I may be stretching it a bit, but I remember seeing Red Hots used as a seasoning in "White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining" (Ten Speed Press, 2006) by Kendra Bailey Morris. I always wondered if other people used them as a seasoning, too.
I was right: Red Hots have a place in the pantry as a way to add zip to your dish, particularly if you're 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. in the Chicago suburb of Forest Park, Ill., these candies combine strong cinnamon flavor and spicy heat. The hard center melts easily when added to hot liquids, making these candies an interesting component for cooking or baking. I looked at the ingredients list on the package, and cinnamon was not on it.
Morris said her family has cooked with these candies as far back as she can remember. "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," Morris said. "That is, until I tried my mom's Baked Granny Smiths in a Blanket recipe."
It combines whole, peeled apples wrapped in pie crust and smothered in a sugar syrup laced with melted Red Hots and accented with cinnamon. It was served with vanilla ice cream and a few more Red Hots for garnish.
Morris provided more ideas for adding Red Hots to your culinary repertoire:
Her mom's recipe for homemade apple butter incorporates about 60 Red Hots plus a couple of pinches of cinnamon, giving it a deeper color and flavor. Red Hots also complement applesauce or cooked apples.
Add Red Hots to sugar sauces and/or glazes, or use them to top cakes, cookies or cupcakes. They melt easily.
Dissolve a few Red Hots in hot beverages such as spiced cider or hot chocolate.
Adjust the sugar content when adding Red Hots, because the candies contain sugar as well as spicy flavor.
Add Red Hots to candied yams or any sweet-potato casserole recipe. Sprinkle a few over your casserole along with the marshmallows.
Use Red Hots in making candied apples. Melt them into your sugar glaze before coating the apples.
Store the candy in a container in your cupboard as you would any dried spice.
Because it's a candy, eat a few pieces as they are!
The following recipe for Granny Smiths in a Blanket has been adapted from Kendra Bailey Morris' cookbook, "White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining."
GRANNY SMITHS IN A BLANKET
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus more for topping
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for topping
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
20 Red Hots candies, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons butter (divided)
2 (9-inch) unbaked refrigerated piecrusts
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter the inside of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and Red Hots. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the butter. Stir until candies have dissolved. Set aside in warm spot.
Cut each piecrust into 3 wedges. Wrap each apple almost entirely, except for the fruit's hollowed top. Place the apples in the prepared pan.
Place a dab of the remaining butter atop each apple, then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over each fruit. Pour the hot syrup over the apples. Bake for about 50 minutes, basting with the hot syrup every 15 minutes or so. If the liquid gets too thick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of hot water to thin it.
Serve the apples warm, topped with ice cream. Garnish each serving with a few Red Hots. Makes 6 servings.