Flavor update

May 19, 2011

We’ve been experimenting lately with some of the candy recipes we featured on the blog earlier, particularly the homemade pop rocks and marshmallows. One of the things that we wanted to try was to get some new and different flavors beyond the typical extracts found in the grocery and without the hassle of going to specialty food store.

For the pop rocks we came up with the idea of adding Kool-aid or a similar pre-mixed drink to the recipe at the point where you would add your coloring and extract (when you’re stirring everything together at the end). The nice part about kool-aid is that it already has the coloring included so you don’t have to worry about separate flavoring and coloring. Our favorite so far is the watermelon-cherry flavor which tastes a little like cotton candy when its incorporated into the candy.

The process of flavoring marshmallows is a little bit different. You do flavor them at the end, like the pop rocks, but by that time they’re not really a liquid anymore, so something like kool-aid wouldn’t dissolve. However, one of the base ingredients of marshmallow is gelatin. And you can buy pre-flavored and colored gelatin at the store very easily. It’s called Jello. For this first experiment I didn’t actually look at how much gelatin I needed before I went to the store, so I just bought a small box of jello. Turns out that a small box is only .3 oz, and you actually need an ounce of gelatin for marshmallows, so I had one part jello to three parts unflavored gelatin.

I made the marshmallows, exactly the same way, starting with the softened jello/gelatin mixture, combining it with the simple syrup, and whipping until I had marshmallow. They came out a nice soft pink color, not the vivid red that you associate with jello. The flavor is definitely there, although not as strong as it could be. I”ll have to make them again with a large box of jello and let you know how it goes.

Also, you may notice in the last picture, I was out of parchment paper, so I’m trying the marshmallows straight into a well-oiled baking dish. I’ll let you know if that was a time-saving step or a disaster a little later ;).

So there’s been a recipe going around on the internet that shows how to make your own pop rocks at home. As many of the commenters on the original recipe (found here) have noted this candy doesn’t really pop like actual pop rocks do. However, with that said, it does fizz pleasantly in your mouth (if you like that kind of thing), and we have made this not once, but twice since we first saw this recipe.

This recipe is basically a straight forward sugar-syrup based hard candy, with a few twists to make it fizzy.

To start with you need a few things that are a little out of the ordinary-the most important one being citric acid crystals. We found them at Whole Foods in the bulk spices and powders. You also need some kind of flavoring or extract that you want to make your pop rocks. Vanilla and almond are the ones that most people have laying around, but they aren’t that exciting. We’ve done orange both times, which you can usually find at your local grocery store. Our Kroger-affiliate where we usually shop also had banana, anise, brandy, black walnut, and lemon. If you want more traditional candy flavors (say strawberry), your best bet is probably a kitchen specialty store like Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table.

You also need a few things you probably have in your pantry: sugar, corn syrup, powdered sugar, and baking soda.

To start out you prep your candy landing zone with sprinkling of powdered sugar. You then cover those by sprinkling a liberal handful (~1/8 c) of citric acid crystals on a baking sheet.

Once your pan is ready, you start out by assembling the simple syrup with 2 c sugar and 1/3 c corn syrup. One difference between this syrup and the syrup for something like marshmallows is that this one contains just enough water to wet the sugar and actually make it a syrup. It really doesn’t take much. Also, if you’re a masochist, you can make a simple syrup from just sugar and water. However, adding the corn syrup makes it far less likely that your syrup will seize up into a hard, chunky, unappetizing sugar lump.

If you do seize a simple syrup try not to let it get to you. It’s probably the one problem we’ve had more than any other. Sugar can be touchy, and it naturally likes to form crystals, so when you make simple syrup you’re essentially making something behave against its own inclination. A few tricks to avoid seizing a syrup: 1. use corn syrup, even just a little bit, as its sugars have a different structure that make it much less likely to crystalize. 2. Once everything is dissolved and incorporated, stop stirring. Getting a little piece of sugar that crystalizes on a spoon or a whisk can set off a chain reaction and ruin your whole evening. Instead swirl the whole pot gently to help mix. 3. As your syrup cooks, brush down the sides periodically with a wet pastry brush. This helps stop small crystals from forming on the sides of your pot, and any small amount of water you add to the syrup will cook off.

For this recipe, we’re going to cook our syrup to 305 degrees. If you’re going to make candy, get yourself a reliable candy thermometer, because for some things the difference between great and a total failure is only a few degrees.

We really like the kind in the picture because the metal holder keeps your thermometer from sitting on the bottom of the pot and telling you the temperature of the pot rather than what you’re cooking. The holder also gives the manufacturer a place to print the number in a large font so you’re not squinting at tiny little numbers trying to determine exact temperatures.

Once your syrup is cooked, take it off the heat and let it cool 25 degrees or so. At this point, you’re going to stir in a teaspoon of baking soda, your coloring if you want colored candy, and your flavoring. Make sure everything else is ready to go before this point because everything’s going to move really fast from this point forward.

You will instantly notice that your syrup starts to make a kind of sizzling noise and starts turning opaque (and colored, if you add coloring). Also notice that we are using a disposable instrument here-in this case chopsticks that we got with chinese takeout. It is possible to get hardened sugar off your kitchen utensils, but not a lot of fun. Stir until everything’s fully mixed together, but not set. You have a little time, but not to run errands or get your camera at this point. Then take your mixture and pour it onto your prepped cookie sheet. 

As long as you haven’t stirred too long, you should be able to make a puddle. If your candy is starting to harden, you might get lumps more than the nice puddle seen in the picture, but that shouldn’t effect your final product.  Now take another small handful of citric acid crystals and sprinkle on top of the candy. Just a note-citric acid tastes sour, so show some restraint unless you really like sour things. You want enough citric acid to cause your fizzy reaction, but not so much you’re turning your taste buds inside out.

Once your candy cools and hardens you’re at the fun part: the smashing!

Put your candy into a plastic bag to contain your mess and smash it into bite sized pieces using a blunt object. Don’t go too crazy, it’s nicer to have pieces of candy to eat than just powder.

When you’re done, store your candy in an air-tight container. It doesn’t like moisture, and won’t keep well in very moist environments.

The verdict at our house: yum!