Mint Hard Candy (2022)
Making hard candy in small batches is not only possible, but delicious!
Much of the technique described here I learned from a YouTube channel called Day Game Candy.
The recipe is very simple, a 7:2:4 ratio of three ingredients:
- 840 g sugar
- 240 g water
- 480 g corn syrup
Combine in a 4 quart saucepan and over medium heat bring the mixture to 305°F. At that point, remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add 3/4 tsp of mint oil (peppermint, spearmint, or wintergreen) and stir to combine. Add food coloring now, or pour into puddles and stir the color in later.
When you add the oil to the hot sugar mixture, it will boil and vaporize a bit. You'll experience a brief but intense burst of mint flavor overwhelming your olfactory senses. There are two interesting side effects here: one, you'll become numb to the smell of mint that has permeated your kitchen. Two, and less expected, you'll become unable to taste that mint flavor for a while.
I didn't know this the first batch I made. I sampled the completed candy and it had no peppermint flavor at all, it just tasted like plain sugar. I subsequently made another batch, increasing the peppermint oil from 3/4 to a full teaspoon. The finished candy tasted mildly of peppermint. It wasn't until the next day I realized it was my disrupted sense of smell and taste that had made the first batch seem so bland. It was actually the right balance, and the second batch was overwhelmingly peppermint-flavored! I named this one "extra peppermint".
I picked up this giant 2' by 3' silicone mat which perfectly covered my counter and provided a great heat-resistant work surface. On the side, I set up my PID controlled heating pad underneath an aluminum frying pan to use as a holding area (at around 170°F or so). With such a small batch size, the candy cools down and becomes brittle very quickly if you don't keep it warm.
The candy has to stay very hot in order to pull and shape it. I wore tight-fitting leather gloves with nitrile gloves on top, which provided enough insulation to avoid burning my hands. However, they still heat up quite a bit!
After pouring the mixture onto the mat, it seemingly glues itself down. But once it cools to a certain temperature, it will cleanly release from the mat. At that point, you can start the pulling process. This stretching action adds tiny air bubbles which turn the candy opaque. With each pull, it turns successively from clear yellow to a solid white. You can add titanium dioxide for a brighter white, but I was happy with the color and didn't bother.
Pulling not only aerates the candy, it also cools it down. I needed to keep warming the candy back up with a heat gun when the outside became hard. It needs just enough heat to make it tacky again. It will stick to itself, but not to the silicone mat.
When all the desired colored pieces are ready, they can be combined and rolled into a log. I called it the candy salami.
Once the candy salami is ready, you begin pulling one end into a narrower rope. The inside and outside layers of the candy will stretch uniformly, miniaturizing the design. A skilled candy artisan can combine a bunch of different colored shapes into artwork that will become miniaturized in the final product. This is called image candy. Lofty Pursuits has one of the best YouTube channels demonstrating this process.
To keep it simple, I cut individual pillow-shaped pieces with a dough scraper. At this point, the pieces only need a minute or so to cool and harden. Voila!
A final note about the flavors. I used three different mint oils from LorAnn Oils: peppermint, spearmint, and wintergreen. The wintergreen came in a bottle with a child-safe cap, which led me to learn a few things about wintergreen oil:
- It comes from a shrub, so it's technically not a mint.
- The primary constituent is methyl salicylate which has the same effect as aspirin when ingested. This explains why it had a safety cap; a sip from the bottle could be fatal. In the small quantities used in candy, it's essentially harmless. Just don't eat five pounds of candy in one sitting!
- It's one of the primary flavors in root beer. For a sort of gustatory illusion, taste some root beer and think of it as mint flavored. Or taste a wintergreen mint, and think of it as root beer flavored. It was surprising to me, at least!