Candy! Oh, the Candy!

Josie Leavitt -- April 15th, 2011

We’ve been having a lot of events lately, and last night was one of my favorites: Gesine Bullock-Prado came to the store to promote her newest book, Sugarbaby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar. I like to cook, but as many home cooks have discovered, there is a fear to working with sugar, because it always seems so hard, and so easy to mess up.

“Never apologize when you work with sugar.” Gesine’s sage advice resonated with all the attendees. There is something liberating about being told it’s okay to make mistakes. Gesine’s demo was full of humor and fact. She’s very funny and her presentation was peppered with many laugh-out-loud moments.  I learned there’s a huge difference between sugar at 247 degrees and at 250 degrees. On the left are some of the tools of the trade. A marble slab, orange flavor, glycerine, and baking soda; and just to the right is the induction stovetop that works magnetically. It was all magic. Heating sugar turned into a glob on the marble that Gesine slowly worked to cool it so it could be turned slowly into orange taffy. First she cooled it, then added some flavoring and color. When it was cool enough, participants donned gloves with a spray of Pam and twisted the taffy. We watched, transfixed as it changed color and texture. Gesine spoke about mouth feel and how caramel is different than taffy because of the glycerine that’s barely added to the sugar. When all the pulling was done, and the taffy was properly aerated, we could have some. Shyly at first, people sampled the taffy. And it was so good.  Smooth, flavorful and just delicious. I confess, I used the ruse of needing to get a better picture to help myself to another piece. Shameless, I know, but totally worth it.

The tips were abundant: Don’t spend $200 on a sugar spinner, take a whisk and break the metal apart so you’ve got tines. Just as effective and far cheaper. A lot of sugar recipes need an interfering agent. The way Gesine describes it sugar-making is a rebellion. The sugar wants to do its own thing which usually involves sticking to the sides of the pot, the interfering agent shakes things up and changes the sugar. It’s all fascinating and yummy. When the sugar reached 240 degrees, the room was filled with the lovely smell of homemade candy.

As if the taffy weren’t enough, then she made spun sugar, sort of grown-up cotton candy. Lovely delicate strands of sugar that fall on the table and then gathered into a nest-like shape. Hard to photograph the strands, but the technique is really fun to watch. You take the modified whisk and dip in the sugar and then you sweep it across the workspace. Really, it’s so simple. Even the young candy-makers had no problem mastering the technique. The sugar nests were gorgeous and each a different color because of temperature differences. As the sugar hardened the strands got thicker and less delicate, but they were still show pieces.

Events that are hands-on are delightful. Events where the author leaves behind a massive roll of orange taffy are, well, bliss.

3 thoughts on “Candy! Oh, the Candy!

  1. Josie Leavitt Post author

    Gesine did not leave the recipes behind, but they’re all in the book, Sugarbaby, which has lots of great recipes and ideas for working with sugar and making confections.

  2. Vicki

    So fun! Did she leave recipes behind for the taffy and spun sugar? Would love you to post them!
    A friend from college hosted a taffy pull every holiday season. It was a great mixer event, as you ended up working with people you might not know well, and you got to make candy to boot!

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