What's Christmas without candy? This taste-tempting treat is even better when it's homemade. If you're thinking about stirring up some gifts from your kitchen for loved ones this holiday season, review these techniques for creating sensational sweets. Here you can learn about hard candies and chocolates.
Chocolate is popular in candy making, whether used as an ingredient in fudges and truffles or used to coat other candies. There are several types of chocolate, including baking chocolate, candy coating and chocolate chips.
Baking chocolate is typically found in 8-ounce packages that are divided into 1- or 2-ounce squares. Candy coating—also known as almond bark or confectionery coating—usually comes in 1-1/2- to 2-pound blocks or in bags of small flat disks. Chocolate chips usually come in 6-, 12- or 24-ounce bags.
Melting chocolate can be challenging because it scorches easily. On the stovetop, melt chocolate over low heat in a heavy saucepan, or melt it in the top of a double boiler over hot (not boiling) water. In the microwave, heat 6 ounces of chopped semisweet chocolate or chips on high (100% power) for 1 minute, then stir. Continue to heat and stir at 10- to 15-second intervals until melted and smooth.
When melting white or milk chocolate, white candy coating, or vanilla, butterscotch or milk chocolate chips in the microwave, follow the same method but heat on medium-high (70% power).
It is important to keep moisture away from melted chocolate. Even a small drop of water can make the chocolate seize (clump and harden). If this happens, stir in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for each 6 ounces of chocolate. However, if chocolate seizes due to excessive heat, it can't be saved.
When dipping candies in chocolate, it's best to use candy coating because it becomes firm at room temperature. But you can use chocolate chips instead. Simply stir in 1 tablespoon of shortening to every 6 ounces of chips when melting.
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Sugar Syrup Candies
With a little planning, even busy cooks can find time to make a batch or two of candy. First, choose a day when the humidity is less than 60%, because high humidity can affect the texture of sugar syrup candies like soft caramels, peanut brittle and hard candy.
When cooking candy on the stovetop, use a heavy saucepan that's deep enough for the sugar mixture to bubble without nearing the top of the pan. If you're making candy in the microwave, use a microwave-safe glass bowl.
Many cooked candies require using a thermometer designed for candy making. To test its accuracy before each use, place it in a saucepan of boiling water; the thermometer should read 212°. If it doesn't, adjust your recipe temperature based on the results of the test.
When using it, attach the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan if possible, but don't let the bulb touch the bottom of the pan. Read the thermometer at eye level. To avoid breaking it, let it cool before washing it.
The candy thermometer helps gauge the consistency of the sugar syrup. At higher temperatures, the syrup is more concentrated and the final candy will be harder. However, if you don't have a candy thermometer, you can use a cold-water test to determine the syrup concentration.
Cold Water Test
If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can determine the temperature range or stage of your candy mixture by testing it in a small glass bowl filled with cold water.
230° – 233°
Dip a metal spoon into the hot candy mixture. Hold the spoon over the cold water. The mixture should fall off the spoon in a fine thread.
234° – 240°
Drop a small amount of the hot candy mixture into the cold water. When cooled and removed from the water, the ball will flatten immediately and run over your finger.
244° – 248°
Drop a small amount of the hot candy mixture into the cold water. When cooled and removed from the water, the ball will hold its shape and not flatten.
250° – 266°
Drop a small amount of the hot candy mixture into the cold water. When cooled and removed from the water, the candy will form a hard yet pliable ball.
270° – 290°
Drop a small amount of the hot candy mixture into the cold water. When cooled and removed from the water, the candy will separate into threads that are hard but not brittle.
300° – 310°
Drop a small amount of the hot candy mixture into the cold water. When cooled and removed from the water, the candy will separate into hard brittle threads.
Candy Packaging Tips
Candy is a great gift idea, especially around the holidays. Keep in mind these tips when packaging and storing homemade candy:
- Store hard and soft candies in separate airtight containers to avoid changes in texture.
- Place waxed paper between layers of candy.
- Put individual pieces of candy in miniature cupcake liners for a professional look.
- To give chocolate-dipped candy a variety of looks, roll or coat candy with baking cocoa, flaked coconut, nonpareils or other sprinkles, confectioners' sugar, ground nuts or graham cracker crumbs.
- Try packing the sweets in different kinds of containers such as miniature boxes, cookie tins, woven baskets and decorative jars.
- Decorate packages with handmade name tags, raffia bows, seasonal ribbon, cellophane wrapping or miniature ornaments.
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