(Not so) Hard candy

Discussion in 'Pastries & Baking' started by Patch, Jan 2, 2019.

  1. Patch

    Patch

    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    5
    Exp:
    Home cook
    I've been making small batches of hard candy using my own flavor extracts. My problem is that after several highly successful batches I've started having trouble with the candy being tacky and a bit soft.

    Based on many recipes I've seen online I've been using 1/3 cup light corn syrup for every cup of sugar, mixed with enough water to keep the sugar from burning before it comes to a boil. The batch I made yesterday was 2 cups sugar, 2/3 cup light corn syrup, mixed with about 3/4 cup water. I bring the mix to a boil over med-high heat. Once the foam has subsided, I cover for five minutes. When the cover is removed I attach a good quality digital thermometer (which is within 1 degree on the boiling water test), ensuring it's submerged but not touching the bottom of the pan. When the temperature hits 280F I reduce the heat to med-low and add the food coloring. (I've been using a couple drops of a gel coloring.) When the temp consistently stays above 305F, I turn off the flame and begin to gently move a silicone spoon around the pot just to keep a bit of motion. (When I just let it sit undisturbed I found the bottom and sides stayed very hot and liquid while the center top got quite solid. I started gently stirring on the next batch.) When the bubbling stops, usually around 290F, I gently stir in the extract. The extracts all have 80 proof vodka as the solvent. The amount of extract varies depending on the batch. This last batch of cinnamon was a bit weak so I used 2 Tblsp plus 1/4 tsp vanilla. When the candy has stopped bubbling from the extract, I pour into silicone molds.

    My very first batch of candy crystallized, but I've had no issues with that at all since that first time. I had one batch that was a bit tacky after cooling. That's when I started turning down the flame at 280F to be sure I was getting the whole mix up to temp and not having pockets that were much hotter. I had very good results for several batches after that.

    My problem is that my recent batches have been tacky and slightly soft. It's basically hard, but you can form it to the roof of your mouth by pushing with your tongue and it has a tendency to stick to the teeth. The batches I considered complete successes were rock hard all the way until they fully dissolved.

    I'm pretty careful about getting the temp very close to 310F before taking it off heat so I don't think the issue is too much water left in the mix. I must admit I've been a bit cavalier about measuring the corn syrup, generally using the same one cup measure I use for the sugar and just eyeballing the portion. This makes me wonder if I'm using too much corn syrup. The other thing that struck me is that I had been using Karo but fairly recent bought a large bottle of house brand light corn syrup. I had figured corn syrup was corn syrup, but now I'm wondering if that may be the root of the problem. I've also read that some people insist on using cane sugar, not beet sugar. The sugar I've been using is refined from beets, but I've been using the same brand of sugar all along so I don't think that's the problem.

    Sorry for the book but I wanted to be sure I fully explained the situation and included enough detail to get good advice. Any ideas on what's going wrong? Too much corn syrup? Bad brand of corn syrup? Do I really need more than a few tablespoons of corn syrup?
     
  2. minas6907

    minas6907

    Messages:
    182
    Likes Received:
    15
    Exp:
    Line Cook
    Hello, I'm just going to recommend a few things, but not all may pertain directly to your problem. I've done sugar for years, and while your being very cautious, I think you would benefit from changing a few things. First, I've had much better success from brushing down the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush rather then just leave the lid on. Maybe its just a personal preference, but when I've done the lid thing in the past, I could see granules that did not wash down from the moisture that condensed and ran off the sides. Second, again, perhaps just preference, but you dont need to attach a thermometer immediately, you can see how large the bubbles get toward the end of boiling, just insert it toward the end.

    Generally when you make hard candy, you bring the sugar and water to a boil, then add your glucose or corn syrup. Adding glucose after boiling will keep the mixture from foaming up so much compared to if you had mixed everything together then brought to a boil. Also, when the mixture has come to a boil and you add your glucose, you don't need to stir anymore, the bubbles do the stirring for you. Turn your heat up as high as you can (just don't let flames up up the sides of the pan), you want a very rapid boil to the very end. Usually I boil to 315f, then remove from heat. You want to add the extract right after you turn off the flame. Its not surprising that you get weak flavor, extracts wont give you a strong flavor, and your main problem is consistent with too much water being left in your finished candy. Remember, your 80 proof vodka solvent is still 60% water, and to get a strong flavor you need to add alot of extract, which will end up working against you. Look into food grade essential oils or artificially and naturally flavored candy oils, usually the latter are flavors that have propylene glycol as a carrier rather then water.

    Tacky hard candy means there is too much water in your formula. Your either not boiling to a high enough temperature or your adding too much water with your extract. Keep a high flame to the end of boiling, you don't need to lower it.

    Trust me, I know what you mean. The candy is for the most part hard. If you hit it hard, it will shatter, but if you push on it with alot of pressure for an extended period of time, it will show itself to be malleable (and even more so when in the mouth since it warms up) Thats called cold flow. Candies like taffies and caramels exhibit cold flow, but hard candy should not. Taffies and caramels finish boiling with more water contained in them, sorry to sound like a broken record, but you have too much water in your hard candy.

    No worries on the book, its good to be as clear as possible. I personally would safely say that your corn syrup is not the problem at all. Also, I haven't used beet sugar for confections, so I cant weigh in on that, I only use granulated cane. You can probably cut back on the corn syrup if you want, less corn syrup or glucose means your candy will crystallize faster, so if your casting pieces into a mold, it will lose that clarity sooner, and it will be maybe a bit more gritty depending on how long you store it for, just experiment. All in all, I would say boil to a higher temp, don't stir, drop in your color (bubbles stir for you), add your extract immediately after you turn off the flame (to evaporate as much water as possible) and look into candy oils, they wont contain water, you'll get a stronger flavor.
     
    peachcreek likes this.
  3. Patch

    Patch

    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    5
    Exp:
    Home cook
    Thank you very much for the detailed reply. Regarding the extracts, I've been making them myself, partly for the fun of it, partly so I know what's going into them, and partly so I can get less commonly available flavors. (I have a batch of blackberry in the works right now.) I had assumed the alcohol would boil out quickly but hadn't considered the significant water content in the vodka. If I want to continue making my own extracts would it be better to use pure grain alcohol rather than vodka? I can get mass quantities of decent vodka at a reasonable price. Not so sure about Everclear.

    As to the level of flame, on the first couple batches I noticed the temperature rose fairly steadily to about 280F and then shot up rather quickly. Once above 300F it seemed to be jumping up and down quite a lot. Probably one of the negative aspects of using a digital thermometer. I started turning the flame down at 280F so I could creep up on the final temp in a bit more controlled fashion. It would seem I need a bit more courage with the heat, keeping it high right to the very end. I'm glad to hear you take it to 315F. Everything I've read says to remove from heat at 300F, but the time I did that it was tacky so I changed to 310F. Perhaps I'll push on to 315F with the next batch.

    Thanks for the tip on adding the corn syrup after the sugar has started to boil. I've not seen that mentioned in any of the things I've read online about candy making.

    Regarding the origin of the sugar, to me it just looks like sugar. Beet vs cane would have never occurred to me if I hadn't come across a mention of a strong preference for cane. I only know it's beet sugar because I went the extra step and looked up the manufacturer online and found they're a co-op of sugar beet farmers in Minnesota. The bags are just labeled as granulated sugar. Perhaps an expert could tell a difference. I certainly couldn't.

    So my plan for next time is to use med-high flame the whole way, add corn syrup after the boiling has started, take the temp to 315F, and add the extract as soon as I turn off the flame. Thanks again for taking the time on this. I learned a lot.
     
  4. azenjoys

    azenjoys

    Messages:
    75
    Likes Received:
    59
    Exp:
    Line Cook Turned Professional Pastry Enthusiast
    When I make caramels flavored with liquor, liqueur, or housemade extract, I cook out the alcohol and evaporate most of the liquid ahead of time. To do this, I make a 173F water bath using my immersion circulator, float a thin/shallow stainless steel bowl in the bath, and then put my flavoring in the bowl. This gently cooks the alcohol off, and, depending how long you leave it going, evaporates off a lot of the water as well. I use this method instead of cooking the flavoring on the stove because it seems to more reliably preserve nuances in the flavoring, especially higher toned/fresher flavors.
     
  5. Patch

    Patch

    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    5
    Exp:
    Home cook
    Probably not insignificant either that this approach raises the temp of the extract to 173F. That's about 100F closer to boiling than it would be at room temp, meaning the residual heat in the candy syrup will have the capacity to boil off more of the water.

    I had read opinions that leaving the extract to evaporate would take a lot of the flavors along with the evaporating alcohol, but this water batch advice is clearly experience and not just speculation. I don't have an immersion water bath but I can maybe give it a try with a pot at a slow simmer.
     
  6. Patch

    Patch

    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    5
    Exp:
    Home cook
    I just finished making a batch of spearmint hard candy using the advice I got here. I made the spearmint extract using spearmint from my garden. It was my first try at spearmint extract and is a bit weaker than I'd like, requiring 2 Tbsp extract for 2 cups sugar plus 2/3 cup corn syrup. The last batch was a bit on the tacky side and readily softened in the mouth. It seemed a good test for my modified approach.

    Combining the advice from minas6907 and azenjoys, I started by putting the extract in a stainless condiment cup and floating it in some water that was just off the boil. I didn't expect this to evaporate off much of the water but figured bringing the extract to 180F or so would help with the evaporation once it was added to the hot candy syrup. For the candy I began with just sugar and water, adding the corn syrup after the sugar had come to a full boil. I covered the pot for five minutes but still had obvious crystallized sugar around the edge. So, minas6907, you've convinced me on the pastry brush. I left the sugar on med-high the entire time. Coloring was added at 275F. As the temperature gets above 300F there tend to be spikes in the reading, going to 312F, then dropping back to 305F. I waited until it appeared to be steadily above 315F before turning off the flame. The extract was added immediately. I stirred gently to mix. When the bubbling subsided I poured the candy into molds.

    The molds are still cooling but from sampling what was stuck on the spoon I would say I'm not quite where I'd like to be with the hardness but it's much improved over the last batch. It's just ever so slightly sticky and yielding when it starts to dissolve in the mouth. About the only thing I can think to do is to get the extract closer to the boiling point before adding it to the candy syrup. Given the concentration of this batch of extract I may just have to live with the candy being a tiny bit sticky. Overall, this is a major improvement. Thanks again for the great advice.

    When I make the next batch of spearmint extract this coming summer I'll pack a lot more spearmint in the jar and perhaps let it steep a while longer. I've also purchased some 190 proof grain alcohol to use with the extracts instead of 80 proof vodka. That should eliminate most of the water problem, though at the price of tripling my cost for making extracts.