Sunday, October 23, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Halloween

Holiday Soiree:
The Holiday: Halloween
Halloween is a strange holiday to me. I've never been a huge Halloween person, though I enjoy watching spooky movies at this time of year, and occasionally dressing up in a costume. Halloween's meaning has changed a lot over the years, as have the rituals involved with it. From carving turnips to carving pumpkins, from soaping windows and throwing flour at people to trick-or-treating. Originally, Halloween, or All Hallow's Eve, was a pagan holiday in Ireland known as Samhain. It was sort of a harvest celebration and a celebration to honor the dead. It was thought of the one day a year when the link between our world and the world of the dead was the weakest, and would allow for the dead to leak through back into our world. When the Catholic church came to Ireland, they assigned their own meaning to the rituals, though the rituals continued. It became a sort of hybrid holiday of two cultures. When Irish immigrants came to America, they brought the holiday with them, and Halloween eventually became Americanized. Trick-or-treating, jack o'lanterns, bobbing for apples. All of those had specific meanings at one point, but now they're mostly thought of as fun, autumnal traditions. Scaring yourself, embracing your dark side for one day a year, I suppose it's good for balance! Assigning a meaning for a holiday for yourself is one of the most important parts of a holiday. It's what allows it to live and grow and evolve over the years. It's what allows it to survive. So, whatever Halloween means to you, that's what it means! Enjoy it in the way that makes the most sense to you.

The Food: Halloween Candy
Halloween and trick-or-treating would be nothing without candy. Instead of finding harvest-related savory dishes, or something to represent the pagans of ancient Ireland, I thought I'd embrace the American tradition of candy. Candy-making is something I have very little, to no, experience with. Cooking with sugar can be intimidating, especially when it comes to making it very hot. It's been known to burn people, after all. You have to know what you're doing, and I don't even own a candy thermometer! I sifted through my recipes and found two that I thought I could handle. It took a lot of work and was surprisingly a lot of time, but it was so worth it. Both succeeded, I am happy to say!

Buttery Almond Crunch:
1 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup butter, softened, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup (This isn't the high fructose kind, and no it's not healthy for you, but this is candy. Get over it!)
1 cup sliced almonds

Line an 8" square pan with foil; butter the foil with 1/2 Tbsp. butter. Set aside. Spread the sides of a heavy saucepan with 1/2 Tbsp. butter. Add the butter, sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium-height heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture is golden brown, about 3 minutes.

(Note the difference in texture and color as it cooks. I should have let it brown a little bit more but it was smelling so caramelized that I was worried about it burning. PS-the action shots are courtesy of my sister. I couldn't hold the pan, stir, and take pictures at the same time, but I wanted to show how the texture of the sugar changes as it cooks.)

Stir in almonds. Quickly pour into prepared pan. Chill until firm. Invert pan and remove foil. Break candy into pieces.
Yield: 10 oz.
Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home magazine
This is seriously one of the best things I have ever made. I thought it would be like peanut brittle, but with almonds, but it was completely different. It tastes just like, and has a very similar texture to an Almond Roca, but without the chocolate. It would be easy enough to melt chocolate and drizzle it over, or dip it in, if you were so inclined. This is also very addictive, so make sure you share it with others, or you will probably sit and eat the entire thing and make yourself sick.

This was not very difficult to make and the result is so luxurious and delicious that you might wonder why you ever spent money on the store-bought version of this candy. And I'm not making any promises, but there is a strong chance that those who spend Christmas Eve with me, might get to try out this recipe because this is too good not to try again!

Almond-and-Pistachio Candy:
4 tsp. ghee(the oil part of melted butter, without the milky solids), divided
1qt. milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup unsalted pistachios, ground (I could not find shelled pistachios in bulk, so I had to buy the expensive bag of shelled pistachios. They were salted, but I tasted them and decided they weren't too salty so I didn't rinse them off.)
1/2 tsp. almond extract

With a pastry brush, spread 1 tsp. of the ghee on a 7 1/2" pie tin.
In a heavy 3-4 qt. saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring frequently, cook for about 35 minutes, or until the milk thickens to the consistency of heavy cream.
 Add the sugar and stir for 10 minutes. Then add the ground almonds and pistachios and continue stirring 10 minutes longer.
(Note the towel wrapped around my hand. This stage of the candy-making process is precarious. The mixture bubbles and spits and is scalding hot, so a towel helps. Please also note, that the mixture will tighten up during this stage and actually become difficult to stir. Your arm will be sore by the end of this process.)

Still stirring, add 3 tsp. ghee and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick enough to draw away from the sides of the pan in a solid mass.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the almond extract. Pour the candy into the pie tin, spreading and smoothing it with a spatula. Let the candy cool for 30 minutes or so, then cut it into about 24 small squares or diamonds. It will harden to the consistency of fudge as it cools further.
Makes 24 squares

This is a lot of work, but it was worth it. Keep this one refrigerated. This morning I tried out an idea I had for them. I had some leftover ground almonds and I took some of the pieces, rolled them into balls, and rolled those in the ground almonds. They looked like truffles, kind of elegant.
Here is a picture of both styles. They each have their strengths. I think I actually like both of them and would probably do half and half. My coworkers tomorrow will have a chance to try them out and let me know which version they prefer.

I have made candy a couple times in my life before last night, but not as successfully as these were. I am really impressed with the recipes. They aren't that complex, and are worth the time and effort. Just note that the nuts can be a little expensive, so keep that in mind when working on your meal budget!

Happy Halloween, everybody!

1 comment:

  1. Hope I get a chance to taste test, sounds fabulous! One question - how ghee obtained? Does it separate on its own when melted butter cools so it can be skimmed, or is there another process?