Hippo Manchester
October 27, 2005

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Food: Halloween candy for grown-ups

Why trick or treating isn’t just for kids

By Michelle Saturley   msaturley@hippopress.com

I looked forward to Halloween more than Christmas as a child.

Yeah, presents, Santa and Rudolph were OK, but they couldn’t compare to dressing up in a cool costume (that most likely included some fake blood and fangs), walking around my neighborhood in the dark and panhandling for a whole pillowcase filled to the top with candy. One of the only good things about being small for my age was that I could trick-or-treat until I was about 15 years old. But those in-between years when I was too old for trick-or-treating but had no children to pimp out on Oct. 31 were rough.

Now, the kids bring home four huge buckets of candy each year. This is how we divide the spoils:

Mom — Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfingers, Snowcaps, Smarties, Krackel Bars, Sour Patch Kids

Dad — Hershey’s Kisses (except the white chocolate ones), Kit Kat Bars, Gummy Bears, jellybeans, cookies of any kind

Kid — Whatever is left; usually candy corn and cherry-flavored Twizzlers.

This arrangement seems to work, with a little bit of positive reinforcement and a $5 bill. But sometimes I wish the kids would come home with something a little more highbrow; say, dark chocolate truffles and peanut butter fudge. Rather than annoy the neighbors with my Halloween menu suggestions, I think this year I’ll just do it myself.

The tools

The good news about making your own candy is that the few tools you need are inexpensive. For example, candy and lollipop molds average about $3 apiece, or $10 for a rack of four at any local kitchen store. You might want to invest in a candy thermometer, which costs anywhere from $3.99 for your standard Pyrex edition to the $29.99 digital model that beeps at the desired temperature. And the other elements are probably already lying around your kitchen: mixing bowls, an electric mixer and wooden spoons.

The technique

The hardest part of making your own candy is knowing when it’s done.

It’s not like a steak or a pot of spaghetti — seven minutes and you’re done. It must cook and cool at a specific rate. Most candy should boil at a moderate, steady and even rate on your range top. Adjust the recipe to your range top’s temperature (for example, my ceramic radiant cooktop is always a little bit lower in temperature than, say, a gas cooktop.) to best maintain the cooking rate. Cooking the candy too fast or slow will make it too hard or soft — neither of which is a fun option.

Candy goes through a series of stages while cooking before it’s ready to be manipulated or cooled. The most accurate way to test the stages of your candy while it’s hot is to use a candy thermometer. If you don’t have one, you can use what’s known as the “cold water test.” Spoon a few drops of the hot candy mixture into a cup of very cold water. Using your fingers, form the drops into a ball. Remove the ball from the water; the firmness will indicate the temperature of the mixture. The stages of the mixture using the cold water test are as follows:

• Thread stage (230° to 233°): When a teaspoon is dipped into the hot mixture, then removed, the candy falls off the spoon in a two-inch-long, fine thread.

• Soft ball stage (234° to 240°): When the ball of candy is removed from the cold water, the candy instantly flattens and runs between your fingers.

• Firm ball stage (244° to 248°): When the ball of candy is removed from cold water, it is firm enough to hold its shape, but quickly flattens at room temperature.

• Hard ball stage (250° to 266°): When the ball of candy is removed from cold water, it can be deformed by pressure but doesn’t flatten until pressed with your fingers.

• Soft crack stage (270° to 290°): When dropped into the cold water, the candy separates into hard but pliable threads.

• Hard crack stage (295° to 310°): When dropped into cold water, the candy separates into hard, brittle threads that snap easily. 

 

 

Basic Hard Candy

Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Limited Edition Cookbook, 2000

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup light-colored corn syrup

1/4 tsp. food coloring (any color of your choice)

A few drops of oil of cinnamon, or oil of peppermint, to taste

Line an 8x8x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of the pan. Set aside. (Or use a Teflon-covered candy mold.) Butter the sides of a heavy two-quart saucepan. In the pan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Reduce heat to medium; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate. Stir occasionally until thermometer reaches 290° or candy reaches soft crack stage in the cold water test.

Remove saucepan from heat; remove thermometer. Quickly stir in food coloring and flavored oil. Immediately pour mixture into foil-lined pan or nonstick candy mold. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes or until a film forms over the surface of the candy.

For candy mold: Let the candy mixture cool completely, then gently remove candy from molds and store tightly.

For pan: Using a broad spatula or a pancake turner, begin marking the candy by pressing a line across the surface, about 1/2 inch from the edge of the pan. Do not break film on surface. Repeat along the other edges of the pan, intersecting lines at the corners to form squares. (If lines do not stay in the candy, it needs to cool longer.) Continue marking with spatula along all sides, 1/2 inch apart, until you reach the center of the pan. Retrace previous lines, pressing the spatula deeper but still not breaking the film surface. Repeat, using increased pressure each time, until spatula can be pressed to the bottom of the pan along the lines. Cool completely; use foil to lift candy out of pan. Break the candy into squares along the lines formed by the spatula. Store tightly covered.

Bourbon Balls

For a no-alcohol version (boo!), substitute a mixture of 2 tbsp. water and 1/2 tsp. rum or brandy flavoring for the bourbon.

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafers

1 1/2 cups finely chopped

walnuts

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tbsp. light-colored corn syrup

2 tbsp. bourbon or rum

3 tbsp. water

Mix powdered sugar, vanilla wafers, nuts and cocoa powder in a glass mixing bowl. Add in corn syrup, bourbon or rum, and water until well combined. On a surface lightly dusted with powdered sugar, pat candy mixture into an 8x6 rectangle. Cut into 48 pieces and roll each piece into a ball with your hands. Place balls in a tightly covered container and let stand for 2 to 3 days. Before serving, roll balls in powdered sugar. Great with flavored coffee as a companion.