18 January 2011

not just candy…

Posted in candy making, food, Z-boy at 10:56 pm by Tricia

The middle child’s class studied the Netherlands for our school’s annual multi-cultural fair. He wanted to do a project on candy, which got further refined into a project on licorice. In case you didn’t already know it, the Netherlands has the largest per capita licorice consumption in the world (average of 2 kilos per person per year!).

photo of commercial licorice

five varieties of licorice, awaiting their taste test...

In addition to his reading and research, we ordered three varieties of licorice from dutchsweets.com: a sweet caramel licorice, a light salt (the boy insisted on this one for obvious reasons – i rolled my eyes), and a medium salt. We also got sample sizes of a double salt and another sweet. If I’d checked with my friend Annet beforehand, we might have ordered different varieties, but alas, I did not. Here are my tasting notes:

#1: caramel surrounding licorice.  Tastes like molasses – I like it. 6 out of 10.

#2: pink candy coated licorice. Tastes pink – strawberry, perhaps? No anise-y flavor of licorice, just very very sweet. 5 out of 10.

#3: “DZ”, the dubbel zoute, aka “double salt.” This is very tough – you can’t bite it. Instead, you have to suck on it for awhile. It gets saltier as it stays in your mouth. No licorice (anise) flavor at all, and no sweetness. Ick. 2 out of 10.

#4: the boy. This is not as hard as the DZ, but not soft either. You kind of have to break it off, rather than bite it. There is a little bit of taste beyond the saltiness, but I can’t describe it. “Semi nasty” is what I told Z (when he asked me if it was nasty). 2 out of 10.

#5: the smiley face. This is the worst of all – salt plus ick. I had to spit it out. 1 out of 10.

Afterwards, I told my husband: “this isn’t candy, it’s a cultural experience!” Needless to say, I’m not a big fan. On seeing my face, and hearing my “it’s not entirely nasty” comment, middle child didn’t try any of the salt varieties – he just tasted the four different colors of our sweet sample. I thought we should send the remainder to school for another taste test, ala the cupcakes, but he was afraid of being perpetually ostracized (I might be exaggerating here), so we didn’t.

cooking candy

the candy man - er, boy!

And finally, we made a couple of versions of licorice. After consulting with friends at the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers, I discovered that anise extract is easily located in your local grocery store (right in the midst of all the other flavorings at mine). Black food coloring is easily found there, too, but the thought of that squicked me out. I entertained the idea of following Patti’s lead and mixing food coloring until black appeared, but that seemed unnecessary for our goals – we were focused on taste, not appearance, so I decided we would make “au naturel” colored licorice.

photo of hard candy licorice

drizzling molten sugar is fun!

First was this one, a hard candy with anise flavoring. The child thought it was too anise-y flavored (he had added more than it called for, and too early in the process), but I liked it. Most of his classmates did, too. (We should have let them try the salt licorice – maybe somebody would have liked it!)

licorice caramels, cooking on the stove

the two thermometers do not agree... time to calibrate, I suppose!

We also made this recipe (a half batch), which is essentially caramels with anise flavoring. The child insisted on going easy with anise, while I wanted to double it. He thought the flavor was just right, I thought it was too mild. His class liked these as well.

I wanted to try this one – flour and powdered licorice root – but was put off by the imprecise directions, poor review, and lack of time. Maybe next month…


7 January 2008

Hard Candy Isn’t!

Posted in C-boy, candy making at 12:53 am by Tricia

Hard candy isn’t hard. Of course as a material it’s hard, but it’s not hard to make.

But let me back up. In December, C-boy was doing a project on amber mining for school, while his class was studying Latvia. This was just after I made the apple cider syrup for the first time, so when we were talking about what to use as amber, I came up with the idea of hard candy. I thought about starting with apple cider again (for the color), but then thought it might be easier to start with a traditional hard candy recipe before doing too much experimentation.

I found this recipe at allrecipes.com. Since we wanted the candy to be amber colored, I decided to use dark syrup instead of light. I also used some raw sugar along with the white. I skipped the food coloring and confectioners sugar steps. I made a half-batch, since I was still thinking of it as an experiment, plus he wouldn’t need much for the project. (allrecipes has a neat feature where it will scale the measurements for you)

The end result was indeed amber colored, with a nice molasses-y taste. I used a little lemon extract for flavoring, but it was very subtle and I think it would have been better without (since I liked the dark sugar element).

C-boy ended up using amber beads in his project, so I sent some candy in labeled as “edible amber, certified bug-free!” for a special treat, on the day of the multi-cultural fair. C-boy didn’t like it much (because it tasted too much like molasses), but he said lots of other kids did.

Like I said, this is not hard to make. Boil the stuff, then keep an eye on your candy thermometer until it reaches hard crack stage.

Edible Amber Hard Candy
based on an allrecipes entry by Judith Synesael

1-3/4 cups sugar (mix of raw and white)
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon (or other) extract

1. In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Without stirring, heat to 300 to 310 degrees F (159 to 154 C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms hard, brittle threads.

2. Remove from heat and stir in extract (if using). Pour onto a greased cookie sheet. Let cool, and break into pieces. (Some recipes suggest making lines in it, to make it easier to break when cool. I’m not sure it helped, but I did a little bit of that as you can see in the photo.) Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Amber candy

This link will take you to a detail picture of the amber mine, and you can cruise through the set to see more.

12 June 2006

Does this exemplify great responsibility?

Posted in candy making, food, fun at 3:31 pm by Tricia

As Larry-Boy proclaims in the trailer for his upcoming release: “with great chocolate comes great responsibility.” As I was browsing through the Project for Public Spaces web site today, doing research for a project proposal, I came across this intriguing combination of Caffarel chocolate and tourism. My question is: would this use of chocolate be considered great responsibility? Tourism promotion, sure, but just think of all the caramels you could dip in there instead…

13 April 2006

New Mexico Caramels go to Piedmont

Posted in candy making, food at 11:57 pm by Tricia

I’ve made Nancy Baggett’s caramels three times now, with quite a bit of modifications this time around, so I feel justified in posting the recipe for my latest version.

For those of you who weren’t paying attention during the Olympics, gianduja is a concoction of hazelnuts and chocolate – think Nutella, only solid. In the Piedmont region of Italy, it is quite a specialty.

My inspiration came when I decided to compare-taste some of the varieties of Callebaut chocolate available in chunk form at my local bulk food store. They sell unsweetened, bittersweet (70% cocoa solids), semi-sweet (55%), milk chocolate, and the gianduja. (I prefer the semi-sweet to the bittersweet, but that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of this discussion!) Then a few weeks later, I noticed hazelnuts at Trader Joe’s, and decided to combine the two in a new batch of caramels. Since toasting the pecans was an improvement in the second batch of caramels, I decided to toast the hazelnuts as well. I use fewer nuts than she calls for (about 1 cup, instead of 2.5) because the littles in the family aren’t always crazy about nuts. (Then again, maybe I should use more so I don’t have to share!) This time I used half-and-half instead of whipping cream (the latter is so expensive!), and I don’t think the final result was adversely affected.

Hazelnut Caramels, dipped in Gianduja Chocolate

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups half-and-half (or cream if you prefer)
1 Tab vanilla extract, combined with 1 Tab hot water
1+ cups chopped toasted hazelnuts [optional]
8 oz gianduja chocolate (as much as 1 lb would have been better)


  1. Line a 9×13 baking dish with aluminum foil, draping over 2 sides. Grease the foil or coat with cooking spray. Set on a wire rack.
  2. In a heavy, nonreactive 6-quart pot, thoroughly stir together the sugars, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Stir in the cream until the sugars dissolve. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
  3. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly. Insert candy thermometer. Continue boiling briskly, occasionally gently stirring and scraping the pot bottom, until the mixture thickens and darkens somewhat, 8 to 9 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat somewhat and continue boiling, gently stirring and scraping to avoid scorching, until the caramel reaches 247 degrees F (soft ball stage). Note: temperature may rise rapidly at the end.
  5. Immediately remove from heat. Gently stir in the vanilla mixture and the nuts (if using), just until evenly distributed.
  6. Carefully pour the caramel into the baking dish. (She writes “do not scrape out the pot”, but I always do – can’t bear any caramelly goodness to go to waste!)
    My notes indicate this process took 45 minutes total, although I’m not sure where all the time comes from (n to initial boil, 9 minutes in step 3, 15 minutes more to get to soft ball – where are the other 15?).
  7. After cooling (at least 1.5 hours), cut into 1 inch squares and dip into chocolate if desired.

Baggett gives very detailed directions on how to melt and temper the chocolate for dipping. Her precise details comes in very handy the first few times you try this recipe, but basically it boils down to: melt chocolate (with a little flavorless vegetable oil), dip caramels in chocolate, let it set up and then enjoy. One handy tip is that she reserves some of the chocolate to stir into that which is melted, to help cool it off. (For all I know, that’s standard practice!) She also calls for much more chocolate – 2.5 pounds! – but we’ve never needed that much.

My caramels were about half an inch thick – they seemed thinner than previous attempts. Perhaps I used fewer nuts? or perhaps it’s my poor memory? Next time I might try a smaller pan.

So how do we like them? No one objected to the ‘new’ nut flavor or the different chocolate – the boys might even prefer it this way, without dark chocolate. Personally, I consider it a fabulous combination – the flavors of caramel and chocolate really meld together well. One objection we had to previous attempts was that the dark chocolate was so distinctly contrasting with the caramel. Dark chocolate has its place, too, don’t get me wrong! I think a dynamite combination would be two batches of caramels, some in gianduja and some in a dark chocolate.

On the down side, the gianduja never really firmed up entirely. I’m not sure if that’s a characteristic of the chocolate (before melting, it was much more soft than typical chocolate) or if that means I did something wrong in the ‘tempering’. No matter, the fridge takes care of that problem!

Footnote: I already had this idea before reading this review of Sahagun chocolates over at Candy Blog, but her review only reinforced my notion that it would be a worthwhile venture.

10 February 2006

Caramels, Redux

Posted in candy making, food at 4:02 am by Tricia

I needed to use up the whipping cream I’d bought to make the truffles, so I made another batch of caramels. I made two of the changes I’d considered: toasted the pecans, and used dark brown sugar. No welsh sea salt, though! And my thermometer wasn’t as precise, so I might have cooked them to a higher temperature. And it was a different stove, and different cookware (the wrong pot – too deep – but I digress!). Since it wasn’t a controlled experiment, changing only one variable, I wouldn’t know what to attribute the success to. And since we didn’t save any of the other batch I can’t say for sure, but I did like these without question, so I think they might be better. More caramelly. Darker – more like brown sugar than butter. We’ll definitely add them to the holiday gifts repertoire.

Unfortunately, I noticed another chipped tooth (an inner corner) the other day – I suspect the caramels are at fault….

Chocolate used this time: a mixture of the remaining Callebaut, a “single origin” chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s (Sao Tome – I didn’t like it very much as a candy bar, but figured it would do fine in this context), and Ghirardelli bittersweet chips. The Ghirardelli chips really are great – very silky, nice taste, a very nice finish. The Callebaut has both an oily and chalky mouth feel – how can that be?? The bar from Trader Joe’s has a bitter finish, that’s why I didn’t like it.

17 January 2006

Truffles (the chocolate kind)

Posted in candy making, food at 5:01 am by Tricia

I love the “hot chocolate? candy bar from Choxie – it’s deeply infused with a cinnamon flavor, and quite different from typical candy bar fare. Sadly, they never seem to be in stock at my Target. So when I came across a spiced truffle recipe from the Dec 2005 Food & Wine (recipe only available to subscribers) over at Something in Season, I knew I had to try it. They have four different spiced coatings to roll the truffles in, but I was primarily interested in the cinnamon one. While their other exotic spice pairings are intriguing, and may be all the rage in the high-end confectionaries, they didn’t appeal to me at this time.

I bought chunks of Callebaut chocolate from a local bulk store. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember all the details on that shopping trip and was making my truffles at midnight, so I couldn’t recreate the spice mixtures exactly. For example, the spiced cinnamon sugar calls for chipotle powder and ancho powder, but I only had chipotle. And since I didn’t have any five spice powder to mix with the cocoa, I used dried orange peel + a touch of fresh orange zest. (I think I discarded an old enormous bottle of five spice powder during the May kitchen-remodel purge, and haven’t replaced it. Next trip!)

Unfortunately, the results didn’t live up to my ideal. Although the Choxie bar has some chile powder in the ingredients, I can’t really taste it. With the F&W directions, I can taste the chile, and I don’t like how it overwhelms the cinnamon. The orange version was too subtle – I can’t taste orange at all. I was just winging it on how much to include, but I guess I didn’t add enough.

For my next attempt, I think I’m going to put some cinnamon into the ganache (instead of just adding some as a coating). Maybe I’ll also roll it in plain cinnamon, instead of cinnamon sugar. And re-reading Brendon’s description, maybe I need to get some five spice powder and try that version…

5 January 2006

Caramel Update

Posted in candy making, food at 5:41 am by Tricia

I checked with my mom. She is familiar with these caramels, and even has a friend who occasionally makes them for her! She also remembers reading about the fund-raiser sale ‘back in the day.’ She told me the recipe (or one similar) appears on page 289 in my “Savoring the Southwest” cookbook (a product of the Roswell Symphony Guild).

So I checked my copy and sure enough, there’s a recipe for “Sally’s Fours” in the middle of the page, sandwiched between peanut brittle and apricot balls. Roll Twilight Zone music: I even had a bookmark stuck in that page, because a few summers ago I used the last recipe on the page to make those apricot balls! (and my derivative, dried cherry balls rolled in cocoa powder – sadly, dried cherries really gum up a kitchenaid food grinder attachment so it’s best to stick with the apricots!)

Anyway, Baggett explains how the recipe is known as fours in Roswell because of four ingredients with equal amounts. Note that neither one has four ingredients with identical amounts! (unless they mean weight, not volume…) This version is not identical to Ms Baggett’s recipe, so I feel a taste test coming on… I wonder where I can find an inexpensive source for whipping cream?

(For the record, Baggett’s instructions are much more detailed and precise, which comes in handy when making candy. My mom told me “they’re supposed to be hard to make” – and given the brevity of the recipe in Savoring, I’m not surprised they have that reputation. Maybe that was so the altar guild women could protect their fundraiser profits, since this cookbook was published while they were still doing their annual sales. :^)


Edited in 2016 to add: I’ve posted a blog entry that includes my variation on Baggett’s original recipe. Find it here: New Mexico Caramels go to Piedmont

2 January 2006

Out of This World Caramels

Posted in candy making, food at 2:30 am by Tricia

Some weeks ago, Matthew heard an interview on the Diane Rhem show with Nancy Baggett, the author of The All-American Dessert Book. She was talking about the “famous” Roswell caramels: “Roswell is known for UFOs, but it should be known for these caramels instead!” So he asked me about them, but I’d never heard of them. Nevertheless, he gave me the book for Christmas.

The caramels seem to be mentioned in every promotional piece I’ve seen, probably because they’re highlighted on the inside cover. The story is, the women’s group at the Episcopal church made these as an annual fund-raiser for decades, finally ending in the 90s. In other words, while I lived there. The thing is, even after reading the story (not just Matthew’s retelling), I can’t remember that I’ve ever encountered these caramels! I asked Paulene about it when I saw her on the 26th, and she didn’t know about them either. Perhaps Erin would have, since his father was a doctor and perhaps more likely to have traveled in those circles. I still need to ask my parents about it (although we might have discussed it over Thanksgiving).

So while we have all this free-time and extra kid-entertainment at the grandparents’ house, I decided to make them. They came out pretty good, although they were a bit too sweet and the taste was not quite complex enough. Perhaps we should toast the pecans? Use dark brown sugar instead of the specified light brown? More butter? Cook it longer? Welsh smoked sea salt on the top? (just kidding) We plan to make this part of our holiday gift repertoire, so we’ll need to perfect it. (I’m thinking of all these references to ‘caramelizing’ when roasting vegetables or cooking onions, and here I am trying to make actual caramels and I can’t get that depth of caramel essence. Sigh.)

The next day, I dipped slightly more than half in chocolate. Tip: when you’re in a small town and don’t know the sources for gourmet ingredients, Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips are a good stand-in for high-end chocolate. I even found Guittard chocolate chips, but they were semi-sweet and I was trying to tone down the sweetness, so I stuck with bittersweet. (Aside: I did a taste-test comparison of Guittard and Nestle semi-sweet and there is definitely a difference.)

Z-boy claimed that he couldn’t taste the caramel any more with the chocolate dip. I’m not sure I agree, but I made two which were half-dipped to test it out. However, those were eaten before I had a chance to sample. I suppose I could eat half the chocolate off of one to see if it makes a difference. C-boy claims he hates dark chocolate (the main reason we didn’t dip ALL of them), but it hasn’t been enough to keep him from these.

The cookbook also has directions for “maple snow candy” – apparently the trick is to boil the syrup beforehand. We’ve tried variants on this but now that I know the real method we’ll have to do it again, next big snowfall.