Holiday candy

Volume 13, Issue 46; 14 Nov 2010; last modified 23 Dec 2010

My family's holiday sweets: rum butter and treacle taffy.

Growing up, I distinctly remember two candy treats that my mom only ever made around the holidays: rum butter and treacle taffy. Both are easy and delicious. Mom's coming to visit us next week, so I figured it was my turn to make the candy.

Rum Butter

Rum butter might equally be classified as a potent potable. Well, I guess it isn't really a potable. But it's definitely potent. Consider yourself warned.

Ingredients: 1 lb brown sugar, 4 oz butter, ½ cup dark rum, a pinch of nutmeg.

Melt the butter. Off heat, stir in the sugar. Add the pinch of nutmeg. Stir until cool (use a water bath to speed things along). Add rum. Stir well. Pour into containers and refrigerate.

That's right, it's a stick of butter, a pound of sugar, and rum. You say that like it's a bad thing. I said it was delicious; I didn't say it was good for you.

It is good spread on crackers, however.

Treacle taffy

I'm not really sure why treacle taffy is called taffy. There's nothing taffy-like about it, at least the way my family makes it.

Ingredients: ¼ cup water, 1 lb sugar, 3 oz butter, ½ cup molasses, ½ cup karo syrup, a pinch of cream of tartar.

Dissolve the other ingredients in the water. Boil until the “hard crack” stage (300-310°F), stirring occasionally. Pour into a greased 8x11in baking pan. Mark into squares when firm, break into pieces when cold.

A few observations:

  • If you're not careful, it will boil over. You do not want this to happen, especially if you have to clean the stove.

  • As near as I can tell, the purpose of the cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate) is to interfere with the formation of sugar crystals as the candy cools. Without it, maybe you'd get one great big slab of rock candy? Alton Brown, if you're reading this, please feel free to explain in a comment.

  • Treat a 300°F (≅150°C) pot of boiling syrup with respect. It's awful if you spill it on the stove. Awful does not begin to describe what it is if you spill it on your skin.

  • “Mark into squares when firm, break into pieces when cold” seems to imply that the pieces you get will bear some obvious relationship to to marks you made. Unless you make random, shard-like radial lines, I think you'll have a hard time seeing what the relationship is. That said, even the sharpest piece tastes sweet.

I've got a good recipe for short bread, too, and I have to get my mom's recipe for mincemeat pies while she's here.


Your "Rum Butter" is called "hard sauce" by my family and is only eaten on Christmas pudding (which is basically Christmas "caked" that has been steamed so the hard sause melts into it). By my measure, if you cannot light it on fire your rum measure is lacking. The running joke (started by grandma long before I was born): "Would you like some pudding with your hard sauce?"

—Posted by Derek Read on 20 Nov 2010 @ 12:51 UTC #