Making a variety of hard candies at home requires only a few basic kitchen utensils, some simple ingredients available at your supermarket or craft store, and some time and attention. Whether butterscotch pieces, or fruit lollipops, peanut brittle or peppermint drops, the cooking process is similar and relatively straightforward.
When preparing to make hard candy, some basic kitchen utensils are required. These include a large stainless steel cooking pot, a wooden spoon, a large metal baking tray and clean gloves. Most important is a candy thermometer, which is used to measure temperature of the ingredients as they cook until the mixture reaches just the right temperature where the candy will harden properly.
The primary ingredients in a candy are nearly equal amounts of white sugar and corn syrup. Other ingredients can contribute flavor to the candy and include traditional flavorings, such as butter, vanilla, almond or maple, various fruit flavorings, or essential oils, such as spearmint or peppermint. Cream of tartar is used in making hard candy and helps to prevent crystallization of sugar. Citric acid is typically added with fruit flavorings to provide tartness. Food coloring also can be added to hard candy to make it more visually appealing.
To make hard candy, the cook first combines equal amounts of corn syrup and sugar. This mixture heats to dissolve the sugar completely. During the cooking process, the cook constantly stirs the candy to prevent it from scorching. The mixture is heated to around 300 degrees F. This is known as the hard crack stage, where a small amount of the hot liquid dropped into cold water will form a hard and brittle piece of candy. Once the candy reaches this temperature, the cook removes it from the heat. While the candy is still in its molten state, the cream of tartar, flavorings and colorings are quickly added.
When all the ingredients are completely combined, the candy is ready for shaping and packaging. The molten liquid candy can be used to make lollipops by pouring it into lollipop molds and inserting paper sticks. The cook can pour the candy into other special molds. As the candy cools and hardens, it takes the shape of the mold. If the candy is poured out onto the baking sheet and allowed to cool until warm, the cook can shape the candy into long ropes to make candy canes or the cook can cut the ropes into smaller, bite-sized pieces, which harden further as they cool. The candy can be allowed to cool completely and broken into small irregular pieces.