Monday, February 4, 2013

The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook

The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook
Publisher: Workman Publishing (2012)

Do you have a sweet tooth? While I was never a die-hard candy fanatic, I’m definitely guilty of polishing off a box of truffles or a giant slab of chocolate fudge cake – with a scoop of ice cream for good measure. Making confectionery was always something that seemed otherworldly, beyond my non-professional skills as a home cook. Then, I started seeing other self-professed home cooks taking on the task and I was sparked to try my luck at it. When I received The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook by Liz Gutman and Jen King to review, it seemed like the planets had aligned.

I spent hours combing through Liddabit, flagging treat after treat I would die to gorge myself on. With seven chapters ranging from gummies to caramels, lollipops and even my beloved chocolate, the 75 recipes each tempted and delighted me. With the December holidays approaching, Liddabit was also the perfect way to save a little money by making a few gifts rather than buying them. Now with Valentine’s Day around the corner, this book is a wonderful opportunity to best the box of chocolates and show your love how much you really care – or host an anti-Valentine’s party with a gaggle of single friends.

On the topic of romance, the authors cleverly included a “Speed Date the Candies” chart (p. xiii), which was invaluable in my selection process. This chart lets the reader spot at a glance just which candy is ideal for your tastes, time and mood – be it boozy (like the Cherry Cordials, p. 85), gluten free (Agar Fruit Jellies, p. 109), shippable (Salty Peanut Taffy, p. 152) or quick to assemble (Five Minute Marzipan, p. 175). Information and tips critical for new candy-creators are covered in a thorough, friendly introduction. Each chapter also has a respectable amount of information and technique threading through it, but in no way does Liddabit read like a pastry school textbook. The authors include a wealth of photography (courtesy of Rachel Been) that illustrates the detail and beauty of candy production without in any way being gratuitous.

Soft Chocolate Candy (Kneaded)
"Dough" for Salted Soft Chocolates (p.67)
Chocoholic that I am, I immediately gravitated to the second chapter of Liddabit – Chocolate Loves You and Wants You to be Happy. There was no shortage of temptations – I swooned over the Hip to be Squares (p. 99) made with sinful Nutella, and the Buckeyes (p. 72) called to my salty-sweet tooth. In the end, though, the sheer simplicity of the Salted Soft Chocolates (p.67) won my heart. I’m not a huge fan of the chalky, chewy “fake chocolate” Tootsie Roll, so I was concerned that these would be the same (the authors describe the texture as similar, and they do look like the store-bought candy). I needn’t have worried. The chocolates are made with only 5 ingredients, including 17 ounces of dark chocolate, and by choosing the quality and cocoa mass percentage the cook can thus control the outcome of the finished product. I used a blend of 70% and 65% chocolates, which was perfect for the adult set I was cooking for, but may be too intense for a child’s or milk-chocolate-lover’s palate. I did end up using slightly more salt than called for, but in no way were these “salty”, just well-rounded. It is a good thing this recipe makes a lot of candy (as do most recipes in Liddabit), as it is a bit of a process and required, I found, more time, tools and strength than alluded to. While it is in itself an easy recipe, bank on a good two days from start to finish, invest in a SilPat, bench scraper and sharp knife, and be ready to break out the muscle pain ointment after all the kneading, cutting and wrapping is done. The end result is more than worth it, being a hit with almost every age set (the youngest ones declared them too bitter), and it is a recipe I will keep in my arsenal for future holidays.

Nougat Slices
Classic European Nougat (p. 145)
The other recipe I tried out in Liddabit was Classic European Nougat (p. 145). Nougat, as well as the various national varieties like turrĂ³n and torrone, is a favourite confection with my Italian stepfamily, and I wanted to give them something special for the holidays. The book declares that this candy is “Worth It”, but I have my doubts as a non-crunchy candy fan. By the time I attempted this recipe (which takes a solid afternoon to make and can be expensive due to the nuts), I had become somewhat familiar with the candymaking process. For those just beginning a journey into confectionery, I would strongly suggest making marshmallows first, as nougat is effectively solidified marshmallow. I was prepared for the hot sugar syrup (readers note you will need a candy thermometer for most Liddabit recipes) and whipping of egg whites (you will need a stand mixer), and had my mise en place set out and organized. However, I was not prepared for how stiff the whipped mixture really gets and how sticky the finished mixture can be – the book’s direction to "stir the nuts" into the base sounds like a simple matter. In practice, the process was more like "try not to break your spatula / your arms". Being so stiff, as well as so hot (almost 300°F), getting it into an even layer in the pan required the speed of an Olympian and hands of asbestos. In terms of cleanup, the patience of Job and about an hour long shower finally removed the remaining sugar residue from all corners of the kitchen and my hair. Cutting it was one of the hardest things either my mom or I had ever experienced, even though I knew it was a hard candy it was definitely a two day, hammer and knife job. It was well received though, and lasts almost indefinitely in a cool, dry place, so if you have the patience and strength it is perfect for gift giving.

While I can’t say for sure that Liz Gutman and Jen King will make candy as easy as flipping a switch with Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook, this book is definitely a stellar primer for the candy-curious. There is enough variety in the pages to allow both complete neophytes and experienced cooks to make professional looking confections with a little sugar, heat and elbow grease. I can’t wait to get the sweet kitchen back up and running – there are still 73 recipes I need to savour!

Available on Amazon