Confection Section: Tips and Trick-or-Treats

Because I’m a first-year teacher (for this blog, not in real life – at least not yet), I’m subject to a lot of in-service time off, which I spend on researching and planning my next lesson, which is why the time between my first and second lessons was very long. On top of that, I have writing work over at another food blog called munchbrothers.org, so balancing between time here and time with the Munch Brothers is hard, but I manage.

Anyway, I’m back. I was planning on continuing my “Take Back the Basics” lessons (it was going to be about appliances and what you need if you’re a first-time cook), but it’s Halloween weekend and, really, what food blog would be complete without a blog about Halloween and Halloween candy, so I brought back Confection Section.

Even if you’re too old to trick or treat and going to costume parties isn’t your (trick-or-treat) bag, you can still make your own candy (it’s kind of too late to do it now, but, hey, you’ll have something for next year) – either to give to trick-or-treaters, as part of a spooky house party, or just to have as a change of pace from bingeing on M&Ms, Snickers, and Milk Duds.

As I said before in the first Confection Section (https://phillyfoodie85.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/confection-section-salt-water-taffy/), making candy by hand seems like one of those old-fashioned traditions that went out with typewriters, spats, and seeing women as little more than housewives and broodmare (Okay, it’s not in those exact words, but it’s close), but most candy shops that specialize in “from scratch” confections (particularly the boardwalk candy shops and any shop owned and operated by Amish farmers and their wives at the Reading Terminal Market in Center City) do keep taffy pulling and making candy by hand alive while kitchen supply and craft stores such as Sur La Table and Michaels’ have candy-making molds, tools, and guide books, so you can make confections of all kinds at home.

Before we get to how to make some Halloween treats, I’d like to tell you a spooky tale on how this holiday came to be. You probably never really sat down and asked yourself, “What’s up with this holiday? What’s with the bobbing for apples and dressing in costumes to bilk the neighborhood out of candy (and, on some unfortunate occasions, mini-toothpaste, pennies, floss, reflective tape, apples with razor blades in them, gift certificates to McDonalds [or any fast-food place near you], written advice, expired medication, or worst case scenario, nothing)? Who came up with it?” Asking that makes you look like you’re an alien, from a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, or socially ignorant (like, Aspergers’ syndrome-level socially ignorant), so you just go along with the tradition. And besides, who are you to turn down free candy (unless it’s from a local creepy pedophile)?

Well, I got the answers for you on what Halloween is and why we have these crazy traditions. So hit the lights and hand me the flashlight so I can put it under my chin:

Halloween and its traditions have strong roots in three autumn celebrations: Samhain, Pomona, and All Saints’ Day (or All Soul’s Day, depending on where you live). If you’re Catholic (or know anything about Catholic holidays), you probably have some idea of what All Saints’/Souls’ Day is (I’ll still go over it for the benefit of the curious/non-religious), but not the first two holidays. Samhain? Pomona? Separately, they sound like the names of second-rate state universities, and together, it sounds like the name of an Irish-Italian supermodel/actress (“Samhain Pomona” – I gotta get that down for one of my stories). Well, they’re neither. Samhain and Pomona are ancient autumn harvest holidays from Europe.

Samhain (meaning “summer’s end” in Gaelic) is an ancient Celtic festival that marked the end of summer and the harvest season and the upcoming arrival of winter. Celts living in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, and Northern France (specifically the Brittany region) got their food from herding and hunting, and when summer came to a close, the healthiest animals in the herds were taken to a winter shelter, while the rest were cooked and eaten. Samhain was also seen by the Celts as a time when the spirits of their deceased ancestors were free to roam among the living. These spirits were thought to possess powers of fortunetelling, warning the living of trouble ahead*. The villagers made offerings of food and wine to their ancestors, hoping to make contact with their departed family members. To avoid visits from any unwanted spirits, the living would wear “ghoulish disguises” so they can fool others into thinking they’re the spirits. The costumed villagers would then form a parade as a way to lead the unwanted spirits out of their village.

Pomona, in contrast, didn’t have any macabre undertones. In fact, Pomona was a wood nymph who was worshipped as the Roman goddess of bountiful abundance, especially when it came to growing crops. November 1st was the day when ancient Romans celebrated her with offerings of nuts, apples, and other orchard fruits, as if to say, “Praise Pomona for keeping us mortals fed and prosperous.”

So far, you’re seeing the “tricks” and the pageantry behind Halloween and the importance of fall harvest celebrations, but how did Halloween as the modern age knows it come to be?

Well, because of the Pomona festival’s proximity to Samhain, the two holidays converged after the Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D. The Romans and Celts intermingled over the following centuries, turning Samhain and Pomona into a single holiday.

When Christianity began to grow throughout Europe, the previous harvest holidays became a Christian celebration known as “the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.” 835 A.D. saw the Roman Catholic Church officially making the first of November a religious holiday to honor the saints. Instead of offering food and wine to the spirits of ancestors, villagers baked “soul cakes,” spiced biscuit-like cakes offered to the poor, who, in turn, would pray for the deceased to find peace in the afterlife…unless, of course, they were doomed to burn in Hell.

As the tradition grew in later years, young men would travel door-to-door singing songs in exchange for money, food or ale, which, to me, sounds more like a Christmas tradition than a Halloween/fall festival one, because who among you hasn’t wanted to give Christmas carolers money, food, or booze just so they’ll stop singing? And, before you ask, yes, this tradition is the ancestor to trick-or-treating. The practice of wearing costumes while doing this was a way to honor the saints, rather than warding off unwelcome spirits**. The more extravagant churches would display relics of the saints on All Saints’ Day, while poorer churches would encourage the parishioners to dress up as saints in lieu of displaying relics. I remember my Catholic school doing something like this when I was enrolled there. I don’t know the specifics, sadly, but my second grade class was involved with it.

Several of the ancient traditions associated with Samhain, Pomona, and All Saints’ Day were brought to the United States when Irish immigrants came to the United States in the 19th century. The tradition of pumpkin carving stemmed from Irish immigrants carving faces onto potatoes and turnips as a means to welcome in spirits of deceased family members. Yes, I know it sounds like a stereotype, but it is true. Besides, carving faces into potatoes and turnips sounds more like Europe trying to copy voodooism. The pumpkin just feels more right. I don’t want to have to re-imagine the legend of The Headless Horseman with a turnip for a head. It’s not as scary as a flaming jack-o-lantern.

Halloween as an American holiday finally became what it is today in the post-World War II world, when the holiday was aimed at the younger crowd and people put out cookies and cupcakes — as well as whatever candies were popular back then, like Atomic Fireballs, Charleston Chews, candy corn, and Candy Cigarettes [now changed to Candy Sticks or not sold at all due to worries over tobacco companies encouraging minors to smoke] – to kids roaming the streets dressed as witches, vampires, or Frankenstein’s monster***, among other things.

Halloween tradition has evolved from a fall harvest/occult celebration to a children’s celebration to a holiday for all ages, whether your taking your younger sibling through the neighborhood to get candy or you’re shaking it in your hospital hottie/naughty nurse costume at an all-night costume party.

But it all boils down to…the treats.

The amount of candy eaten on Halloween has long outnumbered the amount eaten at Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Heck, even Easter has nothing on Halloween when it comes to candy consumption. In 2011, $2.3 billion was spent on Halloween candy and the entire Halloween candy industry is worth eight billion. It has grown significantly since then. A recent survey from the National Confectioners Association states that 72% of all money spent on candy this Halloween will be on chocolate. Last year, more than $12.6 billion was spent on chocolate in the United States, which is 3.8% more than the year before. Americans spent $3.9 billion to buy 3.5 billion chocolate bars, bags and boxes under 3.5 ounces, the standard size consumers pick up at a grocery store checkout. Reese’s candies (peanut butter cups, pieces, and their ilk) and M&Ms (all kinds) each accounted for more than $500 million in sales.

The chocolate industry is extremely concentrated among just a few competitors. Hershey and Mars are the two heavyweights in the chocolate industry, not just in America, but throughout the world. The nation’s oldest top-seller, Hershey’s brand chocolate, has been available since 1900 (that’s 114 years of soaring blood sugar and chocolatey goodness) while Mars has been around since 1911 (which is 103 years of the same thing as Hershey’s). These brands not only compete for customer dollars at the checkout line, they also sell their products in snack sizes (those miniature versions of full-size candy bars and packs that are usually seen in Halloween candy bags). While most of the top standard size brands also rank among the highest for sales of snack-size chocolate, there are some exceptions. M&Ms and 3 Musketeers are relatively less popular in snack size than in the standard size****.

So, how are you gonna compete with Hershey’s and Mars to get trick-or-treaters’ attention? You probably won’t, but with quality ingredients, trial and error, and a lot of imagination (especially when it comes to packaging), you can make Halloween treats that will have all the little witches cackling and werewolves howling.

Caramel Apples

My first recipe is a Halloween/fall traditional treat: caramel apples. They’re hard to eat, will rot your teeth (or cause you to lose a baby tooth – or a permanent one), and do take a little time to prepare, but they are good…for some people. I don’t like the taste of the buttery caramel mixed with the tart Granny Smith apple. I like caramel and Granny Smith apples, but not together. On top of that, those type of apples are already sweet. Adding sugary stuff to it just serves to increase your waistline, but I know there are people out there who don’t care and like caramel apples regardless. So here’s the recipe, courtesy of CookingLight.com (it’s 221 calories, even if you try to make it healthy):

Ingredients

small apples, chilled (green/Granny Smith apples preferred, though you can experiment with Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, whichever you like)

2 cups granulated sugar

½ cup light-colored corn syrup (or simple syrup)

½ cup water

2 cups half-and-half

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

Supplies Needed

Wooden sticks

Candy thermometer

Large saucepan or Dutch oven

Teaspoons

Measuring cups

Wooden spoon for stirring

Bowls for hot water bath

Baking sheet lined with wax/parchment paper

Preparation

1. Push wooden sticks into the top of chilled apples. Return apples to the refrigerator until caramel is ready for dipping.

2. Place sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan; boil, stirring until dissolved. Boil, without stirring, 9 minutes or until light golden.

3. Combine half-and-half, vanilla, and salt; slowly stir into pan. Boil until candy thermometer reaches 235° (45 minutes), stirring frequently.

4. Pour caramel into a bowl sitting in a hot water bath. Swirl apples in caramel, and place on baking sheet lined with wax paper.

The next candy recipe is a favorite of mine and one of many reasons why I wanted to start this blog: to show that it is possible to make store-bought foods from scratch. This is the recipe for homemade Reese’s peanut butter cups. They make look hard to make, but they’re really not. Credit goes to www.fifteenspatulas.com


Homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Ingredients:

2 (12 oz.) bags semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Supplies Needed

Muffin tin

Paper muffin cups (12 large or 24 miniature)

Small spoon or cookie scoop

Airtight container for storage

Double boiler or large saucepan filled with boiling water with heatproof bowl on top (or microwaveable bowl)

Electric hand mixer

Directions:

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Melt one (12 oz.) bag of chocolate either in a double boiler or by microwaving in short increments, stirring after 30 seconds, for about 2 minutes.

With a small spoon or cookie scoop, evenly distribute melted chocolate into each muffin cup. Drop pan repeatedly on the counter to help chocolate flatten and smooth out. Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine peanut butter, powdered sugar and butter. Whip with an electric hand mixer until smooth. If your peanut butter mixture is not completely smooth, stir in an additional teaspoon of melted butter or vegetable/canola oil.

Remove pan from freezer and place small spoonfuls of peanut butter mixture on top of each chocolate layer. Drop pan repeatedly on the counter again, to help flatten peanut butter layer. Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes.

Melt remaining 12 oz. bag of chocolate. Working quickly, portion small spoonfuls of chocolate into each cups, three cups at a time, immediately dropping the pan repeatedly on the counter to flatten cups (or the 24 mini). Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes to set the top layer of chocolate.

For a peanut butter cup with a firmer texture, serve chilled. For a softer, creamier texture, serve at room temperature. Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days. Don’t fret if they don’t look exactly like a Reese’s cup. That’s how they’re supposed to look.

This final candy recipe is another chocolate delight, hailing all the way from Brazil. It’s called a brigadeiro. I have had Brazilian chocolate before (it was a chocolate bonbon whose name meant “Dancing and Dreaming” in Portuguese, which, like Spanish, is different in Europe than it is in South America. I’m not all experienced at speaking Portuguese, but I can recognize what it looks like. The same can also be said for the following languages I have seen and tried to learn: Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Greek, Polish, Thai, and Swedish) – very creamy mouthfeel, is better than American chocolate, but it was not as decadent as Belgian or French chocolate. Of course, that’s not what they look like originally. This is what you can do with them to freak out trick-or-treaters.

Olho Brigadeiros

Ingredients

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 oz. (one bag) white chocolate chips or white chocolate melting chocolate

1 teaspoon red food coloring, or as needed

1 teaspoon blue food coloring, or as needed

1 teaspoon black food coloring, or as needed

Supplies Needed:

Medium saucepot

Rubber spatula

8″x8″ baking dish (greased)

Double boiler or boiling saucepot of water with heatproof bowl fitted over it

Tablespoon

Thin paintbrushes

Instructions

1. Combine sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter in medium saucepot over medium-low heat.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick and rubber spatula holds its line across bottom of pan, about 25 minutes. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ baking dish and refrigerate until cooled, at least 30 minutes.

3. Working with approximately 1 tablespoon pieces at a time, roll into 1-inch balls. Set aside

4. Melt white chocolate chips or discs in double boiler or in bowl over boiling saucepot. Stir until thoroughly melted.

5. Dip 1-inch balls in white chocolate. Freeze until hard (anywhere from an hour to four, depending)

6. Paint white chocolate-dipped balls with food coloring to make it look like an eyeball.

7. Freeze again, this time for 30 minutes or until food coloring does not run

NOTE: If you really want your candy eyeballs to raise eyebrows (and some people’s lunches), use colored royal icing for the eye detail to make it more realistic. If you’re putting them in a bowl, I recommend smearing them in strawberry or cherry jelly/preserves, for that pulpy, bloody look.

Well, that’s it for my Halloween candy lesson. Good night, happy eating, and, if you’re out partying and need a 2:00am spot to eat, stop on by the Diner of the Living Dead…if you dare!

==================================================================

*Irish/Celtic culture has a lot of stories about spirits warning mortals of death and future misfortune. Ever hear of banshees?

**And I’ll bet the ancient peoples who did this didn’t have to deal with people wearing sleazy, moronic, or insane costumes like people today do – or, at least, knew how to publicly humiliate the ones who had the sack to do so

***A little literary trivia: even though Frankenstein’s monster is known as Frankenstein, his name in the actual novel by Mary Shelley was Thomas [pronounced “Toe-ma,” because he was French]. Frankenstein was actually the last name of his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

**** As someone who has eaten both M&Ms and 3 Musketeers in standard and snack sizes, I can tell you snack sizes just isn’t enough for M&Ms and 3 Musketeers…and neither are Snickers bars or 100 Grand bars.

Confection Section: Taffy Duck

Confection Section is a new recurring piece, focusing on the history of candy and confections and how you can recreate these sweet treats at home, no matter what time of the year it is. Want to surprise trick-or-treaters with gummi spiders you made yourself? Want next year’s Valentine’s Day candies to come from the heart and not from a heart-shaped box? Ever want to make your own Reese’s cups or the kind of candy your parents/grandparents enjoyed in their youth? This recurring piece is for you!

If you live in the Southeast Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware area, summer isn’t summer without a trip to Atlantic City and a box of salt water taffies from a boardwalk candy or souvenir shop. Of course, if you hate the sand between your toes and all the pain that comes with organizing a beach trip or don’t live in or near a coastal state, you can order some salt water taffies from an online bulk candy company and enjoy your balmy, sunny days lounging in a cheap beach chair or an inflatable kiddie pool in nothing but your swim trunks/a cheap, ill-fitting Speedo/thong bikini bottom and a flimsy, brightly-colored T-shirt with a risqué slogan (“F.B.I.: Federal Bikini/Booby/Booty Inspector” or one where it has an arrow pointing down and some lewd command for women to perform oral sex on whoever’s wearing the shirt), a parody of a TV show/cult classic movie/Internet meme (those “Keep Calm and…” shirts or a spoof of Breaking Bad), or the last place you went on vacation (usually Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; New York City, New York; or Williamsburg, Virginia), but it’s just not the same. On top of that, you will get neighbor complaints over public indecency and/or bring down property values, like on the season four Simpsons episode “New Kid on the Block,” when an interracial couple goes to buy a new house next to The Simpsons, but turn it down after seeing Homer naked in a kiddie pool, fishing out a half-eaten hot dog and passing out from drinking Duff.

Salt water taffies, much like the Philly cheesesteak and the Coney Island hot dog, has long been associated with East Coast food – in this case, salt water taffy has been associated with Atlantic City, New Jersey. The confection got its salty taste from a flood that soaked candy store owner, David Bradley’s, supply of regular taffy (Fun fact: the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest out of the four major oceans in the world, but the Red Sea in the Indian Ocean has the saltiest sea water in the world, courtesy of the Dead Sea, which is so brackish, you can easily float in it – unless you’re so fat or inexperienced at swimming that you can sink right through, like Selma Bouvier on The Simpsons episode where Moe steals Homer’s idea for a fiery cocktail and Aerosmith becomes the first band to guest star on the show as themselves).

You’d think a disaster like this would ruin Mr. Bradley’s livelihood, but you would be wrong. When a young girl came into his shop and asked if he had any taffy for sale, he said he had “salt water taffy” instead. The girl didn’t understand the sarcasm behind it. She thought it was a new confection he created. David Bradley’s mother was in the back and overheard the conversation. She loved the moniker for Bradley’s ocean-soaked treats and, thus, a beachside sweet that’s not tanned and in a sexy swimsuit was born.

Though a flood accidentally created this candy and David Bradley sold it, it was Joseph Fralinger who popularized the salt water taffy as a souvenir for tourists and Enoch James refined the recipe, making it easier to unwrap (though I’ve unwrapped salt water taffy and there are times where it still sticks to the paper – or, the paper becomes part of the taffy and I get an untentional dose of fiber), cut the candy into bite-sized pieces, and is credited with mechanizing the process of taffy-pulling.

Salt water taffy is still sold widely on the boardwalks in Atlantic City, including shops in existence since the 1800s, like Fralinger’s and James’ and the Atlantic Maritime provinces in Canada (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick), but has found its way to places like Salt Lake City, Utah and even the West Coast (the picture of the salt water taffy in barrels is from a candy store at a popular San Francisco tourist spot, Pier 39. I’ve been there a few times during my stay in San Francisco, and I have been at that exact candy store – along with a pizzeria that had the best S.O.S [spinach-onion-sausage] pizza and got me into watching and rooting for college basketball) and comes in an array of flavors, from blue raspberry and banana to guava and maple.

The appeal of salt water taffy is that the taste reminds you a lot of strolling the boardwalk on a July afternoon, taking in the ocean air, the energy of people of all ages enjoying a day out, the seagulls recreating the climax from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as people foolishly throw French fries and other foods on the boardwalk floor…ah, memories. Yours may vary.

Taffy-pulling is one of those activities that many will tell you is a “lost art” in the sense that it used to be done by human hands – both for business and as Saturday night family fun – but now has been handed over to machines for efficiency reasons, but most candy shops that specialize in “from scratch” confections (particularly the boardwalk candy shops and any shop owned and operated by Amish farmers and their wives at the Reading Terminal Market in Center City) are keeping taffy-pulling alive, and you can too, if you want to create your own candy. Go to a place like Sur La Table or those craft stores like Michaels’ and you’ll see a lot of candy-making tools and molds, meaning that, yes, making homemade candy isn’t just for Grandma’s Sunday church socials or the Amish anymore.

The most important instruments in candy-making (especially if you’re making sugar-based candies or any type of sugar sculpting) are quality ingredients (as with any food you cook), a candy thermometer, and a sturdy pot (particularly a double-boiler or large saucepan that can handle high heat), though the candy thermometer can be substituted for a spoon and knowing what happens when sugar syrup boils.

Name

Temperature

What Happens to the Sugar Syrup

What Can You Use It For?

Thread

223-235 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup drips from a spoon, forms thin threads in water

Glacé, candied fruits
, and sugar cages (complete with a marzipan wild animal or a scale model go-go dancer made of fondant, white chocolate, royal icing, and marzipan)

Soft ball

235-245 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup easily forms a ball while in the cold water, but flattens once removed

Fudge and fondant

Firm ball

245-250 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup is formed into a stable ball, but loses its round shape once pressed

Caramel candies
and caramel filling if you’re making homemade versions of name-brand chocolate candy bars, like Twix and Snickers

Hard ball

250-266 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup holds its ball shape, but remains sticky

Marshmallows

Soft crack

270-290 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup will form firm but pliable threads

Nougat (also nougat filling for homemade candy bars) and taffy

Hard crack

300-310 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup will crack if you try to mold it

Peanut brittle, lollipops
, sugared glass if you want to make a gingerbread house with realistic windows in it (or a gingerbread model of the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California)

Caramel

320-350 degrees Fahrenheit

The sugar syrup will turn golden at this stage

Pralines

 

Above all else, it is imperative that you BE CAREFUL when handling hot sugar syrup. Working with hot sugar is not for the clumsy, the careless, or the easily-distracted (that applies to cooking of any kind, really). A lot can go wrong if you use the cold water method (that’s the method where you use a spoon and your own judgment to test how hot the sugar syrup is), as hot sugar has a tendency to stick on your skin as it burns, so you can’t just rub it off your skin. I don’t know if a hospital trip and a skin graft can be used to mend skin burned from hot sugar, but it seems like the logical conclusion should a sugar burn ever happen to you. I once burned a small part of skin near my elbow on my left arm with hot glue during a high school project. I didn’t go to the nurse about it, because, what was she going to do, give me Tums for it? I decided to cover it up with some tissues and, if anyone asked, just say I fell while walking home from school. My legs, feet, and ankles loved to play “Hey, how can we make Canais/The Philly Foodie a klutz today?” all through middle school and the first half of high school, so a nasty spill resulting in some scraped skin is more believable than “I wasn’t watching what I was doing while handling a hot glue gun.” The point of that is: hot sugar syrup is a lot like the glue from a hot glue gun before it sets, so treat it as if you were working with a glue gun.

As with all cooking projects (whether amateur or professional), keep your hair tied back and/or put in a chef’s hat or cap if it’s long and remove all jewelry before starting. Ideally, you’re only supposed to have a plain wedding band as the only acceptable piece of jewelry to wear when doing kitchen work, but I hate rings [which, if I ever decide to get married, will pose some problems] and wearing them while cooking hot sugar syrup is just asking for either the ring to fall in or the hot syrup to permanently glue your ring to your ring finger, leaving you no chance to either pawn the ring to cover your rent/mortgage/divorce fees or leave it to your children in the will unless you’re willing to have it amputated (or your insurance covers it).

You’re probably restless and waiting for me to give the steps on how to make salt water taffy, Atlantic City-style. Well, here we go. As with all the recipes here at “Take Back the Kitchen,” be sure to find a way to save it for later (print, transcribe, or download).

How to Make Salt Water Taffy

Atlantic City-style salt water taffy starts with these ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2/3 cup corn syrup

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt flavoring

Lemon, orange, peppermint, lime, strawberry, pineapple or Fireball flavorings.

Pink, green, yellow, or orange color pastes

 Yeah, not exactly the paradigm of healthy eating, but, like with all sugary, fatty, and overall decadent foods, it helps if you only have this once in a while…unless you have blood sugar issues, food allergies (specifically to food coloring, as there are people out there who can’t eat foods with Red Dye #3 or Blue Dye #2 in it), or don’t like salt water taffies. If corn syrup scares your waistline or you can’t find it (it shouldn’t be too hard to find, but you might live in a country where they don’t carry it in stores, like the United Kingdom or Australia), then substitute for simple syrup (which is just sugar and water boiled until it leaves a thin coat on the back of a spoon).

The first thing you do is combine your sugar and cornstarch and place it in a saucepan. After that, add your corn/simple syrup, butter, and water and stir. Next, you heat the mixture. To prevent it from crystallizing, do NOT stir the mixture until it reaches hard ball stage (refer to the chart above) or, if you’re doing the cold water method, until a small portion of it forms into a ball when you drip it into a bath of cold water.

Once it reaches the hard ball stage, add your salt flavoring. Immediately pour the mixture on a greased slab or section of marble table top that has a plastic mat made for sugar work (you can find those at any restaurant/cook supply store). Allow to cool slightly.

Since you’re working with hot sugar, it’s best if you have rubber gloves for this next part, unless you’re like my Pastry/Confections instructor, Chef Kin Joe (a kindly Chinese man from Texas whose cakes and confection work looks like they should be at some bigshot Hollywood celebrity’s wedding/divorce/engagement/sweet 16/finally 18/finally 21/finally got the necessary plastic surgery/TV milestone/just removed that kidney stone party or gracing the page of a food porn mag like Saveur) who can work barehanded with hot sugar and it only mildly annoys him.

As quickly as you can, pull the hot sugar mixture until light and pearl-like in color. Don’t overdo it, or it will end up looking dull.

Divide into separate portions. Color and flavor each portion as desired while it is being pulled. You don’t have to limit yourself to what the ingredients say. Experiment with different colors and flavors.

If you want to make two- three- or four-toned taffy, then layer the colored pieces next to each other. Let them heat up a little next to a heated stove or under a desk lamp (normally, for sugar work, you need a special type of lamp that looks similar to a desk lamp, but takes a higher wattage light bulb). Once the sugar ribbon is malleable enough, stretch it until the two ribbons become one with two or more colors.

Pull out the sugar ribbons to around 1½ inches wide and ¾ of an inch thick. Cut into pieces with a scissors and wrap in wax paper. Twist ends of paper to seal.

Store in a jar, a decorated candy box or dish, or give to friends, loved ones, or anyone with a sweet tooth. Or, if you have some salt water taffy from a beachside candy shop, do a blind taste test to see if you can tell the difference between your homemade taffy and the store-bought.

…And that’s how you make Atlantic City-style salt water taffy without the trip to the boardwalk. Good night, and good eating!