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The tricks behind the treats: Homemade Halloween candy recipes

The tricks behind the treats: Homemade Halloween candy recipes
Homemade Halloween candies, left to right: marshmallow ghosts, ghoulish gummies and candy corn. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

It wouldn’t be the same without the jack-o’-lanterns, costumes and spooky decorations, but it wouldn’t be Halloween at all without candy. And while store-bought candies may reign supreme, making your own confections is a fun — and delicious — project, perfect for kids of all ages.

Take these three Halloween favorites for a spin: marshmallow ghost “peeps,” ghoulish gummies and candy corn. Make a batch or two to give to friends or pass out at parties. Or simply keep all that loot to yourself.

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Marshmallow ghosts

Marshmallow ghosts are more adorable than spooky.
Marshmallow ghosts are more adorable than spooky. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

More adorable than spooky, these treats are nothing more than homemade marshmallows, using just a handful of ingredients. Although the recipe does require the use of a candy thermometer, probably the hardest part is piping the ghost shapes just right. It may take a few tries, but even the mistakes will be delicious. If piping is not your thing, spread freshly-made marshmallow on a baking sheet, then cut out scary shapes after it sets. Unlike store-bought Peeps, your homemade marshmallows won’t be overly sweet, and they’ll stay soft and delicate for several days when kept in an airtight container.

1 hour, plus setting time. Makes about 3 dozen candies, depending on size.

2 packages unflavored powdered gelatin

3/4 cup water, divided

2 cups sugar, plus 2 to 3 cups for dusting

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Melted chocolate, food coloring or icing, to decorate eyes

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of water and let stand until the gelatin is softened. If piping ghost candies, fit a piping bag with a large, round tip (preferably ½-inch) and place the colored sugar in a bowl. If cutting out shapes, butter the baking sheet and line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the remaining water with the 2 cups sugar and corn syrup, and cook until the sugar reaches 245 degrees using a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.

3. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the mixer so it doesn't splash against the whisk. Slowly increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the marshmallow lightens in color, about 6 minutes, then beat in the vanilla. Continue beating on high speed until the marshmallow firms and stiffens in texture (similar to a stiff meringue); the marshmallow will have lost some of its sheen and should break off as the beater is removed, but it should not be overly stringy, 10 to 16 minutes.

4. Place the remaining sugar in a shallow baking dish for dusting. To pipe marshmallow ghosts, hold the piping bag over the sugar in the dish and begin piping the marshmallow out onto the sugar so it is about 1­ to 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Continue piping the body so it is about 2 1/2 inches in length, then slowly release the tip from the marshmallow, pushing the marshmallow up to form a tip at the head. Spoon the sugar over the formed marshmallow to coat completely. Remove the marshmallow to a parchment­-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining marshmallow mixture to continue forming ghosts. Decorate the completed ghosts with melted chocolate, food coloring or icing to create eyes. Store at cool room temperature.

Each of 36 candies: Calories 49; protein 0; carbohydrates 12 grams; fiber 0; fat 0; cholesterol 0; sugar 12 grams; sodium 2 mg

Note: From Noelle Carter. This recipe requires the use of a candy or digital thermometer.

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Ghoulish gummies

Cast a spell with homemade gummy rats and toads.
Cast a spell with homemade gummy rats and toads. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

“Gummy” candies are really nothing more than extra-firm gelatin molds — think Jell-O, but a lot less jiggly and with a great chewy texture. Simply make a thick gelatin base and pour into candy molds (you can find all manner of creepy molds in craft stores and online), then chill for a few hours or more until solid.

45 minutes, plus chilling time. Makes about 3 dozen candies, depending on size.

3 packages unflavored powdered gelatin

1 ¼ cups water, divided

2 cups sugar, plus extra for coating the candies

Food coloring

Flavoring extracts (such as mint, cherry, cinnamon or licorice)

1. In a wide bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup water. Set aside to give the gelatin time to absorb the water, about 2 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the remaining ¾ water with the sugar. Heat the mixture over high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil to form a simple syrup. Remove from heat and add the syrup to the gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved.

3. Divide the mixture into separate bowls, coloring and flavoring the mixture, a drop or two at a time, as desired. Pour the prepared mixture into molds, then refrigerate until firm, several hours and up to overnight.

4. Carefully remove the gummies from the molds (to loosen, gently cut away the edges at the top of the mold, then run the gummies (still in the molds), under warm water to loosen the gelatin; slowly pull away from the molds. If desired, toss with sugar to cover. To store, place the gummies on greased parchment in individual layers and refrigerate or keep at cool room temperature in an airtight container.The gummies will last, refrigerated, up to 1 week.

Each of 36 candies: Calories 45; protein 1 gram; carbohydrates 11 grams; fiber 0; fat 0; cholesterol 0; sugar 11 grams; sodium 1 mg

Note: From Noelle Carter. To make colored sugar for dusting the gummies, place granulated sugar in a sealable plastic bag along with a few drops of food coloring; toss the sugar until evenly colored.

Candy corn

Butter and vanilla give homemade candy corn a great boost of flavor.
Butter and vanilla give homemade candy corn a great boost of flavor. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Love it or hate it, candy corn is the second most popular Halloween candy, after chocolate. There are many ways to make the candy, but the method I use doesn’t require a thermometer or timer. You just need a little patience to form and cut the candies. I make mine by melting marshmallows to create a sort of fondant (that sugary “dough” often used to make edible cake decorations). Butter and vanilla give the candy a rich flavor, and the melted marshmallow and a touch of nonfat milk powder will create a fluffy texture with a soft center.

1 ½ hours, plus overnight chilling and setting times. Makes 12 to 15 dozen candies, depending on size.

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for kneading

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1 (10-ounce) package miniature marshmallows

¼ cup water, more if needed

3 tablespoons nonfat powdered milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 pounds powdered sugar, divided

Food coloring

1. In a large, heavy-bottom sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the marshmallows and cook, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the water, powdered milk and vanilla extract.

2. Stir in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until you have a stiff, sticky dough.

3. Grease your fingers well with butter. Remove the mixture from the pot and knead the dough until it becomes pliable. Dust a work surface with powdered sugar and continue kneading the dough until it becomes soft and smooth and no longer sticky to the touch. Divide the dough into thirds. Color one of the pieces with yellow food coloring and another piece with orange food coloring (leave the last uncolored). Form each of the pieces into a disk and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight to rest the dough.

4. The next day, divide each disk into eighths. Roll one portion of each color separately into a thin strip. Line the strips up on a piece of wax or parchment paper so that the colors are white, orange and yellow. Place another sheet of wax or parchment paper over the strips, and roll slightly so the pieces merge to form a triangular ribbon, with the white forming the edge, and the yellow forming the widest part of the candy.

5. Slice the ribbon crosswise to create triangles to form the candy corn shapes. Repeat with the remaining pieces to form all of the candy corn candies. Set out at room temperature until the candies harden, then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Each of 180 candies: Calories 27; protein 0; carbohydrates 6 grams; fiber 0; fat 0; cholesterol 1 mg; sugar 6 grams; sodium 2 mg

Note: From Noelle Carter.

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