(This post is a continuation of Creating Candy!)
So, you’ve decided you’d like to try candymaking, have you? One caveat before we begin–if you’re someone who minds things not turning out perfectly on the very first try, this may not be for you. However, if you’re just as likely to be fascinated by figuring out what went wrong while preparing to mount a second try, then this may be just the hobby you’ve been looking for!
To start out, it might be nice to have some basic information about what causes sugar to behave certain ways when cooked to certain temperatures. Here are a few good resources for that:
Important Things to Know About Sugar
- Candymaking is all about controlling temperature/sugar concentration (for solidity level) and crystallization (for texture). The higher the temperature, the harder the candy. Adding other kinds of sugars (like corn syrup) or fats (like butter or cream) helps prevent the formation of large crystals which can cause an unpleasant grainy feel in candy.
- Because water boils and evaporates off at 212 degrees, it keeps the sugar temperature from rising too dramatically at first. As the sugar concentration in the solution increases, the temperature will rise exponentially faster. When we made taffy, I swear it took 20 minutes to get to 250 degrees, but only seconds to go from there to 275 degrees. We ended up making hard candy with our first batch because we didn’t catch the temperature until it was at the hard crack stage!
- Once you pass the temperature you were looking for, there is no going back. So keep a close eye on the thermometer and remember you can turn the heat off a few degrees under your target temp, as it will continue to heat for a few more moments while sitting in the pan.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT SAFETY:
Candymaking can be EXTREMELY dangerous. Sugar can cook to very high temperatures! If spilled or splashed onto skin, severe burns result very quickly because sugar retains heat well and adheres to the skin, causing burns to go deep into the skin. Never, EVER let a child of any age “help” make candy by stirring, watching too closely by the stove, or moving pans with cooling sugar on them.
If kids want to help, they can help measure ingredients beforehand and taste test afterwards, but should be kept well out of reach of hot sugar at all times during candymaking. If you’re concerned about whether your kids will “get in the way” while you make candy, DON’T do it while they’re around. Don’t take the chance. Wait until the little ones are safely in bed or out of the house to embark on your candymaking adventures.
And, remember–adults can get burned too, even when they’re very careful. So, keep a bowl of ice water nearby on the counter, just in case. Immerse even a small splash or dribble right away, as the burn can go very deep before you even have time to feel it!
Let’s Get Cooking
Okay–now that you’re ready to be safe, let’s get cooking! You could really just poke around on the internet for zillions of recipes for fudge, taffy, hard candy, caramels…the list goes on and on. But, here are a few great places to start:
I kicked off my candymaking career with marshmallows! It was fun, not too hard to do, and I found a great Alton Brown (Food Network) video describing the whole process. They were yummy and my kids were amazed that they “tasted just like marshmallows!”
My second attempt was supposed to be taffy. But, as I mentioned earlier, that whole faster-and-faster heating thing meant we actually ended up with hard candy. In the end, though, it was kind of a happy accident because, when we called the kids into the room to show them our “ruined” batch, they were all fascinated at how the exact same recipe simply boiled to a higher temperature resulted in a totally different confection!
So, after a quick trip to the store to restock our supplies, we tried the salt water taffy again and–lo and behold–it worked!! The pulling wasn’t as laborious as I anticipated and the results were delicious! I think pulling a manageable amount is the key to it not being too difficult–we had two pullers for a batch the size of this recipe:
This Alton Brown video has a chocolate taffy recipe (think Tootsie Rolls) that I haven’t tried yet, but looks great. It also includes how to make brittle and citrus jellies!
Fudge is also a fun one to try because it has a lot of sugar science involved. This Alton Brown video does a great job of explaining what makes fudge…well, fudge. (Obviously, I became quite an Alton Brown fan after my marshmallows turned out so well!)
Happy candymaking, and send us pictures if you have something to share!