Candy

Creamy Mints and Candy Clay

by Nancy on May 17, 2011

in Candy

When I was growing up in the midwest, family milestones were celebrated with receptions. Graduations, weddings, 25th and 50th anniversaries meant family, friends and acquaintances would gather to congratulate the honoree. Food for the reception usually consisted of a catered cake, mints, and mixed roasted nuts. Coffee and punch were served as beverages.

The mints were my favorite and are so easy to make. This recipe was common at the time and usually went by the name Cream Cheese Mints. Cream cheese doesn’t really sound like it would be very good in mints but it smooths out the flavor so the mints don’t seem overly sweet and you don’t taste the cream cheese. Another nice thing about these mints is that the “dough” can formed into shapes and you have plenty of time to work with it as it doesn’t get hard quickly as it cools like a candy made with sugar syrup. Rose shaped mints colored to match the occasion are the ones I remember but you can also roll this dough and cut it with small cookie cutters or add a little more powdered sugar to make it stiffer and mold it like clay. Plan on two for each adult but four or five for each of the kids!

For the mints above, I used the Wilton Roses in Bloom candy mold. I scooped out 1/2 tablespoon of candy dough, rolled it into a ball between my hands, rolled the ball in a dish of superfine sugar (baker’s sugar), and then placed the ball in the mold. Beginning at one edge, I pressed the ball even with the top of the mold working across the mold and squeezing off any excess dough on the opposite side. After filling all 10 roses I turned the mold over, gave it a sharp wrap on top of a towel on the counter and the roses fell out.

Creamy Mints

  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. mint extract
  • food coloring (optional)
  • granulated sugar (optional)

Makes 30 one half tablespoon sized mints.

  1. With cream cheese at room temperature, mix all ingredients together to form firm dough.
  2. Roll out and cut with small cookie cutters or press into molds and pop out immediately. For sparkling candy, roll into balls and dip in superfine or regular granulated sugar before pressing into molds.
  3. Place on linen towel or other smooth cloth for 24 hours. This allows the surface to dry and a crust to form so candies are easier to handle. Can be stored in air tight container in freezer with sheets of waxed paper between layers.

Candy Clay

  • 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. flavored extract (optional)
  • food coloring (optional)
  1. With cream cheese at room temperature, mix 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar with all other ingredients to form firm dough.
  2. Knead in 1/4 cup additional powdered sugar or as needed to make a stiff, claylike consistency.
  3. Model into shape.
  4. Let air dry 24 hours so that the surface dry and a crust forms to make molded shape easier to handle. Can be stored in air tight container in freezer.

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Fudge

by Nancy on December 14, 2010

in Candy

The neighbors on our block exchange homemade goodies at Christmas time each year. I don’t remember how this got started exactly but I think it was when there were a lot of preschool kids in the neighborhood and neighbors brought treats for them. All of the children have grown up and most have moved away but us “old people” continue the tradition. It gives us cooks an excuse to make those holiday foods like cookies and candies that we fondly remember from our own childhoods but no longer have enough people in the house to eat a whole batch. It also makes us take a few minutes to visit with our neighbors, something we often don’t do without an excuse to knock on our neighbor’s door.

We get the usual assortment of cookies and candies and all are delicious. These recipes are each cook’s best of the best. But we also get less traditional foods too. Our Chinese neighbor brings us hot egg rolls! Our Japanese neighbor brings us homemade jam. Who’d guess but her sister owns a commercial orchard in Northern California and they spend a week together in the summer when the fruit is ripe making jam. I either make dinner rolls to go with the jam or fudge. This year it’s fudge.

This is good fudge. It’s not perfect fudge like you buy commercially with an absolutely satin smooth texture. It is ever so slightly rough in texture. I have made that perfectly satin smooth fudge but that type of fudge is finicky and will sometimes crystalize and become rock hard. This recipe doesn’t fail like that so I accept the slight texture in exchange for consistent results, it’s a compromise I’m willing to live with.

Fudge

  • 1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 cups (5 ounces) mini marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup nuts (optional)

Makes 2 1/2 pounds.

  1. Mix chocolate chips and marshmallows in a 2 1/2 quart or larger glass or ceramic bowl. You want a bowl that will hold heat. Place bowl in microwave, set timer for 2 minutes but do not start microwave yet.
  2. Melt butter in 2 quart saucepan.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream.
  4. Add sugar carefully and slowly to center of pan without getting sugar crystals on side of pan. Follow precautions under Making Sugar Syrup for Candy to prevent sugar from crystalizing.
  5. Cook over medium heat to a rolling boil stirring constantly.
  6. Turn heat down but maintain rolling boil. Insert candy thermometer and cook to 234 degrees. This will take about 6 minutes (see 7 below). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can cook the syrup for 6 minutes.
  7. After 3 minutes have elapsed when cooking syrup, start microwave and microwave chocolate and marshmallows for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave.
  8. Add vanilla and nuts (optional) to chocolate and marshmallows.
  9. Pour hot syrup over chocolate chips and marshmallows. Stir with wooden spoon until blended. If mixture starts to harden around edges, return to microwave for 1 minute.
  10. Pour in buttered 8″ pan and let stand 24 hours. Cut at room temperature.

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Popcorn Balls

by Nancy on October 19, 2010

in Candy,Desserts,Snacks

I grew up in a rural area where we knew all of our neighbors. My mom drove me and my brothers and sisters to a few of the neighbors’ houses to go trick or treating. We didn’t have to worry about people we didn’t know tampering with treats so it meant we could have homemade treats – it really was a treat! We made treats for those who came to our house, too. Popcorn balls were a favorite. These make eye-catching treats for bake sales or parties if you can’t pass them out to little goblins and ghosts.

The syrup used to hold popcorn balls together is clear. You can add food coloring to make the balls any color. I leave it clear when making “snowballs” for Christmas but color it orange for Halloween treats.

The syrup used in this recipe is made from sugar and water cooked to a high temperature. The exact temperature determines how hard or soft the candy will be. It works like this. Temperatures around 245 degrees form soft candies like caramels but keep cooking to temperatures around 300 degrees and you get hard candies like peanut brittle. Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature.

Be careful you don’t get burned by hot syrup when making popcorn balls. Cooked syrup is HOT, much hotter than boiling water, and it sticks to your skin. Heed the precautions below and if you accidentally get hot syrup on your hand, plunge it into cool water immediately. Sacrifice a ball if you have to.

Popcorn Balls

  • 5 quarts popped popcorn
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. white vinegar
  • food coloring (optional)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
    1. Pop corn and place in 300 degree oven to keep hot and crisp.
    2. Butter sides of 2 quart, heavy bottomed saucepan. Carefully pour sugar into center of pan without getting any crystals on sides. Add remaining ingredients except vanilla being careful not to splash sugar on sides of pan. If the cooked syrup contacts a grain of sugar, it can cause all of the syrup to crystallize giving it a grainy mouth feel.
    3. Insert candy thermometer and cook to 250 degrees (hard ball stage).
    4. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.
    5. Pour one third of syrup evenly over popcorn and toss gently with large spoon or spatula to mix trying not to break popcorn. Repeat two more times until all of syrup is added.
    6. CAUTION – syrup is HOT. Let mixture set 5 minutes to cool. Work next to sink with running water or place bowl of cool water nearby to dip your hands in if syrup sticks and starts to burn. Butter hands and form a baseball sized popcorn ball squeezing so it sticks to itself. If you make it larger than a baseball, it will be too big to wrap in a single square of plastic wrap. Set aside to cool. Form remaining balls buttering hands between each ball.
    7. Wrap each ball in a square of plastic wrap and tie closed with curling ribbon. If weather is hot, store in refrigerator.

      Makes 12 – 15 popcorn balls.

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      A wide variety of candies from fudge to lollipops use a sugar syrup base. You want sugar syrup to do two things for you.

      1. You want to make a syrup that gets thicker/harder as it cools so the the candy holds its shape.
      2. You do not want the sugar syrup to crystalize when it cools. This makes your candy grainy, it just doesn’t feel right in your mouth. Crystallization also causes clear, hard candies like lollipops to turn cloudy.

      To make sugar syrup, you dissolve sugar in water and then boil the mixture. As you boil the mixture, some of the water evaporates and the boiling temperature rises. The syrup gets hotter than boiling water alone. The more water you boil off, the hotter the boiling temperature becomes and the thicker/harder the sugar syrup will be when it cools. The exact boiling temperature determines exactly how hard or soft your candy will be when it cools.

      You can measure the temperature of your sugar syrup two ways. The most accurate is to use a candy thermometer. Check that the candy thermometer reads 212 degrees F when you place it in plain boiling water (or whatever the temperature for boiling water is at your altitude). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use the cold water test. To do a cold water test, you dribble a few drops of boiling syrup into a glass of water to cool it and then look at and feel the syrup in your fingers to determine how thick/hard it is. You may also notice that as the syrup reaches different boiling temperatures, the nature of the boiling changes. First it looks like boiling water, then it becomes foamy, then the bubbles become small as the syrup thickens. You can use these observations to know when to do your cold water test.

      Here is a table of the different temperatures, the names candy makers use for the temperatures, and the cold water test.

      Temperature   Stage              Cold Water Test
      degrees F

      234-240      soft ball       syrup can be shaped into ball but flattens when removed from water
      244-248      firm ball      syrup can be shaped into ball that holds its shape when removed from water
      250-266      hard ball     syrup forms hard ball that can be flattened when pressed
      270-290      soft crack    syrup separates into threads that are pliable
      300-310      hard crack   syrup separates into threads that are hard and brittle

      Preventing crystallization is your other concern. You start out with a mixture of granulated sugar and water, boil the mixture to the temperature you need, remove it from the heat and it begins to cool. Because you boiled off some of the water, there is now more sugar in the mixture than the water can dissolve by itself at room temperature. The excess sugar wants to form crystals again. You don’t want this to happen because sugar crystals make your candy grainy, it’s like eating sandpaper. Also, sugar crystals aren’t transparent and will make candies that are suppose to be clear turn cloudy.

      There are several different substances that we group together under the name sugar. We need to consider three of them here: sucrose, fructose and glucose (also known as dextrose). Generally when making sugar syrup we start with granulated sugar because it is cheap and readily available. Granulated sugar is sucrose. Each crystal of sucrose is composed of two smaller sugar crystals, one of fructose and one of glucose. When you boil granulated sugar in water, the sucrose breaks down into fructose and glucose. This happens very slowly with perhaps only 5% breaking down in 20 minutes. The glucose crystals that are released form long but weak chains that prevent sucrose crystals from reforming as the sugar syrup cools. But if anything can break up the glucose chains or there aren’t enough of them, sucrose crystals will reform.
      There are three things you can do to prevent sugar crystals from forming.

      1. Eliminate any stray sucrose crystals that might start crystallization in the syrup.
      2. Add acid.
      3. Add glucose.

      Even one stray sucrose crystal that drops into the syrup as it cools may cause the syrup to crystalize. Such a crystal is usually either stuck to the side of the pan or is on the utensil that you stir or scrape the pan with.

      • Start by buttering the sides of the pan you use to boil the syrup.
      • Next, slowly pour sugar into center of pan. Don’t let any sugar crystals get on the sides.
      • Then, slowly pour in the water so that it does not splash.
      • Add remaining ingredients, place pan on heat and gently stir until all of the sugar is dissolved. Don’t stir the syrup anymore after it starts to boil.
      • Do not use the utensil that you used to stir the syrup again. It may have an undissolved sugar crystal on it.
      • If any sugar, dissolved or solid, made it onto the sides of the pan wash the sides of the pan down with water. Either use a pastry brush or turkey baster to apply the water. The extra water won’t hurt anything, it will just take a little longer to boil off the extra water that you added and for the syrup to reach the desired temperature.
      • Add the candy thermometer after the syrup is boiling. Use a clean spoon every time you put a spoon in to do a cold water test.
      • Use a clean spatula to remove the syrup from the pan or better yet just pour the syrup out and any that doesn’t come out readily just don’t use.

      Acid accelerates the process of sucrose breaking down into fructose and glucose. With acid, you get more glucose forming in the short time you cook the syrup. Use either cream of tartar (tartaric acid) or citric acid (sour salt) as your acid. Cream of tartar doesn’t have much taste and is available in most grocery stores. Citric acid has the strong taste of citrus fruit so should be used only with fruit flavored candies. It is sometimes available in grocery stores as sour salt. You can also increase the acidity ever so slightly be boiling your sugar syrup in a copper lined pan. The effect isn’t as great but is preferable for some candies especially those that include milk such as fudge. Milk products will neutralize any acid that you add and the acid might cause the milk to separate.

      Finally, you can add extra glucose to your syrup before you start boiling it. The cheapest way to do this is to add corn syrup which is a mixture of fructose and glucose. The most common corn syrup available in grocery stores in the US is Karo syrup. You can use either light Karo (which has some vanilla added) or dark (which has some molasses flavoring and caramel color added) depending on your recipe. They are interchangeable regardless of which your recipe says to use.

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