As noted previously on Slashfood, there was a time when candymaking was an expected part of a homemaker's repertoire. The holidays evoke nostalgia, so is candymaking too far a taffy-stretch for December's annual kitchen marathons? Something's got to fill all of those stockings being hung by all of those chimneys with care, and handmade candy exudes charm and tastes good.
Into this fray enters cookbook author Lou Seibert Pappas. Her Christmas Candy Book is a small but thorough indoctrination into the world of bubbling syrups, satiny molten chocolate, silken fondant, springy mazzetta, colorful pastes, gooey clusters, and sticky peels. There are sweetly staged photographs, easily followed recipes and a short history of confectionery (including a section on Christmas candy), with a list of techniques, tools, and those wonderful charts that use phrases like "hard crack stage." (Note to Santa: I now expect to find a candy hammer in my stocking, and promise to respond with enough peanut brittle [page 36] to tear out the molars of all nine reindeer. If reindeer have molars.).
Still, many cooks are intimidated to try making candy, and Pappas' gift is that she makes the process accessible and the product a goal worth aiming for. Start with sections on truffles and fudge, both of which are very simple to make and whose results please everyone who tastes them. Once your confidence is bubbling to firm ball stage (244 -- 248 degrees F), move on to more exotic offerings: torrone (page 28), pralines (page 34), toffee (page 25), caramels (pages 63, 66, 67), turtles (page 70) and taffy (page 73). Experienced confectioners will enjoy trying lollipops (page 65), panforte (page 24) and (my favorite) vinegar candy (page 71). And if Christmas for you has religious as well as culinary connotations, how could you resist handing out lower-case divinity (page 38)?
Once you master a few simple basics, candymaking really isn't difficult, and it is very rewarding. For born confectioners, Pappas' book will awaken their passion even as it disconnects their bridgework. And for those lucky enough to get a gift of handmade candy, Pappas' book will serve the same calling one could argue the holidays also do: to make the world a little bit sweeter, at least a few days a year.