SUSIE NORRIS and SUSAN HEEGER:
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 Hersheys, Mars, and Cadbury. Each person had specific passions for certain bars—Snickers or Baby Ruths, Butterfingers or Milky Ways. They had strict preferences for dark or milk chocolate, mint, caramel, or peanut butter as companion flavors, as well as fixed beliefs as to the permissible number of different elements in a bar. Some liked them simple, smooth; others, complex and crunchy. Many of these people were also accomplished cooks, comfortably 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. We are, after all, living in a wonderful moment for hand-crafted food, with home cooks everywhere re-discovering the pleasures of canning and jarring tomatoes and peppers, putting up jam, making pickles, and baking bread, hand-pies, crackers. Inventive chefs are pushing the frontiers of contemporary cuisine with unexpected pairings of food textures and flavors that are broadening our palates to new worlds of possibility. And we are finding the fresh potential for building community through shared culinary passions—via old-fashioned recipe-swapping, cooking together with friends, coming together over inspired, home-cooked food.
In the wake of that dinner party, Susie very quickly came up with an artisanal version of our favorite chocolate-dipped, caramel-nougat-peanut bar and then a number of other variations on bars we have eaten and loved since childhood. The two of us began cooking like mad, boiling caramel, whipping up nougat and fondant, roasting nuts, tempering great vats of dark and milk chocolate. As we worked, layering these elements into bars that were enthusiastically received by other friends, and our husbands and children, we 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.
Soft Chocolate Nougat
From: Hand-Crafted Candy Bars
Makes about 4 cups (795 G)
Time needed: 20 min
3 cups/355 g ice
3 egg whites
3⁄4 cup/150 g sugar
1⁄2 cup/120 ml corn syrup
1⁄4 cup/60 ml water
1⁄2 cup/80 g melted high-quality dark chocolate
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1⁄2 tsp salt
1. Put the ice in a medium bowl and set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and set aside.
3. Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 225°F/110°C on a candy thermometer.
4. Begin whipping the egg whites on low speed. 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 high and whip until the nougat reaches a full, frothy foam, about 2 minutes.
5. Allow the nougat to cool for about 20 minutes. (It should be close to room temperature and the bottom of the mixing bowl should no longer feel hot.) Turn the mixer on again and add the melted chocolate, butter, vanilla, and salt. Continue mixing until smooth. Use a big nonstick spatula or wooden spoon to scoop the nougat onto the prepared baking sheet. Allow the nougat to come to room temperature before using in candy-bar production.
***Susie Norris is an author, artisan chocolatier, pastry chef, and culinary school instructor. Her award-winning chocolate business, Happy Chocolates, has been featured on Food Network and in More magazine. She recently taught baking and pastry arts at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and Sur La Table in Los Angeles. Her favorite commercial candy bars are Snickers and Twix. Susan Heeger is a longtime book, magazine, and newspaper feature writer with a specialty in food, garden, design, home, and lifestyle stories. She co-authored From Seed to Skillet, an edible gardening primer and cookbook (also published by Chronicle Books), and is a contributing editor for Garden Design magazine. Her favorite commercial candy bars are Milky Way and Snickers.