Bazaars are the best kind of holiday gatherings. These sweet events are a showcase of taste-tempting, time-tested favorites.
One of note is United Methodist Women’s annual Christmas Bazaar in Merced, Calif. That this church tradition is in its 81st year is impressive. What’s more remarkable is that the grand dame of this event will be 98 years old in January.
Enid Olive has been making candy for the bazaar since 1942, when she moved back to Merced from Los Angeles with her first husband, Jim Cartwright. Olive has shared plenty from her kitchen over the years, from fudge to penuche to brittle, but it’s the simple and classic molded chocolates that are her signature piece now.
“It’s so easy to do, and people enjoy the different shapes and flavors,” she said.
“I melt about half a bag of Candy Melts in a ceramic dish in my microwave for one minute on defrost setting,” she said, “then I stir it with a spoon and microwave it a little longer until the candy is completely melted and stirs to a creamy consistency. I use a long-handled teaspoon to spoon the chocolate into the molds. Tap the molds to release the air bubbles. Place the molds in the freezer until they are hard — usually, 10 minutes is plenty of time — then tap out the candies onto a tray. They are ready to eat or to store in tins until ready to use.”
The candy wafers and plastic molds are available at hobby supply stores, as is the candy flavoring — in peppermint, cherry, cinnamon and crème de menthe.
What makes them special is that confectionery queen Olive handcrafts them.
That motherly handcrafting is what makes any family’s dessert legendary. Mom’s little touches over the years — innovation in its simplest form — made her desserts the talk of the table.
“This is why we believe America’s best dessert treasures are likely hidden among the butter-crusted index cards buried in boxes and cupboards across the country,” said Kimberly Reiner and Jenna Sanz-Agero, the authors of “Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story” (Andrews McMeel, $29.99). The two Sugar Mommas, on a mission to preserve the country’s most memorable treats, offer up recipes for cakes, pies, cookies, bars and candies in their book.
“Much like many of our technological inventions have been discovered by accident, we think home bakers throughout the ages have perfected the art of ‘making do’ when they didn’t necessarily have all the right ingredients.”
“Mom’s best” has spawned a cottage industry of recipe contests and books. There’s the Taste of Home magazine and book franchise and the Cook’s Country magazine book series with homespun names such as “From Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens” and America’s Best Lost Recipes: 121 Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget.”
Bake sales and bazaars are brimming with treats created to satisfy a sweet tooth craving.
“And a sweet tooth provides a strong motivation to be creative in the kitchen — you’ll do anything to satisfy it!” said the Sugar Mommas in an-mail.
And let’s face it, the right sugar fix can propel us to a happy place. And we could all use a little more happiness these days.
Makes about 40 Kisses.
From United Methodist Women. These meringue kisses are crunchy on the outside, with a slightly soft center. We used mini chocolate mint chips and left the cookies to set overnight.
2 egg whites
Few grains of salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Red, green or yellow food coloring
1 1/2 cups chocolate mint chips, chocolate chips or chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 375 F for at least 15 minutes.
Beat egg whites until frothy. Add salt and cream of tartar and beat until stiff. Add sugar slowly while continuing to beat and mixture becomes glossy. Add vanilla. Divide mixture into thirds. Tint each with one of the colors. Fold into each one a 1/2 cup of chocolate mint chips or any combination of chips and nuts. Drop by spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet. Place in oven and turn oven off immediately. Do not open oven for at least five hours.
Makes 1 8-inch square pan
From United Methodist Women. Sketchy directions sent us back to test kitchen to recook this old-fashioned fudge. We poured the syrupy mixture back into the pot and reached the soft ball stage (between 137 and 140 F on a candy thermometer) in 3 1/2 minutes. Our second mistake was in leaving the cooked mixture alone too long. It got hard and was difficult to whip, and even a slight heating put it above the soft-ball stage. Still, it was delicious.
1 cup each brown sugar and granulated sugar
1 cup cream
1 cup butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup nuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Butter an 8-inch square pan. Place cold tap water in two or three bowls and set aside.
Combine in a heavy-bottomed pan the two sugars, cream, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a rolling boil that can not be stirred down and cook on a very low boil for 7 1/2 minutes. The mixture will begin to look foamy and appear as if it is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Place a spoonful of mixture in the tap water to see if it has reached the soft-ball stage. Remove from heat, add nuts and vanilla. Allow candy to cool just a bit. Beat until candy begins to thicken. Pour into prepared pan and cut into squares.
Makes about 4 to 5 dozen caramels.
From Mrs. Lyle England and Kathryn Krause, United Methodist Church.
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup butter
2 cups cream, divided use
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
Butter pan and set aside. Put cold tap water in several bowls to test mixture for hard-ball candy stage.
Boil sugar, corn syrup, butter, 1 cup cream and 1/2 cup cocoa until mixture comes to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down. Continue boiling; slowly add the second cup of cream while continuing to stir and allowing the mixture to keep boiling. Stir and cook until the mixture makes a hard ball in cold tap water (250 F on a candy thermometer). Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and nuts and pour mixture into the prepared pan to cool. Mark for squares and turn onto wax paper while still warm, or allow to cool completely and break with a knife handle.
Makes 2 to 3 dozen candies.
From Connie Jones of United Methodist Women.
2 (6-ounce) packages butterscotch bits
2 cups chow mein noodles
2 cups peanuts
Melt the butterscotch bits in a double boiler. Add the noodles and peanuts. Stir until well coated.
Drop by rounded teaspoon onto a baking sheet and let harden. Store in covered tin.
Christmas Cream Cheese Mint Dainties
Makes about 3 dozen dainties.
From United Methodist Women. Kneading by hand is crucial. Using a beater will incorporate too much air into the mixture and result in a soft, “wet” mint.
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon flavoring (wintergreen, peppermint or almond)
Granulated sugar (for rolling)
Cut sifted sugar into cream cheese. Add flavoring oil and coloring. Knead until color and flavoring are spread evenly throughout and mixture is smooth.
Roll into small balls and roll the balls in granulated sugar and press into molds. Let stand in a cool place for at least two hours (do not refrigerate).
Tap gently out of molds and let air dry for at least 30 minutes before packing so they won’t stick together. Refrigeration is not recommend for these mints, so make them for a small gathering where they’ll be appreciated and finished off.