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Thread: Hard candy

  1. #11
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    An eight gallon pot might be a tad too large, even if I had my own candy store. With the molds I currently have 3 cups of sugar and one cup of corn syrup just about fills them both. Probably would fill both of them if I could control the pour a bit better.

    With 2 cups of sugar I can use the smaller 1-1/2 quart saucepan, but when I upped it to 3 cups I thought that might be pushing things. There is a lot of bubbling and if you don't watch it like a hawk it can boil over pretty easily. So I switched to the 3 quart saucepan. (It's the next largest I have.)

    Anolon makes a 3 quart saucepan with pour spots on either side and a five-layer bottom -- stainless steel inside and out with a three-ply core of copper sandwiched between layers of aluminum. It seems like overkill, but I'm sure it does provide extremely even heat. Both the saucepans I've been using have aluminum cores throughout, not just on the bottom, so weight-wise it might just about even out. The Anolon pot also has sides that slope slightly out, which I think would make it harder for the bubbling to come over the top.

    The 3 quart I used last time did pour with minimal dripping. It has a small lip around the top edge that helps with that. The biggest problem was trying to get a decent grip on the almost cylindrical handle so I could tip it just so. It would have been easier to choke up on the handle, but closer to the pan it got uncomfortably warm. Maybe next time I'll just wear a glove and hold it closer in where there's a bit more to grab onto. If I end up making dozens of batches then maybe I'll reconsider spending $70 on the fancy pan with the pour spouts.

  2. #12
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    An update on my candy making adventures. First, my homemade extracts. The last batch of cinnamon candy used up the extract I made with ground cinnamon naturally steeped for about six weeks. I made two new batches using Vietnamese cassia sticks in the Instant Pot. There's another naturally steeping with just about a month of steep time. The IP extract looks very muddy and, frankly, not at all appealing, but it's the taste that matters. I've strained and bottled the first batch, using it for the first time today to make "coal" to give to the kids at Christmas as a joke gift.

    Related to that, after some online research I bought some gel food coloring. The liquid stuff from the grocery store was okay but a bit weak. The set of colors I bought included "coal black", so that seemed a natural. I wanted to break this batch into chunks that at least vaguely resemble coal so I prepped a 8"x8" pan with aluminum foil coated with cooking spray. I won't do that again. The candy flowed into the cracks and seams of the foil and it was horrible trying to free it once the candy set. Next time I'll either use parchment or just oil the pan up real good and hope for the best.

    The "coal black" was more very dark purple, but it looks mostly black with the bigger pieces.



    Close enough for a gag gift.

    Unfortunately, the first batch of IP cinnamon extract leaves a bit to be desired. It tastes okay, but it's very weak compared to what I made from the ground cinnamon and let steep for a long time. At this point, as much as I like the IP, I think I'll be sticking with the long natural process.

    I also made another batch of spearmint candy. This gave me a chance to try the "leaf green" gel coloring.



    The color on these is a bit better than the last batch I made with the liquid food coloring. Next time I might use another drop or two. I doubled up on the amount of extract in this batch since the last one was a bit weak. Much better flavor.

    I'll probably make another batch of cinnamon candy (colored red rather than black) before Christmas and that will be it until next year. I've got a lemon extract I'm anxious to try but want to give it some more steep time. I started a cherry extract the other day using some dried sour cherries. Not sure how that's going to come out. The extract turned deep red within a couple hours of adding the vodka. It made me check the package to be sure there wasn't a food coloring added. It claims not.

    Further extract plans include true Ceylon cinnamon, orange, lime, blackberry (they were on sale), and maybe hazelnut.

  3. #13
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    Jay, what a great idea. Coal in the kids stockings that they can eat. They will love it. Please give us an update after Christmas.

  4. #14
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    I learned an important lesson today. A couple days ago I strained off the lemon extract I've had working for a month and have been anxious to make my own lemon drops. I found a recipe for lemon meringue suckers that gave me proportions for the citric acid that makes them sour. What I didn't note very carefully was when to add the citric acid. I was a little concerned that it wouldn't readily dissolve into the rather viscous sugar once the boiling has stopped so I tossed it in at the beginning. Big mistake. It reacts with the sugar so it turns almost coal black before it hits the desired 300F. I spooned a bit out into water to cool it off so I could taste it. Very bitter. Always add the citric acid at the end. I mixed it with the lemon extract and yellow food dye (which was more orange than yellow) and it dissolved okay with a little persuasion.

    Now I have this pot full of black sugar at 300F that will set up like a rock if I just leave it to cool and will clog the drain if I pour it down the sink. What to do? I filled a 8 quart stock pot with cold water and slowly drizzled the liquid black sugar into the pot. I did a circular motion around the pot thinking it would simply distribute it more evenly. When I was done I lifted out what looked like a crown of thorns. It came out in mostly one piece that I could toss in the garbage. So now I know what to do when a batch goes very bad.

    Unfortunately, my lemon extract isn't remotely as lemony as I had hoped. When next I find lemons at a decent price I'll zest a few more and dump this batch of extract in there to continue working.

    On the extract front I have another idea to try to speed up the process. The basic idea here is getting the alcohol solvent to move in and out of the material, in this case the lemon zest, bringing along the flavor elements on the way out. One approach to this is to pressurize the solvent and material, forcing the solvent into the material and then pulling it back out when the pressure is released. I've seen some videos using a food service cream whipper that employs cartridges filled with nitrous oxide. You put in the extract material and alcohol, charge it with a couple cartridges, swirl a bit, wait a few minutes, release the pressure. When the bubbling stops you have extract. Or more like flavored alcohol. Use enough extract material and repeat the process enough and I'm sure it would work to make a heavily flavored extract. It would just be very expensive to do.

    Quite a few years ago I bought a poor man's vacuum packing device called the Pump'N'Seal. It looks like a miniature bicycle pump, though it works in reverse, pulling air out of whatever it's attached to on the down stroke. To be honest it never worked all that well with plastic bags, largely because the bags aren't designed to hold a vacuum, but it did work very well with canning jars. It came with check tabs that were like little band-aids that had rubber pads where the gauze would be. There was also a device to put a hole in the top of the jar that was literally an aluminum push pin. Hokey as it may have appeared, it worked very well. You punch a hole in the lid of the canning jar and put one of the band-aids over the hole. Close up the jar and use the Pump'N'Seal on the top. As it pulls vacuum it lifts the rubber gasket on the band-aid out of the hole and sucks out some air. As you move in the other direction the reduced pressure now in the jar pulls the gasket back into the hole, holding the vacuum you're creating. It was remarkably effective. I had some jars hold vacuum for more than a year.

    So why am I talking about vacuums in relation to extracts? It's about the pressure, which is functionally relative. If you put the extract material and alcohol in a sealed jar and pull a vacuum on it, whatever gas is trapped in the material should begin to move into the alcohol. When the pressure on the jar is released, the alcohol should be literally sucked into the material to fill the space where the gas was. At least that's my theory. I just ordered some Pump'N'Seal check tabs so I can give it a try. I don't have my Pump'N'Seal anymore but I do have a vacuum bagger device that I think should work. I'm sure it will require quite a few vacuum/release cycles but I suspect it should speed up the process.

  5. #15
    TVWBB Diamond Member Len Dennis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JayHeyl View Post
    I learned an important lesson today.
    I just love reading about science experiments. Keep up the good work ! AND thanks for taking the time to tell us about it.
    So many recipes, so little time
    : Genesis gas grill 18.5" WSM Maverick ET-732 :

  6. #16
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    Continuing the extract saga, my order of check tabs arrived and I anxiously put one of them to work straightaway. I took three cinnamon (cassia) sticks, broke them in half, and put them in a half-pint canning jar. I added six ounces of vodka, enough to cover the sticks by half an inch, then poked a hole in a canning lid, applied one of the check tabs, and put the lid on the jar. I didn't buy the Pump'N'Seal pump but instead used the vacuum pistol from a vacuum packing set I got a couple years ago. As soon as I starting pulling a vacuum in the jar thousands of tiny bubbles started pouring out of the cinnamon sticks. Initially it looked a bit like a glass of soda water, though the bubbles were much finer.

    So at least part of my theory on this would appear to be correct. There is a lot of gas trapped in the cinnamon and lowering the pressure in the jar causes that gas to start working its way out. I took some video, unfortunately not thinking to pull the phone out until after the most intense bubbling had stopped.



    Sorry, Flickr isn't making it easy to directly share things these days. Clicking the image will take you to the video on Flickr. Part way through the video I put the vacuum pistol on top of the jar again hoping to evacuate a bit more air but I don't think it really did much. The cinnamon sticks continued to bubble to some degree for over an hour.

    The second part of the theory is that when the vacuum is released and the jar is exposed to atmospheric pressure, vodka should be pulled to fill the spaces left vacant by the escaped gases. This part is not so easy to verify. I suppose I could have removed one of the cinnamon sticks after a couple minutes and cut across it to see how deeply the vodka had penetrated. But I didn't. I've put the jar through four vacuum/release cycles so far. There is already an obvious darkening of the alcohol. I'm being a bit less patient with this than I probably should be. Logic tells me it may well take as long for the vodka to work its way in as it did for the gases to be pulled out, but I didn't want to wait an hour. Going forward I think I'll try to do a semi-regular schedule, leaving it for at least an hour but under vacuum and under normal pressure. That should give enough time for the vodka to work its way in and out.

    I'll post more as this experiment progresses.

    Another thought just occurred more closely related to the main theme of the site. I know Chris has posted about not bothering to soak wood chunks because the water doesn't work its way into the wood to any significant degree in the time most people would be willing to soak. I'm wondering if doing this with wood and water would force the water further into the wood. I may have to give that a try.

  7. #17
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    Wow. This thread is right on time I bumped in.

  8. #18
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    Another update on my extract/hard candy saga. On the extract front, my experiment with the vacuum is continuing. I have one jar that's been naturally aging, with just a few good shakes a day, for two months. The vacuum jar has been going for almost three weeks. I've been trying to do at least two cycles a day with a minimum of two hours between vacuum and pressure. Since the naturally aged one should be about ready, I'll try to see if I can figure out a way to gauge the strength of the vacuum vs the normal approach.

    I started some lime extract yesterday. A local store had limes 20 for $1 and they actually looked very nice (as opposed to the usual sale limes that look more like lemons than limes). Something I read got me wondering about the effect of wax on citrus extracts. They tend to wax even "organic" fruit to reduce the moisture loss. No harm for normal consumption, but the wax is between me and the good stuff I want to get out of the zest so it seemed reasonable to want to remove it. One approach suggested using vinegar water and baking soda together with a vegetable brush and a lot of elbow grease.That didn't sound all that effective to me. Another said to dip the fruit in boiling water for ten seconds and then rub vigorously with a clean towel. That made a bit more sense since the heat should liquefy the wax so it can be rubbed off on the towel. Based on the amount of wax deposited above the water line in the pot I used, I'd say it was reasonably effective. The thing I'm a bit concerned about is that it might have squeezed out a lot of the oils that contain most of the flavor. I got a significant amount of green on the towel. Not St. Patrick's Day green, but clearly noticeable on the white towel. It will be a couple months before I know how it goes.

    I never did find anything online to provide guidance on how much zest to put in the extract. When I did lemon I used two lemons in a half-pint jar. I only let it steep for a month but it was very weak when finished. For the lime I used the zest of 20 Persian limes in a pint jar. There was about an inch of grated and finely chopped zest in the jar before I added the vodka.

    And that leads to the next topic. My last batch of cinnamon extract that was made in the Instant Pot was a disappointment. It's rather weak, so I've been putting more of it in each batch to make up for the lack of strength. I've also been having a problem with my last few batches of candy being tacky. Looking for solutions to this I got some advice on a forum where serious home cooks can interact with professional chefs and cooks. It was pointed out that vodka is only 40% alcohol, which means it's 60% water. The extract is added after the heat has been turned off so it's entirely up to the residual heat in the candy syrup to boil off the water and alcohol. Based on instructions I'd read elsewhere online, I've been waiting for the syrup to cool down to about 280F, when all the bubbling has stopped, before adding my extract. The advice I got from the pro was to put the extract in as soon as the flame is turned off. This should allow for much more of the alcohol and water to boil off. Another pro suggested gently warming the extract in a bowl floating in a water bath to drive off a lot of the alcohol and some of the water. This would have the secondary effect of getting the extract a lot closer to the boiling point so more water would be boiled off from the residual heat in the syrup. On my next batch I'm going to try just adding the extract as soon as the flame is turned off. If that doesn't fix the tackiness then I'll try warming the extract.

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