Fruit and nut balls

Fruit and nut balls (Evans Caglage, McClatchy-Tribune / February 22, 2010)

Candy making has a reputation for being time-consuming and difficult, but with shortcuts, it can be easy.

Even without candy molds, a candy thermometer or a free afternoon to devote to the enterprise, candy can become part of the modern home cook's repertoire.

"I do think people made candy more back in the day," said candy-maker Sharla Perry of Garland, Texas. "It was part of being a homemaker. I think that now people tend to bake more."

Spring is a season for sweets. Wedding showers, receptions, Easter and more call for confections that can be color-themed to the event. Making special-occasion candy is possible even for beginners.

But choosing the right recipe is key. Look for those that can be customized with nuts, fruits or flavorings.

Many home cooks are familiar with microwave peanut brittle. A nut brittle also can be made in the oven. New Orleans chef John Besh's version is irresistible to chili-heads thanks to a kick of red pepper.

Fondant sounds fancy, but easy, no-cook versions can be flavored with quality extracts, colored and wrapped around bits of fruit or nut and dipped in chocolate.

One caution: Candy making can become addictive. In 2006, Perry attended a two-week Valrhona class in France and decided to take her interest to the next level. She now sells many types of candy and her business is getting a new name, the Chocolate Craft.

It's rewarding to see people enjoying candy she has made, Perry said.

"You see people trying a piece, and you see the expression on their face change when they realize it's more than just a piece of chocolate."

It's a treat that was custom-made — and that makes it special.

Fruit and nut balls

Prep: 15 minutes
Makes: 18

Adapted from "Children's Quick & Easy Cookbook."

1/2 cup each: dried apricots, blanched almonds

1/3 cup raisins

5 ounces white chocolate

1/3 cup dried coconut