Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen:
Hand-Crafted Candy Bars

This week’s guest bloggers are Susie Norris and Susan Heeger, the wonderful authors of possibly the most decadent cookbook of the Spring 2013 season, Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections.

What’s your favorite candy bar indulgence? Do you have a nostalgic favorite candy from childhood that you’ve tried to recreate at home? If you leave a comment on this post, you’ll be eligible to win the copy of the book that we’ll be giving away to one randomly selected lucky person (offer good in the US and Canada only).

Our Favorite Bar of All Time

Nothing sweetens a friendship more than discovering you share a vice. We’re not talking about the dangerous or criminal, but something you feel just complicated enough about to sneak off and do alone, before your roommates or children come home.

In our case, the evidence was tucked into our purses, slipped behind headboards, buried deep in our trash: candy wrappers!

The day our bond became clear—probably through a casually dropped remark about some piece of caramel-rich, nut-laden, chocolate-covered manna in a wrapper (“You—? No! You too??”)—we each felt understood, justified, legitimized in ways we hadn’t before. We shared our tastes and preferences, which were remarkably similar, and Susie, a veteran pastry chef and chocolatier, began to test her creations on me. I appreciated her even more!

Then one night, at a dinner party, the subject of candy came up, and it turned out that everyone at the table—our husbands, neighbors, friends—were all dedicated consumers of Hershey’s, Mars, and Cadbury. Many were also accomplished cooks, familiar with Valrhona chocolate, Maldon sea salt, Plugra butter.

It suddenly seemed plain to us that our secret passion—which was, of course, shared by so many others—could be taken to another level of perfection if we made candy bars ourselves, using the best ingredients we could find.

Very quickly, Susie came up with an artisanal version of our favorite chocolate-dipped, caramel-nougat-peanut bar and cooked up the idea for our book: Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections.

Thinking about that experience—all the happy hours we spent in each other’s kitchens—moves me to amend my earlier statement. Honestly? Nothing sweetens a friendship more than making candy bars together.

Molten-Chocolate Peanut Bars

This is it: our favorite among all our artisan creations. Made with hand-crafted nougat, crowned with peanut-laden caramel, and drenched in good milk chocolate, it has everything we love in a candy bar—chewiness, nuttiness, sweet-saltiness, and that irresistible chocolate-caramel combo. Inspired by the world’s bestselling candy bar, ours adds a double dose of vanilla for extra richness and the visual charm of vanilla-bean specks floating in soft white nougat.

Makes about 24 bars
Time needed about 1hr 20 min

1 batch Soft Vanilla Nougat (see separate recipe below)
1 cup/220 g crunchy peanut butter (preferably organic)
1 batch Basic-Batch Caramel (see separate recipe below)
1⁄2 cup/55 g chopped peanuts (preferably blister peanuts)
1 batch Tempered Milk Chocolate (see separate recipe below)

1 Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2 When preparing the nougat, add half the peanut butter, stir until the nougat is smooth, then scoop it from the bowl with a metal spoon and roll into 3-in/7.5-cm logs. (The shapes may be rough when the nougat is hot. Once it cools, it’s easier to shape more precisely but will continue to be sticky.) Place the logs on one of the prepared baking sheets and set aside.

3 When the caramel has cooled for about 20 minutes, add the remaining peanut butter and stir until smooth. Stir in the chopped peanuts.

4 Using a metal spoon, scoop out enough caramel to form a layer about 1/2 in/12 mm thick on top of each log. Put the tray of logs in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to set.

5 Have the tempered chocolate at 90°F/34°C. Using two dinner forks or chocolate dipping forks, dip each log into the chocolate. Shake off the excess chocolate, and slide logs onto the remaining baking sheet. Allow the chocolate to set by air-drying the bars with a small rotary fan for about 20 minutes or refrigerating for about 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Store in an airtight container, a zip-top plastic bag, or plastic wrap in the refrigerator for 7 days, or in the freezer for 2 months.

Soft Vanilla Nougat

Nougat has a light, chewy consistency, a bright white color, and a charming ability to hold on to crunchy things like nuts or caramel pieces.

Makes about 4 cups (785 G)
Time needed 20 min

3 cups/355 g ice
3 egg whites
1 cup/200 g sugar
1⁄2 cup/120 ml corn syrup
1⁄4 cup/60 ml water
2 vanilla beans, scraped and seeded or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
1⁄2 tsp salt

1 Put the ice in a medium bowl and set aside.

2 Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and set aside.

3 Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 235°F/114°C on a candy thermometer, about 6 minutes.

4 Begin whipping the egg whites on low speed for about 1 minute, just until they are a little frothy. Continue cooking the sugar syrup until it reaches 245°F/118°C. (If your temperature goes higher, shock the syrup by setting the pan in the bowl of ice.) Pour a splash of the syrup into the egg whites, aiming for the space between the rim of the bowl and the whisk attachment. Continue whisking as you slowly add the rest of the hot sugar syrup. Increase the mixer speed to medium and whip until the nougat reaches a full, frothy foam, about 2 minutes.

5 Add the vanilla seeds and salt to the nougat. Keep whipping until it forms stiff peaks, about 3 minutes more. Allow to cool in the bowl. Once it is at room temperature, it’s ready to use in candy-bar production.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. (If frozen, thaw an hour in the refrigerator before using.)

Basic-Batch Caramel

Makes about 1 1/2 cups (230 g)
Time needed: 20 min

Chocolate and caramel pair lusciously in many classic candy bars. This versatile caramel’s texture is strong enough to structure a candy bar, yet soft enough to ooze out as you eat it. Its luxurious flavor affects everything around it. While some candy recipes suggest melting down commercial caramels as a time-saver, we strongly advise against it for flavor reasons.

3 cups/355 g ice
1 cup/200 g sugar
1⁄4 cup/60 ml water
2 tbsp corn syrup
1⁄2 cup/120 ml heavy cream
1⁄4 cup/55 g butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1⁄2 tsp salt

1 Put the ice in a large bowl and set aside.

2 Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Stir the mixture until it resembles wet beach sand. Use a moist paper towel to wipe out any sugar that clings to the inside of the pan. (This keeps the crystals from getting into your syrup, which will make it gritty rather than smooth.) Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil without stirring. Add the corn syrup and cook for about 8 minutes, or until it first browns around the edges and then turns entirely the color of honey. When the mixture reaches about 310°F/154°C on a candy thermometer, carefully place the pan in the bowl of ice for a few seconds to stop the caramel from cooking.

3 Remove the caramel from the ice but let it cool for another 2 minutes, then add the cream, butter, vanilla, and salt, and stir with a wooden spoon. (Be careful! The still-hot syrup sizzles!) If some of the caramel has hardened on the bottom of the pan, return the pan to the stove and melt the bits into the mixture over low heat. Let the sauce cool a little more, then refrigerate for about 1 hour before using in candy-bar production.

Store in a covered bowl or an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for 2 months.

Conquer Your Fear of Caramel

Caramel, bubbling furiously at high heat in an open pan, scares people. Yet the fact is that while most of us are comfortable turning an oven to 350°F/180°C, caramel cooks at a lower range: between 310 and 340°F/155 and 170°C. Given a few precautions on the part of the cook, caramel is actually wonderfully predictable, versatile, and safe to make.

Technically, when sugar and water boil together, the sugar crystals melt and bind with the water molecules to become a syrup, the syrup thickens, the water evaporates, and the remainder becomes the bittersweet amber concoction we know as caramel. In many of our candy-bar recipes, we rely on versions of this luscious sweet, so here are a few tips to help you past its sticky issues.

• Have a bowl of ice nearby. This serves two purposes: It provides an ice bath to help stop the caramel from cooking once it’s done, and if you accidentally splash caramel on your skin, rubbing it with ice will sooth the burn.

• Wear latex gloves. Most pastry chefs don gloves to work with caramel. Look for the kind medical technicians wear, which are easy to find in drugstores. They’re an extra layer of protection for your hands.

• Keep your movements to a minimum. No running around the kitchen with a pot of hot caramel! Have everything you need handy: ice bath, thermometer, nonstick spatula or wooden spoon, butter, cream, salt. Arrange these near the stovetop where you’re cooking to minimize the risk of spills.

Tempered Milk Chocolate

Makes 2 2/3 cups (800 G)
Time needed 20 min

Milk chocolate’s flavor, while less powerful than that of dark chocolate, is just as precious. Choose a premium brand with 38 to 50 percent cacao.

3 cups/355 g ice
3 cups/465 g chopped high-quality milk chocolate

1 Put the ice in a large bowl and set aside.

2 Reserve a handful of the chopped chocolate, and melt the rest gently in a stainless-steel bowl set over simmering water until it reaches 115°F/45°C on a candy thermometer. Remove the bowl from the heat. Wipe the bottom of the bowl with a dry cloth to prevent water from splashing onto the work surface.

3 Sprinkle the reserved chocolate into the melted chocolate and stir. Cool the chocolate by placing over the bowl of ice for a few seconds at a time, removing it, stirring until smooth, and repeating until the temperature drops to 82°F/31°C.

4 Heat the chocolate again by placing the chocolate bowl back over the simmering water for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time. Once its temperature rises to 89°F/34°C, the chocolate is ready to use in candy-bar production.

Purchase: Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections.

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  • MelodyJ April 24, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I love chocolate! This seems look a fun book.


  • slampkin718 April 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    What a wonderful cookbook! I loved Chick-O-Sticks as a kid (are they still around?). I know they have peanut butter and coconut in them but I have never tried to make them. Thank you for including the section about caramel in the post – I have always been nervous about making homemade caramel and these tips are helpful.


  • Bradley Johnson April 26, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Am a good cook but goes as far as cooking the normal meals and when it comes to pastry am not good in it because I have never tried my hand in it. The only thing am good at in pastry is preparing pancakes and that is a simple task. However I love chocolate and would be the proudest person if I knew how to prepare some and this book definitely would be a great resource for me. Is there an e-book for it that can be downloaded because there are people like me who are not eligible to win and the simplest way to have it is through electronic means.


  • Deb April 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    My favorite bar is pretty simple – Dove Dark Chocolate. About 4 years ago, I was going through a very sad and stressful time and used chocolate as a distraction. I was determined to sample a lot of different dark chocolate bars and candies to find the best. Dove won, both for the taste and the affordable price. I love Godiva Dark Chocolate with Raspberry filing too, but it's hard to spend $4 on one candy bar.

    This book looks amazing. I would love to experiment with some homemade goodies!


  • Laura April 27, 2013 at 8:56 am

    frozen bite-sized Three Musketeers — major childhood flashback. Haven't had one since 1972 because I'm afraid it would kill the dream.


  • Shelby April 30, 2013 at 11:17 am

    When I was a young girl walking home from school with my friends and my brothers, we would walk right past this great little candy store called Glen's they had the best candy (penny candy, anyone remember those prices!?!). We would find all sorts of great treats Chick O' Sticks, the 'real' Charms suckers with all those great flavorful swirls of delicious sweetness, the 'real' Jolly Ranchers long thin bars with flavors of cherry, greenapple and watermelon. One of my very favorites however, was a confectionary delight with a creamy chocolate covering with a decadent cherry center with real cherry bits so rich; you needed a glass of milk to cut through all the wonderful richness of that wonderful candy concoction. I can't remember the name of that lovely treat; but would give my eye teeth for just one more! Your cookbook looks like it would be fun and extremely helpful to amateur candy makers like me, maybe I could even try and mimic that childhood goodie and bring back some wonderful memories!


  • @wirechairs May 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    …and the lucky randomly selected winner is: Bradley! Thanks to all for the great comments.


  • ginny June 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Food is comfort but candy, especially home made, is like a big hug! You just love it. The recipes look amazing and worth the extra effort. Yum!


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