Old fashioned hard tack candy is a holiday family favorite. The vibrant flavors and marvelous colors delight any age and makes a perfect hostess gift!
I always know that Christmas is drawing near when my sister Marcey gets into old fashioned hard tack candy mode.
She is an old fashioned hard tack candy making guru.
For as long as I can remember in the weeks leading up to Christmas, she has been like a mad scientist in her kitchen whirling around clanking cookie sheets, gathering dozens of tiny glass viles filed with a plethora of scented oils and flavorings. There are pounds of sugar, bottles of corn syrup and did I mention hammers and screw drivers?
Yes, I said hammers and screw drivers.
This year we decided to make it a family affair. My mom, my girls and I got together for a hard tack candy making extravaganza. I am now armed with pounds of colorful, brilliantly flavored candy that I have divided into sweet little Ball glass jelly jars to give as Christmas treats and hostess gifts. Thought you might like to do the same.
Here’s the skinny on how we like to make it.
You’ll need food coloring and scented vials (or drams) of oils and flavorings.
You can find them in your baking isle (some stores still keep them in the pharmacy like they did in the old fashioned days).
I just love these little vials. Aren’t they sweet?
My sister hoards them like they’re going out of style.
O.k. she shares them but she collects them all year round to insure that she’ll have enough of her favorite flavors.
There are two different types of candy & baking flavorings. There are *oils* and there are *flavorings*. We have found that you’ll need 2 of the flavoring vials and 1 of the oil vials in each batch. (With the exception of lemon…you’ll want to use 2 lemon oil vials to ensure the proper lemon-y tongue tantalizing zing).
Once you’ve got all of your flavorings and colorings in a row you’re ready to make your first batch! Remember how I mentioned my sister being a mad scientist? While I jest…it isn’t too far from the truth. Making this candy IS a science. Which to be honest makes me break out into a cold sweat. So I’ve kidnapped my sister and all of her years-of-candy-making-trial-and-error-wisdom to help me write this post.
Grab a saucepan, a wooden spoon (not a plastic spoon) and set the stove to medium heat.
You’ll begin by pouring sugar,
light corn syrup,
and water into a pan. Next attach your candy thermometer to the side of the pan and make sure that it isn’t touching the bottom.
Stir constantly until all of the sugar has dissolved. Takes about 15 minutes so make sure you’re fully caffeinated before you begin.
Once sugar is completely dissolved set your spoon down and let the heat take over.
Allow mixture to come to a boil. It should look like this…
A happy rolling boil.
Watch the candy thermometer as the mixture continues to boil,
until it reaches 260°.
Then the excitement begins! Time to add some color and pizzaz.
Add one teaspoon of food coloring to the boiling pot.
Again, don’t mix with a spoon.
Let the boiling do the mixing.
Now you’ll want to pay very close attention to the temperature.
The minute you see it reach 300° it’s time to take it off the heat, (some people test the candy mixture consistency in cold water to see if it’s ready but we just go by the candy thermometer).
Now grab the flavoring or oil that you want the candy to taste like. My girls wanted to confuse the taste buds of our recipients so they mixed up the color/flavor combinations. (Yes, our lemon flavor was red).
Allow the mixture to stop boiling before adding the flavoring. Note: My sister has learned that it is imperative at this point in time to carry the pot outside before adding the flavoring to the candy mixture because it will smoke profusely (and smell divine) but be careful not to inhale the vapors. Back in college my sister’s dear friend and candy making cohort went into a full blown asthma attack AND they set off the smoke alarm. Not exactly the way they wanted to spend the day. *Hi Amy!*
Once outside add the flavoring and stir.
Isn’t that purdy?
It’s a good idea to divide and conquer while making this sweet treat. Time is everything and remember it’s a science.
While someone is mixing in the flavoring, if possible, have someone else spray the pans with cooking spray or spray them yourself beforehand so that they are ready to go. You don’t want the candy to harden in the pot.
My sister uses non-stick pots and pans for her candy making and she has found that 9 x12 cake pans work the best.
Note: You may want to use old pots and pans or buy some inexpensive ones because they do take a beating.
So quickly pour the mixture into the cake pans.
Dividing the batch into 2 cake pans insures the right thickness for your candy-eating-enjoyment.
Let the candy sit until it is completely cool on the counter top (not the fridge), to ensure that you will get a hard crack not a sticky crack.
This is where the hammer and screwdriver come in. One of my sister’s expert tips – THIS is the very best candy breaking technique and it’s FUN TOO!
Grab a clean screw driver and hammer. Take the pans of candy back outside, (trust me on this) and place the screw driver in the center of a pan…
Give it a whack!
This is very therapeutic and gratifying. Feel free to wear safety goggles for the full mad-scientist effect. Just a thought.
Continue whacking until you’ve got as many pieces as you see fit.
You will have a few flying pieces but it’s worth it.
You may need to take a little break from time to time and do a little bonding.
Nana and her granddaughters. *sniff*
Check out this gorgeous sheet of molten sugar.
Is that nifty or what?
Don’t these look like little emeralds? Seriously. I may just have to make some jewelry out of them…
but I’ll have to remember not to wear them when it’s raining.
So the next step is the cerimonial coating of the candy with powdered sugar Once again my sister has a very specific technique for this.
Grab a gallon plastic bag that zips. Vedy important. Zips and stays zipped. Write the flavor of the candy on the bag. Especially if you’ve mixed up the flavor to color combination.
Sprinkle in a heaping tablespoon, no more than a heaping tablespoon, of powdered sugar.
Then pour the broken pieces of candy into the bag.
Make sure to leave the teenie tiny pieces behind. They get sticky and messy and almost sandlike. Totally takes away from the beauty of the candy and its magical glass-like effect.
I’m sure that Chihuly would agree.
Gently roll the bag around with the bag zipped,
until you’ve got an even coating of powdered sugar on all of the pieces.
Don’t you just want to reach in and grab a handful?
Can you guess what flavor this is?
Cinnamon! HA! And it’s SO YUMMY!
I must admit that this candy making business is really enjoyable once you know what you’re doing. The flavors burst, the colors are gorgeous and it really is some great old fashioned fun.
Hope you give it a try.
Wishing you and yours a Christmas full of sweet memories!