It is easier to plunder the sweets aisle at your local supermarket than to make rum balls from the "Field Guide to Candy." However, you can be sure your friends, family and office mates will be happy to eat your learning curve.
Candy making is not as easy as it looks. Chocolate turtles, instead of being gooey delights, are likely to come out as caramel rocks covered with swirled chocolate. Unless you keep a good eye on the candy thermometer, you'll get granular and chunky maple sugar leaves.
None of the above will stop them from being enjoyably consumed.
Replete with pictures of chocolate truffles, sugar plums, marshmallow chicks and beijinhos de coco (little coconut kisses), the "Field Guide" covers an international span of recipes — Greek pasteli, Chinese milk candy and dulce de leche from South America.
One of the sweetest parts of the book is its history: "The word sugarplum was first recorded in 1668 and used to describe small, oval, sugar-coated seeds. It may have been a general term for sugar-coated nuts or fruits that eventually evolved into candied fruit."
For an ambitious cook-to-be, the challenge of candy making is something to be explored. There are over a hundred recipes in the "Field Guide" and many have variations such as peppermint bark with chocolate, white chocolate and embedded with crushed peppermints. You are likely to find new ones to try as well.
Used with permission: SIMPLE OR BASIC TRUFFLES 1 1/2 lb semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 1 cup cream 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup cocoa powder for rolling 1. Line an 8-by-8 baking pan with foil and grease well. Place chopped chocolate in a metal bowl. 2. Heat cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Add the vanilla extract. 3. Let sit for 1 to 2 minutes, then gently whisk the mixture until it is fully blended. It should be smooth and glossy. 4. Pour ganache into the baking pan and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or until firm. 5. When you are ready to make the truffles, take the pan of ganache from the refrigerator. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a small bowl with the cocoa powder. 6. Using a melon baller or spoon, scoop small portions of the ganache and roll into balls between your hands. Roll in the cocoa powder to coat and place on the baking sheet to set.
Yield: About 48 truffles