For years, whenever I flew to Maine to visit family without my husband, he would drop me off at the airport with a hug, a kiss and a plea to bring home needhams. We had a funny rating system for the various available brands that included “chalky, but will do in a pinch” for the ones I could usually buy in the airport gift shop, and “awesome– make someone drive you to Freeport for these” for the ones made in a little candy shop across the street from LL Bean. There were years I didn’t bring any because I couldn’t find them: the Summers of Pouting and Sadness. Luckily, my mom started to make her own a few years ago, so I knew I could count on a box in December even if I couldn’t get them in August. (Thanks, Mom!) Now, I am making them myself, and wondering why I haven’t done this the entire time we have lived in a Needham-Free state?
In case you have never had the good fortune of tasting a needham, let me give you some background. Unofficially the state candy of Maine, needhams are a chocolate covered coconut candy (think Mounds bar) with a special ingredient that lends a very specific texture: mashed potatoes! That’s right– needhams are also called “Maine potato candy”, and though you can’t taste the potato if you try all day, it’s in there, and you can’t call your candy a needham without it. Some folks use paraffin wax in the chocolate coating to lend a shiny, waxy quality to the outside, but I still don’t quite get that part, and think the candies are perfect without paraffin, so I use coconut oil instead. The filling in a homemade needham tends to stay moist instead of acquiring the breakable, powdery quality that some creamy coconut-centered chocolates can get. The chocolate coating is dark to offset the sweetness of the filling.
Although needhams are available year round, I always think of them as a holiday candy. If you make candy boxes for gifts or a candy tray for a party, they add such a nice textural difference alongside creamy fudge, chewy caramels or crunchy toffee. The filling can be made ahead, portioned and stored in the freezer for several weeks before you dip the candies in chocolate. I promise you’ll have a recipe request from someone tasting them for the first time– I always do! If you are a coconut lover, like me, or looking for something new to try, needhams are the way to go. Please comment: have you ever had one before? Do you have a family recipe of your own, or a favorite brand? I’d love to know.
Needhams (Maine Potato Candy) (adapted from Food Network)
- 1/2 c. mashed plain russet potato, from one medium potato (about 1/2 lb.)
- 1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
- 2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 T. vanilla extract
- a heaping 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 14 oz. bag of sweetened flake coconut (I like Baker’s angel flake coconut)
- 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut or broken into small pieces (I used Callebaut)
- 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, in small pieces (I used Nestle chocolate chips)
- 1 T. coconut oil*
Start by cooking the potato: peel the potato and cut into four chunks. Place in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat slightly and cook for 25-35 mins., until the potato pieces can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain and mash. Measure out 1/2 c. mashed potato for this recipe and cool before proceeding.
Set a large glass mixing bowl over a saucepan containing a few inches of simmering water. Add the confectioner’s sugar and make a well in the center. Into the well, add the mashed potatoes, butter, vanilla and salt. As the mixture heats, stir from the center out, incorporating the sugar slowly as the butter melts, until you have a smooth consistency. This takes about 5 mins. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the coconut. Place the bowl in the freezer for 20-30 mins. to chill the coconut filling before portioning.
Set up a work station with cookie sheets or similar pans covered in parchment or wax paper. I use a 2 T. cookie scoop to portion filling, and then press it roughly into squares with my hands. That size scoop makes about 25 needhams. You can make them smaller or larger as you please. When all the coconut filling is portioned, return the candy squares to the freezer for another 20 mins. (At this point, you can put the candy centers into a covered container and freeze the centers for several weeks before dipping in chocolate.)
While the candy centers chill, start melting your chocolate. Place another glass mixing bowl over your simmering water and add the bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut oil. Use a fork to dip the chilled squares into chocolate and then tap or shake off the excess. It’s okay if you just have the top and sides covered– we actually prefer that ratio of chocolate to filling. You will have enough chocolate to cover all six sides of your candy, and probably some left over.
To set the chocolate coating, return them to the freezer. They are ready to eat as soon as the chocolate is set. I store needhams in the freezer because they are delicious frozen! You can serve them cold, or allow them to come to room temperature. I hope you enjoy them as much as we Mainers do.
*If you don’t have coconut oil, you can use an equal amount of shortening.