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Remember those carefree days when you were a kid and could buy some hard candy at the corner store for just a dime? Now you can relive those sweet days for just about the same price or even less.
Hard candy, also called high-boiled candy, is one of the simplest noncrystalline candies to make; they include lollipops, hard drops, clear mints, butterscotch, bonbons, Sea Foam and malted milk balls, and so on. They are composed of sugar and corn syrup boiled with water high enough to 300 degrees F (Hard Crack Stage), until concentrated so that the final solid will contain only 1 or 2% moisture. The very high sugar concentration of this syrup makes it liable to crystallize prematurely at the slightest jarring, so a substantial amount of corn syrup is used to prevent this and to produce a clear sugar glass effect. (NOTE: Some recipes may specify 290 degrees F, which does not work as well; sugar cooked to 300 degrees F is going to be harder than sugar cooked to 290 degrees F.) Afterwards, the candy can easily be colored and flavored(usually flavored oil bases, such as lemon, orange and lime).
SARAH SAYS: Do you know where the word lollipop comes from? The word “lolly” was sometimes used in northern England to mean tongue. A “pop” is a piece of hard candy. And lollipops are candy on a stick that you can lick with your tongue.
QUESTION: I have seen some hard sugar candy recipes calling for boiling the sugar at 290 degrees F and others at 300 degrees F. Which one is right?
SARAH SAYS: As for the temperature -- I think 300 degrees F is better than 290 degrees F (with qualifications), but certainly no higher than 300 degrees F or the sugar starts to caramelize. This not only changes the color and the taste, but alters it physically as well, making it less stable and long-lived. Sugar cooked to 300 degrees F is going to be harder than sugar cooked to 290 degrees F. But even at 300, a subtle but noticeable color change sets in. That's why I qualify my opinion.
Assuming that the candy is dyed (most lollipops are) 300 degrees is ok if the color being added is squarely in the red family, or the contribution to the final color of the caramel tones are not undesirable (such as for purple or orange). But unless you want yellow to look orange or green to look brownish, I'd quit at 290 degrees. And also (I could go on and on about colors) color should be added *late* in the cooking process, after the syrup reaches 275 degrees. The reason is that trace amounts of acid in food colors tend to "invert" the sucrose, a side-effect of which is to soften it, making the end result sticky. The longer the acid is in contact with the hot syrup, the more pronounced the inversion.
I know it's off the subject, but one last thing on the subject of color vis-à-vis cooking the syrup. Whether cooked to 290 or higher, the heat on the stove must be as high as it can go. Cooking syrups as fast as possible minimizes the browning effect of Maillard reactions(!!) (Pronounced: may-ARE). The Maillard reactions cause proteins to turn brown in the presence of carbohydrates. (This is what makes things like meat and vegetables turn brown when they're cooked.) The Maillard reactions are enhanced in the presence of heat. Since sugar has traces of protein, the less time the hot sugar is in contact with the proteins, the less pronounced the browning effect.
QUESTION: When I put flavoring in my lollipops it seems as though after the first suck, the flavor is gone and I only taste sweet. What am I doing wrong? Thanks for any help.
SARAH SAYS: Are you using extracts or oils for the flavoring? The best flavor will come from oils. I usually purchase LorAnn oils from the local cake shop or drug store (yes, I have actually seen them in the local drug store). I usually only use a few drops of oil flavor because it is so strong. AND, especially with the mints, like peppermint and wintergreen, be sure to turn your head when you add it to the candy mixture because the steam will make your nostrils run and your eyes water!!!
QUESTION: Should the candy molds be greased or buffed prior to use?
SARAH SAYS: Grease either plastic or metal molds, although buffing, used in chocolate work, doesn't really help here. Apply a thin coating of neutral flavored oil to metal or non-silicone plastic molds. Buffing has a minimal to zero effect when the molds are used with sugar. Again, I can't explain the physics, but sufficient buffing of, say, hard plastic bon-bon molds prior to lining with *chocolate* can make or break the end result. But putting sugar into those molds? Forget about it. No amount of buffing is going to allow hard sugar to easily pop out of those if they aren't oiled.
QUESTION: What are the best molds to use?
SARAH SAYS: The best solution is to use silicone molds. These are definitely the way to go. Nothing sticks to them, especially fat-free stuff like sugar. No greasing is ever needed for silicone molds when used with sugar. And, depending on the stiffness of the mold, you can bend them after the sugar is cold, and -- voila! -- they pop right out. I've never seen a silicone mold that *wasn't* slightly flexible.
With a metal mold and a *smooth* plastic one, you will see that the drops on the metal bead up higher than on the plastic. On the plastic, the edges of the drop will smear out slightly, making the drop look like a curved mound. On the metal, the edges of the drop curve under, making the drop look like a little sphere. This tendency of sugar to bead on metal is the same phenomenon which allows it to release. Of course, texture of either surface due to scratching or wear will diminish the effect.
Since surface tension increases(i.e., the tendency to spread and adhere to other surfaces diminishes) as syrup cools, some suggest not molding the syrup right as the pot comes off the fire, but rather letting it cool down a few minutes first. I agree, but in the case of molded candies this could be just superstition. I don't think it'll make that much difference, but it couldn't hurt.
Also, letting the sugar dry for a few hours in an airtight container with a strong desiccant is a good idea. Pure blue silica gel is the best (not the weak kind you get from florist shops, which is a little bit of silica gel mixed with a lot of sand). Second best is calcium chloride. The latter is the same stuff you spread on the sidewalk in the winter to melt the ice. Just make sure it doesn't touch the sugar. Technically speaking, it's "edible", but it tastes awful! Very salty. Also, calcium chloride has a tendency to become dusty. FYI, a good source of silica gel blue in a convenient packaging is at Hydrosorbent Products, Inc. The food-grade calcium chloride I mentioned is made by Dow.
FYI, most hard candies these days are made from Isomalt. This is a miracle sugar (and it *is* sugar, not an artificial sweetener, although it's classified as a "sugar substitute" by the FDA) that drastically reduces sticking problems because it is virtually non-hygroscopic. That is, the tendency of sugar to absorb humidity in the air and turn sticky is virtually non-existent in Isomalt. The humidity has to be in excess of 75% before it will feel really sticky. This also gives hard candies made from Isomalt a very long shelf-life. The one down side is that it is much less sweet than regular sucrose. Check the ingredients on a package of hard candy. The artificial sweetener that's also in there is the tell-tale sign that Isomalt sugar is the main ingredient. The process of making candies from Isomalt differs in significant ways from that using regular sugar, but it's do-able. I've tried it. You just have to add a few drops of some strong liquid artificial sweetener (like the kind you by at the grocery store) to the syrup to bring up the sweetness.