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 ballsPrep: 15 minutes
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
Chop apricots, almonds and raisins very fine in a food processor. Put white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat 15 seconds on medium power; stir. Repeat until almost melted. Remove; stir until last morsels melt. Cool slightly. Stir in chopped fruit, almonds and coconut.
Form into small balls. Put the balls on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet; let set 1-2 hours. (If mixture seems runny at first, chocolate may have been overheated; wait for mixture to cool and it will gather together more easily to be rolled into balls.)
Note: Other add-in options include cornflakes, rice cereal, chopped dried fruit to taste. Drizzle balls with additional melted white chocolate.
Nutrition information: Per piece: 68 calories, 38% of calories from fat, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 14 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Easy macaroonsPrep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 3 1/2 dozen
Turn these cookies into Easter nests by adding green food coloring to the mixture. Gently push Easter egg candies, such as candy-coated malted milk eggs or speckled jelly beans, into center of each macaroon. Adapted from "Better Homes & Gardens Cookies and Candies."
1 package (14 ounces) shredded coconut
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Green food coloring, optional
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients together in a bowl, adding food coloring until mixture is desired hue.
Drop from a teaspoon onto parchment-lined cookie sheet; bake 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly; remove to a wire rack.
Nutrition information: Per cookie: 79 calories, 46% of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 37 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Oven nut brittlePrep: 15 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Makes: 2 cups, about 10 servings
Adapted from "My New Orleans: The Cookbook," by John Besh.
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts or 4 ounces pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 egg white
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugar, nuts, salt and red pepper together in a bowl. Whisk egg white in a separate bowl until foamy but not stiff. Fold egg white into nut mixture. Mixture will be crumbly.
Spread the mixture evenly on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 25-30 minutes. (Mixture will foam, rise and expand as it cooks, then flatten as it cools.) Cool completely; break into pieces.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 130 calories, 38% of calories from fat, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 238 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
•"Making Artisan Chocolates" by Andrew Garrison Shotts (Quarry Books, $24.99): Gives detailed directions on how to temper and dip chocolate, and recipes for confections using spices, herbs and more for flavor.
•"Candymaking" by Ruth A. Kendrick and Pauline H. Atkinson (1987, HP Books): An overview of candymaking for the home cook, with a chapter on microwave and easy candies.