Basic Candy Ingredients

Candy Apple RecipeAll sugar-based candies, whether creamy, chewy, brittle, aerated or soft, are essentially mixtures of two ingredients: sugar and water. Candymakers create very different types of candies by varying the proportion of these two ingredients, and the physical re-arrangement of the sugar molecules into CRYSTALLINE or NONCRYSTALLINE CANDIES. But, other ingredients, such as Interfering Agents, below, added to candy recipes, also play a unique role, depending on when they are added to the recipe and in what proportion. 

By educating yourself about common candy ingredients and by selecting the best ingredients you can find, you will go a long way toward ensuring successful, delicious candy.

Many times, ingredients are just listed in a recipe without indication of type, adding to lots of confusion and failure; and, I think candy recipes are some of the worst. For example, vinegar is referred to as just its name, "vinegar" - Do you use red wine vinegar?  Apple cider vinegar? Does it make a difference? -- The answer is "Yes, it does!! Use white distilled vinegar.

Since the appeal of candy is its sweetness, some type of sweetener is usually the primary ingredient.

Crystalline table sugar: What sugar do you recommend? Use the best quality granulated, everyday white CANE sugar when making candy. Use a freshly purchased and unopened package every time you start a recipe; this will insure that there has been no contamination from other ingredients commonly found in the kitchen, such as flour or salt.

Sugar has special properties which make it an ideal candidate for candy recipes. Sugar crystals remain solid at room temperature. When sugar crystals are dissolved in water, the sugar goes into solution. It is then heated and boiled to certain temperatures. Here you are making chemical changes or reactions in the sugar; the heat breaks the crystals apart into molecules which at some point will come back together again as a sugar crystal as the sugar syrup cools. The fact that it solidifies into crystals after heating, is extremely important in candy making.

Here candy can range from the soft textures of caramels and fudges, where crystallization is minimized, to hard candies where crystallization results in a desired grainy or crystalline structure. This does not occur as smoothly as one hopes because of the nature of sugar crystals.

Corn Syrup: use light corn syrup if not specified in a recipe. If you only have dark, it can be used, but the candy will have a slight molasses taste and color. If the recipe specifies, follow it.

Molasses: conveniently for butterscotch makers, molasses contains a very dark caramel with a distinct burnt edge and a bit of sharpness. Molasses is so strongly flavored, that butterscotch recipes rarely use it without it being diluted with other ingredients.

Can I substitute Brown Sugar for Refined Granulated Sugar?
Yes, only if you an experienced candy-maker. Don't let the brown sugar exceed 1/2 the amount of the total sugar. So if you were going to use 2 cups of total sugar, divide it into 1 cup brown and 1 cup regular sugar. Using brown sugar (which is basically refined white sugar but without all the molasses removed) also acts as one of the flavor agents and you can end up with a fudge called "Penuche."

Can I substitute Unrefined Sugar ("Sugar in the Raw") for Granulated Sugar?
No, because you may get unexpected results because the crystal size of each differ. Sugar in the Raw (turbino) is very course granulation and my not dissolve completely during the boil. Also, unrefined sugar has a strong taste and brown cast due to some molasses in it.

Can I substitute Powdered Sugar for Granulated Sugar?
No. Powdered sugar is finely ground sugar with corn starch added. The corn starch may help thicken the fudge but it also doesn't dissolve well (unless heated) and you'll get a fudge with unmixed sugar & corn starch.

What's the difference between beet and cane sugar?
After processing, the two sugars are chemically the same. However, in my research some have reported better success with pure cane sugar.

Water: Tap water is fine.

Cream - Use heavy cream. Because of its higher butterfat than milk, it gives the candy a smooth texture and mouthfeel.  

QUESTION: Can I substitute Evaporated Milk for Sweetened Condensed Milk?
SARAH SAYS: In a nutshell, no ! Evaporated milk is used in many candy recipes. It is just that... milk that has had about half the water removed by evaporation. It's a very thick milk (be sure you shake the can) which contains milk proteins, milk fats, and water. This gives the semi-sweet chocolate a more milky chocolate taste when mixed.

Butter and fats affect the sugar's final chemical structure and determine the brittleness, hardness, and flavor and texture (chewy versus crunchy). Always use unsalted (or salted) stick butter instead of margarine when you are making candy. Margarine contains a lot of water and different amounts of fat that will make your candy inconsistent and butter gives the best taste. Do not use vegetable oil spreads or tub products -- so that candies will "set up" or have a nice brittle texture.
Cream of Tartar: This is used as a stabilizer. It's acidic because made from dried wine on casks. If you don't have it, use freshly squeezed lemon juice, instead.
Lemon Juice: use freshly squeezed, not the lemon juice that comes in a small squeeze bottle. Fresh has a higher acidic content than bottled, and will affect your recipe.
Vinegar: Use white distilled vinegar. Other vinegars impart a taste and color.

Candy oils can be used and are the preferred flavoring for candy. Because they are oil-based, it makes them strong and less likely to evaporate when subjected to heat or added to a hot mixture. Plus, they come in a wide spectrum of flavors. Some recipes call for extracts, which are fine to use but aren't as flavorful; they are alcohol based and evaporate easily that's why they are added at the end of the recipe, not during the cooking phase.

SARAH SAYS: Remember with candy oils, a little goes a long way. I use no more than 1/4-teaspoon per recipe and when using them instead of extracts, don't exchange the amounts one-for-one.

For sugar based candy, food coloring is best to use. It is a liquid, which comes in little bottles available at any supermarket or from a cake decorating store (lots of colors). It's particularly suitable for mixtures that do not combine readily with liquid, such as chocolate or to be used in baking recipes.

If you add a gelatin, powdered or leaf, starch, pectin, or gum to the boiling mixture the sugar will gel and make products like jelly beans, Turkish delight, and licorices. The starch swells in water. The swelling forms a stress on the sugar crystal structure. Enough stress will change the basic chemical structure of the sugar at certain temperature ranges. When the syrup turns from clear to opaque the crystalline structure has disappeared and a jelly or gum has occurred. 
SARAH SAYS: Gummy bears are made from gelatins and sugars and poured into molds where the pieces set up and then are popped out of the molds.

Dipping mixtures (or "covers") come in different styles:

  • Melted Chocolates: Often mixtures of chocolates are used and small amounts of butter (or shortening) is added to replace the missing cocoa butter common in dark chocolates. 
  • Commercial Mixtures: Common Quality Names I've used include: Merckens (excellent, reasonable), Wiltons (excellent, expensive), Nestles (excellent, reasonable).
    Manufactured candy coatings which melt easily to allow for coatings. Since they lack cocoa butter they aren't "chocolates" but many have a good chocolate taste. The are available in many different flavors (e.g., dark chocolate, milk chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate-mint, etc.). Commercial coatings range from very inexpensive (half the price of chocolate chips) to very expensive. Quality generally follows the retail price... but not always. The final product tends to have a shiny appearance. 
  • Chocolate Chips do not use the same cocoa-butter/palm oil base that commercial mixtures use and shouldn't be substituted as such. 
  • Home Made Preparations: Fondant can be used for dipping. Fondants have a multitude of different textures. It is harder to prepare and use as a dip and are much more prone to failure.

Ordered crystallization in non-crystalline candy or an interference with crystal growth in crystalline candy is prevented by ingredients. These ingredients are called interfering agents. Check candy formulas to see what types are used.
For example:

Corn syrup (invert sugars):
Corn syrup contains glucose instead of the sucrose of table sugar. In caramels, brittles or hard candy, you want to prevent crystallization and their recipes contain enough corn syrup or acids to do this. One way to prevent the crystallization of sucrose in candy is to make sure that there are other types of sugar—usually, fructose and glucose—to get in the way. Large crystals of sucrose have a harder time forming when molecules of fructose and glucose are around. Crystals form something like Legos locking together, except that instead of Lego pieces, there are molecules. If some of the molecules are a different size and shape, they won’t fit together, and a crystal doesn’t form.

Brown sugar, molasses: retards crystallization too, by altering the ratio of glucose to fructose. Brown sugar, a diluted form of molasses, which is basically refined sugar crystals thinly coated with molasses.

Honey: has a non-crystallization property, and can therefore be used in confectioneries to maintain a soft, smooth consistency.

Cream of tartar
breaks sucrose into glucose and fructose. If adding acid, cooking time is critical - too short, coarse and grainy candy / too long, too soft
A simple way to get other types of sugar into the mix is to "invert" the sucrose (the basic white sugar you know well) by adding an acid to the recipe. Acids such as lemon juice or cream of tartar cause sucrose to break up (or invert) into its two simpler components, fructose and glucose. For example, most fudge recipes contain either corn syrup (which contains glucose instead of the sucrose of table sugar) or cream of tartar (which breaks sucrose into glucose and fructose).

FATS: Fatty ingredients such as butter help interfere with crystallization — again, by getting in the way of the sucrose molecules that are trying to lock together into crystals. Toffee owes its smooth texture and easy breakability to an absence of sugar crystals, thanks to a large amount of butter in the mix.

GELATIN: The starch swells in water. The swelling forms a stress on the sugar crystal structure. Enough stress will change the basic chemical structure of the sugar at certain temperature ranges. When the syrup turns from clear to opaque the crystalline structure ha

Other interfering agents such as heavy cream, milk and evaporated milk (milk proteins), egg whites, cocoa and chocolate solids: coat the crystals and slow their growth, and also add flavor and interest. But, remember these ingredients do not entirely stop the unwanted crystallization process.
SARAH SAYS: These make the sugar syrup more viscous so cook to a slightly lower end point temperature in the range.

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