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I Spice: Red Hots (really)

Please forgive me for adding Red Hots here as a spice. My editors made me do it.

Granny Smiths in a Blanket. (Monica Bhide)

I think this may be stretching it a bit, but I remembered seeing them used as a seasoning in “White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining” (Ten Speed Press, 2006) by Kendra Bailey Morris, and always wondered if other people used them as a seasoning, too.

Recipe Included

I was right: Red Hots have a place in the pantry as a fun way to add some zip to your dish, particularly if you are cooking with apples.

But first, I had to do some digging to learn a bit more about these candies, which seem to show up in stores only around Valentine's Day. Made by Ferrara Pan Candy Co., the candies have a unique combination of strong cinnamon flavor and spicy heat. (The company offers a virtual tour of the process of making them, if you are interested.) The hard center melts easily when added to hot liquids, making these candies an interesting, useful seasoning for cooking or baking. (FYI, I looked at the ingredients list on the package of candies; the word "cinnamon" does not appear. Artificial flavorings and coloring and corn syrup are listed, however.)

Morris, who introduced me to this idea, told me her family has used these candies to cook with as far back as she can remember. “At the time I found it perplexing that my mother kept these candies in her spice cabinet, because to me, these were treats to be eaten, and not just simply ingredients. That is, until I tried my mom’s Baked Granny Smiths in a Blanket recipe, which consist of whole, peeled Granny Smith apples wrapped in pieces of pie crust and smothered in a sugar syrup laced with melted Red Hots and accented with cinnamon. She served it with vanilla ice cream and a few more Red Hots for garnish.”

Morris provided these additional ideas to add the candy to your culinary repertoire:

* Her mom’s recipe for homemade apple butter incorporates about 60 little Red Hots into the mix, in addition to a couple of pinches of standard cinnamon, giving her apple butter a deeper color and another dimension of flavor. With this in mind, Red Hots are a great addition to homemade applesauce or cooked apples.

* Red Hots are great added to sugar sauces and/or glazes and can also top cakes, cookies or cupcakes since they melt so easily (you don’t even know they’re there!).

* Red Hots are especially good in hot beverages. The next time you make hot spiced cider or hot chocolate, dissolve a few Red Hots into the mixture for added heat and spiciness.

* When cooking with Red Hots in place of or in addition to cinnamon, keep in mind that Red Hots also contain sugar, so you will need to adjust your recipe accordingly.

* Red Hots are a great addition to candied yams or any sweet potato casserole recipe. Just sprinkle a few over the top of your casserole along with the marshmallows.

* Red Hots are great for making candied apples. Melt them into your sugar glaze before coating your apples.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor for the Charlotte Observer, told me her mother always put them in applesauce. Apparently, using them this way is quite common. I got several e-mails from people telling me that adding a few to their simmering applesauce and allowing them to melt and mix with the sauce gives it some serious oomph in flavor (a little goes a long way).

I Spice reader Jim Washburn e-mailed me to share how his mother used these when she baked apples: “Add the candies to the center of peeled cored apples. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, give or take, depending on the size of the apple. The Red Hots will totally liquefy. I like to use big apples. There are some Jonagolds in the market nowadays, and I baked one this way just the other day."

Chile Pepper magazine columnist and author of the newly released “Spice & Ice: 70 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails” (Chronicle Books), Kara Newman, tweeted me to say, ”Pulverized Red Hots make an awesome cocktail rim. I recall someone tried to infuse vodka with them, too.” Tiffany MacIsaac, pastry chef at the newly opened Birch & Barley in Logan Circle, told me she has used them in making ice cream. She adds the Red Hots to the custard base and allows them to melt and infuse the custard with their flavor. She does warn, though, that the quantity of the candy used should be very little -- a lot will tend to curdle the milk.

Morris prefers the Ferrara Pan brand, but many others are available. Because they are sort of “out of season” right now, I found and ordered them on Amazon.

Store the candy in a container in your cupboard as you would any dried spice.
There is one point. It is a candy after all, so be sure to honor that and eat a few pieces as they are.

-- Monica Bhide

Granny Smiths in a Blanket
6 servings

Adapted from "White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining," by Kendra Bailey Morris (Ten Speed Press, 2006).

1 1/2 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups water, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
20 Red Hots candies, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
2 (9-inch) unbaked refrigerated pie crusts, preferably the roll-out kind
6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Combine the sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and Red Hots in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat and add the tablespoon of butter. Mix well until all the candies are dissolved and the butter has melted. Keep warm.

Cut each pie crust into 3 wedges. Use 1 wedge to wrap each apple all the way around, leaving the cored part of the apple exposed on top. Arrange the apples in the prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on each apple, then use the remaining tablespoon of butter into the cored center of each apple. Pour the hot cinnamon-candy syrup evenly over the apples. Bake for about 50 minutes, basting with the hot syrup every 15 minutes or so. If the syrup begins to get too thick, add water as needed to thin it.

Serve the apples warm; sprinkle a few Red Hots on top of each portion or scattered on the individual plates, for garnish.

Per serving: 612 calories, 2 g protein, 102 carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 293 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 65 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  November 20, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: I Spice, Monica Bhide, Red Hots, recipes  
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Next: Holiday favorites: More desserts


My grandmother's cinnamon jello was always a hit at the holidays.

1 pkg red jello (flavor doesn't matter. color is essential)
Dissolve 2+ oz red hots into the hot water, then dissolve gelatin
In place of the cold water, use the equivalent apple sauce.
Pour into a mold & let set.

The texture is very much unlike jello, but add a sweet/savory to the table. We loved it as kids, and I made it last week when I had the in-laws over for the first time, and they still seem to like me.

The red hots you find in the 2-3 oz containers in the decorating section of the grocery store are much more potent than the 1lb bag for 99c after Valentine's day, and also much much more expensive. I use 2oz of the store stuff and 3 oz of the cheap stuff when I make this.
Get yourself a bag of them after V-day and pour them into an airtight container. It's just sugar, after all.

Posted by: capecodner424 | November 20, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: sigmagrrl | November 20, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

When I was a kid (I was born in 1961) and we were visiting my grandmother in Arlington, VA, we used to always get to stir them up in applesauce. I got a big kick out of it. I don't eat as much applesauce as I did then but perhaps should go back to it. Or make my own, which I think would be fun and fast and easy and tasty.

Take it easy,


Posted by: ivorynicky | November 20, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Red Hots are great. I use them in making my own applesauce. A heaping tablespoon cooked in with eight apples is fine. It adds flavor, a touch of color and very little sugar.

Posted by: hapax142 | November 20, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

My parents used to make a kettle corn with them. And jello too, of course. I think everyone used them back in the day, before ingredients became more scrutinized.

Posted by: sarahabc | November 21, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

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