There is no question that candy is a beloved part of Christmas. Candy at Christmas is much more than boxed chocolates or candy canes on the Christmas tree, although those are certainly in the forefront. Perhaps it is the cold weather outdoors and the snow on the ground that encourage cooks to get out their pots and pans and best sweet recipes to make candy for the holidays. Perhaps it is just the holiday season itself that stimulates this sweet candy-making craving.
Whatever the motivation, commercial candy makers and home candy makers alike find a high demand for their concoctions during this season.
Some candy recipes are simply mixtures of various convenient ingredients mixed together such as melted chocolate, nuts, marshmallows and the like. Such candy recipes are as much art as science, but don’t overlook the science part of the process.
Really good, made-from-scratch products are the result of some chemistry in the kitchen. Fortunately, it doesn’t require test tubes and chemical equations. That would be far too intimidating. Grandma may have never taken chemistry, but she knew the tricks of the trade that made food chemistry work. There are some chemical reactions involved in making a really high-quality final product from scratch. Some of the tricks are just practical.
Sugar solutions boil high. To avoid messy boil-overs on your cooktop, start with a pan that holds at least four times as much as the total amount of the ingredients you will use.
Keep candy from burning with a heavy pan, which will distribute heat evenly.
Keep from burning yourself by stirring with a long wooden spoon that will not heat during long cooking periods, or use a big spoon with a plastic or wooden handle.
Keep a plate next to the stove to lay the spoon on when not in use to protect the counter from drips and heat.
Other tricks have to do with the chemical reactions involved in making candy. Much of it is related to sugar of various types and their reactions.
Candy is made up almost entirely of sugar, which is dissolved in cooking and must recrystalize into very tiny crystals as it cools to form a smooth, velvety texture. Stir it too soon while it is still too warm and the small crystals combine to form large crystals that make the candy grainy.
In fact, introducing large crystals into the mass as it cools will give you the same results as it starts a chain reaction and more large crystals form. One source of large crystals comes from scraping down the pan after cooking is finished, as some sugar crystals likely remain there undissolved.
To keep sugar from forming on the sides of the pan and in the mixture try these tips:
If your recipe calls for butter, grease the sides of the pan with it before putting in the other ingredients. The butter keeps grains of sugar from clinging to the sides of the pan.
Mix the liquid and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, then place pan on the heat.
Wrap a bit of paper towel around a fork. Wet it well and wipe the sides of the pan with it to wash the undissolved sugar down into the pan.
Bring the mixture to a boil and cover the pan until the steam from the candy washes down the walls of the pan. This only takes two or three minutes.
Uncover the pan to allow the extra moisture to evaporate. If cooking with milk, cook on medium heat.
Test the mixture for doneness with an absolutely clean candy thermometer or spoon to avoid re-introducing sugar crystals. Wait to put candy thermometer into the mixture until it is boiling.
Corn syrup is a different form of sugar and using it as called for in a recipe helps reduce crystal formation.
Honey is also a chemically different type of sugar and will cause softening to take place in finished candy. It can work but adjustments must be made.
Use a candy thermometer to test doneness. The high altitude of Tooele Valley means that water and other mixtures boil at a lower temperature. In addition, there can be variations in thermometer accuracy. Test your thermometer by placing it in boiling water for about two minutes. Check the temperature and subtract that reading from 212 degrees (the temperature of water at sea level). Adjust the recipe by cooking to that many degrees less than the recommended finished temperature. For example, if your thermometer reads 208 degrees at boiling, and your recipe calls for a finished temperature of 235 degrees, boil the mixture to 231 degrees.
Made-from-scratch fudge is an enigma for many cooks. The quick-and-easy variety that uses marshmallow cream and chocolate chips is a great alternative. The marshmallows provide pre-measured corn syrup along with sugars and stabilizers while the chocolate chips provide the right quantities of chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter and emulsifiers. The chemistry is pre-done in the package.
However, the precautions listed above are still in order to keep the finished product creamy. Don’t scrape the pan when you pour out the cooked candy. Pour the candy into a pan and then if you are feeling thrifty, scrape the sides with a spatula but put that portion into a different container and leave it alone until it cools completely.
2 cups granulated sugar
6-ounce can evaporated milk
2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Butter the sides of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Combine sugar, evaporated milk, chocolate, salt and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until chocolate melts and sugar dissolves. Cook to the soft ball stage (236 degrees). Remove immediately from heat and add butter without stirring. Cool to lukewarm (110 degrees). Add vanilla and beat vigorously until fudge stiffens and loses its gloss. Quickly stir in nuts if desired. Push from the pan into a buttered shallow pan without scraping the sides. Score while warm with the tip of a sharp knife (dipped in water if necessary) and allow to cool completely. Cut when firm. If fudge is too firm, knead until it is softened. Press into a buttered pan or make a roll and slice it. If it doesn’t set, stir in 1/4 cup milk and re-cook.
3 cups sugar
1 square butter
1 cup hot water
Stir sugar, butter, hot water and salt together in a pan and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid for three minutes. Take off lid and wash down sides of pan with brush dipped in water. Cook without stirring to 248 degrees on a clear day (add 2 degrees when it is humid). Pour on buttered slab and cool enough to handle. Add a few drops flavoring and coloring and pull until it loses its gloss. Stretch into a rope and cut into pieces. Store in an air-tight can.
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
Add sugar to butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until mixed. Add water and corn syrup and cook to 148 degrees. Stir almost continuously to prevent burning. Remove from heat and pour onto a cool, flat, slightly buttered surface like a marble slab, porcelain platter or large glass baking pan. Cool completely and then break into pieces.
Alternate idea: Put chocolate chips on top of hot mixture and allow to soften and then spread the chocolate over the toffee mixture as a coating. Top chocolate with almond slices while still warm and soft. Allow to cool completely and break into pieces.