You saw it coming, I’m sure. And, you were right. We could hardly write a blog series about THE CANDYMAKERS without discussing…well, making candy! Candymaking is both an art and a science. The science part comes from trying to understand how cooking sugar changes its physical properties on a molecular level. The art comes in when getting creative about how to combine ingredients and flavors into something uniquely your own!
The idea of making candy from scratch strikes fear in the hearts of many, so we’re going to talk first about some ways you can get your kids excited about the creativity involved in making candy, without dragging out the heavy-bottomed pans and thermometers!
Let’s start with the simplest option: Get kids’ imaginations fired up thinking about their own fantastic candy creations!
It’s as simple as it sounds–a no-holds-barred, no-idea-too-crazy, green-lighting session for candy ideas! Don’t worry about how outlandish the suggestions might be, how impossible it would be to make, or even how unlikely it is that someone would actually want to eat it; just let the kids create. Using the imagination is inexpensive and mess-free. And, who knows? Some of the craziest ideas are the ones that change the world. (Take Philip’s Harmonicandy, for instance. It was a truly unique feat of creativity and engineering!)
- Some kids might like the jump-start of being given a few ingredients to design a candy around. Print this list of suggested ingredients, cut them up, and have kids draw two or three from a hat. Adding a few of your own oddball ingredients–such as bacon, broccoli, fire ants, etc–can add an interesting twist! (Better yet, have the kids themselves each think of one challenging ingredient to add to the hat before choosing!)
- Try suggesting that kids think about the idea of using common ingredients in new ways or with new technologies, too. For instance, in 1897, a man invented a way to blow a heated sugar solution through tiny holes to make cotton candy. And, Pop Rocks candy was invented when someone thought about carbonating a hard-candy sugar solution, instead of soda. (The pressurized CO2 bursting out of the candy when it melts on your tongue is what gives it that “pop” sensation!)
- Other kids might prefer to start with an amazing name and design a candy to fit. Kids can review the many names of candies presented in THE CANDYMAKERS by trying this fun word search!
- Finally, designing labels or packages for their new (imagined) candies gives kids a hands-on activity to accompany their ideas!
Taking it Up a Notch…Easy Candymaking!
Now, if your kids want to make some actual candies to taste (and you’re not afraid of a little mess…), you could still skip the from-scratch candymaking, and just buy easy-to-use ingredients at the store to combine into new taste sensations! Store bought chocolate, caramels, nuts, mints, marshmallow fluff, hard candies, licorice, etc. can all be the basis of some awesome and inventive creations. Give kids a budget and a little time to wander around the grocery store and they might come up with some very intriguing ideas to try!
A Real-Life Candy Contest!
If you do come up with some great ideas and want to enter a REAL candy contest like the kids in the book, you are in luck! By some stroke of serendipity, the magazine Odyssey: Adventures in Science just happened to publish an issue all about candy for this month, and they are conducting their very own candy contest! You can find more about the contest and view some of the magazine on their website. Per the magazine, all entries must be postmarked on or before March 30, 2012.
More About the Science of Cooking Sugar
If you’d like to know a little more about the science of candymaking, here are two great websites to check out:
- Exploratorium – lots of facts about cooking with sugar, activities, and a “Candy-O-Matic” interactive that lets kids add virtual heat to sugar to see what happens at each stage
- Kid’s Science Thursdays – has lots of great kitchen chemistry, including some great recipes along with explanations for why the recipes work (see especially honeycomb toffee, fudge and caramel for info about cooking with sugar)
Experimenting With Candy
And if you’d like to have a little more hands-on fun with candy, here are some ideas for conducting some scientific experiments using different kinds of candy:
From-Scratch Candymaking–the Final Frontier
Now, if you love cooking, are really interested in the science of candymaking, or are just one of those intrepid do-it-yourself types, you could go full-on commando candymaker and see what amazing things you can whip up by boiling sugar and other yummy ingredients to different temperatures.
In fact, we tried a few recipes ourselves over the past few weeks, just to see whether true candymaking for novices was the impossible dream. And, while I will acknowledge that there is definitely some finesse involved, I thought it was really fun to try, not as hard as I feared it might be, and the stuff we made was really quite tasty, even if it wasn’t always exactly what we set out to make.