I’m starting to get more into candy making. The concept is so cool to me. You start with table sugar and create a wide array of textures and tastes all based upon different execution of the same principles. In candy more than any other food, you see the work of the dark magic known as science. Click on the pictures to see the recipes.
Candy is one of life’s miracles. Ironically enough, it is also resistant to life (bacteria) which is why it has such a long shelf life. This resistance to bacteria is due to the fact that candy does not have enough moisture to support this life. I got a little side tracked there. My medical side just came out. Back to the topic at hand. Candy comes in two forms, crystalline and amorphous (no structure). These forms are based upon the ability of sugar to form (or not) various crystal arrangements, which ultimately lead to different textures, feels, and tastes. Examples of crystalline candy are fudge, fondant, and hard candy. Examples of amorphous candy are caramel, taffy, and marshmallows. The four main factors that affects temperature, sugar type and concentration, cooling method, and other ingredients added to the candy.
Turn Up the Heat
If you have ever attempted or thought about making candy, then you will no doubt have noticed that there are specific temperatures that sugar is supposed to reach before it is ready known as cooking stages. The names of these candy stages are based upon how the hot sugar reacts to being placed in cold water at these temperatures.
It is easy to find the temperature ranges, but chemically what does this mean? Interesting, what is important to candy making isn’t the temperature itself, but rather what this temperature says about the sugar concentration. It is a scientific certainty that pure water cannot reach temperatures above 212˚F, but you’ll notice that the candy temperatures are much higher than this. The temperature of the sugar simple syrup is limited by the amount of water in the syrup. The temperature can only be increased by the direct reduction of water in the syrup, which occurs by evaporation. What we are actually measuring by using temperature is the indirect concentration of the syrup, which is one of the factors that determines the final structure of candy. The other two factors are the cooling method and what is added to the candy.
Diamonds aren’t Everything
Crystalline candies are typically lower temperature candies. The reason for this is that at higher temperatures/concentrations, the syrup is too viscous to allow sugar to form crystalline structures. Perhaps, the most important factor in making crystalline candy is the cooling method. Crystalline candy needs to be slowly cooled at least to 100˚F-104˚F before refrigerated (if that is desired). Why? Simply put, when the sugar molecules are super-hot they are very mobile. Imagine that you just gave 4 candy bars each to 10 children. Your chances of catching all of them and putting them in time out is slim to none. However, if the sugar is allowed to slowly cool (the children are exhaust all of their energy), then the sugar is able to come together to create a very nice structure.
Amorphous candies are a bit more complex than crystalline candies. They are higher temperatures meaning that they are more concentrated and they have various additions to disrupt crystal structure formation. There are two major classes of crystal inhibitors. The first is sugar and the second is fat. The first isn’t intuitive really, unless you understand the differences in sugar polymers, so I’ll explain it. Table sugar is made up of sucrose, which is one molecule composed of one fructose and one glucose. This is what nutritionists and organic chemists like to calls a disaccharide. If we were to add glucose and fructose (monosaccharides) to the party, then we would be able to break up sucrose from coming together to crystallize.
There are a few easy ways to do this. The easiest way to do this is to add corn syrup or honey directly to the syrup because they are made up of these monosaccharides. The second way to do this is to make them ourselves. If we add an acid like cream of tartar, vinegar, or lemon juice to the candy syrup, then when the syrup is heated some of the sucrose will break down into fructose and glucose. I am a fan of this method because it means I don’t have to buy expensive honey or corn syrup, which I wouldn’t use for anything else. Adding fats (butter, oils, cream) to the candy syrup coats the sugar crystals in fat, which stops them from coming together. In terms of cooling method, amorphous candies do not have to be carefully cooled because they are too concentrated to form sugar crystals or they have monosaccharides or fats added to the mixture already.
*If you accidentally heat the sugar too long, it is possible to go back to previous sugar stages. Let’s say you wanted the syrup to be 235˚F, but you heat it to 250˚F. If you add water to the pot, you can reverse the sugar stages. This will allow you to salvage a recipe, if you accidentally over heat it.
Caramel: A different breed
Caramel is my personal favorite candy. I can’t even describe why I love it so much, maybe it’s the taste or the chewiness. Whatever the reason, caramel really is in a league of its own. Caramel is literally burnt sugar. At high temperatures, the sugar breaks down causing it to become more golden color. This breakdown of sugar is irreversible, so once sugar begins to turn caramel color, it isn’t possible to go back to other sugar stages.
Let us not forget the wonder that is chocolate. If there’s one thing that I have learned in my 22 years of living is that chocolate makes everything better, especially candy. Typically, chocolate is used as a coating for most candy types. You can go to any convenience store checkout and find at least 20 different types of chocolate bars.
If you have ever melted chocolate to make a chocolate coating, then you may have experienced the wonder and randomness of chocolate polymorphs. To put it simply, melted chocolate has the potential to form six different crystalline structures. Each of these forms have completely different physical properties. If you’ve ever noticed chocolate that appears greyish white at the supermarket, then you are experiencing one of the polymorphs of chocolate. Typically to temper dark chocolate, it is recommended that you melt 2/3 of the chocolate to about 115˚F then you allow it to cool to about 95˚F-100˚F, before adding the rest of the chocolate. This method ensures that you are getting the shiniest polymorph with the best snap. My favorite method for melting chocolate is the microwave because it applies dry heat, so there is little chance of chocolate seizing. And it is much faster than a double boiler.
I hope you’ve learned all that you wanted to learn about candy making. It really is fun once you learn how. And don’t forget that a candy thermometer is necessary for if you want the ideal textures!