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ABCs of Candy Making

Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a big heart-shaped box full of chocolates! Each year, millions of Americans spend their hard-earned money on pounds and pounds of chocolate for their sweetie, often combining the tasty gift with a bouquet of flowers or some other sentimental token of their affection. According to the Nielsen Company, about 48 million pounds of chocolate are sound during Valentine’s week, with Valentine chocolate sales trumped only by Halloween and Easter.

Candy is available at a variety of prices but you may have noticed that the best candy – usually the handmade variety sold at chocolatiers – is quite expensive and has steadily been growing more and more costly due to the rising cost of cocoa beans, butter, and milk.

Perhaps it’s time to give homemade candy making a try! While you may not achieve the results of a Swiss chocolatier, homemade candies are often quite delicious and fun to make as well. And once you gather some experience, you can make a wealth of different kinds of candy, from plain chocolate to toffee and caramels to luscious butter creams.

Types of Candies

Truly, there are thousands of varieties of candies. Even in a single box of chocolates you’ll find several dozen types of those tiny delicious delights. And, of course, there’s more to candy than just chocolate.

Even though the varieties of candy are endless, basically, candy is divided into just three different categories. The classification depends on the ingredients.

o Hard candy – These are the candies that are made almost entirely of sugar, but will also contain items like food coloring or flavoring. Common examples of hard candy are fruit drops, fruit or peppermint sticks, and rock candy. These are generally quite easy to make.

o Candy (mostly soft) with 95 percent sugar or less – These include candies like marshmallows, gumdrops, or nougat.

o Candy containing many additional ingredients – This category includes many different examples including fudge, marzipan, caramels, most chocolates, chocolate-covered raisins and nuts, and many others.

Candy Making Equipment

Before you begin, you’ll want to make sure you have all those things on hand that will make your candy endeavors a success.

o Candy molds – These represent the easiest way to make chocolates and are a good way to begin. Kids can make molded chocolates as well and present them to friends or parents for Valentine’s Day.

o Heavy saucepan – The ingredients needed to make many candies generally need to be cooked on the stove. Sugar gets very, very hot so it’s essential to use a thick pan that will prevent you from getting burnt. It should also be high enough to prevent the ingredients from boiling over. Be sure it is clean and dry before use.

o Candy thermometer – Because sugar reacts differently at various temperatures, you’ll need this nearly all the time. Be sure to buy a sturdy one and make sure it’s a candy thermometer, not a meat thermometer.

o Measuring equipment – The best way to measure dry ingredients for candy is with a scale. Liquids need to be measured in a standard liquid measure cup.

o Wooden spoons – Wooden spoons don’t conduct heat, so if you use them for stirring, you won’t get burnt.

o Protective clothing – An apron is a must when making candy and it’s also helpful to wear something to protect your hands like oven mitts or cleaning gloves. Choose the type that covers your forearm. And never make candy in your bare feet! One drop of sugar could really scald your tender skin!

o Keep a candy making chart on hand that outlines the correct sugar temperatures for the kind of candy you’re making, such as the one below.

Candy Making Chart

Thread            230 degrees F      forms a short, coarse thread
Soft ball         234 degrees F     forms a ball that flattens when removed from the water
Firm ball       244 degrees F     forms a ball that will not flatten unless pressed
Hard ball       250 degrees F     forms a rigid but still pliable ball
Soft crack       270 degrees F     separates into hard threads that bend
Hard crack           300 degrees F     separates into hard, brittle threads
Caramelized sugar     310 degrees F     turns a dark gold color

o Other equipment might include spatulas, cooling racks, pastry brushes, baking pans, a granite slab, and a double boiler. Consult your recipe before buying a lot of extraneous items.

Getting Started

Remember, you’ll need to start out slow. Look for recipes that are fairly basic at first (like fudge and rock candy) and then progress to the harder stuff. Take time to familiarize yourself with candy-making terms and procedures. Wilton® has excellent books that describe each step of candy-making so consider investing in one of those.

Above all, remember that it’s all about that sweet ingredient – the sugar, so take time to learn about sugar and how it reacts when it cooks to be sure your Valentine’s Day candy making is a success.