The Trick to Treats

The Kitchen

GUEST: Elton, Nephew
            Alton, Uncle

ELTON: [walks into the room wearing a carrot costume and carrying a bucket of
What do you think?
AB: Ah!
E: Mom made it. [ed: Mom is Marsha Brown-Brady]
AB: Well, it certainly looks very well-constructed.
E: If I put one foot into that costume party dressed like this, they'll tear me apart!
AB: No, no they won't. They'll grate you, and serve you with some raisins. [laughs] I'm kidding, really. You look good. You look ... tasty. Whatcha got in your goodie basket, there?
E: Carob clusters, granola balls and pickled quail eggs.
AB: You're kidding, right? You set foot in a party with that stuff and those kids are going to tear you apart!
E: Oh, so a carrot suit's okay, but granola balls will get me killed?
AB: In more ways than your young mind can begin to fathom. Trust me on this. I know.
E: How's that?
AB: Those carob things ... I recognize them. It's your grandmother's recipe. Look, you've got to let me replace this candy!
E: With store-bought?
AB: No, not with store-bought!
E: Forget it.
AB: Look, I'll make you a deal. You let me replace this candy and I'll replace that crudities platter you're wearing.
E: With something good and scary?
AB: Something good and scary! Deal? Cool. You run off to school, and by the time you get home I will have replaced all this noxious hippie chow with some seriously tantalizing and terrifying ...

The Kitchen
Act I: Brittle, My Sweet

    Brittles are fascinating, because they are essentially the glass of the candy world. I mean, sure, they taste better than glass. But they're brittle, like glass. They'll shatter, like glass. And sometimes they're even as transparent as glass.
    Not surprisingly, the manufacturing similarities are uncanny. For instance, when you make glass, you're basically melting down silica crystalssand to make an amorphous solid. In brittle-making you're melting down a lot of sugar crystals to make an amorphous solid.

Amorphous candies, like brittles and taffy, contain no crystals. Crystalline candies, like fudge and pralines, do.

    And oddly enough, they can both get messed up in the same way. If the vessel they're cooked in is dirty, if the mixture itself is impure, if it's agitated at the wrong time, little baby crystals can be formed in the mixture. And as they cook, these little crystals can grow into bigger and bigger crystals, and eventually, your nice clear glass starts looking more like a shower door. And your brittle starts looking more like a praline. Which is nice, but it's not a brittle.
    Now, a couple of things are needed to get around this problem. One is just plain, old-fashioned know-how. The other? Decent tools. In the case of brittle, you're going to need a nice, heavy-duty pan. I like a saucier because the shape helps to create an environment for evaporation. It's going to need a nice, tight lid. And you're also going to need a good wooden spoon. Why wood? Because wood doesn't conduct heat, and that's good for the candy, as well as the hand that stirs it.

    Software begins with just a little bit of vegetable oil on the side of the pot. That's going to prevent any sugar crystals that are planted there from the boiling brew from growing into bigger crystals and throwing off the texture. Then, 3 cups of sugar and 1 and a half cups of water.

Vegetable oil... just a dab'll do ya.

3 Cups Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Water

    Now since syrups get really, really thick, and can't be stirred during most of the cooking process, even heat from below is crucial. Now heavy-duty pans, especially clad pans, which contain a layer of aluminum or copper in-between the layers of steel, will even out the heat considerably. But, if you don't trust your pans, or if your stovetop tends to have hotspots, consider employing another pan as a heat diffuser. Cast-iron is a really good one. There we go. Now, we apply high heat and just stir this occasionally as it comes to a boil.

Cast iron diffuses heat well because it's a good
conductor and extremely dense.

    Now, as you can see, our mixture has come to a boil, and the pattern of bubbles leaving the bottom of the pan is very, very even. That is because we're using a heat diffuser. Now the bubbles are going to be bigger at the beginning of the boil, and although we did lube up the side of the pan, there is going to be a lot of sugar thrown up on the side of it. So, I'm going to cover this for at least three minutes. That way, some of the steam will condense and run back down the side, cleaning the pan.
    Three minutes are up. Time to clamp on our candy thermometer. Or maybe not. Truth is, when it comes to brittles, you can generally skip the technology and trust your eyes. What we're looking for here, is a light amber, okay? That'll kind of signal us that the right concentration has been reached. But do not shake, touch, stir or move this pan in any way. At this point, even one little errant crystal could trigger a confectionary catastrophe. We don't want that. So, turn your heat down to medium and wait. Don't stray far. Of course, you could go on the other side of the kitchen.

    Traditional brittles at least, down here in the South, where I live call for raw peanuts, which are, of course, cooked by the molten sugar. But these days, raw peanuts can be a little tough to find. So you just go with a lightly salted roast peanuts. Or you can just use other nuts: mixed nuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts. And you don't have to limit yourself to nuts. Seeds, like sunflower seeds and even pumpkin seeds, make darn good brittle fodder. But today, I think we'll just stick with the classics. Ow. [gets his arm caught in the door]

Salted, Roasted Peanuts
Mixed Nuts
Macadamia Nuts

Sunflower Seeds
Sesame Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds

"Candy" comes from the Sanskrit khanda, meaning "chunks of sugar."

    Time to tend to the rest of our hardware needs. Two half-sheet pans, one lined with either parchment paper or, preferably, a silicone-impregnated fiberglass baking mat, available at most kitchen stores. This pan we will invert and liberally lubricate with canola or vegetable oil, and I do mean liberally. And you want to get all the way up onto the sides of the pan. Nothing is going to stick to this. There we go. Pan 1:
Parchment Or Silicone Mat

Pan 2:
Flip & Lube Liberally

    Okay, last-minute software prep. We have 1 and a half cups of lightly salted peanuts. To that we will add half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. "No big surprise there," you say? Fine. How about half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper? Ha ha ha ha. No, it's not exactly ... [stifles a sneeze] orthodox, but I like to take a cue from our friends down to the south, who know that adding heat to sweets almost always equals good eats. 1 1/2 Cups Peanuts
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

    Now, we will go and wait on the syrup, and wait we must. Because once it hits light amber, it'll never return, and it'll be too late.

Denmark has the highest per capita candy consumption
in the world at 36 pounds per Dane.

The Kitchen

    This is exactly what we're looking for. Light amber, very, very slow bubbling, and if you did put a thermometer in there, I'd say about 350 degrees. I want to stop the cooking, so I turn off the heat, and dump in the peanuts, all at once, and give that a good stir.

Light Amber + Slow
Bubbling = 350 *

*plus or minus 10

    Now we really won't have to worry about crystallization at this point. Because this color tells us that many of the original sucrose molecules have been damaged by the high heat. So much so that they can no longer form crystals, because they're no longer that much alike. Lucky for us, the new compounds being formed here have more flavor complexity and sweetness than the original sugar had.

    There. I'm going to very, very carefully move this to a towel, and I'm just going to pull that along, as kind of a safety measure. And now, pour straight out on the pad.

Professional cook in closed kitchen ... you should be even more careful because this stuff is hot.

    And smooth out the nuts to evenly distribute them. It's going to set up really quickly, so you don't want to take your time here. Kind of fold the part that flows out back onto the brittle. And then, just to make sure that the nuts are only stacked one-deep, we add the pan. And now gently push down just to distribute the nuts. Make sure it stays flat.

[after it has cooled, he turns another sheet pan on to of the brittle pan, holds them together and shakes violently thus breaking up the brittle]

    You know, when it comes to peanut brittle, there are two kinds of people. There are biters and there are lickers. Me, I'm kind of a licker, I guess. How many licks do you think it takes to eat a piece of peanut brittle like this? Let's find out, shall we? One. Two. Three. [he takes a bite] Three. It takes three licks to eat this piece of peanut brittle.

Act II: Prepare To Pucker

    Although most of today's confections suffer from an almost overwhelming sense of sweetness, once upon a time, the most popular treats actually balanced sweetness with tartness. My favorite of these edible antiques, lemon jellies. Love them. Although I do think they could be a little chewier, and a whole lot tarter.

    Our software includes one and a quarter cups water, half a cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, a quarter cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice, 2 tablespoons each lime and lemon zest, one and a quarter cups of sugar, and 8 ... count 'em ... 8 envelopes of plain old, powdered, unflavored gelatin. Now before these little beauties can do their magic, they have to be dissolved, and in order to dissolve, they've got to be soaked in a cold liquid. Think of them as kind of the dried beans of the thickening world. 1 1/4 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 Tbs. Each Lime & Lemon
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
8 Envelopes (2 1/4 tsp.)
    Plain Gelatin

    There are plenty of ways to make jellies, but I prefer the binary approach, in which one separates the liquids into two distinct teams. Here, we have the lime juice, the lemon juice, and one-half cup of the water, soaking into the 8 envelopes of gelatin. Now it doesn't look very appetizing right now, but that's okay-- This is what you want to see. This gets no heat.

Lime Juice
Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Water
All The Gelatin

    On the other side of the equation, however, we have one cup of our sugar, along with three-quarters of a cup of the water, in a pan, over the heat diffuser. The heat diffuser gets high heat. And we're going to have to baby-sit this a little. As it warms up, we're going to stir it every now and then until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. 1 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Water

High Heat

    Now you can see by the pattern of bubbles leaving the bottom of the pan that it's very, very even, okay? And that's because of the heat diffuser. When you see a boil, slap on the lid, and wait for 3 minutes, okay? That'll trap steam inside the container, that'll condense up at the top, run down the sides and help wash away any crystals. Crystals at this point would be bad.

Recent studies have found no evidence that sugar causes hyperactivity in kids.

    After 3 minutes, slap on your candy or fry thermometer. We're looking for a final temperature of 300 degrees, here. For you old-fashioned Willy Wonka types, that's the hard-crack stage. And whatever you do, don't shake the pan around a lot right now. You could form seed crystals, and that would lead to a grainy dessert, not a smooth jelly. Candy Or Fry Thermometer

300=Hard Crack Stage

    As soon as you hit 300 degrees, remove your thermometer, and move your syrup very carefully over to the gelatin. And pour it in. There'll be a little bit of foaming. That's okay. Now, stirring constantly, we're going to move the gelatin mixture back over to the heat diffuser, then turn the heat down to low. You're going to have to stir constantly for the next couple of minutes.

Syrup's hot and sticky so, beware!

Drop Heat To Low

    Once the gelatin has dissolved, add the lemon zest, and the lime zest, and then get this into the baking pan. You can lubricate that with some no-stick spray, if you like. Or you can just use a non-stick pan.

Stir In The Zest

Let Sit At Room Temperature For 4 Hrs. Or Until Set

In 16th century England, a teaspoon of sugar cost the equivalent of $5.00.

    [voice over] Turn your slab of gelatin out and contemplate cutting. Ooh, I wouldn't use a paring knife. Yeah, there you go. A pizza cutter or pastry cutter will do the job nicely. Just cut the slab into one-inch strips, thusly. Then turn 90 degrees and repeat, creating lots and lots of little 1-inch cubes of joy. Now just scoop them up with a bench scarper or a sheet-rock tool and pour them into the remaining sugar. Toss to coat, and then scatter the pieces out onto a cooling rack to dry.

For nice and crusty jellies, leave them on a rack,
uncovered in a cool place for 24 hours.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Nephew Elton, Unwitting Accomplice

Act III: A Very Sticky Predicament

    Like most of the kids of my generation, this was my favorite candy, growing up. Well, I know, it doesn't have its wrapper on, but I'm betting that you recognize it. Yep, I loved it because was delicious, I loved it because it was cheap, and I loved it because it lasted all afternoon. Of course, I didn't really realize it at the time, but I was really just eating chocolate taffy. Now taffy is unique in the culinary world, not because of what goes into it, or even how those ingredients are cooked, but because of what happens to it as it cools.

    For the dry team, we have half a teaspoon of salt, two-thirds of a cup of Dutch-process cocoa powder, and 2 cups of sugar. Now, I like to thoroughly combine these before adding the wet works, so I'm just going to grab a whisk here. There we go. 1/2 tsp. Salt
2/3 Cup Dutch Process Cocoa
2 Cups Sugar
    Now, one cup of light corn syrup, one quarter-cup plus 1 tablespoon of good old H2O. We've got 1 tablespoon plus half-tablespoon of butter, but we're going to hold that off for later. Last, but not least, one lone teaspoon of white vinegar. Seems like a strange thing to put in candy, but the acidity will help to cut the sweetness of the finished taffy, and it will also help to split the sucrose molecules, or invert them, making it nearly impossible for them to crystallize, during or after cooking.

1 Cup Light Corn Syrup
1/4 Cup + 1 Tbs. Water
1 1/2 Tbs. Butter

1 tsp. White Vinegar

    We'll stir, and bring this over medium heat until it boils.

Stir over medium heat to dissolve, then raise heat and bring to a boil ...

    As soon as you've got a boil, drop the heat to low. Why? Well, this is very, very viscous stuff, already, and big bubbles are going to erupt violently and throw stuff all over the counter and maybe even you, so stay with low or medium-low at best.

... then drop the heat to low.

    Since it's dark, color's not going to really help us very much with temperature control, so it's time to employ technology. Whip out your trusty candy thermometer and start watching for 260 degrees. That's a hard-ball stage. It's going to take a few minutes. 260 F = Hard-ball Stage

    When you hit 260, remove, carefully, your thermometer, and stir in the butter. There we go. Now we carefully move over to our towel. Slide over, but before we pour, a little added insurance. Just rub a little butter right around the side of the pan, where the silicone don't go, replace the mat, and spoon on the goodness. Don't worry if you still see a little bit of the butter floating on there. That's okay. And smooth it out.
    Now this is too hot to pull right now, so we're going to let this sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Yeah, I said "pull."

10 mins. Later

    [voice over] Time to don some nonstick protection in the form of vinyl foodservice gloves and a little bit of butter. Now start by folding over the mat into thirds, thus folding the chocolate into thirds, then fold it over into thirds again, and knead, just like you would a bread dough. Then start pulling. Pull out, and fold into the middle, over and over again.

    After working it down on the table for a couple of minutes, you can start stretching in mid-air, which is good, because, well, not only is it fun, but it helps the taffy to cool down faster. Now I like to just give it a twist with each turn. Now this is a lot of fun. Of course, after a while the novelty kind of wears off, and ...

E: [off screen] Uncle Alton!

Hey, the manual labor's arrived!

E: [pulling candy] Why do I have to do this?
AB: Because it's fun. You know, your grandmother used to go to taffy pulls when she was a kid. It was a big social thing back then.
E: Did they have TV?
AB: No.
E: Computers?
AB: No.
E: Stereos?
AB: No.
E: Well, do you see a pattern here?
AB: Yes, and it leads to you getting grounded. Now keep pulling that taffy. We have to fully aerate it if it's going to be nice and soft and creamy.
E: How long do I have to pull?
AB: 'Till right before you think your arms are going to fall off. Heh heh heh.
E: Oh bother.

The first taffy was made in Atlantic City, N.J. The main flavoring: seawater.

The Kitchen

AB: There, see, when it starts looking kind of stringy inside, like that, that's when you know you're done.
E: Can I go try on my costume now?
AB: Yes, you can go try on your costume now. I'll finish up. It's upstairs.

    Kids, what are you going to do?

    Now, if you do have to stop pulling to, you know, answer the door, let out the dog, that kind of thing, the stuff will set up on you. If that happens, just pop it in the microwave on high for about 10 seconds. It'll buy you some more time.
    Now this is looking pretty gosh-darn good. See, it's not really shiny anymore, but it's kind of got a sheen, almost like a, what is it?, tiger-eye, that rock. That's how you know that you're getting the structure right, and you're getting enough air worked into it. Now I'm going to stretch this a couple more times, and then roll it into a log.
    For this, scissors are the only way to go. The sharper, the better. This is still warm enough to where I'm not going to have to grease the scissors, but it wouldn't be a bad idea. And since I'm going to be working on this pad, I'm going to put out a piece of parchment for those. There. Now, just pretend you're back in kindergarten and make yourself a nice Play-Doh snake.
    Now, start snipping them off. I don't like mine more than about an inch. And make your snips really short and fast, or else the candy will definitely stick to the scissors.
    Now if the candy gets too hard to cut while you're working with it, just put it in the microwave for about 5 seconds to loosen it up. You definitely want to keep these pieces safely separated ... there ... because they will stick to just about anything, if the weather is warm or humid.
    The one thing they won't stick to, however, is wax paper, which is my favorite containment unit. Just cut yourself a little rectangle, place the target food in the middle, wrap it over, and give each end a couple of twists. There, a safely quarantined confection. Your only other real option, the cellophane bags that they sell at candy-making and craft stores. Aw, it's cute.

E: You call this a costume?
AB: Aaaah! [shudders] Now that's scary.
E: A chef. Are you kidding me?
AB: You're a French chef, okay? And 'til great white sharks figure out how to catch rabies, that is going to be the scariest thing on Earth.
E: Well, it beats a carrot. Besides, I hear chicks dig chefs.
AB: Heh heh hey, trust me, Kid. The way to any woman's heart, be she, I dunno, witch or Wonder Woman, princess or Pocahontas,  is through her stomach. Now here you go. Go forth and terrify.
E: What's all this stuff?
AB: Well, let's see. We've got atomic peanut brittle. We've got some gummy acid drops, and, last but not least, chocolaty lockjaw rolls.
E: Sounds like some cool eats, Unc!
AB: Correction, Chef. It sounds like Good Eats.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010