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Saltine Candy with Chocolate and Nuts

As lower temperatures remind us of the coming holiday season, thoughts of family traditions fill up our minds.  For many of us, this includes preparing hand crafted candies in our kitchen.  Rich and decadent Christmas candies make excellent gifts for loved ones.  They are also a wonderful addition to the menu of holiday gatherings.  Whether you are a candy-making newbie or an old pro, read on to learn a few tricks and tips for successful candy-making. 

Candy Making 101:
 
The Right Equipment: 

Basics: To achieve candy-making success, there a few essential items you need to have in your kitchen.

1. Glass Bowls: A solid, microwave-safe glass bowl is just what you need for working with chocolate.  You will use this bowl to melt the chocolate.  It needs to be large enough to hold a good amount of chocolate, but small enough to fit comfortably in your microwave.  

2. Heatproof Gloves: You will need gloves to remove hot bowls full of melted chocolate from the microwave.  Gloves are also useful for moving hot pans on the stove.  Make sure that the gloves you choose still allow your hands to move freely so that you can safely and properly grip hot items.

Splurge: These tools are not necessary for candy making, but can be helpful and timesaving.

1.  Double Boiler: A double boiler is two pots that stack.  The lower pot has simmering water in it, while the upper pot is filled with items you are trying to melt.  Double boilers are often used to melt chocolate, but can be used for melting chips of any kind and also to make some types of frosting, melt butter, and melt cheese. 

2. Squeeze Bottles: Squeeze Bottles can be filled with melted chocolate and used to carefully pipe chocolate into molds or drizzle on top of candies. They can also be used to put fillings into chocolate shells.  

3. Candy Molds: There are a variety of candy molds readily available on the market today.  You can choose from basic candy molds for making bonbons or other chocolates.  There are themed molds for baby showers, holidays, or animals.  You can also find lollipop and pretzel shaped molds.  Plastic molds are the most cost effective. They last a year with regular use.  Check your molds before each use to make sure they are in good condition. 

Choosing the Right Chocolate:

There are many types of chocolate called for in candy recipes, so it is best to have a few different varieties of chocolate on hand.

1. Chocolate Bark: This tried and true candy-making staple is chocolate with a high amount of wax added into it.  You might have some candy recipes that call for chocolate and paraffin wax to dip candies in.  Chocolate Bark, also called Almond Bark, is the modern equivalent of the chocolate and paraffin mixture.  The higher amount of wax allows the chocolate to set quickly and is good for use in molds as well as coating candies.  Almond Bark also comes in a vanilla flavor.

2. Chocolate Bars and Chips: If your local grocery store is having a sale on Hershey or other chocolate bars or chocolate chips, stock up.  You can find plain or dark chocolate bars and baking chips in many flavors.

3. Candy Melts: These are a good product to have on hand if you are making candies that need to be a specific color.  

4. Gourmet Chocolate: Gourmet chocolate tends to be pricey, so save it for candies you are making for special occasions.  If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on flavorings for your candies, you can take advantage of the interesting flavors of gourmet chocolate available, such as chili, orange, wasabi, and coconut.

Tips and Tricks:

1.  Be Patient: Plan enough time to allow your candies to come together and set properly.  Many candies can be made ahead of time and stored properly to keep them fresh. 

2. Don’t Be Too Ambitious: Let your skills grow and develop.  Do not take on something new and difficult and plan to use it for a gift or gathering without testing it first.

3. Keep An Eagle Eye on Your Ingredients: Chocolate, caramel, and nuts can burn easily.  Microwave chocolate or caramel in 15 second increments, stirring after each one.  They may appear solid until you begin to stir.  Once chocolate, caramel, or nuts are burned, you cannot bring them back - you just have to start over.

4. Water and Chocolate Are Enemies:  They do not get along, so keep them apart.  Make sure that any tools or packaging you are using with your candy-making is completely dry before you use it.  

5. Pack It Up: You can choose from simple zip-top storage bags to elaborately decorated cellophane bags to package your candy.  Just find the type of packaging that meets your needs and is easy for you to work with.  There are also boxes available in many different sizes.

6. Watch the Temperature: If a recipe calls for you to use a thermometer, do it!  Many candies will not set if they are not brought up to the proper temperature.  Be sure to read the instructions on the thermometer to calibrate it properly.

The Recipes:
Below are some delectable and rich recipes for classic Christmas candies that your loved ones will adore!
 
Brittle:
Peanut Brittle
Chocolate Peanut Brittle
Toffee:
Toffee
Chocolate Toffee
Butter Toffee
Old Fashioned Toffee
English Toffee Balls 
Truffles:
Truffles Royale
Eggnog Truffles
Cappuccino Truffles
Mocha Truffles
Mayan Truffles
Bakers Truffles
Marbled Truffles
Fudge:
Mexican Fudge
Butterscotch Fudge
Maple Fudge
Fantasy Fudge
Pumpkin Fudge
Caramel Fudge
Virginia Fudge
Vanilla Fudge 
Frontier Fudge
Marble Fudge
Coffee Fudge
Peanut Butter Fudge
Nougat:
Raisin Nougat
Syros Island Nougat
Marshmallow:
Christmas Marshmallow Snowflakes
Penuche:
Pecan Penuche
Clusters:
Peanut Clusters
Chocolate-Pecan Clusters
Chocolate Cloud Clusters
Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters
Peanut Raisin Nut Clusters
Choco-Scotch Clusters
Pecan Caramel clusters
Turtles:
Peanut Butter Turtles
Caramel Turtles
Pretzel Turtles
Chocolate Turtles
Caramels:
Chocolate Caramels
Old Fashioned Caramels
Chocolate Almond Caramels
Chocolate Glazed Caramels
Chocolate-Nut Caramels
Pretzels:
Jingle Bells Chocolate Pretzels
Fancy Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels
Pralines:
Maple-Pecan Pralines
Buttermilk Pecan Pralines
Chocolate Pecan Pralines
Pecan Pralines
Creamy Pralines
Pralines
Balls:
Peanut Butter Balls
Peanut Butter Chocolate Balls
Raisin Peanut Balls
Rice Krispie Balls
Oreo Balls
Snow Balls
Crispy Crunchy Peanut Snow Balls


 
Sources: http://voices.yahoo.com/candy-making-essentials-basic-techniques-tools-and-11542814.html?cat=24

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