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Candymaking is both an exact science and an art. Controlling sugar crystallization is one of the most important aspects of its success. What determines the type of candy being made is contingent upon the type of ingredients used in the intial sugar solution (sugar dissolved in water); the temperature and concentration the sugar solution is cooked to, indicated on the CANDY - SYRUP TEMPERATURE CHART; then, the degree to which it cooled and if any kneading or beating takes place afterwards. Ingredients added to the recipe and any stirring done during the candymaking process also has an influence.
SARAH SAYS: Increasing a candy recipe, changes the cooking time, pot size and other important factors, if not taken into account, which will adversely affect the final recipe.
See also Candymaking Problems and Solutions
1. Barometric pressure and humidity greatly affect candymaking: My advice is to never make candy on a humid day!
- Many people dismiss the effect of relative humidity in the air because it's hard to feel or see the difference between, say 50% and 25%. But the difference is dramatic. If the relative humidity is above 35% (give or take) the breakdown of the sugar begins before it is even cold to the touch. That stickiness you feel on the surface of the hardened sugar is the same that keeps it stuck to the mold. Either a) the room should be air-conditioned and have a dehumidifier, or b) it should be a dry winter day.
- Also, letting the sugar dry for a few hours in an air-tight container with a strong desiccant is a good idea; it absorbs the moisture. 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 Hydrosorbent Products, Inc. The food-grade calcium chloride I mentioned is made by Dow.
2. BE CAREFUL WHEN HANDLING HOT SUGAR SYRUP: It's easy to get burned with a BIG OUCH !! Boiled sugar measures over 320 degrees F and higher. By comparison, your body temperature is at 98.6 degrees F!!
- Not giving full-attention to the recipe. Follow the recipe EXACTLY. Make sure you can pay full attention while making the recipe. Make sure all kids and pets are out of the room because the sugar syrup is extremely hot.
- One little speck of hot syrup splashed over the side of the pot, can burn; it's happened to me a couple of times. I have been burned by a tiny speck while sitting at a countertop in near proximity, watching someone pour hot syrup onto a marble slab; it hurt and caused a blister to form. I recommend boiling your sugar on the back burner of your stove to avoid spills and burns. Keep a container of ice water handy. If you accidentally spill hot caramel on your hand, immediately plunge it into the ice water to stop the burn.
- Don't taste the sugar solution until cooled. It's extremely hot.
- Use a greased wooden spoon whenever stirring the hot sugar mixture. A metal one gets too hot to handle.
- Often time sugar syrup will bubble up and produce a lot of hot steam when adding cream, etc, which can burn you. Hold the pan away from you when doing so. Wear hot mitts that cover as much as your forearm as possible to protect yourself from the steam.
- When adding ingredients, such as room temperature butter, toasted nuts and heavy cream (warm slightly) to the hot caramel, stand back from the pot as you will get a burst of steam when you do. Use a clean and dry wooden spoon to stir, not metal.
- "Hold" Sugar Syrups and Caramel: As the sugar cooks, the water added to it evaporates. If you are not ready to use the sugar when it reaches the proper temperature, simply add a few tablespoons of water and allow it to continue to cook. This way you can "hold" the sugar until you are ready, but it's tricky to do.
3. Use the right tools.
4. Use proper cooking techniques.
- Cooking the sugar too fast: While the recipe says "bring to a boil" you shouldn't just turn the burner on high, instead warm at Low-Medium until all components are dissolved/melted then turn the boiler on Medium-High until boiling begins. Then lower the temperature to about Medium to sustain a rolling boil.
- One sign that your burner is on too high is your inability to stir the mixture before it scorches a little on the bottom. This brings small brown flakes to the top which get stirred back in. If this happens, toss the burned sugar mixture and start, again.
5. Quality and cooking time affected:
- Not using the pan size specified in the recipe. A smaller or larger pan could affect quality and cooking time.
- Altitude and weather also play a role.
- Use the exact ingredients as specified in the recipe; do NOT substitute ingredients. The ingredients vary in type and amount, depending upon the candy being made, and have a specific purpose.
- Candy recipes are not forgiving to recipe changes; candy recipes, as others, are really scientific formulas. Ingredients can differ by acidity, or texture, moisture, etc., so when exchanging one for another, you run the risk of choosing the wrong one.
- DO NOT double the recipes, unless you are an experienced candy maker. Make separate batches until you have the desired amount. Increasing the ingredients changes the cooking time. Only do so if you have a lot of experience with the recipe.