While hard tack candy may not be the most modern of confections, it certainly is a treat that remains traditional in the holiday season. This is because these candies have so many different hues and textures that they look utterly amazing.
I am usually quite a busy person, so I often forget when big occasions and holidays are coming up, but whenever my mother starts to lay the groundwork for hard tack candy I know for sure that Christmas will be here soon. I would often sit there, a bemused expression on my face, as my mother lay claim to the kitchen and acted as if she was some kind of Nobel prize-winning scientist that was working on a cure for cancer. All types of tools could be seen, all sorts of ingredients. About a month before Christmas would arrive, my mother would start making the most marvelous confections as if it came naturally to her.
However, last Christmas was a little different. This is because last Christmas, Mum wasn’t the only one that was busy in the kitchen trying to make some delicious hard tack candy in time for Christmas. This time around, virtually everyone in the family was involved. Everyone from my sister to my daughters went into the kitchen, and we all listened as my mom marshaled us like a seasoned general. Within no time we had amazing hard tack candy. Suffice it to say that we would’ve won “Host of the Year” that Christmas if such awards existed because all of our guests marveled at the pretty looking sweets and the like that we were offering to them and giving to them as packaged gifts.
If you want everyone to think of you as a top-notch host this Christmas, I would highly recommend that you make some hard tack candy for them to enjoy. It’s actually quite a simple process. I would highly recommend that you acquire all of the ingredients beforehand so that you don’t have to worry as much about how you are going to make this particular dish.
Items You Will Need
The first thing you are going to need is food coloring. This is simple enough to get, pretty much every store has it after all. What might not be as easy to get are the scented oils that you are going to use to give your hard tack candy some lovely, delicate flavors. These are a little tricky to find not because certain stores don’t have them, but because they might be stocked in rather odd sections. These oils used to be considered medicinal, which meant that they were often stocked in the pharmacy section. These days, these oils are often stocked in the pharmacy section which is why you might have trouble finding them in the baking section.
What you need to realize before you actually end up buying these things is that you can infuse your hard tack candy with flavor in a variety of different ways. The first of these ways is to of course use oils that have been infused with a variety of different flavors. There are also flavorings which are not quite the same thing. If you really want some amazing flavors, you should try mixing the two. The ideal combination would be to incorporate a couple of vials of flavoring as well as a vial of oil for good measure. If you are opting for more citrus flavors, flavoring is pretty much all you are going to need. This is because these flavors have a zest and tang to them that is undeniable, and oils can have an adverse impact on that overall.
When all of the flavorings, oils, and colorings have been acquired, you will be ready to get to work. The only thing you need to realize is that making hard tack candy is a rather scientific endeavor. You will need to be very precise in all of your measurements, and another thing you need to keep in mind is the fact that this is something that will require quite a bit of concentration. This is not something that you can do with half of your attention on it!
The Cooking Process
Now that all of your ingredients have been acquired, you need to start collecting the cooking utensils you are going to be needing. A saucepan is essential, as well as a large spoon that you can use for stirring. Make sure to avoid any spoons that are made of plastic, though. These could possibly melt during the cooking process, ruining the batch that you are making. Try wood instead, this is a nice, sturdy material that can get the job done with ease.
Once you have all of your utensils, the next thing you are going to have to do is place your saucepan on the stove with the heat set to medium. The next thing on the agenda is to pour some sugar into the saucepan. Add in a bit of light corn syrup and water, make sure that you keep stirring otherwise your candy is going to end up becoming quite lumpy. Bear in mind that the stirring process can take a good quarter of an hour to complete. Ensure that you have the level of mental fortitude necessary to make this possible without you getting all that tired!
After fifteen minutes, the sugar, corn syrup and water will have all blended into one another with the sugar in particular dissolving completely. Once this happens, you can relax for a bit as you wait for the contents of your saucepan to heat up until they start bubbling and boiling. If you have a confectionery thermometer, add it to the saucepan but try to ensure that it does not come in contact with the bottom of the pot otherwise it could get damaged or at best give you an inaccurate reading.
Now that the base of the flavor profile, as well as your overall setup for the candy, has been created, you are ready to start making your candy look pretty for all of your guests. Start by adding a teaspoon of whatever food coloring you prefer into the boiling mix, allowing the bubbling concoction to mix itself without you disturbing it by using a spoon. This is where a thermometer can become particularly useful. This is because you are going to have to keep heating the mixture until it reaches 300 degrees, at which point you are going to have to take it off of the stove. An alternate technique that you can use to ascertain whether or not you need to remove the mixture from the stove is to test a little bit of it with cold water to see if it is liquid enough, but a thermometer is far more accurate, so this is the technique you should be using.
After the color has been added to the base mixture, it is time to start developing the flavor profiles necessary for your hard tack candy to taste legitimately delicious. An intriguing idea would be to go for colors that are the opposite of the flavors you are putting in. For example, creating lemon flavored hard tack candy that is colored red would be interesting because your guests would not be expecting it. Going for funky colors like blue is also a great idea!
At this point, there are two things that you are going to have to keep in mind. The first of these things is the fact that you need to take your mixture off of the stove otherwise the flavoring and oils will burn thus giving your hard tack candy a pretty acrid taste. You also need to bear in mind the fact that when you add the oils and flavorings to the mix, the result is going to be a very strong aroma as well as quite a bit of smoke. Hence, it would be a good idea for you to try and take the saucepan outside before you add the other elements into it.
Next, you need to take some cake pans and spray them with a cooking spray. This is to ensure that your hard tack candy does not get ruined by them getting stuck to the bottom of your pans.
It is highly recommended that you don’t use brand new pots and pans while you are making hard tack candy because it does wear your utensils out quite a bit and you don’t want that to happen to something you have just bought.
A common mistake that people make is that they put the mixture into the fridge to cool it down quickly. This is not something you should do because it can change the way your hard tack candy cools overall. It will cool too fast from the outside with the inside remaining liquid. Thus when you try to break the hard tack candy, it would be goopy instead of hard throughout. Instead, just put it up in a cabinet, out of sight until you feel like it is hard enough.
For the next step, and you might be a little bit surprised to hear this, you are going to need a hammer as well as something to use as a chisel such as a screwdriver. This may sound absurd, but once the hard tack candy has hardened to a certain point, this actually becomes the most efficient way to go about things. The best way to use these tools is to place the chisel or screwdriver in the middle of the pan from all sides and then strike it with the hammer. If you have done this as accurately as possible, cracks are going to form throughout the candy. Keep hammering until the pieces are as small as you would like them to be. The great thing about this is that it’s not just effective, it’s incredibly enjoyable to do as well which is certainly a huge bonus!
Finishing The Hard Tack Candy Off
Now that the hard tack candy is starting to assume its final shape, you need to coat it with some powdered sugar. There are a lot of ways you can do this, and a lot of people tend to just toss the powdered sugar onto the candy and leave it at that. However, it would be a good idea for you to work a little harder on your confections if you actually want them to look as good as possible. The first thing you are going to need is a ziplock bag that has about a gallon’s worth of capacity. Put about a tablespoon, heaped as much as possible, of powdered sugar into the bag, and then add as much broken up hard tack candy as would fit into the bag. Try to avoid adding tiny pieces, though, because they tend to ruin the consistency of the rest of the candy. Now all you need to do is roll the bag around, shaking it every so often to ensure an even spread of powdered sugar across the surface of the candy. The goal here is to make sure that each individual piece of candy has enough powdered sugar on it that it gives the most uniform look possible.
And there you have it! You have now made, through a lot of effort and hard work, some truly fantastic candy that all of your guests are going to love to eat and enjoy as presents. While it did take quite a bit of effort, I think it’s fair to say that it was worth it.