat the cereal pieces with the cocoa.
These are like homemade gumdrops. Use top-quality fruit juices such as R.W. Knudsen's Just Juice. The final sugaring will remain sparkling and pretty if you let the cut-up pieces air-dry for a day or two.
Line two 8-by-8-inch pans with plastic wrap and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
Sprinkle 6 tablespoons unflavored gelatin over 1 1/2 cups cold fruit juice in a large pot. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin, then stir in an additional 2 1/4 cups fruit juice. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the gelatin, over medium-high heat and stir in 6 cups of sugar. Simmer, stirring constantly, 25 minutes.
Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and divide the mixture between the pans. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. When firm, turn the candy onto a cutting board dusted with granulated sugar. Spray a sharp knife with cooking spray and cut the candy into 1/2-inch squares. Leave the candies on parchment or waxed paper at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, then roll in additional sugar. Once sugared, the gummies store nicely in a container with a tight lid with waxed paper between layers.
If you happen to have it on hand, a tablespoon or two of Frangelico would really ramp up the hazelnut flavor here, but I wouldn't buy a bottle just for this.
Combine 1 cup chopped hazelnuts, 1/2 cup softened butter and 1 cup Nutella or other hazelnut-chocolate spread. (Stir in Frangelico, if using.) Stir in 4 to 6 cups of mini pretzel sticks. Use two large spoons to drop mounds of the mixture onto parchment paper. Refrigerate until firm.
These are small but mighty. If you're inspired, you can dip them in melted chocolate, but I frequently don't bother.
Combine 1 pound softened butter, 1 pound plus 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 5 tablespoons bourbon and 1/2 cup cocoa. This works best if you add the confectioners' sugar in stages, so it doesn't fly all over the kitchen. Refrigerate mixture until firm.
Shape tablespoons of the mixture roughly into lumpy little balls — you want them to look like black truffles. A tablespoon-size spring-release scoop helps shaping and portioning. Dust with sea salt, if you desire. You can also roll them in cocoa powder or crushed nuts. Refrigerate until firm before serving.
The orange kick in these — from the Grand Marnier and the orange zest — is refreshing and surprising.
Soak 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts in 3/4 cup Grand Marnier or triple sec (or orange juice) overnight. The next day, drain any remaining liquid and reserve.
In a food processor, combine soaked walnuts, any remaining liqueur, 1 pound confectioners' sugar and 1 stick butter; process in brief pulses until combined — you don't want to chop the nuts up any more than you must.
Refrigerate until firm, then portion by tablespoon. Roll the portions in the palm of your hands to form smooth balls. Combine the finely grated zest of one large orange with 1 cup finely chopped walnuts. Roll the balls in the zest-nut mixture to coat the outside. Refrigerate until ready to serve, or store in a tightly covered container with waxed paper between layers.
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at Mother Earth News and the author of the memoir and cookbook "The Feast Nearby."