Candy Making Basics

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Whether it is the smell of grandma’s cookies, or the sight of a beautiful and elaborate wedding cake, many people are impressed by baking creations. However, learning to bake, or to make candy, can seem intimidating. There are a lot of unusual supplies that aren’t needed in other forms of cooking, and things like sugar candy can be tempermental.

The Basics:
No matter what sorts of candy you plan on making, there are a few ingredients and supplies that are nearly universal. Here’s a basic list of what you should keep on hand:

– Granulated sugar.
– Powdered sugar / confectioner’s sugar. Don’t be alarmed if the ingredients also list corn starch, many manufacturers put a small amount of corn starch in to keep it from getting too compacted.
– Light corn syrup.
– Parchment and wax paper.
– Newspaper or something else to protect the floors of your work area and minimize clean up.
– Corn starch
– Candy thermometer

If you have some spare cash on hand, I would strongly suggest getting a Silpat mat. Silpat baking mats are made of silicon, and function much like parchment paper. However, they are reusable. If you are working with something sticky, a Silpat mat is priceless.

Avoid: Many people make the mistake of assuming they don’t need a candy thermometer. It is possible to tell the stage that sugar is in without one. However, having one is a very good idea.

Even someone who has been cooking for years will do better with a good candy thermometer. First, when it has reached a high temperature, sugar cooks quickly. While you are testing some of it, the temperature of the rest of the batch will keep going up. Some recipes call for an exact temperature, down to a specific degree. This means it is important to know where the candy is at that moment. Also, while you can tell what stage the sugar is in by putting it in water, this won’t tell you the exact temperature.

For recipes that name a stage, not a temperature, this might not seem like a problem. However, a lot of things can affect candy making. The humidity, using a different pot, or even the natural slight differences in heat on different parts of the burner can cause slight changes to a mixture. Sure, they might not seem serious, but it is silly to take uneccesary chances.

Another important thing is to check the thermometer for accuracy. Theoretically, when you buy a thermometer, it ought to be set up properly. However, not all of them are. When you get your thermometer, place it in a pot of water, and turn the heat up. When the water begins to boil, check the temperature. Water boils at 212 F / 100 C, though these numbers change based on elevation from sea level. If your thermometer is off, note by how much, and keep that in mind when using it in the future.

What to make?:
Another common confusion is what candies are easy for beginners to make. When I began to bake, I spotted a very simple recipe for spun sugar. It only called for 3 ingredients. That seemed doable. However, when I tried to make it, I realized that perhaps it wasn’t the best thing for a first-time cook to make. Sugar recipes can be difficult to make, since things like humidity may affect the results.

Personally, for those who are sure they want to make sugar or chocolate candy right away, I recommend something like lollipops. Because they are made of a sturdier mix than spun sugar, and are poured into molds, they are easier to do correctly.

What to avoid: Chocolate can be even harder to cook with than sugar. Tempering chocolate takes practice, and a tiny mistake can cause the chocolate to ‘seize’. Beginners should work on easier candies before thinking about anything chocolate related.