This delicious chocolate covered coconut candy has been made for years during the holidays in southern families. My own mother has made them every year that I can remember for as far back as I can remember. She has always called them "Coconut Bonbons." They are very close in comparison to an Almond Joy or Mounds Bar, but better, because they are homemade, of course, and much fresher!
The origin of the name "Martha Washington" candy or balls, as some call them, seems to be up for some debate among foodies and little can really be found about it. I sort of doubt that Martha Washington had anything to do with it though. What I did find was that there was a chain of candy stores named "Martha Washington Candies" that was started in the 1890's. They sold ice cream and candy confections of different varieties. At their peek in the 1920's they had hundreds of stores all across the country and were doing quite well. Then along came the Depression and it hit them hard. Folks could barely buy food, much less candy and ice cream. The founder, a candy maker named Elie Sheetz, died in 1932, and most all of the stores closed shortly thereafter. Just a few lingered until the forties. They were considered dowdy and a thing of the past at the time though and eventually were gone also. I am pretty sure the candy is tied to the Martha Washington Candy stores and got their start there. The more I research food history, the more I realize a lot of it is very sketchy and incomplete. It's an area that needs expanding!
So here is what you need for this delicious Martha Washington Candy:
1 (14 oz.) bag of sweetened flaked coconut
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
1 (1 lb.) box of powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (optional, could add chopped cherries)
1 (12 oz.) bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
4 oz. paraffin (for candy making)
Mix the coconut, sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar and vanilla until well combined. Fold in the pecans and mix. The mixture will seem too loose, but don't add more sugar. As it chills it will tighten up. These are best when you don't add too much sugar to the mixture.
Place in the refrigerator to chill. Shape into balls about the size of a large marble. Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. It's really better to freeze them before dipping for easier handling.
Melt the chocolate with the paraffin in a double boiler and stir until smooth. Keep the chocolate warm over the water while you are dipping the balls. If you don't want to use the paraffin, you can use the chocolate bark for candy making instead of the chocolate chips. The paraffin does give the candy a nice shine and makes the chocolate easier to work with. It's found in the canning or candy making section of your store. After you dip each piece, place them back on a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool and harden. You need to move fast dipping these so that they don't warm up become impossible to handle. If you have a helper for the dipping, that is great also! If they get too warm, put them back in the freezer to chill again.
When they have completely hardened, store in an airtight container or tin in the refrigerator.
These make a wonderful addition to your holiday candy trays or place them in a decorative tin for a little gift for someone special!