Another babysitting night, another round of sweets.
The girls want to make up some care packages for their little friends, and last time we made some chocolate spoons
for stirring cocoa with - dip plastic spoons in melted chocolate and then sprinkle them with crushed peppermint candy canes
or hundreds-and-thousands so this time we made some candy dog poos to add to the packets.
We didn't set out to make candy dog poo - we were aiming for that quintissentially Christmas sweet Candy Canes.
But we took a wrong turn somewhere, and what resulted looked more like poo than candy.
In fact, it was so embarrassingly bad I didn't even take a photo.
Bit of a shame on reflection...
There are a few recipes on the web for making candy or rock candy,
but they all seem to be American and involve corn syrup, which is pretty much unavailable over here.
A bit of reading suggested that the syrup mainly provides glucose to stabilise the hot sugar mixture
and prevent it from crystallising, and since it seems that golden syrup is mainly glucose
I figured that ought to work just as well,
but the first recipe I tried out using it just didn't work at all.
Possibly because I wasn't quite sure what to expect or how to manage the taffy mix,
possibly because golden syrup isn't an exact substitute for corn syrup
possibly because my thermometer is a bit off
or possibly because the recipe was a pile of candy poo
but for whatever reason I failed to get the candy mix to "pull" at all.
Bless their little cotton socks the kids were willing helpers
but as the candy failed and failed to pull out they gradually drifted off to the thrall of Misfits
leaving me to throw most of the effort into the bin.
I did shape some of the coloured candy poo into cane shapes,
but pulled it definitely wasn't and was more like tablet (Scottish for fudge) in texture.
So after the kids had gone to bed I watched a couple of online videos of people successfully pulling candy,
so I could see what to expect, then I adjusted the recipe in ways that I thought it might have gone wrong
- less golden syrup
- more water to ensure the sugars dissolve before heating
- a bit more cream of tartar to make sure it's doing its job
- lower cooking temperature because it seemed like the first attempt was setting at a temperature too hot to handle.
and had another go.
Well, Partial Success!
The candy canes are still a bit limp, but at least they are made of glossy twisted coloured candy.
Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C
Lightly oil two baking trays large enough to hold the cooked sugar mixture.
Or better yet, have a marble surface standing by.
Take a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan and add the sugar, golden syrup, water and the cream of tartar and mix them very well.
Heat gently and stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Add more water if necessary.
Once the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear,
wipe the sides of the pan clean of any sugar crystals,
insert a candy thermometer
and cook the mixture without stirring until the candy thermometer reaches 270°F/132°C,
bearing in mind that it will continue to cook slightly once the heat is removed.
Pour half the mixture into each oiled baking tray and drop in the peppermint extract,
then add the food colouring if using
Leave the mixture until a skin starts to form on the surface,
then work the mixture with a spatula folding the outside into the centre to start the pulling process.
As you work the mixture it will begin to change colour, lightening slightly.
Lightly oil your hands to stop the candy sticking.
Once the candy is cool enough to handle gather as much of it as possible up into a lump
(I found I left quite a lot of candy mix stuck to the tin, spatula and anything else it had been in contact with).
and start pulling the taffy.
Repeatedly stretch and twist into a loop, then fold back over itself.
The taffy will become stiffer and glossy, the clear taffy turning pearly white.
When each taffy is ready, stretch it into a 2" strand and leave in the oven until you are ready for it.
It should stay soft and pliable, but don't leave it for too long or so hot that it melts.
To make the canes, cut a 5" segment from the white and the red log, and place them next to each other.
Begin to pull the candies together, twisting gradually to form the familiar candy stripes.
Once the twisted candy is the thickness you want,
use oiled kitchen shears to cut them to approximately 8" lengths.
Immediately form the hook at the top of the cane, and place it on a baking sheet to set at room temperature.
The candy canes should get very hard at room temperature, but will get soft and sticky if left out for too long,
so wrap them in cellophane once they are set.