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Candy Making Tips

Candy Making Tips

Making candy is easy when you know some simple tricks

  • Measure and assemble all ingredients before beginning. Don't substitute or alter the recipe's basic ingredients.
  • Once you start a batch of brittle, don’t leave it. Keep stirring constantly. Humidity will make the candy stick together, so cool weather is the best time to make it.
  • Candy is cooked to a "hard-ball" stage when a candy thermometer reads 250°. Drop a small amount of the hot candy mixture into cold water. When cooled and removed from the water, the candy will form a hard yet pliable ball.
  • Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, most homemade candy will keep for about 2 to 3 weeks. Fudge and caramels can be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to 1 year.
  • Always store different types of candy in separate containers, using waxed paper between layers. This will keep candies from exchanging flavors. If hard candy and soft candy are not stored separately, the moisture from the soft candy will cause the hard candy to become sticky.
  • When purchasing a candy thermometer, look for one with a clear readout and an adjustable clip so it can be attached to the side of a pan. To use the thermometer, stand it upright in the candy syrup so the bulb is completely immersed in the liquid. Do not let the bulb touch the bottom of the pan. Clip it in place.
  • We recommend that you test your candy thermometer before each use by bringing water to a boil; the thermometer should read 212°. Adjust your recipe temperature up or down based on your test.
  • If a recipe tells you to cook the candy mixture to "thread stage," it refers to the stage when a candy thermometer reads between 230° and 233°. Dip a metal spoon into the hot candy mixture. Hold the spoon over cold water. The mixture should fall off the spoon in a fine thread.

Fixing Candy Problems

Candy Mixture crystallizes:

  • Place the sugar in the bottom of the pot, taking care not to get it on the sides because it will crystallize after the sugar dissolves and approaches boiling.  
  • After the sugar is placed in the pan, pour in the water or liquid, if applicable, carefully around in the inside perimeter of the pan. 
  • If adding honey or liquid sugars, pour in the middle. 
  • Using your finger make an X in the pan to help the water gently mix with the sugar so it has the texture of wet sand. Check on whether all sugar grains are moistened. 
  • Wipe the sides with a damp, lint free towel to clean all sugar from it. A dampened pastry brush works well, too. Make sure the bristles are not loose.
  • The pot used needs to be spotless and dry, as well as the spoon used to stir. Any existing sugar crystals or a foreign object in the sugar syrup, such as old dried caramel, cause crystallization. Crystals will form and congregate on a foreign object.
  • Some grease the upper sides of the pan, above the liquid level, to prevent crystallization before adding ingredients, if the recipe calls for butter. If the recipe calls for melting the butter first, coat the sides of the pan before adding sugar and other ingredients. When mixture bubbles up, grains of sugar can't cling because of the greasy sides.
  • Always stir until sugar is dissolved. One sugar crystal can cause whole mixture to be grainy.
  • Not washing the sides of the pot during cooking, where sugar crystals like to congregate. After the sugar dissolves and approaches boiling, make sure the inside sides of the pot are completely clean. If not, sugar crystals could fall into the batch, crystallize and ruin it.
  • If necessary, take pot off the heat only for a moment and brush down the sides with a dampened pastry brush. 
  • Cover the mixture with a lid and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. With a lid, steam will form in the pot, washing down the sides the pot, preventing further crystals from forming. Always uncover pot away from you because the steam that collects inside is intense. 
  • Clean Candy Thermometer after each use. Store cleaned thermometer in a cup of warm water while using. Wipe the thermometer clean with a towel every time you dip it in the pot -- be careful, it's hot. If you put it under cold water when hot, it will shatter. Never put the thermometer in the pot when it's wet; it must be clean and dry EVERY TIME. 
  • Touching the ingredients with a spoon, moving or shaking the pot at the wrong time. Do not touch the pot during cooking, unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Even accidentally bumping into it will jar the mixture; I always place my pot on my stove's back burner to avoid having this happen.
  • Having a foreign object in the pan, like old, dried caramel or dirt. Crystals will form and congregate on a foreign object. Thoroughly clean AND dry any utensils used to make candy with.
  • Dipping an unclean or previously used wooden spoon into the syrup. The wooden spoon used for making candy has to be clean and dry EVERY TIME you use it -- do not wipe it on the sides of the pan to clean, after using. Grease it if the sugar solution sticks to the spoon.

Candy tastes gritty. Too many / too little and wrong-sized crystals:

  • Sugar syrup crystallized. Wrong crystal size caused by stirring the sugar syrup too soon or too much or not enough. Follow the recipe to the letter when it specifies when to stir; this is very important. Some recipes call for ABSOLUTELY NO STIRRING during the boil or subsequent cool down, others are the opposite.  Metal spoons conduct heat and get too hot to hold - so I don't recommend them.  Plastic spatula will melt since this solution is much hotter than boiling water. 
  • Scraping the sides of the pan: during the boil helps to prevent sugar crystallization on the sides of the saucepan. Scraping the sides during the cooling helps create sugar crystals. Follow the recipe's instructions.
  • Not boiling the sugar enough or too much. Boiling the sugar syrup to the right temperature, ensures that it will have the proper sugar saturation necessary for the type of candy being made. Learning to boil without inducing crystals is important. Knowing when to stop is crucial: Using a Candy Thermometer is probably the most accurate way to tell. Using how long the sugar syrup has been boiling is the least accurate and the color and the soft ball test are in between.

The butter separates from the sugar; candy won't harden:

  • Sometimes the boiling sugar and water mixture appears to break just before it reaches a temperature stage. If this happens, take it off the heat immediately and stir it gently. You should be able to get it to recombine. Use a medium-high heat so the syrup cooks relatively quickly. 
  • Also, be sure you're using high quality butter - never margarines, which may contain too much water for candy making.
  • If you are in a very humid climate or a rainy one, choose drier days for candy-making. Excess water - which can even come from the air, can also cause butter/sugar syrups to break. 

Sugar syrup boils over:

  • Be sure to use the right pot with high, straight sides because it will often time bubble up, especially when adding cream, etc. Wear hot mitts that cover as much as your forearm as possible to protect yourself from the steam.

Hard candy doesn't come easily from its mold.

  • The best solution is to use silicone molds. After that, I prefer the metal to the plastic. Silicone molds are definitely the way to go. Nothing sticks to them, especially fat-free stuff like sugar. No greasing is ever needed for silicone molds when used with sugar. And, depending on the stiffness of the mold, you can bend them after the sugar is cold, and -- voila! -- they pop right out. I've never seen a silicone mold that *wasn't* slightly flexible. 
  • Grease molds (other than silicone): Prepare molds first by spraying with non stick cooking spray, wipe out excess spray with paper towel. 
  • Get rid of excess air bubbles: After removing pan from heat, allow to stand briefly until bubbles have settled down. Add flavoring and color, as desired. Stir until blended and bubbles disappear. Pour into molds. If necessary, try lightly dropping the molds against the counter to force air bubbles.

Candy sticks to waxed paper:

  • You can use waxed paper to drop your candy on -- but, I always use lightly oiled aluminum foil, instead. A thin coat of canola, vegetable, mineral oil, etc., applied with paper towels should do the trick. Waxed paper doesn't work well, even though every recipe says it should. I'm thinking of sticky buns baked on wax paper. I would never expect them to lift clean off, especially the gooey butter, sugar, cinnamon stuff on top that drips down. Also, often a waxy film is lifted from the paper onto the finished product.  
  • My caramel recipes have you refrigerate the candy so it hardens (no more than 15-30 minutes) or place in the freezer (no more than 5 minutes). The freezer is better because it tends to be drier (no humidity which prevents the candy from becoming sticky). Then, remove from the foil.
  • Also, any candy made during humid or wet weather, will not set properly, hence the stickiness.


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