I have many fond memories of making Christmas candy with mom when I was a child. We’d block out a whole day and make all kinds of goodies — from the very simple to the (perhaps overly) ambitious. Sometimes our fudge didn’t set, or the toffee didn’t quite work out the way it should have, but the results were mostly delicious, and we had candy to share with our neighbors, teachers and friends. Plus, it was a great bonding experience.
Now that my daughter is getting old enough, I’m eager to share the candy-making experience with her, too. Of course, since she’s just about to turn 3, this requires a healthy dose of humility and patience. I have to leave the more complicated recipes for a time when she’s not around to “help” — yes, I have learned this through trial and error — but she’s now at an age where she loves helping in the kitchen, and simple candy projects are fun for both of us.
This year, we made Hello Dollies together, from one of my grandmother’s old recipes. It’s simple but tasty, and it requires fun steps like grinding up graham crackers, sprinkling chocolate chips and drizzling sweetened condensed milk.
It comes together in very little time, and then, after a little sampling of the chocolate and butterscotch chips, slides into the oven to bake while you go play. We give it two thumbs up!
My tips for candy-making with your littles:
- Pick something age-appropriate. If it requires a candy thermometer and a vigilant eye, and you have a 2-year-old… just don’t.
- Involve the kids as much as you can. Sure, you could sprinkle those graham crackers more evenly, but it’s so much fun for small children to do it themselves. Toddlers can mix and pour like nobody’s business. Let older kids measure ingredients and read the recipe out to you, too.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Getting kids involved means it’s going to get a little messy, and things might not turn out perfectly. But it’s absolutely priceless for your child to be able to tell his teacher that he helped make the (perhaps imperfect) candy you’re giving her as a holiday gift. People understand… and even ugly candy is still delicious.
- Have fun! Worry about cleaning up later (and involve the kids in that, too, if you can).
Here’s my Grandmommy’s recipe for Hello Dollies, with a few of my own modifications. It’s a very easy recipe, and it works great as a first candy-making experience. Happy holidays!
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup pecan pieces
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the bottom of a 9×9 or similar size baking pan. Set it aside to cool slightly while you crush the graham crackers in a food processor (let your child push the button!), or, if you don’t have a food processor, put the graham crackers in a well-sealed plastic bag and break out the mallet (fun times!).
Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the butter evenly (or, as evenly as little hands can get them), but don’t stir — just let the crumbs soak up the butter. Next, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the graham cracker crumbs. Follow with the butterscotch chips, and then the pecan pieces. Finally, drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the top of it all (for littler kids, do the first half of the can and then let them try their hand at it once it’s a little less full).
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown on top. Remove and cool on a wire rack until room temperature and very well set (the waiting is the hardest part!). Once the bars are thoroughly cool, cut them into bite-sized pieces with a sharp knife and serve — or sample a few and pack them into gift tins for all of your favorite people. Enjoy!
Lauren Walz is a freelance writer and editor and mama to a 2-year-old girl. While she’s quick to brag about being a fifth-generation Texan, Lauren moved to Northern California in 2004 after graduating from UT Law and lived in the Silicon Valley area until last spring, when she and her family were drawn back to Austin. Lauren is busy getting re-acquainted with her old stomping grounds and is astonished by how the food and wine scene has changed in Austin in the past 8 years. Lauren also blogs about cooking and parenthood on gourmetveggiemama.com.