Making candy all month--kind of obsessively, as I got a bunch a new ideas I had to try--led me slowly but steadily to a new discovery: You can make candy bars at home.
Of course, that seems obvious. If you can make chocolates at home, why not candy bars? Duh.
The thing that delighted me is that candy bars are actually a hundred times easier than making chocolates. Why? You don't have to form them one at a time. You spread all the ingredients on a cookie sheet, let them set up, and then cut them into bars.
And they are Oh. So. Good.
Kind of amazingly good. Like we all made ourselves sick eating so many because you just can't stop.
The other thing I love is they completely satisfy my need to experiment in the kitchen. (What, you mean you haven't noticed that I LOVE experimenting in the kitchen? And tend to go overboard testing new ideas?) Candy bars are uniquely creatively satisfying because you can combine ingredients in so many, many ways.
My first attempt was a brand-new-invention candy bar (let's call them Mister Tim Bars for now because they include all his favorite treats). I layered graham crackers, homemade marshmallow, and peanut butter filling, and topped it off with milk chocolate. And they were to die for. I made one cookie sheet worth (that's 72 candy bars, each 1"x 3" because I have a big cookie sheet), and they disappeared super fast--before I could even finish covering them completely in chocolate!
The second go was supposed to be Twix clones, but when we did a taste test the homemade version was so good that the real Twix bars tasted yucky in comparison--and Twix are one of my all-time favorite candy bars! I once again ate so many I made myself sick.
And there are so SO many options.
Oh, what? You want recipes? (Oh my--this is so easy it's almost embarrassing).
The idea that so appeals to me about candy bars is you can choose any flavor coating that they make baking chips of and fill them with any combination of fillings. Mix and match to your heart's delight.
The basic process:
1. Get a big cookie sheet (mine is 12" x 18" and that's just right). Cover it with a sheet of wax paper or aluminum foil (wax paper works better) long enough that 4" hangs out on each side (to use as handles to life the bars from the sheet to cut them). THIS IS IMPORTANT: It has to be a cookie sheet with 1" sides on it. Those flat ones just won't do.
2. Melt your choice of baking chips. I do them a cup at a time in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until they are smooth. Sometimes I add a half teaspoon of shortening per cup of chips to get a softer, smoother chocolate, but it's not required (and is a bad idea if you really want a crisp chocolate coating on your candy bar). Spread them in a thin layer across the entire bottom of the cookie sheet. It takes about 2 cups of chips, so about a bag, to cover the bottom. You could make the layer thicker, but it's really easy to overwhelm with chocolate, so thin is good.
4. Top with another layer of melted chips (to match the bottom or a different flavor--you can be creative! Like chocolate on the bottom and peanutbutter chips on top? Yum!).
5. Let the whole tray set up (best in a cold place--I cover mine with another sheet of wax paper and stick it on the back porch at night because my freezer wont' hold the tray--but a freezer would be perfect).
6. Take the entire thing out of the tray using the wax paper "handles" you left hanging over and cut it into bars with a big knife. I can make 72 bars from my tray. 1" x 3" bars really are perfect--homemade candy is richer than store bought.
7. Eat them as-is, with bare sides, or cover the sides with more melted chips so they look more like storebought candy bars. I have found they don't last long enough for me to cover the sides, and it's a lot of work, so it can be unnecessary. That said, the chocolate on the sides does hold caramel fillings in better-it tends to very slowly spread if you don't contain it with chocolate on the sides, too.
Options for coatings (these are the flavors of baking chips readily available in my stores here in Longmont):
semi-sweet chocolate (can overwhelm some fillings, but I do so love dark chocolate flavors!)
milk chocolate (this is preferred--it lets the flavor of the fillings shine through)
Nestle and Hersheys also make specialty chips that are sometimes only available seasonally, including mint chocolate and special dark chocolate. Don't bother with the multicolored ones, though, because you melt and stir them together, so the colors blend in and look like plain chocolate in the end anyway, and usually those multicolored (orange and brown for Halloween, Green and red and brown for Christmas) actually are not multiflavored.
You can also use candy coating, like CandyQuik, but why settle for fake chocolate when you can have real chocolate?
This is the good part, right?
Caramel (use your favorite recipe; My favorite is: 1 c melted butter, dash salt, 1 can sweetened condensed milk or 1 1/3 cup homemade sweetened condensed milk, 2 1/4 c brown sugar, 1 c corn syrup, and 1 tsp vanilla--mix and cook in the microwave for 18-20 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, until it reaches firm ball stage.)
Marshmallow (I used this recipe, but I didn't bother to form them into peeps. I just poured them onto the tray and let them set up in a big sheet. It's basically divinity with gelatin added.)
Peanut butter (or any nut butter) filling: 1 tbsp soft butter mixed with 1 c peanut butter (or almond or Nutella or whatever) and 3 cups of powdered sugar--knead until it looks like playdough. Or use your favorite buckeye filling recipe.
Nougat (Divinity with baking chips added to flavor it--see the bottom of the recipe at the link for instructions; you have to triple this recipe to fill a cookie sheet. You could also use flavoring extracts to flavor it.)--this is like the filling of 3 Musketeers bars, only you can make any flavor you like. If it lasts that long. My kids inhale this stuff plain.
Shortbread (use your favorite recipe. Mine is: 1 c softened butter, 3/4 c sugar, 1 egg, and 2 1/4 c flour. Mix and spread in a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes. To use in cookies, like Twix clones, bake them in the same cookie sheet you'll use to assemble the candy bars, but first grease the sheet, line it with aluminum foil with 4" overhangs on each side, and spray the foil with baking spray--or grease it, too--so that you can remove the shortbread as one giant cookie, put down the wax paper and chocolate and replace the giant cookie as a layer in the candy bars. If you like the less distinct flavor of the storebought candy bar cookie layer, use shortening instead of butter.)
Coconut filling (1 1/2 sticks melted butter, 1 square soft butter, 2 pounds powdered sugar, 1 can sweetened condensed milk or 1 1/3 c homemade sweetened condensed milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla or coconut flavoring, 1-2 c shredded coconut--mix well until it looks like cookie dough)
Cream candy filling (just in case you want a cream filling denser than nougat, although I would always choose nougat first)--same as the coconut filling recipe, but leave out the coconut and stir in whatever flavoring extract you want instead--maple, almond, vanilla, etc.
"Chocolate milk cream" (that's what my kids call this stuff). It would be super good as a gooey addition to a marshmallow filled bar
Toffee (my favorite recipe is here)
Truffle filling (the pretty much standard recipe is here)
Ice cream (for a frozen candy bar--but you have to serve it frozen!)
Jam or jelly (raspberry jam with chocolate nougat sounds so good!)
Or any kind of other candy you want to chop up and stir in (candy canes, whoppers, lemon drops, toffee bars, those tiny hard marshmallows they put in hot cocoa--you can buy them in jars at the grocery store, gummy bears, fruit snacks, etc. Be creative.)
Any other kind of hard crackers or snacks you want to chop up and put in (pretzels, those "chinese noodles" that are neither chinese nor noodle, cookie bits, etc).
Or anything else you can think of that would be good coated in chocolate.
SO MANY OPTIONS. There are too many choices. I think the next thing I want to try is shortbread, caramel, and nutella filling. And also graham cracker, marshmallow, and nutella filling. And nougat in many flavors (cherry, orange, chocolate, mint, vanilla). And vanilla nougat with caramel on top. And marshmallow with caramel on top. And...
too many candy bars!
And I ran out of chocolate chips. So I have to pause for a breath and to buy more before I can make any more.
But YUM. One of my more successful experiments, actually.