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Thread: Hard candy

  1. #1
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    Hard candy

    I wasn't entirely sure where to post this but figured this forum would be a good catchall.

    About six weeks ago I had occasion to try to make cinnamon extract. I won't go into why. It's a long story. I didn't follow any kind of recipe other than noting most people used cheap vodka as a solvent. So I dumped about four tablespoons of ground cinnamon into a half-pint canning jar, filled it to 1/4" from the top with cheap Costco vodka, and gave it a good shake once or twice a day, or whenever I remembered. My original need for this went away, but I had cinnamon extracting for weeks and was determined I'd find some use for it. I lined a funnel with a paper coffee filter and poured the extract into it. A little stirring and a bit of a wait, and I had maybe four ounces of cinnamon extract. I should add here that every recipe for cinnamon extract I've read says to use cinnamon sticks, not ground cinnamon. I'm fairly certain the sticks can be used for multiple batches, which obviously keeps the cost down.

    Cinnamon hard candy seemed a potential good use. I've never made hard candy before. Did some citrus gummy bears last Christmas and they came out basically okay. When I was 10 we were assigned a school project to make peanut brittle. (Shows how long ago I was ten. Can you imagine any school today telling kids to go home and play with 300 degree molten sugar?) The brittle came out tasty, but not very brittle. We didn't get the sugar solution near hot enough.

    Turns out most hard candy follows a similar recipe. Mix sugar, corn syrup, and enough water to keep the sugar from burning. Heat until most all the water has boiled out, about 300-310F, add food color and flavoring, pour into molds or a prepared pan. Cool, score, crack, eat. The tricky part is getting the sugar to the proper temperature. As I discovered on my first attempt, even using a very good pan with excellent heat dispersion, there are hot and cool spots throughout the sugar. If my measurements are any indication, there can be variances of 5+ degrees, which can be the difference between hard candy and a rather sticky mess.

    My first attempt I ran into a number of problems. You are supposed to add the flavoring after pulling the candy off the heat. So I turned off the flame and added a tablespoon of my extract. It instantly bubbled up and seemed to work a lot of air into the candy. Then I tried to use the gummy bear molds. It took too long to spoon the liquid candy into the molds and the pan cooled too much. The candy began to set in the pan. I tried reheating it a bit but that didn't really work. Eventually I just dumped it onto a pan lined with a silicone pad. The result was incredibly tasty, but grainy and not at all like the hard candy I was trying for. I also didn't have any food coloring so it was a light tan color. Not a disaster but certainly not classic cinnamon candy.

    So yesterday I tried again. This time I used more heat. It takes a while to boil out all the water and once the sugar is dissolved there's little reason not to put the spurs to it as long as you have a good pan. I kept one eye on it as the temperature started to rise, though I wasn't prepared for the very rapid rise once it got close to 300F. My intent was to take it closer to 310F this time. When it got to 300F the temperature was moving all over the place. It would shoot up to 310F, then drop back to 300F. I tried moving the probe through the liquid to get an average but even that was all over the place. I finally turned off the heat and watched as the temp continued to climb to 320F and a bit more. It didn't seem to be changing color as it would if it was caramelizing so I figured I was okay.

    This time, following advice from one of the dozens of recipes I'd read, I waited until the temp dropped to 280F before adding the extract. Turns out leaving it undisturbed as it cooled was not the right approach. All the parts that were in contact with the pan stayed liquid and slowly came down in temp. The temperature probe was in this liquid portion so it showed a slow drop. Meanwhile, the top of mixture, exposed to the air, cooled much quicker and started to solidify. When I added the extract it just floated on top. This may have kept it from bubbling as much as the extract heated more slowly until I figured out what had happened and stirred it. The top was gooey, like fudge topping, while the bottom was still very much liquid. I stirred until I thought it was mixed in enough and then just poured the whole batch onto a pan lined with a silicone pad.

    Most of the recipes said to score the candy with a pizza cutter when it had started to firm up, but that didn't work at all like I was expecting. The center of the pour stayed hot a lot longer than the exterior so my score lines quickly disappeared as the liquid leveled itself and filled in the scores. By the time the center would hold the score lines, the outside was solid. Once it had cooled completely I tried to break it along the lines but it didn't cooperate very well. I ended up with loads of broken pieces of random sizes.

    I forgot to mention that I did buy some food coloring before making this batch. I added about six drops to the liquid sugar on the way up in temperature as it hit 280F. The boiling action distributed the color without the need to stir.

    Aside from the random, sharp-cornered pieces, the result was much closer to what I wanted. A nice red color. Virtually transparent before I coated it with powdered sugar.

    The flavor of both batches was excellent. A bit of heat but not remotely overpowering. I could be imagining things but it seems to me to have a depth of flavor I've not found in commercial cinnamon candies. Whether that's worth the trouble of doing all this rather than just buying a bag of candy I've not yet determined. I've ordered some more silicone molds that I think will work better with this than the gummy bear molds. Those are too small and difficult to get the candy into before it cools.

    I have enough extract for another two, maybe three batches. I've already started more extract, this time using cinnamon sticks rather than ground cinnamon. Hopefully the flavor will be as good.

    I also have some spearmint extract going from the last of the spearmint I got from the garden. Not sure how that will work in candy but I'll probably give it a try. I'm going to try some lemon extract. That's just lemon zest in the vodka and let it steep for a month or two. I'd like to make my own vanilla extract, but the price of vanilla beans have gone through the roof and into the stratosphere since a typhoon wiped out a large number of the vanilla plantations in Madagascar. My usual spice supply house wants $7 for ONE vanilla bean. Also in the planning stage is almond extract. I have about 8 pounds of almonds waiting for me to smoke them, so I can probably spare a few to make extract. One spot I was reading suggested making combinations -- adding a vanilla bean to the cinnamon sticks, or putting a nutmeg nut in with the cinnamon. Might have to experiment with that as well. I've also read about using the Instant Pot to speed up the extraction process. Not sure what the heat will do to the flavor but it's probably worth trying. Might be willing to sacrifice a bit of flavor to cut two months off the process.

    So, enough about my attempts at hard candy. Anyone else want to share candy or extract making experiences?

  2. #2
    TVWBB Hall of Fame Clint's Avatar
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    I'm more familiar with hand dipped chocolates & caramels etc. The last time someone handed me a home-made hard candy it was at the Snoop Dogg concert (maybe another time too )

    My grandma had molds around for them but we didn't do much with that - I watch batches of creams (mints, cherry, chocolate, etc) & caramels get cooked all the time, and remember helping my aunt/cousins at home. My dad taught them how to cook (100 year old German recipes) but I never learned.

    As for the extract - I used cinnamon powder in hard ciders & then I tried some liquid extract that's probably similar to what you're making..... also had an old worker who made vanilla extract @ home with his wife same as you're describing, can't remember trying it but I've bought a few vanilla beans.









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    Not that I have any delusions of operating at that scale, but I think those cooling tables would make a huge difference. I watched a video on YouTube of making red and white candy hearts. The cooking table he used had rails that could be clamped in place to make a channel on the table. He poured the liquid sugar into the channel and then worked some red food coloring into half of it. The fact he had a batch started with 8 pounds of sugar probably changed this a bit too. What surprised me was the "white" isn't coloring at all. He worked the uncolored portion of the pour like you would taffy. The white color is nothing but tiny air bubbles reflecting the light. He had to work it a long time but it did eventually get pretty white.

    Are they making chocolate pecans in those lower pictures?

  4. #4
    TVWBB Hall of Fame Clint's Avatar
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    the bottom-most picture is pecan rolls - they're ~10oz - 2# each after they're done - I forget what's in the center but lots of sugar, butter, & cream.

    To the left of my cousin (who's cutting the caramel) there's a couple of the mixers (8-10" deep, ~40" across) that stir/rotate/aerate whatever it is they cook, that's where the flavor's added.....kind of like cement mixers. I just go to visit, eat, and sneak some old grand-dad that's usually in the pantry. Once in a while they'll call for help to pour a batch or something----that bottom pic they were running the pecan rolls & were short one person. I forget all my responsibilities that day but my main one was refilling the box of pecans.

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