In today's locavore, organic-minded, food-crazed culture, we get so wrapped up in the idea of seasonal fruits and vegetables that it can be easy to forget another important, deep vein of seasonal foodstuff opportunities.
That is, candy.
There are candy canes for Christmas, gelt for Hanukkah and chocolate bunnies for Easter, not to mention sugary marshmallow Peeps. But the zenith is now, and it's not limited to trick-or-treaters -- or October.
Even before I had a daughter whose pumpkin bucket I could raid when she wasn't looking, the candy-munching opportunities were everywhere. Those bowls of "fun size" chocolate bars at the bank. The endless candy corns that I can't seem to stop eating.
But just because mass-market candy is the norm doesn't mean it is the only option. The candy universe is large and diverse, and there are more sophisticated forms of life out there -- though probably not readily available at your local supermarket. So, with the aim of expanding my candy horizons beyond Blow Pops, I had the idea to come up with some more adult confections.
I started with goat cheese. Beating some into almond butter, along with regular butter and confectioners' sugar, made for a pan of almond candy bars grounded by a tart earthiness that toned down the sugar. And because these candy bars are savory-sweet, as opposed to cloying, I can eat more of them before my teeth start to ache.
It's important to use a mild, soft
Another savory-sweet candy is salted licorice, which is usually imported from Scandinavia or Germany. This intense candy is an acquired taste, which is a nice way of saying that most people I know who aren't from that part of the world can't stand the stuff.
I'm a lover of both licorice and salt, though, so I like the idea of it even if I can never eat more than a piece at a time. Using salted licorice as my inspiration, I decided to try combining sweet licorice and sea salt with chocolate brigadeiros, which are luscious Brazilian fudge balls coated thickly with chocolate sprinkles.
To make my version, I melted soft pellets of black licorice with sweetened condensed milk, then stirred in unsweetened chocolate. The chocolate gave the candy a bitter edge and helped firm it up. (Without the chocolate, the candy is sweeter and stickier.) I also dusted sea salt over the sprinkles. The candies, which looked just like chocolate truffles, were creamy, smooth and just salty enough, while still remaining firmly planted on the sweet side of things. I adored them.
Both the brigadeiros and the candy bars were extremely easy to put together, no special equipment needed.
The last recipe I tried, for soft caramels, is slightly more persnickety, requiring a candy thermometer. Soft caramels are not inherently elegant, so I flavored them gently with black pepper and a dash of bourbon. It was just enough to make things interesting without scaring off the children -- should you decide to share your candy with them.
After all, these recipes were designed as grown-up treats, chock-full of sophisticated tricks.