Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hard Candy

Now that November has settled in, I am acknowledging my next obsession.  Candy Making.  I love making candy, perhaps more than eating it.  The foundation of my candy making obsession is Hard Tack.  I remember making this candy with my mom as a kid, and now I make it with my kids, particularly, my middle daughter Julia.  Julia has progressed from standing on a chair as a toddler watching from a safe distance, to being my full partner in the process.  We now make 2 batches at a time and "race" to the "310" temp.  Along with Julia, our process has grown and evolved through the years.  We have gone from trying wacky flavors like cotton candy and pouring onto buttered cookie sheets to a sophisticated system of flavor mixes and breakaway molds.  The end result has been about 10 pounds each of a fruit mix and a spice mix for the last few years.  This year we will be adding a tropical mix, just for fun.

Before we start making candy, we make a chart with all the flavors and colors we plan on using.  That way we avoid duplicating colors within mixes.  For example, Tutti Fruiti is pink, while cherry is red. 

This year's fruit mix went like this:

Blackberry     Blue
Lime              Lt. Green
Tutti Fruiti      Pink (1 drop red)
Cherry           Red
Grape            Purple
Lemon           Yellow
Orange          Orange
Watermelon  Dark Green

We use the Lorann Oils recipe and flavorings with a few modifications.  I was watching Alton Brown the other night and as much as I love him I have to disagree with a few of his points too.  Primarily I adjust the color as the candy cooks, rather than waiting until it reaches 310, and I wait until boiling ceases altogether before adding flavor:

Basic Candy

2 c granulated sugar
2/3 c light corn syrup
3/4 c water

Combine these in a medium sauce pan with a thermometer and stir with a wooden spoon.  The wooden spoon for some reason helps keep the mixture from boiling over while the water boils out.  I didn't believe it either, but it works.  Adjust the color to the shade you want.  Boil, stirring occasionally, until the temp reaches 310F.  This is the hard crack stage in candy making.  There are lots of resources on the web to learn about this, so I won't go into the chemistry/physics.

Remove the thermometer, then allow the candy to stop boiling.  It will still be bubbly, but there will not be new bubbles when you stir when you get to the point we are looking for.  At this point, add the flavoring and stir with a silicone spatula, then pour into a greased candy mold which has been placed on a cookie sheet.

Allow the candy to cool and set, then break apart.  I resisted using the molds for years  because I like my old fashioned hard candy to look rustic, and I broke it apart by hand and this is certainly possible.  But a couple of years ago my friend Heather tried the molds and loved them, so it has been in the back of my mind.  This year I ordered my flavorings directly from Lorann, and they were selling the molds too  so I decided to give it a go.  My review is that they are awesome and cut the process time in half,  We didn't end up with little cuts all over our fingers like we do when we break the candy by hand.  We were able to make 8 batches of candy in about 2 1/2 hours, where before 4 or 5 were all we could manage in an entire day. 

After you break the candy apart, put it in a bowl and dust with powdered sugar.  Then place in a strainer and shake to remove the excess powdered sugar.  Store in an airtight container. It should last about 8 months, or until the humidity gets to high in your climate. 

Also, the leftover powdered sugar has little shards of colorful candy and you can use it for a dusting sugar for brownies or cookies or something. 

All in all, I wish I could say that the satisfaction I get from making this stuff is somehow related to my love of science.  There are certainly lots of interesting chemical and physical changes going on in those sugar molecules.  But really I think it's a more primal love of the shiny glassy colors that gets me.  I may have been a glass blower in a former life, or maybe a crow or a magpie.


  1. Nice post Celeste! I love your writing. I definitely agree that the molds make it so much easier. When I did it by hand, i got lots of nice little cuts all over my fingers too, not fun! So you order your flavors from Lorann? Do they have real cinnamon oil? I always have such a hard time finding that one.

  2. Celeste - I just tried your candy recipe today and loved it! I remember my great grandma making a similar candy. So pretty and festive!
    Heather M.

  3. Heather, I am so flattered! Thanks for sending some home with Rebecca for me to try. It is great and I love the flavors you chose!