Happy Halloween, everyone! Now let’s all make our own candy! Homemade candy can be a fun, interactive alternative to the ubiquitous processed, artificial sweets. While most candy making is not particularly kid-friendly (think dangerous, boiling sugars and the most impossibly messy ingredient of all: melted chocolate). Taffy is a happy exception. Once the tricky boiling part of the equation is over, pulling the taffy is fun and kind of mesmerizing. What starts out as a lump of dark, but clear sugar slowly turns to a shiny, almost metallic mass before finally arriving at the opaque, soft, chewy substance we recognize as taffy.
I wanted this recipe to both taste fantastic and to use natural ingredients for flavoring and coloring. I’ll be honest: it took more than a little experimenting to hash out a recipe that lived up to the challenge, but I finally arrived at one I feel great about sharing. Carrot juice provides bright orange color and an earthy-sweet base for the flavor, cinnamon and molasses fill out the flavor to make it convincingly pumpkiny and honey keeps the whole mass soft and pliable. A huge thanks to Jes (photographer extraordinaire) for the title pictures. Enjoy!
1/2 c. honey (light flavored honey like clover or wildflower)
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. carrot juice
2 cinnamon sticks
2 t. molasses
1 T. butter
1/2 t. corn starch
Candy Making Equipment:
parchment paper or silicone cooking mat
wax paper or cellophane for wrapping candies
Calibrate Your Thermometer:
I realize that starting out a recipe with “calibrate your thermometer” may not be the best way to convince you that home candymaking can be accessible. But it can, really! The trick to getting soft, chewy taffy is stopping the cooking at exactly the right temperature, and it is very difficult to know what that temperature is without an accurate thermometer. And, trust me, the extra time you spend calibrating is worth it to avoid the disappointment of a brittle or impossible sticky mass of sugar. So here’s how to do it. Place your thermometer in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. When the water is boiling check and see what temperature your thermometer is reading. If you are at sea level your water will boil at 212 F. If you are at a higher altitude, the boiling temperature will be 2 degrees lower for every 1000 feet of elevation. So if I were cooking at my parents house (at a 5500 ft. elevation) my water would boil at 201 F. Make sure that your thermometer is reading an accurate boiling temperature for your altitude. Adjust the thermometer if necessary. If you can’t adjust your thermometer and the temperature reading is off, make a note of how many degrees your thermometer is off and adjust the final cooking temperature accordingly.
First set aside a sheet pan with a large piece of parchment paper or silicone mat lining it. Put all ingredients in a 2 qt saucepan and place over high heat. You can stir the mixture a few times to dissolve all of the ingredients, but stop stirring once it has come to a boil. The mixture will bubble up quite vigorously. Do not walk away from the stove. I know that the mixture will seem to heat very slowly, and it is normal for the sugar to hover just below the “thread” stage on your thermometer for a long time. But then when it starts to heat up, it goes very quickly and it is essential that you stop cooking immediately. You want to stop cooking right at 245 F (right between soft and firm balls on most candy thermometers). When your sugar finally reaches the correct temperature, pour it in a thin stream onto your parchment or silicone sheet. Pouring slowly helps cool the sugar down and the cooled sugar is not as runny and so you can pour it all onto your sheet without making a mess. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks.
Leave candy to cool for about 30 minutes. This should bring the candy down almost to room temperature. * Now is the moment of truth. If you have cooked the candy to the proper temperature it will be soft, but firm enough to handle (though it will be very sticky). If you cooked it too long it will be very firm and possibly even impossible to pull. Now you see why I bother with calibrating the thermometer, right? At this point if your candy is in one of these two categories, you can have a do over. Scrape the candy back into a clean saucepan and add a half cup of water. Bring the whole thing to a boil and stir to dissolve the candy. Once all of the sugar is boiling you will cook the candy as before, making whatever adjustments you need to to get the proper consistency.
Now you’re ready for the fun part! Wash and thoroughly dry your hands. Take a dab of oil or butter and rub it into your hands (just a teeny bit, though). If you have several people pulling the taffy, divide it into the right amount of pieces. Stretch the taffy into long cords and then fold over into halves. Keep pulling the taffy as is cools until it is opaque, light in color and has become difficult to pull (About 15 minutes). It will be very sticky.
Roll or stretch the taffy into a 1/2″ thick rope. Use lightly oiled kitchen scissors to snip the rope into 1″ pieces.
Wrap & Store:
While the taffy is still soft, wrap each piece in 3″x 2 1/2″ wax paper or cellophane rectangles. Taffy keeps best in dry environments. It will keep for quite a while well covered. I suggest wrapping each piece tightly (with as little air as possible) and storing wrapped candies in an airtight container.
*You can prepare this portion of the recipe ahead of time. When sugar mixture has cooled, use the parchment sheet to fold it over into a compact square. Wrap tightly in plastic. You may need to heat up the taffy before you can pull it. Reheat very slowly in a low (200 F) oven or on defrost in the microwave. Check frequently and mix the mass together until it is evenly heated and pliable.