Maybe it’s because my overwhelming cookie cutter collection is still in storage? Somehow or other, the weeks of energy that I typically pour into holiday baking has shifted to candy-making this year. I haven’t spent much time making candy since I was working in Los Angeles, certainly don’t remember it being this much fun. I mean, really, there is something so rad about spreading marshmallow with your bare hands to really put you in touch with your child-side. Not to mention the sense of pride guaranteed when you waltz by a nice display of marshmallows, caramel, toffee and chocolate bark at a swanky grocery store and recall that you have homemade versions of the same already on your counter at home.
Candy-making is one of the last things that we learn as culinary students, and it’s not because its technically challenging. I honestly believe that this is true because it requires a patience, attention and respect for process that it takes most culinary students an entire year of work to cultivate. This is to say that, with a healthy dose of patience, a bit of time, lots of attention and an understanding that there is rhyme, reason, and science behind the process, anyone can make candy magic at home.
Making candy is quick, and rather light on the necessary ingredients + equipment needed comparatively to baking and cooking in general. This said, there is still time before the holidays to get your candy on here are my top tricks/tips + tools for candy-making magic:
1. Plan ahead and stock up!
Unlike baking, you’ll want to be undistracted while you’re making candy. It’s not a great idea to have a whole bunch of pots and projects bubbling away in the kitchen while you’re focusing on the temperatures of sugar or chocolate. So pick a date and time to make your candy, stock up on all the ingredients you’ll need and go for it!
2. Check your candy-making toolbox.
You don’t need much to make great candy in your own kitchen, but the few things you do need are vital. If you don’t have them already, pick up these tools:
- a candy thermometer: to measure the temperature of the sugar and/or chocolate. One of the $10.00 jobbies from the grocery store will do. If you have some coin to throw around, this is the pick for you.
- a natural bristled pastry brush: to brush down the sides of the pot while boiling sugar. This is the same one you’d baste a turkey with. You’d find one at a paint store or your grocery aisle too.
- natural parchment paper + waxed paper: for lining baking pans and wrapping each candy
- a 9×13″ cookie sheet: for letting marshmallows, caramel, and other candy cool
- a 8×8″ square pan: for letting caramel, toffee and chocolate barks set
- 2 stiff spatulas: for stirring and scraping bowls
- a can of coconut oil spray: for prepping pans, spatulas and hands when working with sugar
3. Clean the kitchen. And all of your tools!
I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is; sugar is a rather finicky product and is highly susceptible to impurities (read: dust and dirt,) as well as moisture, and temperature. When you start making candy your kitchen should be clean, your tools spotless and dry, and your work surface clear of clutter and unnecessary items.
4. Mise en place before you begin cooking
In French, mise en place means to “put in place.” In the kitchen, we say “meeze” as a way of saying that we’re setting up what we need to execute a recipe. “Have you seen my meeze?” You get the picture. Measure out all of your ingredients and prepare all of your tools before you put anything to the stove so you can give full attention to the task at hand.
5. Be patient, here you go!
Your ingredients are set, you have your recipe; light that fire and get cooking! All you’ll need to do while your sugar is cooking to watch your temperature and let the heat work the magic. This is the true magic and science behind candy making. It is true that watching a pot of sugar boil can be a bit boring but you’ve gotta watch it like a hawk. Sugar can take a little while to get to boil but once it does, the process goes very quickly. If you warm the sugar too long, you could end up with a crystalized crackling disappointment (instead of marshmallows.)
6. Temperature abides
If you’re the type of person who feels that speed limits are just “suggestions,” you’re thought process will need a little check before you start making candy. Temperatures are not suggestions, they’re mandatory when making candy. Different candies require different cooking temperatures. Caramels, marshmallows, rock candy, and butterscotch are all made of similar ingredients but are cooked to different temperatures ranging from 240F-310F degrees to create different products. If you’re aiming to make caramel, and end up making rock candy, you’re in to be disappointed.
Here are a few favorite candy recipes for you to get cracking on:
– have fun! xo L