JEFF TIEDEMAN: Intro to candy makingMaking goodies such as divinity, penuche requires precision.
Making candy isn’t an exact science, but it’s pretty close. And anyone who has tried their hand at it will attest to that.
Candy recipes aren’t like some others, where you throw in a little of this and a little of that. They’re a lot more precise, much like bread and pastry recipes.
For example, sugar and butter are the two most essential ingredients in candy making. Sugar to be used in candy making should always be stored in airtight containers to avoid moisture and contamination. And butter (always unsalted unless otherwise indicated) should never be replaced in candy recipes with margarine. (Margarine has a higher water content, which significantly affects cooking time and results.)
Another thing about candy making that differs from a lot of other types of cooking is that you have to pay more attention to the temperature. When making candy, the key to success is boiling your syrup to the right degree, either by using a candy thermometer or the cold-water test — or both in concert.
Here are a few other tips to consider if you’re thinking about making candy:
— Before you start, take a look at the weather. Clear, dry days are best for candy-making. Cooking time can increase substantially or your candy may never set up at all on a rainy or humid day. (Sugar attracts water, so the humidity can adversely affect your recipe.)
— Test your thermometer to ensure its accuracy. To do this, immerse it in a pan of water, and bring the water to a boil. The temperature should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). If it does not, you will need to adjust your recipe to reflect this.
— Know the temperatures of the different stages. (Thread, 215 to 235 degrees Fahrenheit; soft ball, 235 to 245; firm ball, 245 to 249; hard ball, 250 to 264; soft crack, 270 to 290; and hard crack, 300 to 310 degrees.)
— Measure all your ingredients before you begin. It takes a long time to reach 220 degrees, but after that, the temperature rises quickly, so it’s nice to have everything within easy reach.
— Have the tools needed to make candy, including a medium-sized saucepan with a heavy bottom and straight sides; a bowl, large enough to hold the saucepan; a long-handled wooden spoon; a pastry brush (some recipes will call for brushing down the sides of the pan with water to prevent crystallization; a good candy thermometer; and if you make candy on a more regular basis, you may want to invest in a marble slab and a copper caramel pan.
I’ve never tried to make candy but have witnessed my mom doing it during the holidays many times in my youth. And let me tell you, she’s an excellent candy maker.
When talking with her Tuesday, Mom said she’d already made divinity and penuche (my grandma’s recipe) each once, and although she’s cutting back will probably make a couple of more batches.
That’s not like in the old days. A few people used to pay Mom to make candy, but she usually just gave it away, much to my dad’s chagrin. Mom, who always said it was more blessed to give than receive, found a way to get around that, though. She would just have Dad deliver the candy, so he would get the praise.
There wasn’t any science required to reach that decision.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.