Red Hots Spice Up Everyday Cooking

Red Hots candies i

Sweet and spicy, Red Hots can add pizzazz to virtually any food that benefits from a dash of cinnamon. Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR
Red Hots candies

Sweet and spicy, Red Hots can add pizzazz to virtually any food that benefits from a dash of cinnamon.

Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR

Red Hot Tips and Uses

Red Hots are great for satiating a sweet tooth without the fat and calories. Twenty pieces contain only 60 calories and are fat free.

Cinnamon's medicinal benefits are widely known. Cinnamon has been used to treat minor conditions such as toothaches and bad breath, and has been reported to aid in the treatment of type II diabetes by lessening the impact of carbohydrates on blood-sugar levels.

The next time you want to spice up applesauce, simmer it with a handful of Red Hots until they have completely melted. The applesauce will have a cinnamony kick to it and turn a light pink color.

Red Hots are delicious when dissolved in a steaming mug of hot tea or hot chocolate, providing a little extra heat and spice.

Purchasing Red Hots in the candy section of a supermarket is more economical than getting them from the baking section.

About the Author

Food writer and culinary instructor Kendra Bailey Morris is the author of White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining (Ten Speed Press 2006).

As a young girl, my favorite room in the house was always the kitchen. Warm and filled with the pungent aroma of bubbling sauces, there was no place I'd rather be. When the rest of the neighborhood kids were outside riding their Big Wheels in the driveway, I was inside, hovering beside my mother as she put together our Sunday supper.

I'd watch intently as she mashed homemade apple butter through a sieve and into a stockpot, stopping every so often to scrape down the sides to extract every drop of tart, apple flavor.

When it was time to add our secret seasoning to the apple mixture, I'd crawl up onto a rickety stool, push aside the can of cacao powder, the multiple bottles of vanilla extract and the jar of cinnamon sticks, and pull out a box of cinnamon imperial candies, otherwise known as Red Hots.

Before I could grab a handful for myself, my mother poured the entire box of candies into the mixture, and a flotilla of tiny red dots would be bouncing in a sea of pale apple puree. Then slowly, one by one, the minuscule sweets would sink into the pulp.

A bag of sweet and spicy Red Hots can add some serious pizazz to virtually any food that benefits from a dash of cinnamon.

Originally used to decorate cookies, cakes and gingerbread houses, Red Hots now can be found on ingredient lists for a variety of dishes, particularly those involving apples.

Red Hots melt easily into any hot liquid or sauce, turning it a light pink and leaving a slightly sweet burn on the tongue. Toss a few into your next pot of hot chocolate, tea or mulled cider, and your average beverage will take on an above-average zing.

Inject new life into dill pickles by boiling their pickling liquid with a cup of Red Hots and a couple of cinnamon sticks. A small handful of these spicy candies gives a boost of heat to a classic red gelatin salad, which turns an even deeper ruby color.

And Red Hots were made for apples: Their addition means applesauce picks up a smidgen of pink coloring and tangy spice, as do baked apples, apple jelly and apple dumplings.

Red Hots candies were created by the Ferrara Pan Candy Co. in the early 1930s using the panned candy method. This process involves creating candy from a hard center unit (such as grains of sugar or nuts) and then transferring them to revolving pans where they are tossed with added flavors, colors and other ingredients until they reach the desired size. From there, the candy is "polished" with a vegetable wax, providing its shine.

Red Hots rank up there with Atomic Fireballs and Hot Tamales in their ability to sting your tongue just enough to make resisting a second piece impossible. As a young girl, I spent very few afternoons at the movies that didn't end with empty boxes of Red Hots and pink-tinged fingertips. Even today, I keep a second stash of the candy hidden away to satisfy sugar cravings.

Their power as a candy is matched by their power as a spice. So experiment. Reinvent a simple bowl of popcorn by adding a few candies to the melted butter or make candied apples by dipping Granny Smiths into a Red Hots-infused glaze. Red Hots deserve their own place on the spice rack.

Red Hot Apple Butter

Red Hots apple butter and biscuits i
Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR
Red Hots apple butter and biscuits
Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR

Makes 6 to 8 pints

5 cups apple cider

10 pounds tart, red cooking apples, washed, cored and cut into wedges

4 to 5 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

50 to 60 Red Hots candies (1.75 ounces)

Special tools: large, heavy-bottomed pan, sieve

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan (such as cast iron), bring the cider to a boil. Cook it down to 2 1/2 cups. Add apples and simmer until they are mushy and no longer watery, about 2 hours.

Push apple mixture through a sieve into a large bowl, removing any apple skin and lumps. Measure the apple mixture in cups and put back in the pot. For every 1 cup of pulp, add 1/2 cup sugar. Then, add ground cinnamon and candies. Cook uncovered on medium heat for 6 to 8 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture becomes thick. The apple butter should be a reddish-brown color.

Pack apple butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Seal jars while mixture is piping hot. Properly sealed apple butter can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 2 years.

Serve apple butter on warm biscuits.

Granny Smiths in a Blanket

Granny Smiths in a Blanket i
Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR
Granny Smiths in a Blanket
Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR

If you like apple dumplings, then you'll love this quick and easy recipe for pastry-wrapped whole baked apples. Accented with a handful of Red Hots for just the right kick, these Granny Smiths are divine with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 6 servings

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

1 tablespoon butter, plus more for topping

2 (9-inch) unbaked refrigerated piecrusts

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored

Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium-sized saucepan, mix sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and Red Hots. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately take off the heat and add butter. Mix well until all candies are dissolved.

Cut each piecrust into 3 wedges (thirds) and wrap the apples all the way around, leaving the hollowed part of the apple exposed. Place apples in a 9-inch-by-13-inch greased baking dish.

Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on each apple and place a dab of butter into the hole of each apple. Pour the hot syrup over the apples. Bake for about 50 minutes, basting with the hot syrup every 15 minutes or so. If liquid begins to get too thick, add a little water to thin. Serve warm apples topped with vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle a few cinnamon candies around the plate for garnish.

Red Hot Spiced Cider

Red Hot Apple Cider i
Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR
Red Hot Apple Cider
Kendra Bailey Morris for NPR

Makes 4 servings

4 cups apple cider

1/8 cup Red Hots candies

1/4 teaspoon whole cloves

1 stick cinnamon

1/2-inch long whole, peeled gingerroot (lightly smashed)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce and simmer 10 minutes. Strain and serve hot in mugs garnished with a cinnamon stick.

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