Sunday, November 1, 2009

playing willy wonka

Today is Halloween, so in the spirit of a holiday that seems to celebrate corn syrup, I tried my hand at making candy. Both hands, actually.
Let me start from the beginning. After the farmers market today, where (sidenote) I picked up the most generous bouquet of curly endive I have seen this side of the border, I did errands around town: the bulk food store for oats and lentils, the bank, the grocer for milk, and about six other grocery/drug/jumbo-shopping-plazas in a fruitless search for old school molasses candies. Remember those? Wrapped in brown or orange wax paper with little black witches flying past moons or yellow-eyed jack-o-lanterns, have a pillowsack of trick or treating loot was inevitably those cheap candies. Most kids loathed them. I loved them. I still do, the way they stick to your teeth and really get your spit going, their almost salty, deeper than caramel flavour. I would trade chocolate bars for them years ago, and now, i wanted a whole bag to myself (and possibly the two kids that might knock on my door). No such luck--I would have to make my own.
But could I find a recipe. No. Apparently such candies have completely vanished off the face of the earth--though, in discussion with others, that is probably not possible, they were made to withstand the test of time and will probably, one day, be indicative of our species time here on earth when dug up by the next inhabitants. What I did have though, was a recipe for fleur de sel caramels, so I figured molasses would make a fine substitute for corn syrup and went on my way. I did the salted caramels first, to test the recipe. Well I should have tested my thermometer, because the caramel went black and it read only 180F when it was supposed to reach 248F when ready. I would have to start again (very determined at this point to have something uber sugary for halloween), but now I did not have enough cream to make those and the molasses candies. The closest dairy selling store is fifteen minutes from my house, and the cream was two days passed due. He let me open it though, and it smelled fine so I got it at half price, though about four times as much as I needed. Again at the stove, I was more careful with stirring and attentiveness to color, but had no idea what I was looking for without a temperature gage. So I flipped open the ever-knowledgeable Joy of Cooking and there it was "soft ball" stage and the like. If only I had known 2 cups of cream and one very scorched pan earlier. But they worked: melt in your mouth, wrap around your teeth, feel the cavities perfect, just as I remembered them. Complete with a fabulous Vegan dinner inspired by my friend Torrence and a clovey pumpkin beer, it turned out to be a pretty fabulous celebration of corn syrup after all.

Salted Molasses Candies
This is my twist on a recipe from Gourmet. I used less butter and more molasses, and cooked til the soft ball stage (drop some candy mixture into a cold glass of water, remove and squish with your fingers, if it forms a soft gummy ball, you are good to go). Though not as good as the original--where are those things...anyone have any left from their Halloweening days?

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 1/2 cups sugar (I used white, but I am thinking brown, or even demerrara would have been better)
1/3 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.
Bring cream, butter, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
Boil sugar,molasses, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, for three to five minutes. Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F (haha--or hits the soft ball stage as discussed) on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

For those few people who, like me, love those nasty little molasses chews, small drugstores still carry them--i by-chance called our local Winfield Paragon Pharmacy and sure enough they sell them, but they were sold out on the first day. I guess they are more popular than I thought--or there are alot of unhappy kit-kat-less children in this town.

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