by Tara Pederson

Many people enjoy cooking at home. They use it as an outlet to relax, to make use of their creativity, and to explore the world of food as well as their comfort zones. Few things are as satisfying as sharing the results of a labor of love, a hand made piece of edible art, with those we care about.

As much as I love to cook, and don’t shy away from a challenge, there are those occasions on which I am solidly put in my place.  Cake baking?  I’ve got it under control.  Cake decorating?  Not so much.

Breaking down various animals and turning them into beautiful stews, braised dishes, steaks, filets? Yes, please.  Deep frying Mars bars?  I wouldn’t know where to begin.

The worst of all for me – and for many of us, by countless admissions – is candy making.

It sounds like so much fun!  It’s SCIENCE, my #1 love.   It’s formulaic.  It often requires cool equipment and precise measurements. The end product is sharable and delightful.  And I hate it.   I will burn the ever living bajeezus out of some sugar or chocolate or myself in a grand hurry, the experience traumatizing my culinary prowess beyond belief and leaving me with my tail between my legs.

My grandmother was infamous for never quite getting cornflake candy right, but making the best Martha Washington candy I’ve ever had.  A cousin of mine traditionally makes cocoon confections around the holidays, but if it’s a particularly rainy season, they just don’t quite work. I refuse to even attempt divinity on principal alone.  But the best candy making story circulating in my family comes from a not-to-be-named-for-the-sake-of-protecting-reputations pair of sisters, whose first and only attempt at making home made taffy resulted in copious amounts of cursing, burns, glass-like and utterly unpullable sugar, and a laughing out loud spouse being sent to the outside trash to dispose of the entire set up.

But there is hope!   Should you wish to avoid this kind of trauma, but still enjoy something different in the realm of sweet treats, I have a couple of tried and true recipes guaranteed to please your crowds without costing you your sanity.  I wish you all the stress free, family friendly candy making days you can bear –

The Recipes:

Cream Cheese Candies – (pictured) Melt ¼ cup unsalted butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add 8 oz cream cheese and stir until softened. Turn off the heat. Add 4 cups powdered sugar and stir to form a soft dough. If needed, slowly add small amounts of sugar until it firms enough to mold and shape. Add 1 tsp flavoring of your choice (I like vanilla and almond best) and stir well.  Divide dough into 2 or 4 equal parts, add a few drops of your favorite food colorings and stir. Shape into round disks, about ½ tsp each. Dry on parchment paper 2-4 hours, until candies set. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Butter Creams – Beat ½ cup softened butter and 3 oz softened cream cheese until smooth. Add 1.5 tsp vanilla or almond extract. Gradually add 4 cups powdered sugar, beating on low, until well mixed.  Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, until firm. Shape rounded teaspoons of mixture into 1 inch balls, place on wax lined baking sheets, cover and refrigerate until firm (up to overnight).  Melt 12 oz chocolate chips and 2 tbsp shortening in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.  Dip buttercreams into chocolate mixture, coat completely and remove. (Use a fork or spoon to help coat). Place on wax lined baking sheets. Garnish with shaved chocolate or sprinkles. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to set.