May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

December 2008

Well, here it is December again, and once again I have failed to update in forever and a day. It isn’t my fault, though. Inexpectedly, my entire kitchenful of copper pots inexplicably vanished at the end of the summer. I am so pissed off. I have been pissed off since August. Who. Steals. Pots?

Well, okay, I have a pretty good idea. But I don’t write here to make accusations. I write here to share joyful stories of confection and fellowship, and recipes sometimes. Not to cast stones. Even when people insist on making themselves targets. All I’m going to say is, I don’t have the money to replace those pots, and if anybody wants caramels or basically anything with sugar in any form other than granular or simple syrup from Magothy Treats ever again, I better get my copper back. I won’t ask any questions. Just leave it on my porch.

Until then, it’s time to start thinking about gingerbread! I am formulating some variations I’m particularly proud of, so stop by for a slice with hot buttered rum or hot chocolate–and be sure to hit last year’s column on buttered rum to make some for yourself at home!

Posted in Sweets
May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

April 2008

Spring again here on the Magothy–how does the time fly this way? and this spring I have such wonderful things to look forward to–my dear friend Kate’s sister Stephanie is getting married in November, which gives me exactly six months to figure out how to make the candy I’ve suggested for favors for her wedding. When I figure them out, I’ll post them here, of course. In the meantime, I’ll be talking caramels…because spring always makes me think of caramels. I don’t know why.

Well, maybe I do. When I was a girl, the boardwalk at the south end of Bayside was a pilgrimage site from the first ray of warm sun in March to the passing of the last breeze with any hint of summer flavor sometime around October. Everybody went. The grade-school hierarchy transferred itself to the boardwalk as if the little storefronts and the benches across the boards were little colonies. The popular kids ruled Vinegar Tom’s Boardwalk Fries.  The drama geeks took over the 50’s themed Shimmy Shack. Kids on dates went to the Griddle on Grand for pancakes. How pancakes became the official date food of my graduating class I have no idea, but that’s how you knew you were about to get serious in a relationship. Nobody took hookups out for pancakes. It wasn’t done. On the other hand, if your significant other herded you, however casually, toward Tosser’s Pizza at any point in your relations, you were honor-bound to (at minimum) sock him in the mouth or (if the situation merited) kick him in the balls. Either way you knew things were doomed. Kind of a shame, since Tosser’s has pretty good pizza considering it’s still only seventy-five cents a slice.

For me, the pilgrimage began and ended at Beurre/Sucre (which as as a kid I used to pronounce berserker…not that my French has improved much since) for caramel. Fall came not with the sign of falling leaves but with caramel apples, and springtime arrived not when snowdrops and crocus came up, but when Beurre/Sucre put out their garden caramels: flower-inspired bites of sunshine even if it was still bitter and rainy outside.

So that’s why spring is for caramels at Magothy Treats! Recipes for my Bouquet Caramels are coming soon!

Posted in Sweets
May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

June 2007

Well, it’s June, and summer is officially here! Warm days mean one thing at Magothy Treats: it’s time for taffy!

Up until her accident last year, my grandmother still spoke about childhood summers in rented cottages on the Bay Byway, and how she and her sisters always rated their favorite homes away from home based on how far the walk was to the soda shop. That, and whether or not the local lifeguard appeared to have a whorey girlfriend.

Well, the soda fountain no longer stands where Granny insists it was, right about at Milepost Five, but it lives in her memory, along with the famous saltwater taffy the owner’s wife made fresh every day, twisted up in little squares of pink waxpaper. I spent a long time working on the recipes we use here, because I knew they needed to meet Granny’s exacting standards. And they needed to be chewy enough to work her dentures loose, because that’s my favorite thing about her visits.  My favorites are simple taffy variations made with the flavored sugars I whip up at Magothy Treats. They’re very subtle, but since you chew them a long time, you get the flavor in the end.  The recipes below are not so subtle, but are customer favorites every single year.

Taffy-making is not for the impatient, but it does have a certain comfort factor, a touch of zen-in-a-pot. Here’s why:

The sugar mixture can take a long time to reach its appropriate stage. You can do nothing to speed the creep of the thermometer needle, because turning the heat up too high will make the sugar boil over, and you have to wash down the sides of the pan to keep seed crystals from forming, so you can’t really walk away.  You must be patient, even if you think it’ll kill you; if you turn up the heat or walk away for too long, the sugar will pass the soft-crack stage and move to the hard-crack, and then all you’ll have to look forward to is smashing the brittle result into pieces and hoping you can convince someone it’s a strange, nutless brittle. Then there’s the pulling. It’s both an upper-body workout and a mindless, meditative exercise.

Also, good quality ingredients are important here. Trust me and don’t skimp on your extracts or your cocoas, or all the time and energy you spend stirring, watching, pulling, cutting, de-sticking your fingers will result in candy that tastes like you got it at a gas station, and which you might just as well use for attaching posters to your walls.

Although these recipes work equally well for that.

Equipment you’ll need for all these variations:

a medium saucepan (I like copper because it heats up fast, reacts quickly when you adjust the heat, and helps the sugar to keep from re-crystallizing once it’s melted, but really any saucepan will do as long as it has plenty of space for the sugar syrup to double in volume during boiling.)

candy thermometer (although as I’ll discuss below, I don’t fully trust mine and think it’s safest to second-guess it early and often)

wooden spoon

pastry brush

a prepared greased baking tray (baking spray works wonders during taffy making, and please do consider using a half-sheet pan with raised edges just in case)

Almond-Rose Taffy

I make this for weddings sometimes. Then I go home and cry into my teacup. Then I put some brandy in my teacup and I feel better.

You can add 1/2 tsp luster dust or a few drops of food coloring to this one if you want to make it even more cutesy.


1 cup sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/8 cup rosewater

3/8 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp almond extract

*Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Add the rosewater, water, salt, and butter and set over medium heat.

*Stir continuously until mixture boils, then leave to boil untouched until it measures 250-270 degrees or reaches the soft crack stage. (See hints below for more on this.) Wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush and warm water to keep sugar from building up on sides.

*Remove from heat, stir in extract, and pour onto prepared pan.

*When cool, butter or spray hands with nonstick spray and stretch taffy until it lightens and takes on a pearly sheen. This should take 10-15 minutes.

*Draw taffy into a rope and cut into 1″ pieces. Scissors work well for this. Wrap each piece in wax paper.

Honey-Liqueur Taffy

I discovered this recipe when I was forced to hide a glass of bourbon quickly.


1/3 cup honey

3/4 cup honey liqueur

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

Follow the recipe above (minus the extract step). This is a smaller batch, so watch the heat and pan size.

Velvet-Chocolate Taffy

This produces a sticky, chewy, fudgy taffy that’s best kept in the fridge on hot or humid days. I make it for a picky kid who says it tastes like brownies.


1 cup sugar

4 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

Mix cocoa in with sugar and cornstarch, then follow top recipe. Make sure to break up any clumps of cocoa. Watch the heat carefully on this one, and wash the sides of the pan down often. This taffy needs some extra pulling; pull until the taffy really resists, or it won’t hold its shape once you cut it into pieces.

Things I Learned From Painful Trial and Error:

I don’t trust my thermometer. Maybe it’s been broken since the day I got it. Maybe it really reads centigrade and I never noticed. I use the thermometer for reference, but instead watch for the sugar mixture to reach the appropriate stage myself and follow the advice of my doctor: test early and often. To test for the soft crack stage, watch for the bubbles to get small, thick and dense at the top of the mixture. Then drop a bit of it into cold water; the drops should form strands that are flexible, not brittle.

When pulling the taffy, be persistent, and try to hold out for ten minutes even if it starts looking like it’s reached it’s final state before then. Stretching aerates the taffy and makes it chewier, so underdoing it makes for harder candy. All of these recipes double perfectly, but this batch size is small enough to pull comfortably without assistance.

On the subject of pulling, try to grease your hands just once when you start , otherwise the butter or spray will keep the ropes of taffy you pull apart from sticking back together and you’ll wind up with a million strands it’ll take forever to work back together again. The good news is, you can work them back together, but it’ll annoy the hell out of you and you’ll wish you listened to me in the first place.

Posted in Recipes, Sweets
May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

January 3, 2009

Happy New Year! Well, I had a happy accident happen yesterday, and my life has changed. I have discovered mixed martial arts.

I wasn’t going to get to sleep. I think I finished off an entire bottle of Gowerseult trying to ensure at least being passed out for a couple of hours, but sleep wasn’t in the cards. I think I kind of knew it. So I did a bad thing. A friend of mine’s husband sent a care package to her care of Magothy Treats because she’s been having problems with her mail, and in it was a set of DVDs–a complete collection of all 92 UFCs to date, along with five DVDs of Pride, three of Dream, and a smattering of UFC events with decimals.

I spent the entire night watching them. It was amazing. I feel like something I had been missing from my life without ever knowing had been miraculously restored to me!!

I suppose I’ll have to give them back to her eventually, but they don’t look like the kind of thing she’d like anyway. I bet it’s one of those things where she’s going to turn out to be glad I gave her the excuse not to waste her time on them. In the meantime, I’m up to UFC 12!!


Posted in Mixed Martial Arts
May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

May 20, 2008

Everybody’s heard of Lapland sesame, one of the key ingredients in producing a Hand of Glory, but fortunately for safe homes, nobody today knows what they meant back in the early centuries when they wrote up those recipes. I certainly didn’t start working on figuring the truth out because I meant to turn into a super-robber, but those old ingredients turn up in different places, and for reasons of another recipe I needed to find out.

For reasons of journalism–feel free to skim ahead if you paid attention in elementary-school social studies–I will remind my readers what you already know about Lapland sesame; namely, that you can’t make a Glory Hand without it, along with other things like green vitriol and the hand of a hanged man. A Glory Hand is, of course, how burglars keep you asleep while robbing you blind: once they light the hand, which burns like a candle, the sleeping homeowners can’t wake until you extinguish the flame.

Now, obviously an innocent confectioner doesn’t need a Glory Hand for anything like that (although it has occurred to me that if someone else lit one in my home maybe I’d finally get a good night’s sleep). However, Lapland sesame is also listed in the Pharmacopoeia das Benmoirecz, one of my favorite sources of rare seasonings, as an excellent seed to make comfits from, and since anyone who’s been to my shop knows about my obsession with classic comfits, I of course had to find a way to try this out. Lapland sesame, according to Mrs. Hillard, the compiler of the Benmoirecz, has a bitter flavor totally different from what we now call sesame, but not unlike wormwood. Also being an appreciator of absinthe, I couldn’t resist the possibilities. So off to the spicer I went!

Perhaps this is where I should mention that I absolutely hate John Pinnard, who runs Nagspice. The only thing is that there’s nowhere else to go if you want good spices and seasonings and herbs and whatnot. The man has connections I can’t begin to explain and can get you things you really have no business being able to get, so I put up with giving him my business despite the fact that I think he’s an asshole. Pardon my francais. And frankly, I don’t always think it’s any of John Pinnard’s business what I’m up to with what I buy. So here’s a transcript (paraphrased) of our transaction the day I went to do some reconnaissance on the subject of Lapland sesame.

Doorbell: Jinglejangle.

JPinnard: Morning, Annabelle!

Me: Hi, John.

JPinnard’s dog Fletcher: Grrrrrrr.

Me: Um.

JPinnard: (not very convincingly) Down, Fletch.

Fletcher: (grudgingly) Grr.

Me: John, I’m not going to beat around the bush. Do you have any sources for rare sesame?

JPinnard: Sure, Annabelle. I got Open Sesame, and some uncut Street Sesame, and…

Me: You’re not funny.

JPinnard: Sure I am. Okay, what kind of sesame are you looking for?

Me: Lapland.

JPinnard: There’s no such thing.

Me: Mrs. Hillard says differently.

JPinnard: There’s no such thing. Mrs. Hillard is a stupid blockhead.

Me: Take that back, John.

Fletcher: Grrrrr…..

JPinnard: Mrs. Hillard is an idiot. Mrs. Grieve could kick Mrs. Hillard’s fifteenth-century ass.


Fletcher: Grrrrrr!!!

JPinnard: Fletcher thinks Mrs. Hillard shouldn’t have quit her day job, even if it was turning fifteenth-century tricks.


Which is how I usually leave Nagspice looking like I lost a fight. And for the record, I have all the respect in the world for Mrs. Grieve. I just hate John Pinnard, because he is an asshole.

Also if you were wondering why Magothy Treats is out of peppar kakar this week, it’s because I also needed to get cardamom and I was so mad I forgot about it.

May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

January 24, 2008

I don’t properly know how half a year has passed since the last time I updated this page! Part of it is, of course, the fact that I’ve actually been sleeping most nights. That, and the fact that I don’t know how long it’s been since I came out of my kitchen.

It started, whenever that was, when I got a parcel in the mail from my dear friend Allison (hi, Alli!) who was vacationing in Grenoble sometime over the summer. Alli went into a little spicer’s shop in what she described on a postcard as a “back-alley hole in the wall.” She says she told the proprietor that she had a friend who made candy and liked unusual spices, and the fellow took a dusty apothecary jar down off a high shelf, filled a bag from it, wrote out a label and stuck it on, and told her it was the perfect thing for a good batch of manna.

Manna? Manna?

The bag held a handful of curls of something that looks like cinnamon: thin, barklike, about six inches long and rolled up to pencil-width. Unlike cinnamon, however, these curls smell of something halfway between honeysuckle and pink peppercorn: sweet, but peppery at the same time. This was before Alli had told me what the spicer said, so immediately my mind went to caramels and turkish delight, burnt sugar marmalade and liqueurs made with this delicious oddity–I guess I just can’t shut off that part of me, especially when I get something fun and new to try out. But then Alli told me what the guy in Grenoble said.


I’m not a biblical scholar, and I don’t care about all the debates over what sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. Know what else sounds like Manna?

Manus. As in manus christi.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Annabelle, you’re doubtless protesting, cinnamon–let alone any kind of strange cinnamon-like honeysuckle pepper bark thing–cinnamon is hardly ever even mentioned in the common recipes for manus christi! And you’re right, of course. You’d understand if the old guy had scooped a bunch of pearls or something smelling like damask roses or that looks like gold leaf or something like that. Of course there’s something I haven’t told you yet.

The label on the bag. The old spicer had written this on the bag: Epice Perdue de Main.

Lost Hand Spice.

Lost Hand, get it?? Manus means hand. The recipe for manus christi has been lost over long centuries. Coincidence? I think it’s unlikely. Occam’s Razor: the simplest answer, folks, is the one to bet on.

Anyhow, of course I went right into the kitchen to see what kind of damage I could do with the spice from Grenoble, whatever it was. I took one of the sticks and grated it down; it’s softer than cinnamon, and comes apart nicely. I started out putting some in my famous Rose Perlata, just to see what the flavor’s like. After that, I tried adding it into a batch of quiddany, then a gilly-clove liqueur, then…well, somewhere around the liqueur I lost track of time. It could really have happened to anyone. Anyhow, that’s why I haven’t written in a while. I’ll try and do better.

In the meantime, I still have some of the Rose Perlata from that first batch left, folks. Get it while the gettin’s good. It may not be an avatar of the manus christi, but it’s absolutely delicious.

May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

June 19, 2007

I have been eating, sleeping, and breathing caramels for the last week, and I am about ready to scream. Today, just for the hell of doing something different, I attempted some pate de fruits, which is not part of my usual repertoire and which is setting in the fridge as I write this.

Well, I love making caramels, but goodness, I forgot how bad I am at it! That’s right, I know this is hard to believe, but those delicious creamy, buttery bites piled up like chewy bits of heaven, just enough salt to give them that tiny crystalline savor–well, for every one that turns out right, I probably eat four or five defects.

Well, actually, it isn’t that I’m bad at them, it’s that the air conditioning is on the fritz and it is very, very difficult to make candy when it’s humid–most cookbooks (wisely) advise you not to try making candy when it’s humid, because of the adjustments you need to make. And I struggle with paying attention to details at the best of times. And I’m making candy for a wedding, which is another thing, because I’ve locked the liquor cabinet and without liquor weddings seem very, very difficult to face.

So, the caramels have been giving me problems, which might be why I keep waking up smelling burned sugar. Twice last night I actually had to go into the kitchen because the smell seemed so real I was sure I’d somehow left a batch on the stove! Well, it was the second time I stumbled out of my bedroom that I heard the phantom chip-cruncher at it again.

Now, it’s been about two months since the cruncher’s put in an appearance in the kitchen, and I won’t say I’ve missed him/her/it. I stumbled into the kitchen last night, and before I could even put my poor paranoid self to rest about the burned-sugar smell, I heard it: the unmistakable, rhythmic sound of someone chomping on crunchy tortilla chips.

I stopped dead in the middle of the kitchen and tried to make it all part of the same sensory hallucination as the sugar, but it wouldn’t go away. Chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp…(pause, rustle of hand-in-crinkling-plastic-bag)…chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp. Not thin little potato chip crunches, either; these were loud. Like I said, tortillas for sure!

It’s hard to pin down a noise if you don’t have a visual point of reference to nail it down to. I’m pretty sure it was coming from the vicinity of the kitchen table, as if the muncher was sitting there like a dinner guest, but it also sort of sounded like it might have been coming from inside my kitchen pantry, except when I actually went in there. Then it sounded like it was less a chip-cruncher and more like a dinosaur chewing bones. So, naturally, I left the pantry. Then I hit on the perfect way to settle the issue.

I sat down opposite the masticator and waited to be offered a chip, which frankly is the least I expect from a ghostly personage chewing loudly enough to be heard over the smell of imaginary burning sugar. When it didn’t happen, I went to bed. I can’t be bothered to worry about an invisible individual who isn’t at least going to offer to share. Son of a bitch.

Oh, and congratulations, Dee! Enjoy the caramels! If they taste funny it’s probably because every time I really wanted a drink I put a shot of brandy into the pot instead of my coffee cup. But they’ll probably taste just fine.