May 5th, 2009

June 2007

Well, it’s June, and summer is officially here! Warm days mean one thing at Magothy Treats: it’s time for taffy!

Up until her accident last year, my grandmother still spoke about childhood summers in rented cottages on the Bay Byway, and how she and her sisters always rated their favorite homes away from home based on how far the walk was to the soda shop. That, and whether or not the local lifeguard appeared to have a whorey girlfriend.

Well, the soda fountain no longer stands where Granny insists it was, right about at Milepost Five, but it lives in her memory, along with the famous saltwater taffy the owner’s wife made fresh every day, twisted up in little squares of pink waxpaper. I spent a long time working on the recipes we use here, because I knew they needed to meet Granny’s exacting standards. And they needed to be chewy enough to work her dentures loose, because that’s my favorite thing about her visits.  My favorites are simple taffy variations made with the flavored sugars I whip up at Magothy Treats. They’re very subtle, but since you chew them a long time, you get the flavor in the end.  The recipes below are not so subtle, but are customer favorites every single year.

Taffy-making is not for the impatient, but it does have a certain comfort factor, a touch of zen-in-a-pot. Here’s why:

The sugar mixture can take a long time to reach its appropriate stage. You can do nothing to speed the creep of the thermometer needle, because turning the heat up too high will make the sugar boil over, and you have to wash down the sides of the pan to keep seed crystals from forming, so you can’t really walk away.  You must be patient, even if you think it’ll kill you; if you turn up the heat or walk away for too long, the sugar will pass the soft-crack stage and move to the hard-crack, and then all you’ll have to look forward to is smashing the brittle result into pieces and hoping you can convince someone it’s a strange, nutless brittle. Then there’s the pulling. It’s both an upper-body workout and a mindless, meditative exercise.

Also, good quality ingredients are important here. Trust me and don’t skimp on your extracts or your cocoas, or all the time and energy you spend stirring, watching, pulling, cutting, de-sticking your fingers will result in candy that tastes like you got it at a gas station, and which you might just as well use for attaching posters to your walls.

Although these recipes work equally well for that.

Equipment you’ll need for all these variations:

a medium saucepan (I like copper because it heats up fast, reacts quickly when you adjust the heat, and helps the sugar to keep from re-crystallizing once it’s melted, but really any saucepan will do as long as it has plenty of space for the sugar syrup to double in volume during boiling.)

candy thermometer (although as I’ll discuss below, I don’t fully trust mine and think it’s safest to second-guess it early and often)

wooden spoon

pastry brush

a prepared greased baking tray (baking spray works wonders during taffy making, and please do consider using a half-sheet pan with raised edges just in case)

Almond-Rose Taffy

I make this for weddings sometimes. Then I go home and cry into my teacup. Then I put some brandy in my teacup and I feel better.

You can add 1/2 tsp luster dust or a few drops of food coloring to this one if you want to make it even more cutesy.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/8 cup rosewater

3/8 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp almond extract

*Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Add the rosewater, water, salt, and butter and set over medium heat.

*Stir continuously until mixture boils, then leave to boil untouched until it measures 250-270 degrees or reaches the soft crack stage. (See hints below for more on this.) Wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush and warm water to keep sugar from building up on sides.

*Remove from heat, stir in extract, and pour onto prepared pan.

*When cool, butter or spray hands with nonstick spray and stretch taffy until it lightens and takes on a pearly sheen. This should take 10-15 minutes.

*Draw taffy into a rope and cut into 1″ pieces. Scissors work well for this. Wrap each piece in wax paper.

Honey-Liqueur Taffy

I discovered this recipe when I was forced to hide a glass of bourbon quickly.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup honey

3/4 cup honey liqueur

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

Follow the recipe above (minus the extract step). This is a smaller batch, so watch the heat and pan size.

Velvet-Chocolate Taffy

This produces a sticky, chewy, fudgy taffy that’s best kept in the fridge on hot or humid days. I make it for a picky kid who says it tastes like brownies.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

4 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

Mix cocoa in with sugar and cornstarch, then follow top recipe. Make sure to break up any clumps of cocoa. Watch the heat carefully on this one, and wash the sides of the pan down often. This taffy needs some extra pulling; pull until the taffy really resists, or it won’t hold its shape once you cut it into pieces.

Things I Learned From Painful Trial and Error:

I don’t trust my thermometer. Maybe it’s been broken since the day I got it. Maybe it really reads centigrade and I never noticed. I use the thermometer for reference, but instead watch for the sugar mixture to reach the appropriate stage myself and follow the advice of my doctor: test early and often. To test for the soft crack stage, watch for the bubbles to get small, thick and dense at the top of the mixture. Then drop a bit of it into cold water; the drops should form strands that are flexible, not brittle.

When pulling the taffy, be persistent, and try to hold out for ten minutes even if it starts looking like it’s reached it’s final state before then. Stretching aerates the taffy and makes it chewier, so underdoing it makes for harder candy. All of these recipes double perfectly, but this batch size is small enough to pull comfortably without assistance.

On the subject of pulling, try to grease your hands just once when you start , otherwise the butter or spray will keep the ropes of taffy you pull apart from sticking back together and you’ll wind up with a million strands it’ll take forever to work back together again. The good news is, you can work them back together, but it’ll annoy the hell out of you and you’ll wish you listened to me in the first place.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 at 11:15 pm and is filed under Recipes, Sweets. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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