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The candy man can’t

Hard rock candy looks simple... until you actually try to make it

Published: Saturday, June 8, 2013 6:59 a.m. CDT

While out antiquing a couple of weekends ago, Penny picked up a jar of hard rock candy. It intrigued me how clear it was. I assumed that it was mostly sugar, and it seemed odd that sugar could be turned into such a hard substance and yet be see-through.

Which made me think about how glass is made with sand. I figured hard rock candy must be the same process, with heat being a major influence. I realize this is elementary to everyone else, but I wasn’t the sharpest tool in school.

I searched the Internet and found a recipe for hard rock candy. It looked amazingly simple. I was right that it essentially was sugar. There was also light corn syrup and water with a little food coloring and flavoring added in, but the most difficult part of the recipe was heating it in a pan.

This would seem a simple task. But so does licking stamps, and I have problems with those, too. Especially the self-adhesive ones.

I put the sugar and the water and the corn syrup into a heavy sauce pan. I stirred over medium heat until they were mixed. Then, you have to heat the mixture to 290 degrees. To speed up the process, I put a lid on the pan. I checked it every few minutes.

Penny was in the front room, and she asked me a question. I turned my back on the stove for 10 seconds, and the mixture boiled over. I had just checked it, too, and it was just starting to create tiny bubbles.

It should have been two more minutes away from boiling!

If you think boiling water over is a nuisance, try boiling over water that’s heavy with sugar and syrup. That’s a new kind of mess. Forget towels and a spatula. You need a chisel and a hammer.

Most of the goo settled in the stove’s drip pan, where I simply left it. That’s where I learned numerous lessons all at once. Once the water boils off, solubilized sugar subjected to a hot stove element turns to carbon, which I also learned, the hard way, is flammable.

“Everything OK in there?” Penny shouted from the front room.

“Everything’s good,” I shouted back. “You just stay in there awhile.” I flipped on the fan over the stove and continued to boil the remaining solution.

While at the store earlier, I couldn’t find the kind of flavoring I needed for my candy. I had picked up one bottle of banana extract, but I couldn’t find anything else I liked. I didn’t want peppermint or anise. I don’t even know what anise is. It doesn’t sound tasty. I wanted grape or cherry or strawberry.

We had a can of strawberry juice in the refrigerator. I don’t know who buys strawberry juice by itself. Apparently, we do. Our daughter drinks it like soda pop, which could explain that whole hypertension thing.

I decided I’d make strawberry-flavored hard rock candy. But since the strawberry juice wasn’t concentrated, I realized I’d have to use more of it. Instead of a teaspoon, as the recipe called for, I used half a cup.

After the solution reaches 290 degrees, you add the flavoring and food coloring. Apparently, half a cup of refrigerated liquid changes the property of the hard rock candy mixture.

It can more appropriately be referred to as soft gel candy.

The only part that turned to stone was what dripped on the floor; two weeks later, it’s still there.

I poured the mixture onto cookie sheets that I had covered with powdered sugar. I left them on the counter overnight, but they never set up. I stuck them in the fridge all day, but it was still just a gooey mess, which our daughter ate, anyway, with a spoon.

I think I know what I did wrong. I think I can fix it. I need to try again. I can do this. All I need to do is figure out the combination to the locks Penny put on the kitchen door.

Some women just don’t have a sense of humor when it comes to their kitchens. I guess I should consider myself lucky, though. She still lets me sleep in the house.

———

© Copyright 2004 by David Porter who can be reached at david@ramblinman.us c/o The Doghouse.

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