It's that time of year again, when many of us trek to the nearest store and buy embarrassingly large quantities of candy. For all those little kids who will be knocking on the door on Halloween night. Or teenagers trolling for a sugar rush, or maybe so we can secretly eat half of the stuff ourselves and blame it on the pixies and zombies and superheroes.
While it's admittedly a lot easier to load the back seat with bag after bag produced by the giant factories of Mars and Hershey's and Cadbury's, maybe try making some of this stuff yourself. Can you hand it out to strangers? No, but your friends and your own kids might really like it — and you can get your own sugar buzz from all that tasting, minus all those chemicals. Here are five particularly easy recipes.
Making your own marshmallows is a lot easier than it may sound. If you have a KitchenAid mixer and a lot of eggs and sugar, you're pretty much good to go. Boil some sugar, whip some egg whites, spread the mixture and let it set. This SmittenKitchen recipe is a very good one — be sure to check out the final image. The great thing about homemade marshmallows is that there's so much you can do with them — add coloring or flavors, cut them into giant squares exactly the size of your favorite Ritter bar or use your little star-shaped cookie cutters so they look damn adorable dropped into a bowl of hot chocolate. Or just build a fire.
Berkeley-based pastry chef Alice Medrich writes a lot of books, about cookies, about chocolate, about all the exquisite desserts she's made over the years. Her recipes are fantastic, and she's particularly good on anything having to do with chocolate. Dipping fruit in chocolate is a very easy experiment — and a lot of fun for grownups and kids. You can use Mexican or French chocolate, 70% or milk, very dark chocolate or even white chocolate, or a combination. Once you've got a big bowl of melted Valrhona, you can also dip pretty much anything you want in it. Make waffles or crepes for dinner and dip them into the bowl while you drop in pieces of fruit and then park them on parchment paper. Use whatever's in season: If not strawberries, then apples or Asian pears, dried fruit (apricots and candied citrus are great), or even pieces of toast.
Amazing what you can do by just boiling sugar. Lollipops are just hardened boiled sugar, with pretty colors and flavors stirred in. Here's a basic fun recipe from Food52, done in the key of sour apple. You can tailor your candy to your kids, your pantry, even match the colors in your kitchen or your Halloween costume. Add fancy sticks, or use whatever's around, buy adorable lollipop molds from Surfas or just pour the sugar out on a parchment-lined tray. Look ma, no long catalog of chemicals. Of course, if you're truly lazy — or still in middle school — you can just melt your favorite rainbow hard candy around a popsicle stick.
If you've never made chocolate truffles, Halloween is as good an excuse as any. Very, very simple and utterly adaptable. Just make ganache (half broken chocolate, half hot cream), chill it till it's firm, form it into little balls, dust with cocoa or anything else you like. Ta-da. One caveat: Use rubber gloves, unless you really like playing with tiny melon ballers. Here's Mark Bittman's fine recipe, but you don't even really need a recipe for this. Add some flavoring by steeping stuff in the cream, roll the truffles in orange zest or nuts or coconut or whatever, dip them in the chocolate you've melted for the strawberries. Great in cute little bags for any holiday. (Remember this.)
Making your own caramel is another of those things that sounds hard until you try it, at which point you'll never buy a jar of caramel sauce ever again. There are many recipes for caramel sauce (add Armagnac; steep the cream with Sichuan peppercorns; add fish sauce instead of sea salt), which you can tweak endlessly. Get some good, crisp apples, as tart as you can stand them, to balance the caramel (the u-picks at Oak Glen are still open), and skewer them with chopsticks, actual sticks — this Martha Stewart recipe is predictably cute — even old silverware. Add nuts, candied ginger, whatever. Eat them on the porch as the kids come and go.