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JOY OF BAKING

Sink your teeth into homemade candy

Homemade fudge, toffee, caramels, and other traditional holiday candies have joined nostalgic items such as hand-crank ice cream machines and eight-track players. No one seems to make them anymore.

''Candy can be intimidating," says Suzanne Lombardi, cofounder of Tiny Trapeze Confections in Hyde Park. ''Boiling sugar, candy thermometers, high temperatures -- it scares a lot of people." Perhaps that's why the caramels made by this new company are so popular. They deliver an old-fashioned taste without requiring you to stand at the stove.

But candy making is a satisfying project that requires little equipment and makes the confectioner feel proud. Sure, it takes attention, patience, and a candy thermometer, but you don't need a crash course in food chemistry to make something terrific, says Ayis Antoniou, Tiny Trapeze cofounder. But it may help. ''It's all about chemistry, really," says the self-described foodie who happens to have a doctorate in physics.

Toffee and caramels are best made in a cool room with low humidity. The water in the air can get absorbed into the mixture during the cooking process, upsetting the balance of sugar, water, and fat and creating a disappointingly sticky or chewy result.

''Cold winter days are actually the best for candy making," says Lombardi.

The company's old-fashioned candies include caramels flavored with vanilla, chocolate, and nuts, and a line of fudge. At its factory, there are copper pots, cooling slabs, industrial-size mixtures, and a refurbished saltwater taffy machine that cuts and wraps caramels for packaging.

But you only really need a heavy-based pot and a sugar thermometer. Then you make a sugar syrup -- the base for toffees and caramels. As you cook the syrup, the lower temperatures make chewy candies, medium makes softer candies, and high creates a brittle texture. Lombardi suggests using a wet pastry brush as the syrup bubbles to remove any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan. She also warms cream for her candies so she's not pouring cold cream into hot syrup, which can result in a clumpy mess.

Candy making makes you slow way down, which makes this a fine way to take a break from the frantic pace of the season. Then you can pack your handiwork in tins and give them to friends. It sure beats going to the mall.

Tiny Trapeze Confections are at Whole Foods markets, or go to www.tinytrapeze.com.

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