Oct 23, 2013

Don't Fear the Candy: Turning Candy Corn from Trick to Treat

My fall "decorative" table.  Pumpkin, apples, and homemade candy corn!
It's getting close to the end of October, and we all know what that means, Halloween! Costumes, candy, apples, pumpkins, colorful leaves (and in my case a silver tabby who decides that it's cold enough to be a constant lap cat); it's a holiday almost made for creativity. As a kid I always made my Halloween costumes. And no, you don't get to see any pictures of those.  To the best of my knowledge, none exist. But between my sister and I we did have some great ones.  Spider, skunk, coke machine, some monster type creature that sprung fully formed like Athena out of the random depths of my young mind... All I remember was that it was purple and green, and I got to use these rubber monster gloves with fur on the back of the hand.  Yes, I was an odd child. Not really a surprise.

You should always be prepared for the challenges of your costume.
Over the past several years I've really lacked costume inspiration. My attempt to rock the classic "Charlie Brown" style sheet with eyes in it as a ghost led to an unfortunate incident where a group of people questioned if I was supposed to be KKK. And I am currently less than a week out from a Halloween party and still haven't even decided on a costume.

Where I have found inspiration, however, is with the Halloween candy. One of the great things about October is that it is usually cool and dry enough to make candy making a good idea. I have decided that, even if you're not the type who wants to try making candy, everyone should have the chance to eat the "real" version of candy types, just to understand the comparison.  The use of preservatives, cheaper ingredients, modified production methods and such do make candy available to a wider market, but at a price.  And that price is usually either flavor or texture.  There is absolutely no comparison between homemade marshmallows and the kind that you get for $1 a bag (although if I'm going camping, I would probably still just grab the bag of them for s'mores).

To that extent, I know lots of people who really hate candy corn.  It tends to fall squarely into the "why would people eat that?!" category, and can be considered sugared wax. To those folks, I would definitely recommend trying the real thing.  And, while I am not one of those people, it is exactly what I decided to do (and I'm really glad that I did).

As this is the first time I was attempting to make something, I turned to Alton Brown.  Because while the flavors of his recipes often require a bit of tweaking, the technique is usually spot on. So the link to the recipe is here. The basic idea is to mix powdered sugar, powdered milk, and salt thoroughly (no lumps!); make a syrup with corn syrup, granulated sugar, water, and butter (bring it to the softball stage); combine the two along with a little vanilla; cool, color, and shape.  The only special equipment that you would need is a candy thermometer. That really doesn't sound so hard, does it?

Here are the three colors of dough for the candy corn.
Here you see the dough after it has been cooled, separated and colored (sorry, it's hard to take pictures while carefully managing temperatures of a syrup.  I'd really rather not get a sticky 230 degree substance on myself, or my camera). Yes, you also see the first run of candy corn I made, before I was planning on making this a post.  I just didn't take any pictures during the first go round. I guess that just means I have more to eat.  Oh horrors...

To create the corns, roll the dough into thin ropes, and lay out three ropes.  One white, one yellow, and one orange.  Squeeze the colors together so that there is just one long tri-colored strip.
white white white white white white white white white white white white white white white
yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow 
orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange 
Cut the strip into triangles kind of like this, using either a knife, a pizza cutter, or a bench scraper:
Unlike with the storebought candy corn, you will end up with half of it with a white point, and half with an orange point. After the candy corn is cut, if you feel the need you can smooth out any rough side edges.  It acts just like edible clay and if you want to make other shapes, it would be easy to do so.  I have some thoughts that I want to play with, to add to my "geek candies" The last step is to lay them out for a little bit to dry, just so that they don't get all smushed.

Completed candy corn, set out to dry
And one of the advantages of being the one to make it? You can snack on all the rough edges or ugly pieces!

The taste is really a lot better, and it is not waxy at all.  I assume that in the store bought stuff, there is actually wax.  Does this take a lot more time than just buying it?  Of course. Is it worth it?  That's up to you.  Personally, I've been developing the perspective that if I'm going to eat something that's not that healthy for me, I'd rather have it be the highest quality possible (unless I'm specifically craving junk.  I have not yet undertaken making my own devil dogs, hmmm...).

A note about doing this with kids. Once the dough has cooled enough to color and handle, assembling the candy corn is something that I think that kids could help with (of course, be completely honest with yourself about the kids that you are working with. I have some adult friends that I may not trust making candy corn, let alone children.).  As far as the first steps go, however, please remember that making candy has the potential for serious burns, and should not be done with young children.

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