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GOOD COOKING

The Hard Stuff--Getting Into Candy

February 28, 2001|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nothing does the trick like candy. Serve it after dinner with coffee for an easy dessert or keep some on hand for a quick pick-me-up. And if you need a hostess gift, take some along; I've never seen anyone protest the gift of candy.

Here are several delicious candy recipes. I like them better than what I can buy. You might need some special equipment to make them. The peanut brittle and toffee must cook to high temperature to harden; this process requires a candy thermometer, which eliminates the guesswork. Also, be sure to use a heavy 21/2-quart saucepan with a fairly narrow base so the thermometer can reach into the mixture. You will also need a wooden spoon and potholders.

English Butter Toffee

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 35 minutes plus 30 minutes chilling

This can be kept in an airtight container in a cool place (not the refrigerator) up to one week.

1/4 cup pecans or walnuts

1 cup sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces milk chocolate

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them until they're lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Finely chop the nuts.

Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil, grease the foil with butter and set it aside.

Clip a candy thermometer to a heavy 2 1/2-quart saucepan. Bring the sugar, butter, water and salt to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Continue boiling, uncovered, not stirring the mixture but shaking the saucepan occasionally to distribute the heat as the mixture turns amber in about 9 minutes, then darker amber as it registers 305 degrees on the thermometer (hard-crack stage ), about 3 minutes longer. Stay close by; the thermometer will reach 305 degrees quickly. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the vanilla.

Carefully pour the hot mixture into the prepared pan. Let it cool to room temperature until hard, about 30 minutes.

Melt the milk and bittersweet chocolates in a double boiler or at 50% power in the microwave. Mix them together, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee using an offset spatula. Immediately sprinkle the toffee with the nuts. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then remove the toffee from the pan and break it into pieces.

20 servings. Each serving: 147 calories; 65 mg sodium; 25 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.29 gram fiber.

Coconut Apricot Sweets

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes

These can be kept up to two weeks refrigerated in an airtight container. They can be varied, using dates instead of apricots and omitting the sugar. Dates need to be pitted and partially frozen to be chopped successfully in the food processor.

1 cup dried apricots

3/4 cup walnut pieces

Scant 1/2 cup currants

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons spun honey or honey cream

3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Pulse the apricots, walnuts, currants and sugar together in a food processor until they're minced to a medium texture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Use your hands to work in the honey and lemon juice with a kneading motion. Divide the mixture into rounded teaspoons, then roll into smooth balls.

Place the coconut on a paper plate. Roll each ball in coconut until it's well coated.

26 balls. Each ball: 57 calories; 6 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.28 gram fiber.

Old-Fashioned Peanut Brittle

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

The brittle can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to one week.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Butter a jellyroll pan and set it aside.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a heavy 2 1/2-quart saucepan. Clip a candy thermometer to the pan so it reaches the ingredients. Place the pan over medium-high heat; stir until the sugar dissolves. When the syrup comes to a boil, stir in the butter. Keep the mixture at a low boil, stirring frequently, as the syrup becomes golden and thick, about 20 minutes.

Continue cooking the syrup until the thermometer registers 280 degrees (soft-crack stage). Stir in the peanuts, which will lower the temperature. Stir constantly until the thermometer reaches 305 degrees (hard-crack stage). Remove the pan from the heat; quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla.

Immediately pour the hot mixture (carefully) onto the prepared pan. Use the back of a wooden spoon to spread it out to the edges of the pan. When cool, lift the brittle from the pan and break it into bite-size pieces.

20 servings. Each serving: 167 calories; 131 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.56 gram fiber.

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