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Valentine's Day: Candies to Buoy Your Heart

Forget drugstore bonbons: Making your own chocolate truffles and candied orange peel isn't hard. Recipes below
Forget drugstore bonbons: Making your own chocolate truffles and candied orange peel isn't hard. Recipes below

With the exception of one brief interlude, all of my Valentine's Days have been valentine-free -- no flowers, no proclamations of love from secret admirers, no romantic dinners. It's a history that might be a recipe for bitterness.

But there is one thing that keeps me looking forward to the holiday. And, as you can imagine, it's not a belief in soul mates, the knight in shining armor, Prince Charming or everlasting love.

It's the candy: foil-wrapped chocolate cupids, conversation hearts with silly messages, ribboned boxes with assorted bonbons inside.

Such sugar bombs aren't very good, even for drugstore candy. But their whimsy and abundance have always charmed me, and trump their lousy ingredients. For years, these iconic red and pink wrapped sweets sustained my relationship with Valentine's Day and kept my cynicism at bay.

Then one year, I came across very simple-looking recipes for chocolate truffles and candied orange peel. I decided I'd had enough of waiting for a gift that might never come. I would make my own Valentine's candy. I even convinced myself that the joy of creation might sublimate any unresolved feelings of self-pity into a cocoa-scented vapor.

On my way to the market to pick up some good quality chocolate, I passed a line of suitors snaking around the block, waiting to buy their sweethearts sorry Godivas. I couldn't help by feel a bit smug about the fabulous confections I would be making.

The recipes turned out to be uncomplicated, easy to follow and extremely gratifying -- the opposite of any romantic relationship I had ever been in.

Transforming such basic ingredients -- chocolate and cream, sugar and water -- into such desirable commodities is nothing short of alchemy. I suppose that part of me had always imagined that candies, like diamonds or gold nuggets, were mined whole from a secret source -- and certainly not created by human hands.

Candy-making words like "temper," "soft ball" and "hard ball," and directions that include excruciatingly precise temperatures are intimidating, even scary. If the mercury creeps past the perfect point, your mixture is ruined. The road from softball to hardball is a brief but treacherous one.

But making truffles and candied citrus peel is both forgiving and sublime. In boiling sugar syrup, the orange rind becomes translucent. Stir hot cream into bittersweet chocolate, and the mixture turns to satin.

When I look at my expertly formed, cocoa-dusted truffle kisses and crystalline orange batons, my sense of accomplishment is always an antidote to any threatening Valentine's Day venom.

Sharing with my very impressed friends and basking in the glow of their adulation never hurts, either.

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Gabriella Gershenson