Sweetness of life

By Dr. Linda Mitchell
“You be a sweet girl today,” my Grandmother Busby would say to me as I headed off to school. And when I was bad, hard to believe I know, but on rare, rare occasions, when I slipped up a bit she’d question, “Where’s my sweet girl? “Now, don’t act ugly,” would be the admonition should a sibling fight appear to be brewing. This had nothing to do with appearance as we below the Mason-Dixon Line all know but everything to do with not being sweet. I found myself on occasion saying it to my boys, regardless of the fact that they were covered in mud or playing contact sports.
Nothing brings out the word faster than a new baby, “Isn’t she just the sweetest little thing?” Here in the South we love sweet; sugar in our tea, jam on our biscuits, molasses and honey on the side, and dessert covered in whipped topping or all flaky and warm and nestled underneath a scoop of melting ice cream. I’m teaching a sweets class this fall so I’ve been experimenting with candy and chocolate recipes, mmm…. Here are a few I especially enjoyed.

Southern Pralines
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1- 1/2 cups whole pecans
Butter, to grease cookie sheet

Prepare baking sheet by lining with foil and brushing with butter or spraying with nonstick cooking spray.

Place sugars, water and cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir often and cook to a soft ball stage, about 8 to 10 minutes. Use a candy thermometer; the soft-ball stage is between 234 degrees F and 240 degrees F.

Remove from heat and beat mixture with until creamy, 2-3 minutes. Stir in vanilla and all the pecans until they are evenly coated. Drop big spoonfuls of praline mixture onto a buttered sheet pan to cool.

Note: Work quickly to drop mixture onto baking sheet, as the pralines will start to set in the saucepan. If the candy stiffens before you’re done, add a spoonful of very hot water and stir until it loosens. Then continue dropping by spoonfuls onto baking sheet.

Chocolate Pralines
Add ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips to mixture when you add in the vanilla.

To Roast Nuts:
Roasting nuts brings out a more intense flavor. To toast walnuts, pecans, pistachios, macadamias, and other nuts, spread them in a single layer on a baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees until they are light brown and fragrant, about 5-10 minutes depending on the amount of nuts. Check the nuts frequently and stir them to ensure even toasting. Allow them to cool before chopping.

Slow Cooker Candy
(This is candy anyone can make)
2 pounds salted dry-roasted peanuts
4 ounces German’s sweet chocolate (about 4 squares)
One 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
2 1/2 pounds white almond bark

Put the peanuts in the bottom of a 4-quart slow cooker. Layer the chocolate over the peanuts, beginning with the sweet chocolate, then the chocolate chips and finally the almond bark. Set the temperature on low and cook for 3 hours. Do not stir!

After 3 hours, remove lid and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth. Drop the candy into cupcake pan liners using about 2 tablespoons per liner. Allow the candy to cool completely before removing the cupcake liners or use seasonal or pretty liners and serve the candy in the liners.

Nutty Caramel and Coconut Candy
1 teaspoon butter
24 caramels
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup white baking chips
1/2 cup salted peanuts or cashews

Line an 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pan with foil and grease the foil with butter. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the caramels, 3/4 cup coconut, baking chips and peanuts. Microwave on high, uncovered, for 1 minute; stir. Cook, uncovered, 30-60 seconds longer or until caramels are melted; stir to combine. Press into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Cool. Using foil, lift candy out of pan. Discard foil; cut candy into 1-in. squares.
Note: Even better when dipped in melted chocolate.

Mama’s Divinity
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
2 large egg whites at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, chopped coarsely

Place water and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Add sugar and stir. Cover and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Cook 3-4 minutes and remove cover. Add candy thermometer and continue to cook without stirring until the mixture reaches the hard ball stage, 254 degrees.
Meanwhile place egg whites in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until they are stiff. Pour syrup slowly over the egg whites while continuing to beat. Add vanilla. Remove mixer, add nuts and stir with a wooden spoon until candy is thick and creamy and holds its shape. Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Allow to cool before storing.

Note: Divinity is finicky, humidity matters, the recipe works better on dry days. If the mixture flattens out, beat again for 1 minute more. If the mixture is too thick to drop, beat in a few drops of hot water until the candy is a softer consistency. Divinity can be poured into a 9-inch square pan, cooled, and cut into small squares instead of being dropped from a spoon.