Candy-making has a reputation for being time-consuming and difficult, but with shortcuts, it can be easy.
Even without candy molds, a candy thermometer, or a free afternoon to devote to the enterprise, candy can become part of the modern home cook's repertoire.
"I do think people made candy more back in the day," says candy-maker Sharla Perry of Garland, Texas. "It was part of being a homemaker. I think that now people tend to bake more. I don't know if candy seems daunting."
Spring is a season for sweets. Wedding showers, receptions, Easter, and more call for confections that can be color-themed to the event. Making special-occasion candy is doable even for beginners.
But choosing the right recipe is crucial. Look for ones that can be customized to taste with favorite nuts, fruits, or flavorings. A hands-on candy-making class at Central Market in Dallas tackled Salted Butter Caramels that cooked for some 25 minutes to reach a precise 257 degrees F. Even under a professional's guidance, one batch was too soft and the caramel leaked through the shiny and crisp tempered-chocolate coating.
While watching perfect Chocolate-Covered Cherries pop out of their molds, some students agreed they wouldn't be trying that at home. Hand-formed truffles and white chocolate candies with almonds, however, were doable and delicious.
For a toffee coating that cooks quickly, the Hershey Co. suggests heating Bits 'O Brickle chips and corn syrup, and pouring it over snack mix. After it cools, you can customize the mix with seasonal candy-coated chocolates.
Many home cooks are familiar with microwave peanut brittle. A nut brittle also can be made in the oven. New Orleans chef John Besh's version, which he uses in a fall greens salad, is almost irresistible to chile-heads thanks to a kick of cayenne pepper.
There are plenty of shortcut truffle concoctions and fudge recipes. Fudge dipped in a good melted chocolate outshines one dipped in some of the waxier, less-flavorful melting barks.
Fondant sounds fancy, but easy no-cook versions can be flavored with quality extracts, colored, and wrapped around bits of fruit or nut and dipped in chocolate.
One caution: Candy-making can become addictive. In 2006, Ms. Perry attended a two-week Valrhona class in France and decided to take her interest to the next level. She has sold handmade truffles and saltine almond toffee at a local market, drawing attention during the holidays for a confection she calls Peanut-Butter Pyramid. Her business is getting a new name, the Chocolate Craft.
It's rewarding to see people enjoying candy she has made, she says.
"You see people trying a piece, and you see the expression on their face change when they realize it's more than just a piece of chocolate," she adds.
It's a treat that was custom-made - and that makes it special.
•Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts (Quarry Books, $24.99): Gives detailed directions on how to temper and dip chocolate, and recipes for confections using spices, herbs and more for flavor.
•Candymaking by Ruth A. Kendrick and Pauline H. Atkinson (1987, HP Books): An overview of candymaking for the home cook, with a chapter on microwave and easy candies.