I absolutely adore the title of this new book by Anita Chu, “Field Guide to Candy.” I can’t help but picture someone with the binoculars out, spying on a marzipan pear perched on a tree branch. Or a herd of gum drops slowly making their way across an empty field. Or a school of Swedish fish flitting in clear waters.
OK, so I spent way too much time as a kid flipping through the Audubon guides to plants, trees, birds and insects. Candy is oh-so-much tastier than insects, so flipping through this field guide to candy is even more delightful. And it’s out just in time, folks. Because what better time of year for accurately identifying and making candy than the holiday season?
I know I’m probably freaking out those of you who hate any mention of Christmas before Halloween. Or before Thanksgiving, for that matter. I’m usually like that myself, but I just can’t help but get excited about the cooking possibilities. Just the other night I read “About fudge” in “Joy of Cooking.” Getting my mind in the right place.
I want to share a recipe from “Field Guide to Candy,” but since it is a little early for winter holiday ideas, how about a recipe that’ll be perfect for fall: candy apples! I know my co-worker and author of the Happy Wag blog, Nona Nelson, will appreciate this one. She was just craving candy apples the other day.
Chu offers up some great tips about candy making in this book. I’m not very adept at candy making, so I may invest in a candy thermometer. But she says if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use the old-fashioned “cold water method,” which involves dropping a drop of your hot sugar syrup into a bowl of cold water. What happens next determines the stage of your candy. Read on:
* Thread stage: If it drips from the spoon and turns to threads in water, it is 223-234 degrees Fahrenheit.
* Soft ball stage: Forms into a ball in cold water but loses shape when taken out, 235-240 degrees.
* Firm ball: Forms a ball in water and stays that way when taken out, but can be pressed flat, 245-250 degrees.
* Hard ball: Forms into a ball and stays a ball when removed; keeps shape when pressed but feels sticky, 250-264.
* Soft crack: Sugar forms long threads in water; they are stretchy and sticky when taken out, 270-290.
* Hard crack: Forms long threads in water; they are hard and brittle when taken out, 298-310.
Candy apples must be cooked to the hard crack stage (see above). So the syrup will be atomically hot. Be careful. Kids need supervision.
12 craft sticks or skewers
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 drop cinnamon oil
Few drops of red food coloring, if desired
1. Wash the apples and remove the stems. Insert a wooden craft stick or skewer about 2 inches into the core of each apple.
2. Line several baking sheets with wax paper or silicone baking mats.
3. Combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until mixture reaches 300 degrees, or hard crack stage. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in cinnamon oil and red food coloring.
4. Dip apples, one at a time, into the syrup. Roll in toppings if desired (such as chopped nuts or candy). Place on the baking sheets to firm up before serving. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Source for candy guide and recipe: “Field Guide to Candy” by Anita Chu.