Sweets to swap. Tasty gifts: the secret's in the packaging

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

With the return to the market of those attractive tin boxes so practical for packing holiday treats, the urge to start making Christmas confections to fill them is almost irresistible. It is safe to assume that nearly everyone has a sweet tooth, and during the holiday season there is always someone with whom to share a pretty assortment of homemade sweets.

To make your gift look professional, use paper candy liners. And to make the box a treat for the eye as well, be sure to include a variety of hard and soft fillings, fruit and nut sugarplums, brittles, and fudge. Peanut Butter Cups 12 graham crackers, crushed 1 cup softened margarine 11/2 cups peanut butter 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups confectioners' sugar 1 12-ounce bag chocolate pieces

Mix together all ingredients except chocolate pieces. Press into buttered 9- by 13-inch pan. Melt chocolate pieces over hot water. Spread over peanut butter mixture. Chill until set. Peppermint Peanut Brittle 2 cups graham cracker crumbs 1 cup finely crushed peppermint candies or candy canes (6 ounces) 6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted 1 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped

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In bowl, mix well crumbs and crushed candies. Add butter and toss well until mixed. Stir in chopped peanuts.

Spread evenly in greased 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan and press firmly. Bake in preheated 375-degree F. oven 10 to 12 minutes or until melted and bubbly.

Cool completely. Break in pieces. Store in open container. Will keep two months.

Makes about 1 pound. Chocolate Cherry Nuggets 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces 1/3 cup evaporated milk 11/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar cup nuts, cut up 1/3 cup maraschino cherries, drained and cut in small pieces 11/4 cups coconut

In heavy 2-quart saucepan over very low heat, stir chocolate pieces and milk until chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Stir in until well mixed the confectioners' sugar, nuts, and cherries. Chill until mixture is cool enough to handle.

Roll teaspoonsful of the mixture in the coconut. Chill about 4 hours or until firm. Keep chilled.

Makes 2 dozen nuggets. Toasted Almond Truffles 1/2 cup undiluted evaporated milk 1/4 cup sugar 2 cups milk chocolate morsels 1/2 to 1 teaspoon almond extract 1 cup finely chopped almonds, toasted

Combine milk and sugar in small heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a full rolling boil. Boil 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in morsels and almond extract until morsels melt and mixture is smooth. Chill 45 minutes.

While mixture is chilling, toast almonds. Remove mixture from fridge, shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in almonds. Chill until ready to serve.

Makes about 21/2 dozen truffles. Divinity Fudge 3 cups sugar 3/4 cup light corn syrup 1/2 cup boiling water 2 egg whites 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract 1 cup chopped walnuts Pink or green natural food coloring

Note: This recipe requires use of a heavy-duty mixer.

Mix sugar, corn syrup, and water together in saucepan and cook, stirring constantly until when tested in cold water it cracks against the side of cup.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Add salt and vanilla or almond extract. When syrup is ready, pour very slowly into stiffly beaten egg whites. Beat until creamy. Add food coloring to desired tint. Add walnuts.

Pour into buttered 8 by 8-inch pan or drop onto waxed paper. Top each piece with a walnut half, if desired. Butter Crunch Wheels 1 cup blanched slivered almonds 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup sugar 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Line bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with aluminum foil (not plastic wrap or waxed paper). Butter foil heavily. Set aside.

Combine almonds, butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a 10-inch skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture turns golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Working quickly, spread candy in prepared pan. Cool about 15 minutes, or until firm. Remove candy from pan by lifting edges of foil. Peel off foil. Cool thoroughly. Break candy into pieces.

Makes about 3/4 pound. Coconut Kisses 3/4 cup warm unseasoned mashed potatoes 1 tablespoon butter 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 pound confectioners' sugar 3/4 pound shredded coconut

Cream together potato, butter, salt, and vanilla. Stir in confectioners' sugar. Stir in shredded coconut.

Drop by teaspoonful onto waxed paper. Cool until set.

Makes about 36 kisses. No-Cook Almond-Cheese Christmas Fudge 1/2 cup butter or margarine 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened 21/2 cups confectioners' sugar 1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, chopped

Lightly butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan. In small bowl with mixer at medium speed (or with spoon) beat cream cheese with sugar and almond extract until smooth. Stir in almonds.

Press mixture into pan. Refrigerate until firm.

Cut into 1-inch by 11/2-inch pieces. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Makes about 1 pound.

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