Some may think of Jan. 1 as the start of a new year, but for those of us with a sweet tooth, it is more notable as the midpoint of the sweet season.
The season starts with Halloween candy, Thanksgiving pies and Christmas and Hanukkah sweets, then hits another sugar high with Mardi Gras king cakes and Valentine’s Day chocolates.
Galvestonian Anita Katz Schuler is a fan of the sweet season, and she and her husband, David Schuler, celebrate it with friends at an annual event they call Candy Night.
“I used to make candy and deliver plates of it to friends,” she said. “At some point, we decided it would be more fun to just put the candy out at our house and have everyone come over to get it.”
For Candy Night, Schuler makes up to 30 kinds of candy. Traditional favorites like toffee, fudge and turtles are always in the mix, along with candied nuts, bark and hard candy, all of it made by hand.
“It’s all fresh made,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to make it.”
Schuler’s candy-making skills began with a gift of pecans.
“My brother brought me two big shopping bags of pecans, and I was trying to figure out what to do with them,” she said.
By the time she had used up the pecans, she had developed some enthusiastic fans. Each year since, more people look forward to her homemade sweets.
“Sometimes I’ll walk into a place and someone says, ‘Hey, it’s the candy lady,’ because they remember the fudge or toffee or whatever their favorite was,” she said.
For both Schulers, toffee is the hands-down favorite.
“Toffee is definitely the No. 1 request,” Schuler said. “It’s so good that I usually hold off on making it until right before Candy Night, because otherwise I’ll eat a lot of it myself.”
Schuler recommends using good-quality ingredients for the best results.
“I usually use Ghirardelli chocolate,” she said. “It’s velvety and easy to work with.”
Schuler said she doesn’t see a need for specialized equipment.
“A digital thermometer is great to have, but other than that, I just use the basics,” she said.
Schuler said many of her recipes were handed down from family members who also didn’t see the need for fancy tools.
Perhaps her most important kitchen tool is realistic expectations.
“Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to make certain candies come out right,” she said. “I haven’t made divinity in ages — because it’s usually too damp here.”
David Schuler said that his wife is such an avid candy maker that she was even turning out sweets in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
“The Red Cross would be driving through the neighborhood with meals to distribute, but instead Anita would go out and hand them a plate of homemade candy,” he said with a smile.
With almost a decade of Candy Night parties behind her and a total of hundreds of pounds of candy crafted, Schuler started a business, Anita’s Handmade Sweets and Confections.
“I’m starting to take orders for cakes and cookies as well as candy,” she said.
At a glance
WHAT: Anita’s Handmade Sweets and Confections
11⁄3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2⁄3 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11⁄3 cups miniature marshmallows
2 whole reduced-fat graham crackers, broken into bite-size pieces
Line an 8-inch square pan with foil and coat with cooking spray; set aside.
In a small heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate chips and milk. Stir until smooth.
Remove the mixture from heat; cool for 2 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Fold in marshmallows and graham crackers.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for one hour or until firm.
Using foil, lift fudge out of pan. Discard foil. Cut into 48 pieces.
(SOURCE: Recipe provided by Anita Katz Schuler)