Labun Jordan: Making Holiday Candy

Dec 18, 2013

My plan for making candy as holiday gifts this year got started at a skiing workshop, where I overheard a conversation between two neighbors about the thank you note one had sent the other after a dinner party. The note writer had illustrated the card herself. When the recipient said it was more than she’d expected, the first woman countered that it was actually very indulgent - because all the time she worked on the card she was daydreaming about how much she’d enjoyed the dinner.

Now, that seemed like a nice strategy for getting the most enjoyment out of a single event. I decided I’d apply the same theory to the holidays - I’d throw myself into the time consuming task of making candies for gifts and I would take time during the process to reflect on past holiday pleasures.

I put this plan into action right after Thanksgiving. I started with a shopping trip for candy making supplies, purchased on my way to build gingerbread houses with my family. I thought the gingerbread houses might be a good kick off to creating new holiday cheer while being nostalgic about past holiday cheer, but gingerbread house making doesn’t work that way. It’s stressful. Gingerbread breaks, frosting doesn’t set, little candies roll away, profanity is used and I can’t believe how many people do these projects with children around.

I did use my time waiting for frosting to dry to make a beer reduction for a caramel recipe, filling my parents’ home with the smell of boiled beer for the holidays and getting a head start on my candy project.

Back in my own kitchen, I read that good candy making begins with a tidy workspace. So I enlisted my boyfriend to help. I started the recipes while he yanked flammable items off the stove and put up barriers between onions chopped for dinner and chocolate chopped for truffles.

I quickly learned that candy making, like gingerbread house making, is not conducive to peaceful reflection. Candy making is full of very specific instructions and you need to follow them. If you stop to daydream about nice holiday memories, the sugar gets burned, or the caramels get poured before they’re ready, or the chocolate isn’t tempered correctly and makes an ugly, streaked coating for your previously beautiful candy bars.

I finally found time to reflect while kneading a blob of chocolate for a recipe-mandated fifteen minutes. My mind immediately latched onto all the other things on my to do list that were waiting for me to step away from the kitchen.

So, I started baking cookies.

If I bake cookies, I can call up my friends and say “I’m having a little party, I’ve got some nice browned butter pecan cookies and mulled cider and why don’t you drop by and help me make some toffee? It’ll be fun.”

And voila, it’s a holiday event, one I’ll look back on fondly as I write my thank you cards to everyone who helped out.