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Sweet Sensations

by Tarla Fallgatter


How long has it been since you've cut creamy-smooth squares of chocolate fudge to pass on a plate to friends? When did you last stretch a batch of amber peanut brittle out thin on a marble slab, and then crack it into bite-size chunks? Have you ever lined a gift box with lacy paper doilies and filled it with your own hand-dipped chocolates? Few treats from the kitchen bring as much happiness to family and friends as homemade candy.

As Christmas approaches and you "deck your halls with holly" and decide on the most prominent spot for your tree, set aside some time for making candy.

Although more people make more candy during the holiday season than all the rest of the year, candy is part of every festive celebration: Easter, Valentine's Day, birthdays and parties of all kinds. Like flowers, candy speaks eloquently; a box of homemade confections is a thoughtful thank you to your recent hostess.

Here are some hints and recipes to help make candy making an especially sweet experience:

Fudge–A creamy, smooth confection that is perfect for youngsters' first candy-making adventure. In fudge, milk and an agent such as corn syrup are used to help keep the texture smooth. The candy is also beaten after a cooling period. An important point to watch is the temperature before beating. If stirring or beating is started too soon, the candy will be less smooth. Once beating is started it should not be interrupted. In the beating process, the candy will go through interesting changes in appearance. At first it will be shiny and quite thin. As beating continues, the shininess will begin to disappear and by the end of the beating period, it will be lusterless and, of course, thick.

Nougat–Chewy candy made by adding syrup to stiffly beaten egg whites, then stirring in nuts, usually chopped almonds. Commercially made nougats are poured onto and covered with wafer paper, then pressed to form smooth surfaces. Since wafer paper is not always readily available to homemakers, a light dusting of cornstarch may be substituted. Nougats should stand for several hours before cutting.

Brittle–There are two ways of making this hard candy. One is to caramelize sugar in a pan over low heat until melted and golden brown, then add nuts. A second way is to cook syrup in a pan to the hard-crack stage, then add butter and soda to make a tender, more porous brittle. In either case nuts are added when cooking is completed. The mixture is poured immediately so that the candy is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick; sometimes it is pulled even thinner as it begins to harden. When hard, it is cracked into pieces. Sometimes it is spread with chocolate and sprinkled with nuts and allowed to cool until the chocolate firms up and then cracked into pieces.

Marshmallows–These are very simple to make because there is no cooking involved. However, the mixture must be beaten for 15 minutes and a good electric mixer is necessary.

Chocolate–Correct tempering and handling of chocolate is a fine art. To master it completely requires a thorough knowledge of its physical properties, and its reactions to melting, cooling and handling. The easiest chocolate candies to make are chocolate truffles and there is a wonderful book by Carole Bloom called "Truffles" that explains everything to you and includes some delicious recipes perfect for holiday giving.

Sugar cookery–Candy making is sugar cookery. Learn how to handle sugar and liquid over heat, and you will be a blue-ribbon candy maker. The key is temperature, as you will discover when you start making your own candy. Sugar mixtures change character as they increase in temperature. An experiment will illustrate this.

Suppose you put sugar and water in a pan over heat, cover the pan and, shaking the pan, bring the mixture to a boil dissolving the sugar. Uncover the pan and continue cooking it at a low boil until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (234 to 240F–syrup, when dropped into a bowl of very cold water, forms a soft ball which flattens on removal from the water). If you take some out at this point, you can make fondant, fudge or penuche with it.

If you continue cooking the syrup remaining in the pan until it reaches the firm-ball stage (244-248F–syrup, when dropped into a bowl of very cold water, forms a firm ball that does not flatten on removal from the water), you could remove a part of it to make caramels.

By cooking the rest of the syrup to the hard-ball stage (250-266F–syrup, when dropped into a bowl of very cold water, forms a hard ball which holds its shape, yet is plastic), you could pour some out to cool and pull it for taffy or make divinity.

Continue cooking the syrup still in the pan to the soft crack stage (270-290F–syrup, when dropped into a bowl of very cold water, separates into threads which are hard but not brittle), and again pour out a part–you've got butterscotch or toffee.

Bring the last of the syrup to the hard crack stage (300-310F–syrup, when dropped into a bowl of very cold water, separates into threads, which are hard and brittle), and make lollipops, brittles or candy apples.

This is the magic of sugar syrup and temperature differences. With the same ingredients, you can make five kinds of candy! Of course, you add other ingredients to the candy, i.e. flavorings, nuts, chocolate, butter, coconut to make it taste better and to get variety. Often, you add food color to improve eye appeal but temperature remains the key to the kind of candy you make whenever you cook up a sugar mixture.

Tools–A candy thermometer is your most essential measuring tool and a must for perfect results. It should measure from 100F to 400F (40C to 200C). Very experienced candy makers may use cold-water test.

Buy a thermometer with a clip that attaches to the side of your pan. When you start to cook your candy, have the thermometer nearby, resting in a container of hot water. Then it will be preheated when you lower it into the hot mixture. When you remove the thermometer, put it back into the hot water.

Heavy pans, whether aluminum, steel or copper. Many candies scorch easily in lightweight pans.

Pastry brushes are little tools you will also use a lot. Whenever a recipe calls for a hot, cooked sugar mixture, you will need to wash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in hot water. This prevents crystallization that would ruin the batch.

Storage–Keep different types of candy separately. Brittles soften if stored with creamy candies. Protect taffies, caramels, nougats, and popcorn balls from dampness by wrapping them individually in clear plastic wrap. Airtight storage in a cool place is best. Some candies may be frozen, but avoid freezing those made with fruits and nuts.


Fluffy Uncooked Marshmallows

  • 2 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 C cold water
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2/3 C light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • º C confectioners' sugar
  • º C cornstarch



Before you begin, fit a piece of clean porous paper in an 8" square pan.

Combine gelatin and cold water in the top pan of a one-quart double boiler. Let stand five minutes or until the gelatin is firm. Bring the water in the lower pan to a simmer, set top pan in position and stir until clear and syrupy. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar crystals are dissolved–just a minute or two.

Pour the gelatin mixture into a large mixer bowl, add the corn syrup and flavoring. Beat at highest speed of mixer. Test after twelve minutes. If the mixture is very light and fluffy and ribbons dropped from beaters hold their shape on the surface of the mixture, the candy is finished. Remove from the bowl with a rubber scraper and spread into the prepared pan. Swirl from the center to the edge of the pan to level. Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, blend the cornstarch and confectioners' sugar and sift onto a cookie sheet with 1-inch sides. Loosen sides of marshmallow with a small spatula dipped in cold water. Invert onto cookie sheet. Moisten paper with a towel wrung out of cold water and peel off. Heap cornstarch mixture over the surface of the marshmallow. Remove to a cutting board and cut into long 1-inch wide strips with a serrated knife dipped in cold water. Tumble strips in cornstarch mixture, then cut each into 1-inch squares with scissors dipped in cold water. Tumble squares in cornstarch mixture and allow to dry on a cookie sheet for about an hour. Brush with a clean dry pastry brush and store in a tightly closed container or plastic bag for three weeks at room temperature.

MAKES: 64 marshmallows


Tarla Fallgatter is a well-known Orange County caterer, chef, teacher, restaurant consultant and kitchen tool manufacturer. She trained at Paris' Cordon Bleu, La Varenne, and Ecole Lenotre cooking schools, and was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim's. She has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world, "sampling" the local cuisine. She markets her "Tarla" all-copper rolling pin in fine cookware shops.


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