How to Make Needhams
Maine’s chocolate-covered potato candy you didn’t know you needed.
These potato candies were originally invented in Auburn, Maine, in the 1870s when a cook who worked for confectioner John Seavey at Seavey’s Sweets came up with a recipe for coconut creams—with a spud-based twist. The potato has long been one of Maine’s top agricultural products, and this confection was one of many industrious ways to use the versatile tuber. The candies, which are always cut into squares, became an instant hit. Seavey reportedly named the candies after a popular preacher of the time, George C. Needham, but I can’t help but think the name stuck due to its obvious marketing appeal, since the name explicitly states that you “need ’em.” Which, for the record, you do.
Makes about 18 large or 36 small candies
1 medium-sized russet potato (at least ½ pound)
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Dark chocolate melting wafers
For large candies (1½-inch square), line a standard loaf pan with parchment paper that hangs over the sides so it can be pulled out easily. For smaller candies (¾-inch square), do the same with an 8 × 8-inch pan. (Full disclosure: smaller candies take twice as long to coat in chocolate—but you do end up with twice as many!)
In a pot of boiling water, cook the potato whole until tender all the way through when pierced with a fork (this can take 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size and shape of your potato). Let cool until still warm but easily handled. Peel the potato, then put it through a ricer or food mill until smooth. (You can also push it through a standard-mesh sieve with a sturdy wooden spoon. Do not use a food processor or blender—the potato will turn out gluey.)
Measure out ⅓ cup of mashed potato. If cold, reheat the potato in the microwave, just until warm. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar, coconut, vanilla, and salt with a wooden spoon until well mixed. The mixture should be moist. If not, keep mixing until no longer dry. Press the mixture into the prepared pan and freeze for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the freezer and cut with a sharp knife into pieces. Freeze again for 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave in 30-second increments at 50 percent power, stirring in between, until melted. (If you stop heating when the chips are mostly but not entirely melted, you can keep stirring to melt the rest of the chocolate without losing the temper.) Alternatively, you can melt your chocolate in a metal bowl set over a small saucepan with an inch of gently simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.
Remove the coconut mixture from the freezer. Remove the parchment from the pan and separate the candies with a knife. One at a time, dip the candies in melted chocolate, remove with a fork, and set on parchment or waxed paper to dry. If the chocolate starts to harden in the bowl before you’re done, you can gently reheat in the microwave. Try to pull out any pieces of coconut that fall into the chocolate as you go so the candy coating is smooth and appealing. Candies can be stored at room temperature for 2 days, or 4 to 5 in the refrigerator.
Excerpted from New England Desserts by Tammy Donroe Inman (Globe Pequot, 2022). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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