October 27, 2005
Food: Halloween candy for grown-ups
Why trick or treating isn’t just for kids
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
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 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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
1 1/2 cups crushed
1 1/2 cups finely
1/4 cup unsweetened
light-colored corn syrup
2 tbsp. bourbon or
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.