Twix, Mounds, Baby Ruth, Snickers, Peppermint Patties, candy corn and more. After the jack-o’-lantern and costumes, it would seem the thing that best defines Halloween is the candy — all that trick-or-treating loot. When I was a kid, Halloween wasn’t over until my siblings and I emptied our bags at the end of an evening of trick-or-treating, trading candies late into the night. My favorites were always the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
But as much as I continue to enjoy pulling back the orange wrapping to reveal the classic peanut butter and chocolate treat, I’ve long wondered how hard they might be to make from scratch. Not changing much, mind you, but adjusting the flavors and texture just a bit and playing around with the type of chocolate coating for a richer, dark chocolate flavor.
Look up “homemade candy bar recipes” online, and you’ll find no shortage of options. Some are amazingly simple; others range in complexity. And the results can vary widely, from realistic hacks to creative interpretations. Even the simplest of recipes will be a bit of a project, but they’re also a lot of fun, particularly for kids.
One of the easiest candies to make is the peppermint patty. Combine powdered sugar, peppermint oil, a touch of lemon juice and salt with some sort of fat. Many recipes call for butter, condensed milk and even cream cheese. While other fats often lend some sort of flavor, coconut oil is neutral, allowing the peppermint flavoring to shine. A bonus is that coconut oil is plant-based, if you’re looking for a vegan candy option. Beat the ingredients together to form a dough, chill, then coat your candies.
Coconut bars are just as easy, nothing more than a combination of shredded or grated sweetened coconut mixed with powdered sugar and condensed milk — the richness of the milk helps to balance the sweetness of the candy. Add a touch of vanilla or vanilla seeds for added flavor.
Homemade peanut butter cups are actually simple to make, nothing more than a combination of peanut butter, powdered sugar and butter, with crumbled cookies, such as vanilla wafers or graham crackers, for added texture and crunch. I prefer ground crisped rice cereal, as it adds a light crunch without extra flavor. Form the pieces, freeze, then coat in chocolate — a fondue fork is perfect for this — and pop into little candy cups before refrigerating.
Chocolate chips make a perfect candy coating, and varieties range from rich milk chocolate to semi-sweet and dark — the higher cocoa percentages lending a more assertive flavor to the chips.
Another trick is keeping the candies cold before they’re coated. Most candy fillings are creamy when you bite into them, but they need to be solid to withstand a dip in warm chocolate. If the fillings are too soft, they’ll melt. So freeze the candies before you coat, then dip them in chocolate a few at a time.
The Twix bar is similar to the classic “millionaire’s shortbread” dessert, a layer of shortbread topped with caramel and rich chocolate. Top buttery shortbread bars with a thick layer of caramel — simmer the caramel until it is a dark amber with a nutty smell for richer flavor and chill until it has the consistency of thick toothpaste — then pipe a strip of caramel on top of each bar before freezing and coating with chocolate.
Your homemade candy bars will easily last two to three weeks refrigerated, and longer if frozen. And unlike the store-bought version, you can shape and decorate them too. Use cookie cutters for creative holiday-themed shapes, and add a drizzle of icing or chocolate, or even a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, for dramatic effect.
These aren’t candies you’ll be passing out to costumed children but rather treats you can share at parties, or even use as homemade holiday gifts. Of course, you can also keep a batch — your own loot — for yourself.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the peanut butter and the butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Place the crisped rice cereal in the bowl of a food processor and crush to a very fine meal. Add the cereal to the peanut butter mixture and beat to combine. This makes about 3 cups filling. Cover and refrigerate until very firm, 3 to 4 hours.
Divide the filling into generous 1-tablespoon scoops. Very quickly, roll the scoops into balls, then flatten slightly to form patties about 1 inch wide by ½-inch thick. If the dough begins to warm and get sticky, freeze the scoops until firm enough to mold. Freeze the formed patties, uncovered, on a parchment-lined baking sheet until solid, preferably overnight.
Melt the chocolate chips in a large microwave-safe bowl, stirring every 20 to 30 seconds until evenly melted. If the melted chips feel a little too thick, stir in a little coconut oil to thin the melted chocolate.
Remove just a few patties at a time (keep the rest of the patties frozen), and dip them, one at a time, in the melted chocolate. Tap the candy a few times to remove excess chocolate and carefully drop each piece into a candy or truffle paper cup, adjusting the sides as needed so the patty sits level in the cup. Repeat until all of the peanut butter cups are assembled.
Place the cups in the refrigerator until the chocolate is hardened before serving.