Celebrate ‘Sweetest Day' With Favorite Treats

IN THE KITCHEN

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According to my calendar the "Sweetest Day" is this weekend, Oct. 18.

The Sweetest Day was invented by Herbert Birch Kingston about 65 years ago. Kingston and his friends got together on a Saturday in October to pass out candy and gifts to orphans and people who were sick.

It soon evolved into a national tradition known as Sweetest Day, which is celebrated on the third Saturday of October. Sweetest Day is most popular in the Midwest and some portions of the East Coast.

With that in mind, and Halloween just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to share recipes for some sweet treats.

Divinity is one of my favorites, but I have never tried to make it -- check out the "basic" recipe and you might understand why. Judging from the extensive directions it is not for the faint of heart -- at least in my estimation. However, there are multiple variations of the candy, so if you can master the basic recipe, you have a lot of choices from which to please the sweet tooth.

Basic Divinity

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Additionally, you will need a heavy saucepan, a clip-on candy thermometer and it is recommended a stationary mixer be used.

Lightly oil inside of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Combine water and corn syrup in pan. Cook over moderate heat until mix boils. Remove from heat. Add sugar and salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is completely dissolved.

Cover and cook until mixture comes to a boil. Uncover immediately and clip candy thermometer onto edge of pan. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until thermometer reaches 260 degrees, which is considered the hard-ball stage.

Begin beating the egg whites while syrup is cooking -- you want to have the cooking mixture reach 260 degrees at the same time you have beat the whites until they are very stiff.

Once the syrup is at 260 degrees begin pouring it over the egg whites with the mixer running -- this is the reason for a stationary mixer, or a willing kitchen accomplice.

Pour syrup in slowly and steadily. Add the vanilla at some point during the mixing.

Beat until the divinity is quite thick and loses its gloss. At this point it will hold its shape when dropped from the tip of a spoon. Before dropping to set, add nuts and mix in quickly.

Drop by spoonful onto a well-oiled cookie sheet. Work quickly to avoid allowing candy to cool in the bowl.

It should be stored in a fully air-tight container and needs 24 to 48 hours to attain the best flavor.

Variations

Fruit Divinity

Use basic recipe, but add a half-cup of raisins or chopped candied fruit.

Honey Divinity

In basic recipe use a half-cup of honey instead of the corn syrup.

Maple Divinity

Add a half-cup of pure maple syrup to water and corn syrup mixture when making the basic recipe.

Peppermint Divinity

Using the basic recipe, omit the nuts and vanilla, substituting a teaspoon of peppermint flavoring and one-half cup of crushed peppermint candy.

Chocolate Divinity

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Lightly oil inside of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Combine water and corn syrup in pan and cook over moderate heat until it boils. Remove from heat and add sugars, chocolate squares and nutmeg.

Return to stove and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until sugars are fully dissolved and chocolate is melted, making sure sugar crystals from side of pan are combined in the mixture.

Cook without stirring until mixture boils, again making sure sugar crystals from pan sides are combined into the mix.

Clip on candy thermometer and cook over moderate heat until thermometer registers 260 degrees.

As in the basic recipe, beat the egg whites while the syrup cooks, trying to have eggs reach the stiff peak stage at the same time the candy mix comes to the hard ball (260 degree) stage.

Keeping mixer going, pour syrup over egg whites in a steady stream.

Add vanilla while beating.

Beat until mixture is thick and no longer glossy, then add chocolate chips and stir.

Drop by spoonfuls onto well-greased cookie sheet and store as with basic recipe.

Mocha Divinity

Use the recipe and directions for Chocolate Divinity, but instead of water, use one-half cup of strong black coffee or one-half cup water and two teaspoons of instant coffee and one-half cup of nuts instead of the chocolate chips.

Another all-time favorite, and one I have made -- in massive batches -- is the fudge made with marshmallow cream or marshmallows. Normally I just follow the directions on the back of the marshmallow jar, but here is a recipe, giving the concoction a slightly different name.

Foolproof Chocolate Fudge

1 2/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 (6-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows or marshmallow cream

Dash of salt

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla

Lightly oil inside of 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan. Combine sugar and milk in pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and mix boils. Boil, continuing to stir, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add chocolate and marshmallows, salt, butter and vanilla and stir until chocolate and marshmallows are melted. Beat until thick and gloss is gone. Pour mix into greased 8x8-inch pan. Let cool, then cut into squares.

This is another treat with a number of variations. The most natural is the addition of a cup of nuts while stirring the completed recipe.

Butterscotch Fudge

Add a 6-ounce package of butterscotch chips instead of the chocolate.

Double Marshmallow Fudge

Spread a cup of marshmallow cream on the bottom of your pan before adding the fudge.

Chocolate-Coconut Fudge

After fudge is cut into squares and allowed to come to room temperature, roll each square in shredded coconut then let set up again before serving.

One of the more decadent treats I know of are pralines. I believe a heavy cream is used in making the treats in the traditional southern fashion, but this recipe uses yogurt instead.

Yogurt Pralines

3 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups pecans

Lightly oil the inside of a deep, 4-quart saucepan -- the ingredients will foam up during cooking. Combine sugar, soda, yogurt and syrup in pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Keep combining stray sugar crystals into the mixture -- the recommended way to do this is use a clean pastry brush dipped in cold water.

Allow mix to come to a boil, attach candy thermometer and cook until it reads 234 degrees, which is the soft-ball stage. Remove from heat, add butter, vanilla and pecans. Using a wooden spoon, beat until mixture thickens and begins to look cloudy. Drop spoonfuls of mixture onto well-oiled cookie sheet. Let cool completely and store in air-tight container.

Brown Sugar Yogurt Pralines

Instead of 3 cups of sugar, use 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar.

Rich Pralines

Skip the yogurt and use a cup of commercial sour cream instead.

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