The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was homemade.
My children had been asking me recently about saltwater taffy, wanting to know what it was. I decided we should try to make some homemade taffy and have a taffy pull!
Well, as the title of my post suggests, this was not a tremendous success, but I am not giving up! I think I know what went wrong and am planning on trying again one of these days, so stay tuned for the post: “Taffy Part 2 – Perfect Taffy!”
I found a basic taffy recipe here, at this wonderful website: Science of Cooking. The recipe is under the category, Science of Candy.
The ingredients are sugar, cornstarch, butter, salt, light corn syrup, water, and optionally: flavoring (we used vanilla extract) and food coloring. The recipe also gives the option of adding glycerin which will make it softer and creamier, but we left that out.
First we mixed together the sugar and cornstarch.
Next we stirred in the corn syrup, water, salt, and butter.
The whole mixture goes on medium heat. Constant stirring is required until the sugar dissolves, then continue stirring until the mixture boils. This step takes a while and the children grew a bit impatient, but from previous candy making experience, I know it is important to leave it on medium heat and not “cheat” by raising the temperature of the stove to hurry things along.
Once it boils, add a candy thermometer and stop stirring.
Why must you stop stirring? Here’s part of the science of this process:
“At this point, you have dissolved the crystal structure of the sugar. Stirring or other agitation is one of the many factors that can encourage the fructose and glucose molecules in your syrup to rejoin and form sucrose—crystals of table sugar.”
While the mixture boils, it is important to wash down the sides of the pan with warm water and a pastry brush. This prevents any crystallization on the side of the pan from falling back into the mixture and becoming a seed crystal which could also cause unwanted recrystallization of the sugar mixture.
OUR ERROR NUMBER 1: On the first attempt we forgot to wash down the sides of the pan which probably contributed to our rock hard result!
The recipe says to allow the mixture to heat to a temperature of 270 degrees Farenheit (the “soft-crack” stage). At this point you will notice that the bubbles are smaller, thicker and closer together. Here is what it looks like:
At this point quickly stir in your flavor and color should you choose to add any, then dump the very hot liquid onto a greased cookie sheet, or marble slab. I just buttered our granite countertop and that worked nicely. Warn the children that it is VERY HOT.
Have the children butter their hands (they loved this step), and when it is cool enough to handle, begin the pulling process. Have the children stretch it between them (warning – DO NOT DO THIS ABOVE A DOG. Our dog jumped up and bit some off!).
Once it is stretched, then they should fold it in half (like folding a sheet), turn it and stretch again.
Here is where it all began to go wrong for us on our second taffy attempt. Normally the taffy should become harder and harder to pull, but keep on going until it is “light in color and has a satiny gloss” (about 10 to 20 minutes according to the recipe). Ours got stiff and nearly rock hard in less than 5 minutes.
RESULT NUMBER 1 – An interesting geological specimen:
RESULT NUMBER 2 – A little softer, but still capable of killing an intruder with a single blow:
Oh well. At least it tasted good (like butterscotch!).
Here is where I’ll stop my narrative since we got no farther. The recipe continues on to explain how to cut it into pieces and wrap it (we would have needed a power saw).
OUR ERROR NUMBER 2: On the first try, we heated to 270 degrees, but it took me a minute or two to get the food coloring and flavor in there, so it might have gone a bit above (the temperature rises very quickly when it gets that hot). Result: Rock hard lump, like a giant hard candy rock!
On the second try, I only heated to 260 degrees and worked much more quickly with the color and flavor. Result: Pliable at first (we thought it was going to work), but as the kids pulled, it got harder and harder until it was unworkable and was only slightly softer than the first try – still a hard lump.
My realization: We live at an elevation of about 8,000 feet above sea level. I had not taken this into consideration when determining the temperature at which to stop the cooking! In order to avoid over-cooking, we probably need to heat to only about 240 degrees.
WHAT WE LEARNED: Altitude affects cooking time because water boils at a lower temperature here than it does at sea level (due to lower air pressure up high). Pasta always takes about 3 minutes longer to cook here than the maximum time given on the box. The candy was boiling earlier (at a lower temperature) so it boiled much longer than it should have by the time it reached 270 degrees. The molecular change was farther advanced at that temperature than it would have been at sea level, making for harder candy (more like “hard-crack”). Any other high altitude cooks out there might be interested in this link that I discovered about adjusting candy temperatures for altitude: Candy Making Tips (scroll down to the very last paragraph for the high-altitude conversion).
As I said before, I want to try this again and I think we’ll have better luck. I’ll be sure to post a photo of our “perfect taffy!”
Did you do a homemade Unplugged Project this week? If so, then please put a link to your post in the Mr. Linky below. You had also better leave one in a comment too, since Mr. Linky has been acting up lately. If you did not do a homemade project, then please do not link, but read more here about how to join in. We’d love to have you!
Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be: