Christmas Candy 2020

When someone titles a post with 2020, you know the theme is going to be all about how things are different in 2020 than in any other year most of us have lived so far.

Most years, my mom, two sisters and I get together to make Christmas candy the weekend of Thanksgiving. My mom dubbed us “4Chocolate”. Whoever hosts has their place nearly bursting at the seams with four families sharing one space. Our children help with some of the candy acting as chocolate assistants when they are feeling like it Otherwise, the spouses take all the kids to the park or out on adventures while the candy making goes full force in the kitchen (and dining room, and garage, and living room). Basically, every doorknob, light switch, and half the walls end up covered in chocolate. Hosting is a mixed bag for sure!

This year we had to do things differently. Of course we did. It’s 2020. Having four families sharing a space for several days during a pandemic just wasn’t going to work for any of us. Thankfully, we are used to adapting. We cut down the candy list and divided it into manageable pieces for each of us to work on in our own homes. We scheduled a meetup day, without our littles, to swap candy and planned to wear our masks to make 1 thing together. We did manage the swap, although one of us had to miss because a child was in quarantine due to a positive contact at school. Not ideal, but still keeping the tradition alive.

It’s all about flexibility and perseverance, right?!

Making chocolates, candies, and cookies for the holidays is a tradition that goes back generations in my family. One of my grandmothers made the most scrumptious sugar cookies with buttercream frosting, and the other made candies like toffee, fudge, and divinity.

My mom embraced those traditions when she started her own family. She continued to make those time-honored confections and built on that legacy with her ideas and recipes. From when I was very little, I remember my mom getting together with her close friend, Linda, to make molded chocolate cherries, raspberry bonbons, and so many varieties of fudge and other candy that we had trays for holiday parties and evenings at home. I never knew any mom who could put out a holiday spread as beautiful and delicious as my mom. As I grew older and could help more, my sisters and I worked with my mom. It always made the season feel extra special.

Once I’d gone off to college, my sisters and I began to add our own candy ideas to the ever-growing list. Making the holiday candies became a tradition the four of us did together every year without fail. The four of us haven’t lived in the same town (or state even) for two decades, yet getting together to continue this tradition is always a priority for all of us. It is not always easy, as this year proves, but we have continued to find ways to make it work. I remember years when one of us was pregnant, or nursing, or injured, or struggling with physical limitations. In fact, it seems like every year, there is something! As a family team, we make the necessary adjustments, strive to be flexible, and just get it done.

With four clever cooks in the kitchen, we have continued to refine our recipes and candy list each year. About a third of our confections remain the time-honored recipes from our mom and grandmothers, while the others have been curated over the years by the four of us. From making and learning in our kitchens, to gaining ideas and techniques from classes and the internet, we have reached a level of candy making that is both professional looking and indulgent. Some of our most valuable learning experiences were at the hands of professional chocolatiers. We took some classes from a master chocolatier at the KC Culinary Center several years ago and learned about tempering fine chocolate, making our own caramel, and decorating with colored cocoa butter and cocoa butter transfer sheets. This really “upped” our game. In recent years, some of us have even traveled to Dallas, TX to take classes from Kate Weiser.

Since the candy is divided up between the four families and given to teachers, coworkers, neighbors, and taken to holiday gatherings, we make quite a lot. We have estimated that we typically make an average of over 5,000 pieces of candy. I think this is pretty incredible, and I totally think Food Network should run a series called “Extreme Family Kitchen Traditions.” If they go with this idea, I hope they consider featuring us.

With four of us working together, I suppose it makes sense that we fall into some skill roles and routines. I often man the tempering machine, while my older sister works the airbrush and design. My mom and younger sister manage the majority of the candy fillings. We also do a few confections before we even meet most years; just so we are not too overwhelmed the weekend we can get together. My mom is the toffee master, I take care of caramel turtles and cherry mice, while my older sister makes a mean cherry fudge and peanut butter ball. My littler sister always makes one ganache as well as a strawberry candy that only she can seem to pull off.

This year, I am especially thankful that my children (the next generation of makers!) are getting old enough to be interested in what we make and how to make it. Although I make candies on my own all the time, I missed the camaraderie, Christmas music, and family noise that usually accompanies Christmas candy making. My kids came through for me though. Both helped with some of the candies and treats that I was designated to make this year. I could not have made the army of chocolate mice without my daughter’s help. My son also pulled some assists, making party crackers and sprinkling coconut and salt on the caramels after I hand-dipped them. It fills my heart to know that my children appreciate and want to participate in this family tradition. No matter what a year may look like, I know that my family will always find a way to connect with each other through our candy making.

Best wishes to your and yours for a peaceful holiday season and a brilliant 2021.

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