Bridge, anyone? Try smart snacks
Last month, I spent time with a group of avid bridge players. Like golfers or runners who remember their best moments with remarkable clarity, people who play the game of bridge remember every card dealt, what their partner bid and how the cards were played each round. And like most competitors, the memories of winning are often overshadowed by the lapses that led to losses.
In addition to prodigious memories, bridge players are also known for their smart snacks. Sitting around a card table trying to outplay another team, one can build up quite an appetite. And if your game is scheduled in midafternoon, you’ll need a boost of energy and clarity. Snacks have to deliver a combination of sugar and protein for brain fuel without making your hands sticky – hence bridge mix. This concoction of chocolate-covered nuts and raisins was reputed to be the favorite snack of society ladies who enjoyed it while playing their bridge games. The best tidbits were small and tidy, a perfect mouthful that wouldn’t soil your hands (or gloves).
Over time, various candy makers developed their interpretations of the treat, adding cashews and pecans to supplement peanuts and using both milk and dark chocolate as a coating. During the 1930s, the prestigious Maillard Corporation advertised “the best bridge mix in the country,” which may explain why the company was purchased by Just Born, a family-owned candymaker responsible for the invention of chocolate sprinkles (jimmies) and hard chocolate coating for ice cream bars.
Just Born continued to thrive after relocating its operations from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Bethlehem, Pa. Once established there, the firm acquired the Rodda Candy Company, best known for that iconic springtime sweet, the marshmallow peep. During the 1950s, peeps were formed by a labor-intensive manual effort: marshmallow paste squeezed into shapes through pastry tubes. The innovators at Just Born mechanized this process and continued to increase their command of the marshmallow novelty market, since peeps never go out of style.
If you’re looking for bridge mix today, you’ll discover a range of changes from the Just Born formula. Brach’s mixture of mystery shapes and sizes uses chocolate to hide centers of toffee, malted milk balls, Brazil nuts and mints, in addition to the basic peanuts and raisins. See’s Chocolate includes almonds, pecans, raisins, peanut brittle, molasses chips and caramels, each covered with dark or milk chocolate. While I love the flavors of salty and sweet mixed with the textures of chewy and crunchy, I’m not sure I’m ready for Jelly Belly’s chocolate bridge mix.
If you’re considering hosting a bridge game or having guests when it’s too late for lunch or too early for dinner (the very time of day we need a brain boost), you may want to try your hand at assembling the type of snack bridge players would serve.
The Rollo treats in the photo use a mini thin pretzel square as a platform. One Rollo candy (a chocolate-covered caramel) is placed on top and after a few seconds in the microwave a nut half is pressed into the softened chocolate. I used pecans for these, but cashews and almonds also work well.
In the recipe for golden pecans, you can substitute walnuts – just be sure to start with raw, shelled nuts.
The final recipe is an easy peanut brittle that comes together nicely in the microwave. Of course, the easiest snack to serve your bridge companions is the bridge mix you found at your favorite candy store.
thin pretzel squaresRollo candy
Arrange pretzel squares in a single layer in a microwave-safe dish. Place one Rollo on top of each pretzel. Cook in the microwave on high for about 10 seconds (chocolate should be almost soft, but not melted). Remove from microwave and gently press a nut half into the chocolate. Allow to cool and set before serving.
4 C water
1/2 C sugar
1 t salt
1 lb pecan halves
Combine the water, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over a high heat and add the pecans.
When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the pecans and arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer. Allow to dry for about one hour, shaking the pan occasionally. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and arrange the nuts on the prepared pan in a single layer.
Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container.
Microwave Peanut Brittle
1 C shelled peanuts
1 C sugar
1/2 C white corn syrup
1 T butter
1 t vanilla
1 t baking soda
Coat a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Combine peanuts, sugar, salt and corn syrup in a large microwave-safe bowl.
Cook on high for 7 to 8 minutes, stopping halfway through to stir. Add butter and vanilla, mixing well to combine thoroughly and cook on high for another minute. Remove from microwave, stir in baking soda and mix until light and foamy. Immediately pour onto prepared cookies sheet and cool for one hour.
Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.