Adventures in Candyland

Alternate title: Even melting sugar, I suck at soft ball.

Every year at Christmas, we exchange gifts not only with our family but with the friends with whom we do most of our non-family hanging out. The wife of said friends is rather hard to shop for. She likes LSU (ok, likes is a bit of an understatement, "rabid fan" might be more accurate) - but she also could probably parade around swathed in purple and gold for a month straight with no repeats. She likes to read, but I don't really know what she has and hasn't read, plus, I kind of save books or book gift cards for her birthday. It just seems tacky to do that twice a year. So every year, I ask her husband what she'd like. And the past several years he has told me cookies.

See, she really likes one particular type of cookie I make. And while I love making them and they are a good gift (I sometimes snarkily call them my $40 cookies because by the time you add up all the special stuff you need for them, that's about your grocery bill), I always feel a bit weird just giving her cookies when they've gone out and gotten me something. Regardless, I've stopped fighting it, so cookies it is.

Except that I wanted to do something in addition the cookies this year, which led my little ears to perking up when she mentioned in passing that she missed both pralines and divinity. Apparently we Yankees don't do them correctly. This sent me off to the Internet to find recipes for same and, after a brief consultation with her husband, I was in the candy making business. (I don't actually think she reads my blog...but hey, Catherine, if you're reading this, SURPRISE! And yeah, that means the jeans with "Sexy" bedazzled across the rear that we discussed aren't happening this year. There's always your birthday.)

I don't actually know that I've ever made candy before. My mother says we did when we were little, and I believe her, but I have no recollection of this event. That said, I doubt my sister and I were particularly involved in the boiling sugar part of the show anyway. So, armed with instructions from the Internet, a candy thermometer, and my best imitation of Polly Anna, I set out to make pralines.

May I just ask how long normal people's sugar takes to get to 235 (soft ball stage)? Cause mine sat there and boiled. And it boiled. And it boiled. And my trusty (brand new!) thermometer never made it above 210. So I cranked up the heat and it boiled. And boiled some more. And then I started noticing that it was turning back into crystals. Because apparently I boiled all the liquid out. I added in some warm water, stirred, dumped in nuts and vanilla and gave it a go. The verdict was that they tasted right but the texture was very granular. (Gee, go figure.)

So, that batch of pralines was divvied up to various folks and I gave it another shot (fully intending to switch recipes, but Tim went to multiple stores and was unable to find dark corn syrup). This time, the sugar actually appeared to hit soft ball stage - but it was closer to 220 than 235. (I went ahead and obsessively did the cold water test, wherein you drop the boiling sugar into cold water. If it forms a ball that after being fished out is squishable, you have soft ball sugar.) So I crossed my fingers and finished the batch. These are...different. The taste is the same and the texture is different, but it occurred to me that I don't actually think I know how they're supposed to be. At this point though, they're what she's getting, cause I'm running low on pecans.

The next thing up was divinity. About half way through this, I realized that it's probably not smart to make candy when you have no idea what it's supposed to look/taste/feel like. But oh well, what can you do? The joy of divinity is that you not only get to take the sugar to soft ball, but you get to keep going to hard ball (in or around 250 degrees.) Yay. More obsessive water testing later and I had a frothy white concoction that I am calling divinity. I don't know if it's what it's supposed to be, but, well, it tastes good.

Maybe it's not too late to find a bedazzler though, just in case.


Lynellen said...

Yeah, the words "Tim" and "find" shouldnt go in a sentence unless its "Tim can't find" something. Duh. Walk into store, hold out hands. Nope, the dark corn syrup didn't fall into them, so next store.

Rodmonster said...

And see there - in the end you got them all right and they all rock!