Once a year our newspaper, the Oklahoman, publishes the recipe for Aunt Bill’s Candy around Christmas time. In fact, some say since 1932. However, this year, due to our inquisitiveness for the original recipe, our good friend Dave Cathey, the food editor for the Oklahoman, pried back into the archives and found out it may even be earlier than 1932.
I’ve always thought of it as a Christmas goodie to make. But, I’ve never dared to make this candy, due to the labor intensive fear that was wrought inside of me from everyone I know whose Grandma or Mom had stood over a hot stove stirring and stirring. But I had tasted this wonderful creation of fudge meets praline, and I’d always wanted to try.
I’ve heard rumor of the fact that it takes two persons to even have a go at this sugary delight.
But this year, I conquered that fear.
With the help of two other friends (Vivian and Nicole), the truth of much stirring, and a LOT of sugar.
There are a few recipes floating around out there for Aunt Bill’s Candy. There is one that had been pretested by my daring partners, which they thought unsatisfactory. And so we went with the original, coated in a plastic binder sheet from Nicole’s Grandma I believe.
We set about making this legend sacredly. We had a copper pot for the main pot and the sugar, and another for the milk. With serious candy maker faces, we got going, set out to prove we were Oklahomans of the best sort. The kind who could make the legendary Aunt Bill’s Candy.
Can you imagine failing?
No way were doing anything of the sort.
And if the three of us weren’t intimidated enough, we had the original recipe to haunt us.
“You will find it much easier to manage if two of you are able to make it together, altho of course, this is not absolutely necessary, for I’ve made loads of it alone”
Okay, so Aunt Bill was wonderwoman. We MUST measure up.
I’m still not sure exactly who Aunt Bill was, but she is the embodiment of the ages ago woman of the West, who made the most delicious candy that’s carried through the century, so, I say, this candy deserves some attention.
To begin, we added 2 cups of sugar into a heavy pan and placed it over medium low heat.
We used a long wooden paddle and kept stirring so the sugar didn’t have a chance to scorch. It’s good to tag-team during the whole “Aunt Bill’s process”.
It takes close to 30 minutes for this whole process to develop, so just hang out in the kitchen and keep stirring. Like a nice risotto, good cooking takes love. You don’t want the sugar to smoke or turn anything darker than a nice amber color during this time.
Meanwhile, in another pot, pour 2 cups of milk or cream. We used whole milk, although we might as well have used cream since we were tossing in calorie care with six cups of sugar.
Add in 4 cups of sugar into it and heat it up on medium heat to dissolve the sugar. You want this mixture to be warm, but not bubbling, at least not until you’re ready to mix the two together.
Now according to the old recipe, at this point you want to pour the sugar only pot into the milk pot, but in a very thin stream, (Aunt Bill said no thicker than a knitting needle) while someone else is stirring the other pot briskly.
I’m not gonna lie. There were three of us at this stage, I was trying to take pictures (poorly) and this was the most intense moment of the whole process. Vivian held Pot #1, I scraped with the paddle and Nicole stirred Pot #2.
Then, get back to stirring. That is until a little dollop of the stuff poured into ice water forms a “firm ball” or 238-240º.
After this occurs, turn off the burner, and remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and continue to stir hard until it foams up.
As soon as you get the soda mixed well add in one stick or 1/2 cup of butter.
As soon as the butter completely melts and you stir it in real well, set the pan away from the heat and let it cool 20 minutes.
Then stir in 1 teaspoon of good vanilla extract.
Then Aunt Bill tells us to beat this until the gloss is gone and the mixture gets a dull look. Vivian, Nicole and I each took turns, stirring the wooden paddle vigorously until our biceps burned then tag-teamed to another.
Now we added 2 pounds of nut meats, or in modern terms, we added 4 cups of broken (almost halved) pecans.
Mix it up again like crazy.
Then, on Nicole’s instructions that her Grandma had always used a cardboard shirtbox line with tin foil, we poured our labor of love out to set and cool.
I’m sure you could also use a 9 x 11 pan if you want thick pieces or even a 9 x 13 pan that’s been buttered or sprayed as an alternative. But the shirt box had a good advantage. Since I had hosted this craziness, and cooked the girls Dorie Greenspan’s Chicken in a Pot…
I was the proud recipient of the finished set product the next day.
I just pulled and ripped the sides down and was left with the perfect molded rectangle of Aunt Bill’s Candy.
And I’m telling you. Cut these pieces very small.
Because they’re sooooo rich, and sugary, and nutty.
Three days later, my daughter who doesn’t like nuts said “Mom, I am in love with that candy!”
I said, “But you don’t like nuts”.
Her: “I DON’T CARE, I love it!”
So this labor of love was worth it. I guess Aunt Bill really did know what she was doing…and the tradition has followed her for almost a century.
I think it actually deserves more than a Christmas show…
Try this for your honey for Valentine’s Day…
Katie’s Printable Recipe – Aunt Bill’s Brown Candy
- (Aunt Susan’s recipe, adapted from the Oklahoman)
- 6 cups white sugar, divided
- 2 cups cream or whole milk (Milnot also works)
- ¼ teaspoon soda
- ½ cup butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 cups nuts, broken (preferably pecans)
- Pour two cups of sugar into a heavy aluminum or iron skillet and place it over low heat. Begin stirring with a wooden spoon and keep the sugar moving so that it will not scorch. It will take about twenty minutes to completely melt all of the sugar, and at no time should it smoke or cook so fast that it turns dark. It should be about the color of light brown syrup.
- As soon as you have the sugar heating, pour the remaining four cups of sugar together with the two cups of milk or cream into a deep heavy kettle and set it over low heat to cook slowly while you are melting the sugar in the skillet.
- As soon as the sugar is melted, begin pouring it into the kettle of boiling milk and sugar, keeping it over very low heat and stirring constantly.
- Now the real secret of mixing these ingredients is to pour a very fine stream from the skillet into the pan. Aunt Bill always said to pour a stream no larger than a knitting needle while stirring across the bottom of the kettle at the same time. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture forms a firm ball (238 degrees F to 240 degrees F) when dropped into cold water.
- After this test, turn out the fire and immediately add soda to the mixture, stirring hard as it foams up. As soon as the soda is mixed, add the butter, allowing it to melt as you stir.
- Now set the pan of candy off the stove—but not outdoors or in a cold place—for about twenty minutes, until it is lukewarm; add the vanilla and begin beating. Using a wooden spoon, beat until the mixture is thickened and heavy and takes on a dull appearance instead of a glossy sheen. Add the broken nutmeat and mix.
- Turn into buttered tin boxes or square pans where it can be cut into squares when cooled. This candy stays moist and delicious indefinitely. Decorate the pieces with halves of pecans and you have a most attractive candy.
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