A holiday candy-making tradition in my family is the annual concocting of Aunt Bill's Brown Candy.
Dunno who Aunt Bill was. No relation to us, as far as we know. It was just a recipe used by Mama Alice, who was my great-grandmother, and she had clipped it out of the Daily Oklahoman a zillion years ago. We've been making this stuff ever since.
Mama Alice was the mother of this sweet lady, my Grandmother:
To start with, you get a skillet and put in two cups of sugar. That's it. No water or butter or anything else. Just sugar. And you put it over heat to melt it down.
In another pot, you put in four cups of sugar and two cups of heavy cream. Don't skimp. It's candy, for heaven's sake. You *can* use whole milk or half-and-half, but why? Might as well go all the way, I say. Put that over medium heat and bring it to a boil.
The sugar will start melting right before your eyes. Do NOT walk away from it -- stir and stir and stir, otherwise it will scorch and ruin.
Almost done! This is just sugar, melted. Cool, eh? Well, okay, actually, it's pretty hot, but it's fascinating to watch it take shape anyway.
You really do need two people to make Aunt Bill's Brown Candy. Mama Alice could do it by herself, but none of us can figure out how she managed it. Once the sugar in the skillet has completely melted and the sugar-and-cream mixture is boiling, you need to add the melted sugar in. But you can't just dump it in... no! You must add it in a thin stream no larger than a knitting needle and stir the cream/sugar mixture constantly to incorporate it.
Keep stirring. Do NOT stop.
You will also need some chopped nuts for this. My sister here is chopping up some pecans. We are a pecan family. We always like to have pecans in the freezer for just such an occasion.
Keep stirring it until it reaches the Firm Ball stage on your candy thermometer. Then turn off the fire and stir in a quarter-teaspoon of soda. Stir until the soda is completely incorporated into the mixture, then add in a half cup of butter and stir that until it's fully melted in:
Now set the pan off the stove or onto another unlit burner for about twenty minutes to allow it to cool down a little. You don't want to put it into a really COLD place, though, because you will still need to be able to stir in the nuts.
Using a wooden spoon, stir it as vigorously as you can until it loses its sheen and becomes thicker and heavier. Add the vanilla at this point and stir it in.
Add in the nuts and stir it up well, then turn it out into a buttered dish to cool completely:
Now you just wait a while until it cools off and sets up.
Once it's cool, slice it into small portions (it's very, very rich and a little goes a long way -- trust me on this one). It stays nice and moist and doesn't get dried-out even if you leave it sitting on a tray with other candy.
The complete recipe:
AUNT BILL'S BROWN CANDY
6 cups of white cane sugar, divided into 2 cups and 4 cups
2 cups of heavy cream (you can use whole milk if you insist, but please splurge on the cream, k?)
1/4 teaspoon of soda
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
4 cups of broken or chopped nuts (preferably pecans, although walnuts work well too)
Pour two cups of sugar into a heavy skillet and place it over low heat to melt the sugar. Stir it continuously with a wooden spoon to prevent it from scorching. When it's melted, it should not be dark, but a nice golden color instead.
Pour the remaining four cups of sugar into a large pot along with the two cups of cream and stir it over medium heat until it is boiling.
When the sugar is completely melted, drizzle it in a thin stream (no larger in diameter than a knitting needle, please) into the cream/sugar mixture, stirring continually to incorporate it. Continue cooking until it reaches the Firm Ball stage on the candy thermometer.
Turn off the heat and stir in the soda until it's completely mixed in. Now set the pan off the stove (but not in a chilly place, please) and allow it to cool for about twenty minutes. You don't want it to have cooled so much that it's no longer stirrable. Add the vanilla and stir it in, then add in the nuts and stir it well.
Turn the mixture out into a buttered dish and spread it out. Allow it to cool completely, then slice and serve!