This cinnamon-coated coconut cream candy is a Philadelphia St. Pat’s tradition
Certain cities have iconic foods associated with them. Boston? Clam chowder and baked beans. New York? Thin-crust pizza and bagels.
How about Philadelphia? You may think Philly cheese steaks, hoagies, and soft pretzels. But Irish Potato Candy? Maybe you haven’t heard of this treat.
Irish Potato Candy is a traditional Philly confection that (despite its name) did not originate in Ireland. Nor does it contain potato. But the shape of these candies and their reddish-brown coating make them look like little round spuds—hence the name.
These candies may sound a bit odd, but wait until you bite into one of these diminutive darlings. Their flavor is no small potatoes.
Recipe: Irish Potato Candy
The first commercial version of this confection was brought to market as Oh Ryan’s Irish Potatoes over 100 years ago. The company releases a new batch each year around St. Patrick’s Day, so the name “Irish Potato” was a natural. Oh Ryan’s market is centered on the Philadelphia area, though their products are now sometimes available elsewhere in the US. You can also find them online, and See’s Candies offers a similar confection.
But why buy when you can make your own? They’ll be fresher, so they’ll taste great. And they won’t contain preservatives.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the confectioner in our household. She adapted this recipe from one she found on Allrecipes.com.
It takes about 10 minutes to mix the filling for these candies. Then you need to chill the filling for 30 to 60 minutes. Add another 10 minutes or so for dipping the candies in cinnamon.
This recipe yields about 4 dozen pieces. They keep well for several days if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 4 ounces (½ package) cream cheese (preferably full fat; we use the Philadelphia brand, although other brands should work—see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ~3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
- 4½ cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
- ~3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- Place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium-sized bowl if using a hand mixer). Beat at medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl several times, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla extract and the flaked coconut. Continue beating until well mixed.
- Add powdered sugar a cup at a time, mixing until well blended after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Beat until well mixed.
- Refrigerate the butter-and-coconut mixture for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) so that it firms up. See Notes.
- Remove the butter-and-coconut mixture from the refrigerator. Form tablespoon-sized amounts of the mixture into balls (see Notes).
- Place the ground cinnamon in a plastic bag. Add the candy balls to the bag (two or three at a time) and shake to coat with cinnamon.
- Refrigerate the finished candies in an airtight container until ready to eat.
- The filling mixture for Irish Potato Candies is very soft when it’s first made, so chilling it is a must. We find it impossible to handle otherwise.
- You can form these candies into any size you want, though we recommend using about tablespoon-sized amounts of filling (see Step 4). Because the candies are so rich, making them much larger may be a bit over-the-top.
- That said, we find that a #60 disher (scoop) digs out just the right amount of coconut-cream mixture for each candy. (It’s called a #60 disher because the bowl is sized so that each scoop is about 9/16th of an ounce, or a little over 1 tablespoon. Thus, you’ll get 60 scoops per quart when you use this size disher.)
- This recipe calls for cream cheese—another food that’s often associated with Philadelphia (there’s even a well-known brand called “Philadelphia” cream cheese).
- In the US, cream cheese historically was made by small farmers. By the early 19th century, dairy farmers in the area of Philadelphia had gained a reputation for producing particularly good cream cheese.
- Until about 1873, cream cheese usually was produced in small batches. But that year a dairyman from Chester, New York managed to produce it in commercial quantities.
- The “Philadelphia” brand name was the brainchild of Alvah L. Reynolds, a cheese distributor from New York who apparently saw an opportunity to profit from the city’s reputation for high-quality cream cheese.
- Although Philadelphia-brand cream cheese works well in this recipe, other brands should work fine too. But we recommend staying away from low-fat versions of cream cheese—their taste just isn’t the same in this recipe.
- You should use high quality (pure) vanilla extract in this recipe. Its flavor is so much better than the imitation kind.
- Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol for several months. BTW, the FDA requires that pure vanilla extract contain at least 35% alcohol. If the label doesn’t say “pure,” that means it’s made from synthetic vanilla. The artificial kind is usually derived from the sapwood of several species of conifers—or from coal extracts. How appetizing (not).
- The flavor of some imitation vanillas can be nasty. You don’t have to spend a fortune on pure vanilla extract, but getting decent quality does mean spending a bit more for something that’s not loaded with sugar or imitation flavoring. Do yourself a favor and get the real stuff.
- If you store Irish Potato Candies for a few days, you may notice that the cinnamon coating begins to melt into the candies. No problem—just coat the candies with cinnamon again to freshen them up.
A Philly Favorite
“Yum,” I said. “These Irish Potato Candies remind me of my childhood back in Philadelphia.” (My family lived there until I was about 11 years old.)
“Too bad you couldn’t find these after you moved to St Louis,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
“Yeah, I eventually forgot all about them,” I said. “Until we saw them in a local store a couple years ago.”
“I think we bought out their entire supply,” laughed Mrs K R. “But then I decided to make them myself, so I kept my eyes, um, peeled for a recipe.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said. “These are much better than the commercial ones. But that pun? Kinda half-baked.”
“That was pretty pomme de terre-ible,” said Mrs K R. “But these candies are no couch potatoes.”
If this keeps up, I’ll be Dublin over.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
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