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Archive for Candy

FOOD HOLIDAY: Make Peanut Clusters For National Peanut Cluster Day

Today is National Peanut Cluster Day.

There is no documentation on the first appearance of the peanut cluster, but we know a few things:

  • After some 3300 years as a beverage, the first solid chocolate began to appear in Europe around 1840.
  • Peanuts, which originated in South America, were brought to West Africa by Portuguese and Spanish traders. Peanuts became a staple crop for West Africans, and came to the Southern U.S. with the slave trade around the late 1600s.
  • The first pressed chocolate tablets, pastilles and figures were produced in Belgium. The chocolate was also used by confectioners to enrobe nuts and fruits. See our history of chocolate timeline.

    Easy homemade peanut clusters. Photo

  • We can deduce that sometime after that, American confectioners began to make similar confections, including enrobed peanut clusters. Previously peanut clusters without a chocolate coating were held together with caramel or honey.
  • Jumping ahead to the 1930s, American inventor Elmo Lanzi patented a Chocolate Peanut Cluster Dipping Machine, automating the slow process of hand-enrobing. “Think of turning out 450 pounds of luscious, attractive Chocolate Peanut Clusters,” the advertisement trumpets.
  • One confectioner substituted pecans for peanuts in a caramel-nut confection, and added four pecan halves as “feet” to the bottom of the oval-shaped candy. These became known as “turtles.”

    We chopped some caramels into our nut
    clusters. Photo courtesy Hammonds



    This recipe was adapted from one submitted to Taste Of Home by Joy Dulaney of Highland Village, Texas. The total prep time is less than 30 minutes.

    The original recipe called for milk chocolate confectionary coating.* You’ll get much better flavor from using a quality chocolate couverture (we used Guittard). You can also use real chocolate chips.

    You can use dark, milk or white chocolate, or split the recipe in half or thirds and make some of each.

    The recipe also uses toffee bits, an easier recipe than making caramel peanut clusters. However, if you have caramels on hand, you can chop up an equivalent amount to substitute for the toffee bits. We took that route, and preferred the chewiness of the caramel.



  • 1-1/2 pounds quality chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 jar (16 ounces) dry roasted peanuts
  • 8 ounces toffee bits or chopped caramels

    1. MELT chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave-safe dish. Stir until smooth.

    2. STIR in peanuts and toffee bits. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper-lined baking sheets. Let stand until set.

    3. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 5 dozen clusters.

    You can substitute the toffee/caramel bits for more nutritious inclusions, or divide the eight ounces into equal portions of toffee/caramel and the following::

  • Dried fruit: Add raisins, dried cherries, blueberries or other favorite. We particularly enjoyed diced dried apricots.
  • Nuts: Add another type of nut, such as a peanut-almond mix. Or, if you don’t crave peanuts, substitute them completely.
  • Seeds: Seeds are as nutritious as nuts; some varieties even more so. Toss in some flax seeds, pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) or sesame seeds.
  • Spices: Make Mexican chocolate peanut clusters by adding a teaspoon of cinnamon and some chili heat.


    *Confectionary coating, also called compound coating and decorator’s chocolate, is a chocolate-type product that substitutes vegetable oil for all or part of the cocoa butter. Along with sugar and cocoa powder, traditional chocolate production techniques are used to create a less expensive coating that does not require tempering, melts easily and hardens quickly. In milk chocolate-flavored coatings, whey powders, whey derivatives and dairy blends can be used instead of powdered milk. Products made with confectionary coating must be designated “chocolate-flavored,” to indicate that they are not “real” chocolate.



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Gumdrop Day

    Mmm, gumdrops. Photo courtesy Farley’s &


    It’s National Gumdrop Day.

    Gumdrops are a chewy, brightly-colored, fruit-flavored confection, shaped like a truncated cone and coated in granulated sugar. When they are flavored with spices (allspice, cinnamon, clove, licorice, peppermint and wintergreen, for example) they’re called spice drops.

    Gumdrops are believed to be an American invention, but the date and the inventor are lost to history (along with the origin of the phrase, “goody goody gumdrops.” The earliest known printed reference is advertisement from The Illinois State Chronicle in 1859, offering “Fresh GumDrops, assorted flavor wholesale or retail.” Invention can predate reference by decades (or much longer—the earlier in history and the less surviving the printed material, it can be hundreds of years earlier).

    The Candy Land board game, invented in 1945, features both a Gumdrop Pass and a Gumdrop Mountain as enticing topography. In the U.K. the drops are called American hard gum candy.

    Gumdrops are progenitors of the pectin- or gelatin-based group of candies that includes Dots, jelly beans, Jujubes and gummy candies. Although gumdrops and their siblings, spearmint leaves and orange slices, have fallen out of fashion in favor of of gummy candies, they are still popular with bakers (for garnishing cakes and cupcakes) and crafters. Where would gingerbread houses be without that gumdrop decor?

    We think it’s time to get gummy with it, gumdrop-style. So track down some gumdrops and celebrate National Gumdrop Day. You may just find yourself asking, “Why don’t I enjoy these more often?”

    If you’re ambitious, use them to make flower cupcakes.

    *Outside the U.S., according to Wikipedia, the candy is known as American hard gums.



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Hard Candy Day

    December 19th is National Hard Candy Day.

    We’ve all had hard candy of some type: butterscotch, horehound drops, lemon drops, lollipops, mints, root beer barrels, sour balls and fruit flavors galore.

    Hard candy begins by boiling sugar and water, then adding flavors and colors. As the syrup boils, water evaporates and the sugar concentration increases.

    Who invented hard candy?


    Cave men ate honey from bee hives. Ancient Arabs, Chinese and Egyptians rolled fruits and nuts in honey. That was it for many centuries.


    Head to the supermarket or candy store and pick up some hard candies. Photo courtesy


    In the Middle Ages, merchants brought sugar back from the Indian subcontinent, where sugar cane originated. But it was very costly. Whether for tea, baked goods or confections, sugar was a treat for the wealthy. Honey was the sweetener available to those of lesser means.

    By the 17th century there were many more sugar mills, and sugar became more affordable to the middle class. Confectioners began to express their creativity, resulting in the large selection of hard candy we have today.

    With the Industrial Revolution (1750 to 1850), candy-making developed into an industry and hard candies became accessible to everyone. Hard candy on a stick followed: The word “lollipop” (originally spelled lollypop) first appeared in print in 1784.

    Here’s more about the manufacture of hard candy. Read it as you enjoy a piece.

    Pick up a bag or two at the supermarket, or head to the candy store to customize a nostalgic selection.
    Find our favorite candies in THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet Candy Section.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Candy Sampler

    Still looking for holiday gifts? Candy is typically a safe bet: If the recipient doesn’t want to eat it all, he or she can serve it to guests.

    We like this charming candy globe from Williams-Sonoma:

    The six-inch-diameter, reusable papier-mâché globe is filled with 10.9 ounces of classic holiday favorites: a milk-chocolate Santa, cinnamon gummy Santas, red-and-white peppermint twists and a medley of sweet jelly beans and sour gummy stars.

    The treats are beloved by kids and adults alike.

    If you want to create your own nostalgic candy gift, look for a papier-mâché box or other reusable packaging and head to the candy store to make your selection.


    A charming reusable container filled with sure-to-disappear-quickly candies. Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.




    GIFT: Chocolate Crisis Center

    The Chocolate Crisis Center helps you cope
    with delicious chocolate-covered treats.
    Photo courtesy Chocolate Crisis Center.


    A chocolate crisis, according to the Chocolate Crisis Center, is defined as “an emotionally stressful situation caused by an insufficient supply of premium quality chocolate.”

    What are those emotionally stressful situations? The holiday season: shopping, decorating, entertaining, dieting (yeah, sure). It all adds up to seasonal insanity, says the Chocolate Crisis Center.

    Their solution: a variety of chocolate candy pills that “will give you the fortitude to survive the season.”

    Or the office. Or the kids. Or anything, one chocolate bite at a time.

    The Chocolate Crisis Center, which is not a government agency but a Denver-based producer of confections, packages confections in classic pill bottles and First Aid kits: Caramels, truffles, nuts and fruits are enrobed in rich Belgian dark or milk chocolate.

    These delicious confections are then topped with cocoas, spices and fruit essences for a wide range of delectable taste surprises—all with a humorous “First Aid” twist.



    Everything we tried was delicious. Individual bottles, called Daily Doses, are delightful stocking stuffers or party favors.

    Various kits are larger gifts. There are Calamity Kits, Major Crisis Kits, a Minor Crisis Kit and a Shock Treatment Kit, some assembled from your choice of the Daily Dose candies:

  • Chocolate Sea Salt Caramelita (sea salt caramel enrobed in dark chocolate)
  • Coffee Toffee Crunch (roasted espresso beans and toffee)
  • Dark Chocolate Almond Zen (chocolate covered almonds)
  • Milk Chocolate Cherry Torte (chocolate covered dried cherries)
  • Tiramisu Cocoa Caramels (tiramisu-flavored caramels enrobed in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa)
  • Triple Chocolate Truffle (truffle center enrobed in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa)

    A reusable first aid kit is filled with bottles of chocolate “pills.” Photo courtesy Chocolate Crisis Center.


    There’s more, including Holiday Blues Peppermint Creams, a large blue bottle of jumbo “pills” the size of a nickel, a gentle peppermint coating over a soft, green minty center. The mint is very delicate—there’s no throat-cooling blast of peppermint oil. Seven big “pills” per serving is more than most people need to be cured.

    Order online at or phone 1.800.329.6950.



    HALLOWEEN: Haunted Fruit Salad With Ghost Peeps

    Are you scared into eating your fruit? Photo
    courtesy PEEPS.


    This dessert is so easy to make, it’s spooky.

    Just top fruit salad with vanilla yogurt or plain yogurt (we use Greek yogurt slightly sweetened with a no-cal sweetener).

    Then, insert Ghost Marshmallow Peeps into the the topping. The dessert is officially haunted!

    You can also use Ghost Peeps to make ghost pops, by inserting a lollipop stick or a Pocky chocolate-covered biscuit stick.

    Or use the marshmallow spooks as cupcake toppers.

    You can also “kill the ghost” in a cup of hot chocolate.


    Share your favorite way to use Ghost Peeps!



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Peanut Brittle

    Americans have grown accustomed to a sweet dessert after dinner, or a baked treat as a snack with a cup of coffee.

    Instead, consider a couple of pieces of peanut brittle. They deliver sweetness, satisfying crunch and protein-packed peanuts. This recipe has a hint of coffee to complement your cup of joe.

    The prep time is 20 minutes, cook time 15 minutes, for a yield of ten 1/4-cup servings. And for those who don’t like corn syrup: This peanut brittle recipe is made without corn syrup.

    Switch It Up

  • You can make chocolate brittle by replacing the coffee with 2 tablespoons of baking cocoa.
  • You can substitute another nut to make almond brittle, macadamia brittle, pecan brittle, pistachio brittle or walnut brittle.
  • After you taste the first batch, you can adjust the sweetness the next time. (We typically use less sugar.)
    You can also make batches as hostess/host gifts.


    It’s easy to make your own peanut brittle. Recipe and photo courtesy Nescafé.

    If you don’t want to make your own, head over to, where Grandma’s secret recipe is made into cashew brittle, peanut brittle and pecan brittle, sold in bags and tins for gifts and party favors.



  • Wax paper or parchment paper
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup dry roasted peanuts or other nuts

    1. PREPARE. Line a large baking sheet or tray with wax paper; spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

    2. COMBINE. Mix the coffee granules, baking soda and salt in small bowl; set aside. Combine sugar, water and cream of tartar in medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Stir with wooden spoon over low heat until sugar is dissolved, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush if needed.

    3. BOIL. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes or until the mixture is a light brown color. Remove from heat; add butter and coffee mixture (mixture will foam) and stir quickly to combine.

    4. POUR & COOL. Pour mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Tilt the sheet to spread the mixture evenly (it should spread to roughly 12 x 9-inches in diameter). Quickly sprinkle with peanuts. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

    5. CRACK. Break the brittle into pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

    Find more of our favorite candy products and recipes.



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Gummy Worms Day

    Cherry Cola Cupcake, with cherry and cola
    gummy candies by Goody Good Stuff. Photo
    © all rights reserved, courtesy Hey Little
    , a cupcake specialty shop in
    Manchester, England.


    Today is National Gummy Worms Day. But not everybody can enjoy a juicy gummy worm.

    That’s because many gummy candies are made with gelatin, an animal product that’s neither kosher nor vegetarian/vegan.

    The traditional gummy candy is made with sugar, glucose syrup (more sugar), starch, flavoring, food color, citric acid and gelatin.

    Gummy History

    The first gummy candies, Gummi Bears, were produced in 1922 by Haribo, a Bonn, Germany, confectioner. Founder Hans Riegel invented the Dancing Bear, a fruit gum made in the shape of a bear. In 1967 the Dancing Bears became Gummi Bears, and spawned an entire zoo of gummi animals.

    Worms are not zoo creatures, however, and Haribo did not invent the Gummi Worm. Gummi Worms were introduced by another German gummi candy manufacturer, Trolli (named for forest trolls), in 1981. The U.S. Americanized “gummi” to “gummy.”


    The boom in gummy popularity spawned versions that are organic, kosher and halal. For the latter two, manufacturers have substituted pectin or starch for gelatin.

    Goody Good Stuff is an all-natural gummy candy line that is made with a plant-derived gum. It eliminates the need for animal-based gelatin, while maintaining a smooth and clear consistency. There are no artificial colors or flavors and no possible allergens, such as gluten.

    There are no worms, either. At this time, there are sweet and sour gummy candies in fruit, bear and cola bottle shapes. All of the products are vegetarian (some are vegan), kosher and halal. Here’s the company website.


    Beyond snacking, bring out the gummies for parties:

  • Incorporate them into centerpiece decorations
  • Fill glass candy bowls
  • Garnish the rim of desert plates
  • Top cupcakes or cookies
  • Use as ice cream toppers
  • Make gummy fruit kabobs
  • Dip in chocolate for “gourmet” gummies
  • Decorate the rim of cocktails
  • Add to popcorn
  • Make gummy trail mix: gummies, M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces, nuts, pretzels and raisins or dried cherries

    Gummy Worm Cake

    Back to gummy worms: Make this easy dessert or snack recipe for “dirt cake” using Oreos, gummy worms, vanilla pudding and cream cheese. It’s appealing to adults as well as kids—really!


    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Some Chocolate Dragées, A.K.A. Panned Confections

    The original dragées* (drah-ZHAY) are sugar-coated almonds. Technically, the nuts are encapsulated in a hard-shell coating. English speakers call them Jordan almonds—not because they’re from Jordan (they’re from Spain). It’s a corruption of the French word for garden, jardin, which refers to the large variety of almond). The almonds can also have a chocolate coating under the sugar. The key is the hard sugar shell.

    In America, we see the word used to refer also to panned products. It’s not correct—they’re two different types of coating, dragées having a very hard (and potentially tooth-breaking) sugar shell and panned products having a softer chocolate shell.

    Panning is one of the four† basic methods of coating chocolate onto a center (typically hard centers, such as nuts and crystallized ginger). In panning, chocolate is sprayed onto the centers as they rotate in revolving pans (think drums); cool air is then blown into the pan to harden the chocolates.

    On a small scale (and before the industrial revolution), nuts are coated on a pan on the stovetop; hence “panning.” The centers can be rolled in cocoa powder or other coating before they harden.


    Sophisticated malted milk balls that multitask. Photo courtesy Recchiuti Confections.


    *In French, the word also refers to nonpareils and is slang for bullets (small shot). Dragée à la gelée de sucre is a jelly bean.
    †The other methods are enrobing, panning and molding or shell molding.


    One of our favorite chocolatiers, Recchiuti Confections, sent us a new product, called Malted Dark Milk Revolution. The confection looks like chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, but the centers are crunchy malted cookies (think malted milk balls) accented with fleur de sel. The centers are then coated with layers of dark milk chocolate (high-percentage cacao milk chocolate, typically 38% or more).

    There’s no hard sugar shell, so they’re easy on the teeth.

    Recchiuti calls these gourmet malted milk balls are a revolution because they use dark milk chocolate and an accent of fleur de sel, which provides a nice counterpoint to what in other hands can be a too-sweet confection.

    For us, the concept of chocolate-coated malted milk centers has been around for a while, regardless of what type of chocolate or seasonings are added. So instead, we think of the name as a pun on the number of times the centers go around in the drum—from 20 to 60 “revolutions,” according to Recchiuti.

    We immediately used the little bites:

  • With after-dinner espresso and coffee, instead of a cookie or a carré/napolitan of chocolate (they more than satisfy).
  • As a topper for ice cream and frozen yogurt—much more delicious than a maraschino cherry.
  • As a quick chocolate fix. (Full disclosure: We love good malted milk balls. Our favorites are these mint malt balls from Marich.

    Malted Dark Milk Revolution is a lovely small gift, especially for those who like the play of sweet and salty. It’s available in two sizes at a 5-ounce box for $11.00 and 12-ounce box for $19.00.

    Recchiuti also has a sampler of panned products (called the Dragée Sampler) that we love for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifting, 12 ounces, $29.00. It includes Recchiuti’s heavenly Burnt Caramel Almonds, Burnt Caramel Hazelnuts, Peanut Butter Pearls and Cherries Two Ways.

    Learn more at



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Marshmallow Peeps

    Marshmallow Peeps are an Easter tradition in many homes. Even people with very refined palates reach for them, a grasp at childhood nostalgia.

    But over the years they’ve tasted worse and worse to us—artificial flavor, and more texture than flavor at that! Perhaps it’s the carnauba wax. The mass production has taken away their good looks, as well. Sorry Peeps, but you look too roughly stamped out of factory molds.

    The “Sugar Mommas,” authors of Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story, offer their own recipe for prettier, tastier homemade Peeps. Pull out the Easter cookie cutters and start mixing. The recipe must sit overnight, so don’t wait until Easter Sunday.

    Peeps® are a registered trademark of Just Born, a candy manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The original Peeps were yellow chicks; but the popularity of the marshmallow candies led to other flavors and shapes for every season, including jack-o-lanterns, snowmen and Valentine hearts.



  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Colored sugar crystals
  • Easter themed cookie cutters

    Make a tastier version of the iconic Peeps at home. Photo courtesy



    1. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle gelatin over a small bowl filled with 1/2 cup cold water; let stand to soften.

    2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, about 240°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and gently stir in gelatin mixture; set aside.

    3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. With the mixer running, slowly add sugar/gelatin mixture. Add vanilla and continue beating for 10 minutes until the mixture looks like marshmallow.

    4. Transfer marshmallow mixture to prepared baking dish and spread evenly.

    5. Generously sprinkle 1-3 different colors of sugar crystals across the baking dish horizontally, covering any exposed marshmallow.

    6. Spray a piece of parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray and cover marshmallow. Let stand overnight.

    7. Remove parchment paper and invert marshmallow onto work surface.

    8. Generously sprinkle 1-3 different colors of sugar crystals across the marshmallow horizontally covering any exposed marshmallow. Try to match colors on the other side of the Peep (although it’s fine to have mismatched sides).

    9. Use cookie cutters to cut marshmallows into various Easter themed shapes. Spray the cookie cutters with nonstick spray so the marshmallow releases easily. Wash the cookie cutters between colors.

    10. Transfer marshmallows to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; set aside. Repeat process until all the marshmallow is cut into shapes. Use a skewer dipped in chocolate to make eyes, or use chocolate candies such as Valrhona Perles Craquantes for a more dramatic effect. Use marshmallow creme as “glue” to attach candies to your Peeps.

    11. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

    Find more Sugar Mommas recipes at



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