Need to learn about candy making, horror stories, etc welcome
October 7, 2012 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Got a sweet tooth? Well then, I need to pick your brain. Tell me everything you know about homemade candy (caramels and chocolates) making and the candy industry. Do you have experience working in a candy shop or making candy at home?

I want to know some insider information about making candy- especially caramel candy, from scratch. What interesting tidbits can you tell me? Useful tricks, things to watch for, what you love about candy making, etc. Not so much candy bar information, but "artisan" candies.

What are some common mistakes? What are common things that I would need to know? Would love to hear from people who make candy (caramels, toffee, etc at home). Your candy thermometer woes so to speak.
posted by timpanogos to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that I have experienced, is that when making caramel, when you go to add the cream, it really does bubble up A LOT. Like...a lot. So be prepared for that, because if it spills over, that's a hot sticky mess.
posted by lettuchi at 3:44 PM on October 7, 2012

Also, when making candy, never walk away from the pan. It's amazing how quickly a pan of yummy goodness can go from scrumptious to disaster. Nuthin' burns faster than sugar in my experience.
posted by patheral at 3:55 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "don't walk away from the pan too fast" advice, because things move fast when it comes to sugar.

I've found peanut brittle to be AMAZINGLY easy; equal amounts of sugar and salted peanuts (4 cups of one, 4 cups of the other). Heat the sugar in a pan until it liquefies and starts to get golden, then dump the peanuts in all at once, stir like mad, and then immediately pour the whole thing onto a greased cookie sheet and spread it out fast. Let it get hard. You're done.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fudge can go from a frosting-like consistency to one reminiscent of damp sand in the blink of an eye. Follow recipes precisely, down to the size of the pan and the how you need to stir the mixture.

Boiling sugar is also so much hotter than you think it would be.
posted by corey flood at 4:14 PM on October 7, 2012

Don't make candy on a rainy day. The higher humidity can affect the ability of the candy to harden.
posted by JujuB at 4:23 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Candy-making is so rewarding! It's like alchemy, watching simple ingredients turn into ACTUAL CANDY! Most candy-making is finicky but straightforward: it's simple chemistry and if you follow the directions, you'll produce something luscious.

Until you've had some experience, it's helpful to use a candy thermometer. I now make toffee by eyeballing the color, but a candy thermometer removed all doubt the first time or two. If you don't want to bother w/ the thermometer, you can use the the old-fashioned visual/textural methods (check an old cookbook or just Google phrases like thread stage, soft ball stage, hard ball stage for the specifics) but I find the thermometer much simpler.

I use parchment paper (usually lightly oiled) to line the pans/dishes in which the candy will cool. Do this ahead of time; you won't have long to transfer the candy from saucepan to cooling pan before it starts to set up.

Even if the cooking starts slowly, when the candy syrup heats up, things happen quickly. Have your utensils ready and lay out your molds or resting pans. As patheral says, don't walk away. Don't answer the phone. Don't answer the door.

when you go to add the cream, it really does bubble up A LOT. Like...a lot.

This is often true when you're adding baking soda to a candy mixture, too --- for example, to make cinder toffee or some brittles. Use a pot or pan big enough to handle the dramatic frothing-up without overspill.

Rain or damp weather, or even a pot of pasta boiling on the same stove and filling the kitchen with steam, can dramatically alter the texture of your candy for the worse. (Also, don't try to make pasta while you're making candy. When you're making candy, make candy. It's a single-point-of-focus activity.) Make candy on a reasonably dry day, and once it cools completely, store it well-sealed.

Hot sugar wants to crystallize. Stirring encourages it to do so, which is why many candy recipes call for the bare minimum of mixing and stirring. That's why corn syrup is such a common ingredient in candies: its glucose helps prevent the sucrose from crystallizing into a big lump. Regular corn syrup is not the same as the much-demonized high fructose corn syrup. Here's a nice little primer on working with sugar for candy-making.

I keep a deep bowl of ice water at hand in case I spill or spatter on my hand. It would be over-the-top precaution for some people, but a quick dunk in ice water has saved me from at least one (probably nasty) burn from candy syrup.
posted by Elsa at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh: for clean-up, don't start out by scrubbing sugary or caramel-coated pans, which can be futile and frustrating. But sugary residue can usually be dissolved with water: either fill the pan in the sink and let it soak or, if it's more stubborn, fill it with hot water and put it on the stove for a few minutes. The sugar will cook itself right off and you can wash the pan.
posted by Elsa at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Peanut brittle made with just sugar isn't going to be very good. You need corn syrup, and in particular you need baking soda.

And you can make it with a cookie sheet, but to really make it right you need a piece of marble. (A cookie sheet doesn't have enough thermal mass to make the candy cool immediately.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2012

Get a copper pot. I live near a confectionery factory and it has retained the same copper pots since 1937.
posted by parmanparman at 4:56 PM on October 7, 2012

Carmel and chocolate, while having room for a wide variety of subtleties of technique and recipe, are much easier to do in a regular kitchen than hard candy like lemon drops.
posted by rhizome at 5:17 PM on October 7, 2012

A gas stove is much, much easier to use, because you can change the heat much more quickly and precisely than with electric. Be patient, it can take a long time for the syrup to heat up but turning the heat up high to make it faster can easily cause it to boil over. And nthing about watching for humidity, cleaning pans by soaking with hot water, and not leaving anything unattended.
posted by dilettante at 5:25 PM on October 7, 2012

Seconding keeping a very close eye on the sugar. We burned some candy just last week because I walked away for 30 seconds. You also need a good thermometer, you are going to get recipes which distinguish between, say, 300 and 305 degrees. The good news is that almost however bad the mess is, lots of hot water will clean it up.

I was given this very impressive textbook: Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner which as some great ideas.
posted by shothotbot at 5:54 PM on October 7, 2012

I recommend the book Who Wants Candy? It's like having an aunt or grandma in the kitchen explaining how to make candy!

I bought a large aluminum pot at a restaurant supply store, it works great for making candy by heating everything very evenly. You want a pot on the larger side because the mixtures always bubble up a great deal during the cooking process and need the extra room. I also prefer using a wooden spoon because it doesn't transfer heat and works best with making any candies like peanut patties where you have to beat the mixture until it cools a bit.

Like others have said above, have everything else you need like buttered/lined pans, nuts, vanilla extract, anything you add in or pour into after you take the mixture off the heat ready to go before you start heating up the candy.

For caramels, I use a pizza cutter to cut the candy into strips and then squares. I have used many methods for cutting up caramel and using a pizza cutter is the best! I also use a scrapbooking paper cutter to cut up wax paper into strips and squares to wrap individual caramel candies for gifts.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 5:58 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Plenty of good advice so far, especially when it comes to thermometer accuracy - it's not a bad idea to test your candy thermometer in boiling water so you can see if it reads exactly 100ÂșC or a few degrees above or below.

When working with chocolate, the trickiest part is tempering it correctly so that it hardens with a nice smooth consistency and finish; otherwise you may wind up with whitish bloom on the surface of the chocolate - it doesn't affect the taste at all, but it's not great for presentation. You have to keep steam and water away from your melting chocolate; it can cause it to seize into a clumpy mess. But if you get the hang of it and want to blow peoples' minds, try making some chocolate-dipped potato chips (Ruffles-style ridged ones work best.)

I haven't done a lot of candymaking, but it's definitely very satisfying when a recipe comes out; recipes that require sugar to crystallize in certain ways are applied chemistry in action, and it's always just plain cool to watch fudge solidify or sponge candy foam up and harden. The one Christmas that Mrs. Usonian and I decided to make a ton of candy for family & friends instead of buying presents was a lot of work, but we got to spend the weekend together in the kitchen, and it was nice to see everyone enjoying the stuff that we made.
posted by usonian at 6:28 PM on October 7, 2012

A cold, sunny day with low humidity is perfect for candy making.
Also, mind your altitude and adjust accordingly.
I like a deep, heavy-bottomed pot for the project.
Have everything ready before you begin.
posted by bebrave! at 7:30 PM on October 7, 2012

This is my favorite recipe for caramel. They are very honey-y and delicious and a great recipe for a novice candy maker.
posted by ilikecookies at 8:55 PM on October 7, 2012

Nthing having a bowl of cold water nearby. Hot sugar HURTS if you get it on your skin. It burns really quickly and quite badly. Be careful!
posted by RogueTech at 9:03 PM on October 7, 2012

I make chocolate truffles at home every year. For balling the fillings, I find it easiest to use a melon baller for consistent sizes. The freezer is my best friend here too, just to harden up a batch of filling enough to ball more cleanly - too long and it's rock hard. I re-freeze the balls afterwards and roll them in my hands after to smooth down the balls - makes the chocolate coating more attractive. I can go pretty fast by rotating through a few different batches in the freezer.

If you plan on dipping them in chocolate though, don't store them in the freezer once you're ready for that - here on out, just use the fridge. The filling's fine to freeze for a while if sealed well, not the coated chocolates though. Freezing will cause bloom to form on the chocolate coating. And dipping hard-frozen chocolates may make it difficult to get the coating thin enough before the chocolate sets.

It takes practice, but people sure don't mind taking care of the failed attempts!
posted by lizbunny at 12:32 AM on October 8, 2012

With no experience, we made some amazing soft caramels after reading through the tips and recipes on this thread. Turned out very well, and was unlike any caramel I've had, other than in Paris.
posted by lettezilla at 3:50 AM on October 8, 2012

what everyone else said!
also, don't get discouraged if you mess up. i have been making candy at home for years, and still sometimes i end up with a disaster (sometimes a delicious disaster, sometimes not). candy is very fickle!
friends/family/coworkers love to eat your experiments!
posted by sabh at 6:30 AM on October 8, 2012

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