25 homemade holiday gift recipes: Candy canes, taffy and honeycomb

Homemade candy, one of 25 homemade holiday gift ideas from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

For many years, I've made cookies for the holidays. Lots and lots of cookies. For gifts, for parties, sometimes just to have around the house. To keep it interesting, I might tweak the recipes or change up the varieties. Fun, yes, but even tradition can get a little boring after a while. Which is why I decided to switch things up this season and give candy a try.

I recently wrote a story on homemade candy, and included recipes for honeycomb, taffy and candy canes. Continue reading below for links to the recipes, as well as tips for working with sugar and making your own candy. The photo gallery above shows a step-by-step guide to making your own taffy.

Homemade candy is just one way to get crafty this holiday season with homemade gifts from the kitchen. We've compiled 25 great ideas, ranging from quick and simple gifts (perfect if you're working with kids) to more intricate projects that call for a little extra time and patience.

Some gifts will last for weeks, perhaps more. Others are best eaten within a day or two.

Not only are homemade gifts a great way to save money during the holiday season, they're a thoughtful and creative way to show how much you care.

HONEYCOMB CANDY: Combine sugar, honey and corn syrup with a little water and cook to a temperature of 300 degrees (also called "hard crack" stage), then whisk in a little baking soda. The baking soda reacts with the acid in the honey, bubbling up and leavening the sugar much as it does cookies and cakes. Stand back as the sugar bubbles — it will easily increase to three to four times its original volume — then pour it onto a prepared baking sheet or pan to cool. Finally, break it into edible pieces and dip them in melted chocolate to seal the candy for a longer shelf life (sugar is hygroscopic and draws moisture from the air; sugar candy can become sticky if left out too long). RECIPE: Honeycomb candy

SALT WATER TAFFY: Cook sugar, corn syrup and water with a little cornstarch (to smooth out the texture) to 255 degrees ("hard ball" stage — some recipes call for a higher temperature, but this works better for me), whisk in a little butter and flavoring, then carefully pour the mixture out onto a prepared, heat-proof surface and set it aside until it's cool enough to handle without burning your hands. Add some food coloring if you'd like, then begin to pull the taffy — stretching, folding and stretching the taffy again and again. RECIPE: Salt water taffy

CANDY CANES: Cook sugar, corn syrup and water to a temperature of 290 degrees ("soft crack" stage). Add flavoring and pour the sugar onto a prepared surface. Where you let the taffy cool a bit before pulling, the sugar for candy canes needs to be pulled while it's hot. Hot sugar is dangerous; it burns easily and can become a sticky mess. You'll need heat-resistant "sugar gloves" to pull the sugar, and you'll need to work fast to aerate the sugar before it cools too much. (As sugar cools, it hardens and becomes brittle — if this happens, placing the candy in a warm oven will make it malleable.) RECIPE: Candy canes

Tips for working with hot sugar to make candy:

Here are a few tips and tools to keep in mind when making your own sugar candy:

Be careful when working with hot sugar. Hot sugar is dangerous and can easily burn you. It can also easily become a sticky mess.

Read the recipe carefully before beginning and gather all of your equipment ahead of time so you're prepared.

Give yourself plenty of time to work on a recipe without feeling rushed or being interrupted.

To clean cooked sugar out of pans and utensils, fill the used pan with water and bring the water to a boil over the stove, adding any tools (make sure they're heatproof). The water will dissolve the sugar, making cleaning much easier.

Exact temperature is crucial, and a proper thermometer is the best way to ensure accuracy. As the sugar temperature climbs, the sugar concentration increases, and it behaves differently when it cools. Candy thermometers can be found at most grocery, cooking and baking supply stores, as well as online; they cost about $10.

Sugar gloves are specially made for working with hot sugar, and although they won't block all of the heat, they will allow you to work with the sugar before it has a chance to cool and harden. Some brands come in specific sizes for better fit and dexterity. They are available at most cooking and baking supply stores, as well as online, and cost about $15.

Love cooking as much as I do? Follow me @noellecarter

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