A Good Appetite: Adult confections can be tempting and interesting enough to keep grown-up paws out of their kids' Halloween candy stash. Recipes: Salted Licorice Brigadeiros, Almond and Goat Cheese Candy Bars, and Black Pepper and Bourbon Caramel Chews
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.
Even before I had a daughter whose pumpkin bucket I could raid when she wasn’t looking, the Halloween candy-munching opportunities were everywhere. Those bowls of “fun size” chocolate bars at the bank. The drugstore displays of waxy orange pumpkins. The endless candy corns that I can’t seem to stop eating.
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But just because mass-market candy is the norm for Halloween, that 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, things tempting and interesting enough to keep grown-up paws out of their kids’ candy stash, or at least reduce the overall rate of theft.
Since I wasn’t trying to make child-friendly crowd pleasers, I had the freedom to pull out ingredients that would not normally appear in a Halloween candy bowl.
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 goat cheese. You want a slight tang but not an overwhelming barnyard flavor. And if you really dislike the funkiness of goat cheese, you can use cream cheese instead. The candy will be sweeter and not as complex tasting, but the recipe will still work.
Another savory-sweet candy that isn’t distributed to trick-or-treaters 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.
SALTED LICORICE BRIGADEIROS
Time: 25 minutes, plus chilling
Yield: About 3 dozen
1 box (7 ounces) soft black licorice
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
Coarse sea salt, like fleur de sel
1. In a food processor, grind licorice until finely chopped, about 30 seconds. (It will be noisy.)
2. Transfer to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add ¼ cup water. Cook gently over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until licorice is shiny and almost melted (a few remaining licorice nibs are OK), 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add condensed milk and bring to a simmer, stirring. Scrape mixture back into food processor and add chocolate. Process until as smooth as possible (you will still have a few lumps but that’s OK), about 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Scrape mixture into a bowl and chill until very cold, at least 3 hours.
5. Pour sprinkles into a bowl. Roll teaspoons of licorice mixture into balls (you may want to lightly coat your hands with butter or oil) and drop them into sprinkles, turning to coat. Place balls into paper candy cups and sprinkle tops with coarse sea salt.
ALMOND AND GOAT CHEESE CANDY BARS
Time: 30 minutes, plus chilling
Yield: 18 bars
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened
25 grams sliced almonds (about 1/3 cup)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
¾ cup smooth almond butter
2 tablespoons softened goat cheese
55 grams almond flour (about ½ cup)
195 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 1 ½ cups)
4 ounces bittersweet (72 percent) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until almonds are golden, about 5 minutes. Pour into a bowl.
3. In an electric mixer, beat together almond butter and goat cheese. Beat in almond flour. Stop mixer and scrape down sides. Beat in sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and 5 tablespoons butter until combined. Scrape down sides and beat once more to combine. Spread into pan.
4. Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Place bowl over pot of simmering water and cook, stirring, until the chocolate is completely melted. Scrape chocolate into the pan over the almond butter mixture and spread evenly. Scatter almonds over chocolate. Let cool to room temperature. Cover with foil and chill until firm. Cut into 18 bars.
BLACK PEPPER AND BOURBON CARAMEL CHEWS
Time: 40 minutes, plus cooling
Yield: 50 pieces
420 grams granulated sugar (about 2 cups)
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons bourbon
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons black pepper
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment and coat with cooking spray.
2. In a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, combine sugar, cream, honey, bourbon and salt. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Cook mixture, stirring frequently, until it reaches 245 degrees, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the pot. Quickly stir in butter and pepper.
3. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Let cool completely until it is set to a semi-firm consistency, about an hour. Cut into 50 rectangular pieces and wrap in parchment paper, cellophane or other candy wrappers, twisting ends to seal.