For the past 20 years, my sister, Amy, has been hosting Christmas candy making days for friends and family at her house. What started out as cute Nutter Butter snowmen and reindeer for the kids has evolved to include adult treats. These are truly tested treats created to share in the making and eat. She has also shared some tricks learned. This first recipe she created using Jonathon’s maple syrup to candy the bacon. I mean, what do you get when you combine bacon, bourbon, maple syrup and chocolate ... a taste of heaven. One tip she swears by is using Ghirardelli Chocolate melting wafers as the coating for dipping candy balls.

Maple bacon bourbon balls    
1 1/2 cups dark (60%) or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup cream
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup candied bacon bits, divided
Ghirardelli Chocolate melting wafers, dark or white chocolate
    Heat cream until it shivers. Pour onto chocolate. Stir until smooth. Can microwave if needed. Stir in bourbon and candied bacon. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Make into 1-inch balls. Dip into melted chocolate to coat and sprinkle with extra candied bacon on top. If balls are soft, chill till set and dip. Candied bacon bits: Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with parchment paper. In a bowl, coat real bacon bits with real maple syrup. Pour onto paper and bake in oven till liquid is absorbed. Cool.

Raspberry fudge balls
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 ounces chocolate chips, melted
3/4 cup vanilla wafer, crushed into crumbs
1/4 cup raspberry preserves, strained to remove seeds
2 cups Ghirardelli Chocolate melting wafers
1 tablespoon shortening
    Mix cream cheese and melted chocolate. Stir in crumbs and preserves. Chill several hours or overnight. Shape into 1-inch balls. Melt chips and shortening together. Dip balls. Keep refrigerated.
Chocolate sea salt caramels
2 teaspoons plus 1 cup butter, divided
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
2 teaspoons course sea salt, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Line a jelly roll pan (10-by-15-inch) with foil; grease foil with 2 teaspoons butter and set aside. Melt remaining butter in a large heavy saucepan, then add sugars, corn syrup and 1 cup cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugars are dissolved. Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in remaining cream. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 245 degrees (firm-ball stage). Remove from heat; stir in salt and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan (do not scrape saucepan). Let stand until firm. Using foil, lift candy out of pan. Discard foil; cut candy into 1-inch squares. Dip in melted 60% Ghirardelli Chocolate. Let set a few minutes then sprinkle sea salt on top.    

Whiskey caramel sauce
    This is a recipe I found in my sister Nancy’s box. It is so good on ice cream, French toast, bread pudding or spoonful as a sweetener in hot chocolate or tea. I even found myself savoring a spoonful directly in my mouth.  
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, warmed
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup good whisky or dark rum
    Combine sugar and water in heavy 8-cup saucepan; stir to blend and melt sugar. Cook over low heat, using the handle of the pan to swirl the liquid and ensure the sugar is completely dissolved. From this stage forward, do not touch the caramel with a spoon or spatula until the final step. It should be absolutely clear. This takes about 4 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil and cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the caramel turns a dark amber color, like maple syrup (about 10-12 minutes). Remove pan from heat. Carefully add the warm cream to the caramel; the caramel will froth and steam. Return the pan to low heat, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to dissolve any solidified caramel until the sauce is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and liquor. Let cool for a few minutes before pouring into jars you have selected for gifting. Half pint jars are the perfect size. Let cool on the counter. Store in refrigerator. Makes about four half pints.

Grinch brownies
    I made these brownies last year. The kids loved the way they looked and adults loved the way they tasted. They will bring a smile to any grinch.
Brownie box mix for 9-by-13-inch pan
26 mint Oreo cookies, chopped into chunks
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Four drops green food coloring
Red hot candies
    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix brownies according to directions on package. Chop 16 Oreos into quarters. Mix into batter. Chop remaining Oreos into quarters, set aside. Spread batter evenly in a parchment line pan. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack. Make ganache. Bring saucepan filled with water to simmering. Put heat safe bowl on top of simmering water. Pour chocolate chips and cream in bowl. Stir constantly till melted. Take off heat. Stir in peppermint and food coloring. Pour on top of cooled brownies. Sprinkle remaining Oreo on top. Sprinkle red hots on top of Oreos. Chill 1 hour before cutting into bars.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at