Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sweet Sugar; A how- to

As I long as I can remember my mother has been making candy around christmas time.  The house would be filled with a hot sticky smell and Mom would be perched at our stove, mixing her delicious concoctions and sweating through her shirt. 

For a brief wonderful period  I was old enough to realize the greatness of this situation but young enough that I wasn't expected to help.  I would trapeze upstairs, watch idly for a moment as the older folk cut and wrapped the candy, and then slyly grab a piece or two from off the cutting board and then lilt back downstairs where my brothers were waiting with their own treats sweating in their fists.

Even when my sister and I were old enough to lend a hand the work wasn't that bad.  my mom would cut the caramel or the taffy and we would wrap.  Usually we were completely unable to keep up with her so she would pause and wrap once in a while herself.  Always ending up with the lion's share of the work.

Of course, being the wonderful woman that she is my mom did teach us how to make this goodness.  I can now sit over a hot stove and stir the caramel myself, and it'll taste just the same. Of course now that my palate is fully developed I don't really like caramel, or english toffy.  It all just tastes like browned butter to me.

However, there is one homemade candy that I still absolutely adore; vinegar taffy.  We never got as much of it because instead being limited by how much can fit in the pan at a go  (like caramel)  you were limited by how much you pull in a day.

Which let me tell you; isn't much.

Pulling taffy is also harder to master than mixing caramel.  The average person needs a lot more practice to get it down. Fortunately vinegar taffy wasn't just a 'birthday and Christmas' sort of affair.  So we as kids got to try it quite a lot.

 In my freshman or sophomore year of high school I also got it into my head that I wanted to own a candy store when I grew up.  This meant that I needed to start practicing right now in order to master everything in time.  I tried bon bons once or twice but came quickly back to vinegar taffy. I started selling it in my classes for a quarter a piece. Over the month an a half period before my Mom made me stop I think I made fifty bucks.

But more importantly I finally got it down.  Even now I can make perfect taffy 19 times out of 20.

What's the mark of perfect taffy you ask?

Well, interested reader, let me tell you.

Perfect taffy is evident when after you've finished pulling you can cut of a piece of the sweet sugar and it'll float in water. This is because the pulling process folds air bubbles into the mix and lightens the color and taste.  My mom likes to say that back in the day they could do this so well that when you cut the taffy you could see air pockets going through the pieces.

I still clearly remember one day when we were working with a rather finicky double batch and my taffy floated while my mother's didn't. I think I gloated about that one for a very long time.

Now to get down to the part you're interested in; how to make this stuff.

here's the recipe;  there are a lot of small variations out there but this is the one that's been passed down through my family. So it's obviously the best.
This is my recipe box, isn't it awesome?

Vinegar Taffy

2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup of water
butter the size of one small walnut
1 teaspoon of vanilla.

put all the ingredients, excluding the vanilla, into a heavy-bottomed pan (aluminum is suppose to be the best for this).  Stir them well and put the pan over medium high heat.  At this point I also take out the vanilla and a glass of cold water and a spoon and set them beside the pot for the later use. I would also butter a couple of plates if I didn't have my demarle pan.

Don't stir it again.

use the sheen on the side of the pan to see how far it has gone down

Now wait idly by as it boils (it'll stink up the place but it is sooo worth it.).  It'll boil up a few inches, and then as it loses water it'll boil down again.  When it's boiled down about a inch and a half to two inches take the spoon and get a little bit of the taffy from the pot. Now drizzle it into the cold cup of water.

This is known as the cold water test and it's been used for hundreds of years to test the doneness of candy.  For taffy you want it to drizzle down in strings to the bottom  where they mostly keep their form but are not hard. Scoop the strings up and flick them (but not the spoon) gently against the side of the glass.  it should make little *ting ting* noises.

I also keep two or three glasses of water by the stove, because I usually end up checking too early the first time and then stand nervously by the stove waiting for a count of thirty before I try again.

When it reaches this point add the vanilla to the taffy and pour the mixture into a couple of buttered plates.

Don't scrape the pan.

Three Christmases ago My mother got me a couple of non-stick molds for my kitchen.  They're are super useful for everyday things but perform phenomenally well when it comes to candy.  If you happen to have them I suggest the flower one shown here.

I made a double batch by the way.
As the taffy cools pull the edges inward so that the entire thing looses heat evenly.  When it gets cool enough to touch you are ready to pull the awesomeness.  For vinegar taffy (unlike salt-water taffy) you do not butter your fingers.  If you do so it'll ruin the candy.

The next time I make taffy and there happens to be somebody else in the room I'll have them film this part so that you can see the exact motion that goes with it.

It's important to only touch the taffy with the tips of your finger and to add a slight twist of your wrist every time you pull.  Both of these things help to trap air into the taffy and to help it float later on. After those points it a pretty basic pull, fold, pull, fold motion.

The taffy will quickly turn from an amber brown to a butterscotch color and then a white.

yep, these sure get the job done!
I don't really have a time-frame for how long you're suppose to pull it but I usually just go until the taffy hardens up and becomes difficult to pull.  Sometimes if it's slightly underdone (and thus softer but more prone to sugaring) I just go until it seems like it should have hardened by then.

Now it's ready to cut!  regular old kitchen scissors would work, but I have this special bone paring scissors from IKEA that get the job done quite nicely. Occasionally your scissors will gum up but just run them under a hot tap and they should be ready to go again in seconds.  Put the pieces in a pie plate with powdered sugar. I just use the Demarle pan again though to cut down on dishes.

If I'm not making them for anybody else I don't bother to wrap them and just eat them strait from powdered sugar.  But in this case they were for a friends birthday party so I wrapped them in wax paper and put them in a plastic bag (I usually use paper bags but I didn't have any this time).

I had also borrowed the wax paper from somebody in my apartment complex so I made up a cute little origami box to put a few pieces in to thank them.

Somehow I forgot to save myself any though, so I might be forced to make another batch sometime soon.

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