SWEETLAND, W.Va -- She only makes candy once a year, but when Sandra Miller dips bon bons in chocolate, her dining room looks a bit like it should be in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Miller takes a week's vacation every December from her job as a litigation clerk to make candy for her family, friends and acquaintances in need of holiday cheer.
In the fall, she stocks up on sugar, nuts, coconut, marshmallow cream and chocolate and peanut butter baking chips when she sees a good sale. This year, she purchased 30 pounds of melting chocolate and 20 pounds of sugar. She usually makes between 15 to 20 pans of fudge -- chocolate with or without nuts, peanut butter and chocolate-butterscotch.
Then there are platters and platters of chocolate-coated toffee bars and toasted coconut peanut butter bars, coconut bon bons, and tiny cups of a peanut butter, butterscotch and crushed peanuts that taste like Smoothie Cups or marshmallow cream and toasted coconut that duplicate Mallo Cups. She flattens pieces of caramel, tops them with a pecan and dips the combination in chocolate to make turtles. She dips Oreo truffles and cherries in chocolate.
Her candy-making habit started in 1984 when she took a class at Vicky's Candy Craft House in Milton. She still works from the typed pages of instructions she received as a student.
Not that that she needs the directions. Point to any candy on the laden table, and she rattles off the ingredients and directions. No chocolate goes to waste. After she finishes dipping the mallow cups, she mixes toasted coconut into the remaining chocolate and pours the mixture into cups to form toasted coconut cups. Crushed toffee or nuts work well for clean-up cups, too.
Miller buys her chocolate, white chocolate and butterscotch wafers, caramel, toasted coconut, macaroon coconut, toffee bars, and coconut/peanut butter logs at Vicky's or Celebrations in South Charleston.
Her high tech melting system is an electric skillet and Pyrex measuring cups. She fills the skillet with water halfway up the height of the measuring cups and simmers the water to melt the chocolate wafers. Several cups of melted chocolate stay warm in the skillet while she uses another cup for dipping so she can switch it as it cools.
Her tool of choice is a dipping spoon, basically a rigid plastic stick with a small loop on the end. After she dips the filling in chocolate, she places the candy upside down on waxed paper, so it's coated on all sides.
"It's relaxing," Miller said of the dipping process. "I enjoy doing it. It's peaceful."
She occasionally takes requests. Her nephew tasted Oreo truffles a few years ago and asked if she could make them. She mixed cream cheese and crushed Oreos and formed balls of the mixture, then dipped them in chocolate. "I used chocolate because that's what I had," she said. "He said white chocolate was better." Now she uses both chocolate and white chocolate.
At first she made the candy for her family and friends, but soon began giving them to elderly people, often members of Amy Baptist Church, where she attends.
"At Christmas, my heart is for elderly people," Miller said. "You see so many elderly people who are neglected or don't have anyone else at the holidays."
After she made 32 plates for her friends and co-workers, her two sisters came by the house in Sweetland that she shares with her mother, Bera Miller, and filled about 20 plates and platters to give to their friends. They walked around the dining room table, picking up assortments of candy.
She's been asked to make platters of candy to sell, but prefers to give the candy as gifts. She has a few exceptions - co-workers who place orders well before Thanksgiving.
She's made so many pounds of fudge that it's difficult to pin down details of her recipe. Asked how long to cook the sugar, margarine and milk mixture, she shrugged and said she thought it was to the softball stage. "I let some drop from the spoon and can tell when it's the right consistency," she said. "As long as I've been making it, I just know. I've never timed it."
The recipe originated from a chocolate-butterscotch fudge recipe that she found in a magazine when she was in high school. It was the first candy she ever made.
The hundreds of people who enjoy her candies today are glad she continued her candy education. One business owner, a family friend, wasn't going to be in the office last week, until he heard Miller was stopping by with her annual treat.
"I said he'd just put on his flying skates and meet me there," she said. "People are always excited to get the candy."
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Fudge1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick margarine
2/3 cup evaporated milk
7 ounces marshmallow cream
1 12-ounce bag of chocolate or peanut butter chips
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter, for peanut butter fudge only
1 cup chopped nuts, optional, for chocolate fudge only
COOK sugars, margarine and evaporated milk in saucepan, starting on low heat then slowing increasing to medium heat until mixture reaches softball stage.
REMOVE from heat and stir in marshmallow cream and chips. Stir until melted.