You can mumble spells until you're hoarse, but chances are you'll never know what it feels like to truly have magical powers. No wonder making homemade candy is so satisfying: It's as close as we may ever come to conjuring enchantment.
Of course, being human, we can't just wiggle our noses and watch chocolate-enrobed candy bars line up like little soldiers on the countertop. Candy-making takes time, courage, and a pinch of faith. You must be prepared to monitor a pot of hazardously hot, bubbling goo that seems to be behaving all wrong—burning or crystallizing or just not doing anything—until suddenly, poof, it turns into thick, oozy nougat, or sticky, golden caramel, or trembling fruit jellies, the very sight of which catapults your spirit into happy somersaults.
What you've created is, in one way, quite prosaic. It's candy, after all—the same stuff arrayed by the acre in big-box stores. But it is also extraordinary, a fact that's clear the moment you pop some in your mouth and the complex, rich flavors begin to unfold. These are sweets you want to eat slowly, like an excellent dessert. Meanwhile, the stuff you buy in wrappers...well, the last time we cadged some from a kid's trick-or-treat bag, it wasn't even worth the guilt. It tasted bland, oversweet, slightly mushy, and nowhere near as good as we remembered.
Memory may be unreliable, but it's still a powerful force. "People gravitate to candy as though driven by a basic human instinct," says Jen King, partner with Liz Gutman in Liddabit Sweets, a small, Brooklyn-based company whose recipes are featured here. They're part of a growing movement toward artisanal, handmade candies. King and Gutman love playing with nostalgic flavor combinations like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, or caramel and nougat in chocolate. "It's fun to re-create childhood favorites," she adds, then go them one better, reducing the sugar and using fresh, wholesome ingredients, like cream and real fruit.
King and Gutman, who met at culinary school, spent many months developing their recipes and honing their skills—which explains why their candies look as lovely as they taste. But if you're willing to accept slightly wobbly-looking sweets and are up for a thrilling escapade in the kitchen, then you possess all the power you need to whip up a batch of everyday magic: candy that tastes both comfortingly familiar and altogether out of this world.