Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Passover Fudge

Passover is a time for flourless desserts, so I thought it would be a good time for another fudge attempt. I had a huge block of Callebaut bittersweet chocolate, so I didn't want to use one of the many recipes that just calls for 3-4oz of chocolate. And even though nobody I know seriously avoids eating anything with corn syrup on Passover, I thought it would be best to avoid using it if possible so that the fudge really would be kosher for Passover. I fixed on this recipe for bittersweet chocolate and walnut fudge from Bon Appetit.

At the time, my candy thermometer was working. The recipe calls for you to bring condensed milk and sugar to softball stage and then to pour the hot mixture onto the chocolate and butter. A couple changes to the recipe: I threw some cocoa powder in to replace the espresso, and I used an 8x8 square pan instead of a 9x13. I didn't want to serve skinny little squares. I don't think the pan size affected the consistency at all. In fact, if the recipe had been spread thin, it might have made for a harder, chewier product.

The result had a delicious, fudgy flavor, but the consistency was more like the inside of a truffle than like Murdick's. Too much chocolate, perhaps? Is corn syrup actually the secret ingredient? I intend to find out. Though it wasn't the platonic fudge, this recipe was a big hit with family and friends. It was much better than the last chocolate fudge recipe I tried, which basically just called for some chocolate and a can of sweetened, condensed milk. It makes a lot of fudge, so I was even able to give packages away as thank you gifts to my cat sitters.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Salt Water Taffy, Take 1

After procuring glycerin at the local health food store, it was time to try to make some salt water taffy. My brother agreed to help. I won't post the recipe here, because it didn't really work out. I combined three recipes--two from candy cookbooks and one that I dug up at The Exploratorium, not exactly known for its culinary excellence.

I think there were a couple of problems. First off, you need a lot of flavoring to overpower the super gross flavor of glycerin. We tried vanilla and lemon. The lemon was more successful because it had more flavoring, but I could really taste the glycerin in both and it was gross.

That was a secondary problem, really. The primary problem was that I overheated the sugar. Recipes call for the mixture to be heated to soft crack stage (270 F). I was using two candy thermometers, a good one and, as it turns out, a very bad one. The bad one was telling me that the temperature was lower than it actually was, while the higher one was right on target. I let the mixture get much too hot by basically averaging the thermometer readings… the mixture definitely made it to hard crack stage (300 F), or close. I was also testing the mixture in cold water. The problem with that was that the mixture never got completely hard in water— it the glycerin meant it was always a little gooey. The result was candy that we could stretch, but not cut. Because it had glycerin, it wasn't completely hard, but it was hard enough to pull out a tooth if you tried to chew it.

We got some great pictures though! I'm not sure if I'll try to make this salt water taffy again, but I might be tempted to try again with a molasses or brown sugar based recipe. Those always tasted better anyway, and I think would help with the glycerin flavor problem. Below and above are images of what most of the final batch looked like--hard to cut, greasy and, eventually, brittle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Snickers Ice Cream is no laughing matter

A three ingredient ice cream recipe? This ice cream has a fantastic flavor that won't give away its secret: it is sweetened and flavored entirely by candy bars.

Snickers Ice Cream (adapted from Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir's Mars Bar Ice Cream recipe in Frozen Desserts)

4.5 regular-sized Snickers bars (about 9oz)
1 cup milk
2 cups chilled whipping cream

Chop each bar in four and put in pan with the milk. Heat gently, stirring frequently, until all but the peanuts remain. Remove from heat and transfer to a few inches of cold water to cool the mixture quickly. When mixture is at room temperature or colder, start the ice cream machine. Stir the chilled cream into the milk/candy mixture and freeze according to your machine's instructions.

This ice cream tasted better when it was freshly made and then frozen for about a half hour--before it had a chance to become completely solid. It had a sort of soft-serve Hoodsie like taste since it's made with milk chocolate. We couldn't stop eating it. Because it's an ice cream that's not made with eggs, when it freezes completely it has a slightly unprofessional mouth feel--the same taste you get when your whipped cream dissolves into your Starbucks Frappuccino--it sticks uncomfortably to the top of your mouth. It hardly matters though because this ice cream is so easy to make and gets consumed so quickly that it may never have the opportunity to freeze solid.

Candy bars melting into milk.

A note on the candy: this recipe originally called for British Mars Bars, with a side note that the American equivalent is Snickers. That's a research error in the cookbook, however. The American equivalent of a British Mars Bar is a Milky Way. That's why the original recipe mentions nothing about nuts and has you melt the candy until just a couple of chocolate bits remain. I'm certain that this recipe would be just as delicious if made with Milky Way, but the peanuts were a delicious addition: even though the candy bar melts the nuts retain some of their caramel coating.

A note on the cookbook
: Frozen Desserts is the best ice cream cookbook ever. The authors have tested every sort of recipe extensively, plus they give you the formulas so that you can develop your own concoctions. Candy aside, if you want a custard-based ice cream that really impresses, their Ricotta recipe can't be beat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Making candy at Papabubble

I tried to embed the video from the link below, but it seems to be too wide for this site. I encourage you to click on the link and watch the video of two women making candy at the new New York branch of Papabubble. My favorite part is the footage of one of them stretching and pulling the candy over a wall-mounted hook. I never checked out Papabubble in person because I don't love hard sucking candies, and that seems to be all they do. The process sure looks neat, though. The final results look like glass beads but were created by a hands-on process that you just can't use when stretching glass. With its low key attitude, the video is much more in the style of Sesame Street than the Food Network.

Cool Hunting

Monday, March 10, 2008

Adventures with English Toffee in time for the Oscars

Two weeks ago I made this recipe, which made enough candy to go over well at a movie night and an Oscars party. The trick with toffee is to make sure that the butter and sugar don't separate. Fortunately, unlike when you curdle a custard or burn sugar, the separation is treatable. Further notes on separation anxiety below. The recipe is adapted from Anita Prichard's Complete Candy Cookbook, the only cookbook that my library owns. It was published in 1978 and is out of print but, like most books, is available cheaply online.

Butter Crunch:

2 sticks (1C) butter (salted, see note)
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup finely chopped but not roasted nuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate bits
1 cup roasted chopped nuts (optional)

1. Melt the butter in skillet over low heat. Slowly add sugar.
2. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a boil.
3. Clip on candy thermometer. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. To prevent separation of butter and sugar keep mixture boiling until the thermometer registers 300 (hard crack).
4. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the unroasted nuts.
5. Turn at once into lightly greased pan.
6. Let cool for 5 minutes. Then quickly sprinkle chocolate bits over candy (heat will melt chocolate)
7. With the spatula spread the chocolate evenly over the crunch.
8. If you are suing the roasted nuts, sprinkle them over the chocolate and press down lightly with the spatula.
9. When cool, turn out onto smooth surface and break into eating-size pieces with a mallet (I used a hammer covered with a paper towel).

Yield: about 1.3 lbs

NOTES: I used walnuts with this recipe. I would use them again: I thought their soft consistency went well with the crunchy toffee. What this recipe doesn't give are pointers on what happens if your butter and sugar do separate, as mine did at one point during the cooking process. For troubleshooting, a Google search lead to a page at Baking 911. The author says to be sure to use salted butter (too late), or to add .25 teaspoons salt per stick of butter. She also recommends adding water 1 teaspoon at a time while stirring gently. Vigorous stirring can cause the mixture to separate. I added salt and water. Not much luck, but I believe they were helpful in the long run. Most websites advise you to turn the heat down in case of separation, but the heat on my stove was so low already that I reasoned it might be contributing to the problem. I turned up the heat and continued to mix slowly. Slowly but surely, the sugar re-desolved into the melted butter. From there, it was smooth sailing.

The toffee before I went at it with a hammer.

The toffee was a huge success: tasty and attractive. The only unprofessional aspect of the recipe is its instruction to let the heat from the warm toffee melt the chocolate coating. I think the chocolate would have stuck to the top of the toffee more successfully if the chocolate were tempered and the toffee were cold. In that case, I think the best thing to do would be to dip whole pieces in chocolate and then roll them in finely chopped nuts. I'm sure that's the method that the folks at Lake Champlain Chocolates use for their Butter Almond Crunch. Prichard's method certainly was easy though, and for convenience's sake I would probably use it again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Salt Water Taffy ingredient comes in varied forms, not all edible

I purchased a box of mediocre taffy (see above) in Provincetown this weekend at a store that had great local fudge. The taffy, however, was sub par (and from Maine). It tasted too much like bubble gum and came in flavors like blue raspberry and root beer. I prefer lemon or molasses.

I figured it was time I tried to make some salt water taffy of my own. The candy's secret ingredient--all recipe books agree--is glycerin. All three cook books I looked in also said that I could procure glycerin at my local pharmacy. Not so much. The only glycerin that I could find at Duane Reade came in suppository form. Could work, I thought, but how would I know how to measure two tablespoons of it? Furthermore, according to The Internets, one should only ingest food-grade glycerin. I'm going to check for that kind at my local dietary supplement store tomorrow. If that doesn't work out, I'll order some from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You melt my [conversation] heart

The bloggers over at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories usually make fantastic homemade gadgets. This week for Valentine's Day they went nuts and experimented with candy instead. First they teach readers how to get their own messages onto candy hearts (hint: get the current text off with a Microplane). Next they made an enormous melted candy heart out of smaller hearts (see above). I'm not going to try this at home, but if you've ever wondered what will happen if you wet conversation hearts and put them in the oven at 300°, now's your chance to find out.

Stamp your own messages and Melt my heart

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Burnt Sugar Fudge, Round 1

Last night I tried my first recipe from Bruce Weinstein's Ultimate Candy Cookbook. I have some reservations about this book--many of its recipes start with ready made ingredients like store bought caramels, marzipan, and candy canes. I thought I'd give it a shot anyway. I chose the burnt sugar fudge recipe because in some ways it seemed similar to the maple candy recipe I'd made before. The recipe calls for

2 Cups sugar
3/4 Cups heavy cream
1 tbl. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Simple enough. I took three quarters of a cup of the sugar and caramelized it (see pictures above). The recipe then calls for you to pour in the cream and the rest of the sugar. It warns that the caramelized sugar may seize up--mine did. After I completed this recipe I found a couple of other burnt sugar fudge recipes. Both call for you to heat the milk and sugar together and then pour the caramelized sugar into that mixture. I'm not sure if that would have lead to less seizing--one commenter seems to have had a similar problem with a different recipe.

The recipe then calls for you to heat the mixture to softball stage. I found that once I got the caramelized sugar to melt and incorporate into the bubbly mixture, the sugar was that hot already. I turned off the heat, and let the pot sit until I could comfortably touch its bottom and the mixture.

I threw in the butter and vanilla and began mixing. I was disappointed to find that a layer of the sugar mixture had stuck to the bottom of the pot. I managed to wrestle the rest until it was "the consistency of icing" and no longer shiny. I poured the fudge into a greased, foiled pan (it did not fill the 8' pan fully) and refrigerated overnight. The final result is very tasty, but not perfect. I think the recipe has too much sugar and not enough fat. Additionally, there are some more crunchy sugary bits in there that got mixed in from the bottom of the pan. Maybe I'll half the Food Network recipe next to see if I get better results there. Below, the final product: imperfect but quite tasty.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Inspiration: Homemade Maple Candy

On a cold December day this year, I did something I've been meaning to do since childhood: make maple sugar candy. I remember a story that described children making candy by pouring warmed maple syrup into the snow and having it harden immediately into delicious edible candy. I have no idea where I read this, but as a kid I tried it a couple of times. It doesn't work. Instead, I used the Joy of Cooking recipe. I would copy it down here, but it's not in the most current version of the book so I don't have it with me now. It went like this:

- Pour Maple Syup into pot.
- Heat without stirring, to soft-ball stage.
- Remove from heat and let syrup sit until you can touch the bottom of the pot comfortably. Add one teaspoon vanilla (we didn't have any. I omitted the vanilla).
- Stir the mixture vigorously.

It doesn't seem like it should work. In fact, nobody in the household believed that it would. When the syrup cooled, it was very sticky and difficult to stir. It looked nothing like maple candy. But I worked hard and kept stirring and something magical happened--the gooey mixture changed from seeming like a failed ice cream topping to professional tasting maple candy. It happened instantaneously. I was hooked.

We didn't have the beautiful molds used for the maple candy pictured so we rolled the candy by hand into balls an pressed them into a lined mini-cupcake pan. They ended up being about the size and shape of small Peppermint Patties. And they were delicious.

That was my first foray into candy making since childhood. Heating the sugar took a long time, and I didn't have a candy thermometer. But the transformation of texture was amazing, and it's something I hope to chronicle here, with photographs and instructions. Making candy is difficult and there's not much help on line: just Google some candy making terms and you'll find that most existing websites haven't been updated since 1995. Here you'll find cookbook reviews, recipes, tips, along with chronicles of my successes and failures. Feel free to advise me along the way!