Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Sugar Plums Recipe and A Field Guide to Candy Cookbook Give-Away!

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Have you ever wondered why it's called "salt water taffy" when there's no salt water in it? How about how to make gummy bears or homemade marshmallow chicks (yup, I'm talking about Peeps)?

If so, then treat yourself to a copy of Anita Chu's Field Guide to Candy from Quirk Books. While you're at it, you might want to treat a foodie friend to a copy as well because it's a great Christmas gift. (In full disclosure, I am writing two books for Quirk Books. They have donated this book for the give-away, but I am not being remunerated for this post.)

This little book is packed full with over 100 candy recipes that are divided into playful categories, such as "cream, sticky, chewy," "nutty," and "fun and simple classics." Anita includes just about every type of candy imaginable from American classics, such as Peppermint Patties, Caramel Corn, and Gumdrops to international confections, such as Chinese Date-Walnut Candy, Sesame Halva, and French Pralines. Each recipe is preceded by a brief history that offers both informative facts and quirky food history tidbits.

Just reading through the book will likely give you a much greater appreciation for candy-making, which can be quite challenging. To help you out, each recipe comes with handy icons reminding you to, say, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or to use a food processor. Anita's instructions are clear and detailed, though some recipes require candy-making skills and/or lots of patience (which I sorely lack). Fortunately, there are plenty of beginner-level candy recipes for those of us who aren't yet ready to tackle marzipan fruit. There are also attractive color photos of all of the candies as well as a thorough introduction to candy making, including essential kitchen tools and notes on working with chocolate and sugar.

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You can roll sugar plums in either shredded coconut or confectioners' sugar.

Since it's Christmas time, I chose to make Anita's Sugar Plums recipe. Anita writes, "When visions of sugarplums dance in children's heads, it would be interesting to know exactly what sugarplums they dream of." She explains that historically "sugarplums," referred to a wide variety of candies, but more recently have come to refer to "soft, sticky balls of dried fruits and nuts, often rolled in shredded coconut or confectioners' sugar. They do not necessarily contain plums."

According to Anita, "Sugarplums were immortalized in Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicolas" and "Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker." Hence our association of sugarplums with Christmas. That's why I'm adding my sugarplums to the stash of Christmas cookies we've got here.

Want to share in our big, festive Eat Christmas Cookies event? Find out how here. The deadline is Sunday, December 20th at midnight PST.

Now for the give-away! To enter for a chance to win a copy of Field Guide to Candy, just tell me why you'd like to win the book. The deadline is Saturday, December 19th. The winner must provide his or her full name and mailing address. As an extra bonus, if you have submitted a cookie to the Eat Christmas Cookies event, or do so by the 19th, you will double your chances of winning the book. Good luck!

And don't forget to enter for a chance to win a nifty foodie art reusable tote bag by California artist, Nicole Docimo. Deadline is Thursday, December 17th

Update: December 21st: Congratulations to Rocquie of Sage Trifle who won Nicole's tote bag and Annalise of Palate Pioneer who won the Field Guide to Candy!

(Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009.)
Makes about 30
Print recipe only here.

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet for about 1 hour until firm.

Notes: You can substitute the fruits and nuts in this recipe. Dried cherries, figs, or raisins work well, as would hazelnuts, pistachios, or pecans. Try adding chopped candied ginger or candied citrus peel.

You might also like these easy-peasy Christmas candies and cookies from Food Blogga:
Mom's Peanut Butter Fudge
Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Hello Dolly Cookie Bars

Anita Chu writes the delicious blog, Dessert First, and is also the author of the successful Field Guide to Cookies.