Hershey, Pennsylvania is confectionately known as “The Sweetest Place on Earth,” and “Chocolatetown, USA” — both with good reason. For local candy connoisseurs and lucky vacationers, the opportunity to stop, smell, and sample, sample, sample at the various shops, famous factory, amusement park, hotel lobbies, and spas (a friend of mine who visited 10 years ago still talks about the chocolate facial and body scrub!) makes each day in Hershey a day to celebrate. But for the rest of us, though we may dream about it, frequent sampling is probably out and the time to extol the marvels of Milk Duds and the joys of Jelly Bellies is officially observed in June: National Candy Month.
And with celebration in mind, what about augmenting your candy cachet with healthier alternatives? June may be just the time to parlay your predilection for Paydays and Peeps into a voyage to vegan toffee. If your dietary desires or requirements run to dairy-, sugar- or gluten-free (Oregon holds the record for the pursuit of gluten-free candy), vegan or organic (Colorado takes the cake for the state with the most requests for organic candy), alternative toothsome recipes can use spices, agave, honey, grain-sweetened chocolate chips, coconut oil, and more to sweeten your days without the ingredients you may not want.
Try these sweetly scrumptious alternative recipes to celebrate National Candy Month — all year long!
Vegan Peppermint Patties
3 tablespoons vegan cream cheese
1 tablespoon organic shortening
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar (sifted) 1 ½ to 2 cups dark chocolate chips (use grain-sweetened to eliminate refined sugar and dairy if desired)
1 to 2 teaspoons shortening
In an electric mixer, prepare the mint filling by beating the cream cheese, shortening, peppermint and vanilla extracts until smooth. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar. Refrigerate for about a half hour to set.
Once firm, roll the mint filling into one inch balls. Transfer them to the freezer for an hour.
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. Stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons shortening to make the chocolate smooth and silky. Pour the chocolate into mini-cupcake wrappers until they’re about half full. Place a mint ball in the middle and cover with more melted chocolate. Freeze again until ready to eat. Yield: 12 vegan Peppermint Patties.
Fabulous Fudge (dairy- and gluten-free)
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 cup coconut/palm sugar (paste-like or granulated)
dash of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a heat resistant, glass measuring cup, pour the coconut oil. Fill a small saucepan with a few inches of water, and place the glass measuring cup in it. Heat on stove top until coconut oil is mostly melted (the coconut oil should be room temperature, not hot. This will protect its raw benefits).
In a food processor using the regular blade, add the melted coconut oil and the rest of the ingredients; mix until well combined. Place enough plastic wrap or parchment paper in a loaf pan to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Scrape fudge “dough” into the loaf pan, and fold the plastic wrap or parchment paper over the top of the fudge. Gently press down to even out the thickness of the fudge (should about 1/2 inch thick; it should cover about 1/2 of the bottom of pan). Remove fudge, carefully wrapped, and place in freezer or refrigerator until it has set. In the freezer it only takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Cut into squares.
Agave Caramel Lollipops
1 cup light agave nectar
2/3 cup water
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 drops liquid stevia
Miniature muffin liners (or lollipop molds)
Lay 16 miniature muffin liners out on a baking sheet and spray them very lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
In a small sauce pan, combine the agave nectar and water over medium high heat. Stir to combine and bring the mixture to boil. Add cream of tartar and mix once more.
Insert a candy thermometer and allow the mixture to cook without stirring until it reaches soft crack stage (290 degrees F; 143 C). Occasionally lift the pan from the heat and swirl the mixture to help the candy cook evenly and not burn. Once it reaches soft crack stage the color will begin to darken and the liquid will be bubblier.
When mixture reaches 290-295 degrees F, remove from heat. Immediately add vanilla and stevia. Stir to combine and pour hot mixture into muffin liners, then insert lollipop sticks. Be sure to pour enough to cover the candy stick. For thin pops, the candy can stretch to make around 18. Place candy in the refrigerator to harden for 1 hour. Wrap individually with plastic wrap and store in an airtight container at room temperature.