I know many people are intimidated by fudge and candy making in general. I grew up helping my mom do it. Over the last eight years, I've also done a lot all by myself. Every year for Christmas I give each member of my husband's family a two lb box of candy and cookies. I wish I could stop now, but they love it and look forward to getting it. And I can't give up that ego stroking that goes with all the praise, to be honest. Let me tell ya, them boxes are goooood. ;)
ok, so all this week, I'll be discussing candy making with a new kind of candy each day. Today we'll do just general candy making tips. Things you need to know before you start your first pan.
first off, you need a wooden spoon and a heavy bottom pan. the heaviest bottom pan in your cupboard. I use an old 4 qt pressure cooker. The best wooden spoon for candy making is the kind with the flat top. I use a wooden spatula, you know the kind that is flat with a slight angle at the top. You have to be able to keep the candy at the bottom of the pot moving so it doesn't scorch.
Now there's a trick to stirring. Keep it moving but don't splash up the sides of your pot. I use a fat figure eight that covers as much of the surface area of the bottom pot as possible. Once you feel something sticking to the bottom stir more over that spot, but do not scrape it up. this is scorched candy and you don't want that flavor getting through the whole batch. turn your stove down and be careful. Also, you never, ever want to scrape the sides of the pan when stirring. never. This can introduce sugar crystals into the candy which can make the entire batch sugar. bad. The stuff on the sides is also not cooked to the same temperature as the rest of the batch and that can cause problems.
always cook your candy at medium or medium low. you don't want it cooking too fast or the sugar doesn't have time to completely melt. basically, the two biggest hurdles in candy making are cooking to the right temperature and melting the sugar. if either one are done badly, you've got a mess.
I use a candy thermometer. If you have very little experience with candy making, you will want to get one. it makes the temperature part easy. be sure to test it in a small pan of boiling water before you use it. It should get to 212 degrees in boiling water. if it doesn't, make the necessary calculations and remember them. you will need to make that same adjustment with your candy.
Now, before you start a batch of candy, you want to have everything ready, your pan buttered, the mixing bowl ready if you are doing fudge, etc. once it reaches temperature, you don't have time to stop and get that done, because it will keep cooking in the pan after you've taken it from the heat and will get too hot which makes it too hard. I like to get all the ingredients into my pan before i turn on my stove top. This gets everything cooking together at the same temperature and means my cream won't scorch if I take too long hunting down the butter.
so you've got everything in the pot, start cooking it with the lid on the pan. The water that is evaporating from the candy will condense on the lid and sides of the pot and wash the sides down. this is called sweating the pan. When the candy starts boiling, remove the lid, start stirring and add your thermometer. it will take a bit, but keep an eye on your thermometer, especially as the confection gets close to temperature. Candy can take five minutes to go the last two degrees and then zip five more degrees over the right temp in thirty seconds. the second it reaches temp, pull your pot from the stove and pour it into your prepped pan (or mixing bowl for fudge.) Only pour out the stuff that comes easily, don't scrape the bottom or sides, just leave it alone. (if it bothers you to waste that much you can scrape this candy into a different bowl.) the candy at the bottom and sides of the pan is a different temperature than the rest and mixing it with the rest may cause your candy to sugar, so never scrape the sides! (I know I said it twice, it's important.)
let your confection cool and it should be perfect. Candy makes a great gift for friends. they'll love you and nick name you the new Martha.
tomorrow, old fashioned fudge. the kind that does not need marshmallow cream. you know, the good stuff.