LIVING WELL: Enjoy holiday candy, but be healthy
by Cecelia Hostilo, Columnist
Dec 18, 2013 | 60 60 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I usually write about ways to help us stay healthy when it comes to food. And I still believe in the power of a healthy diet. But it is the Christmas season and I enjoy making candy at Christmas. I sometimes give it as a gift, but mostly I just have some around the house for the family. And the key to eating candy and staying healthy is moderation. A little candy goes a long way!

Candy making is an old art based on the scientific principles of sugar cookery. Many types are difficult to master, but improvements in foods may assist the beginner.

A few pieces of equipment are needed to help ensure successful candymaking. A rather heavy, deep saucepan which distributes heat evenly over the cooking surface will minimize the danger of scorching the cooking sugar mixture. An example of a heavy saucepan would be club aluminum or something similar. Measuring cups and spoons are most important. They enable one to keep the proportions of ingredients accurate. Wooden spoons are desirable utensils to use when stirring candy mixture.

They do not leave dark marks on the kettle or discolor the candy. Sugar solutions get hot, so can spoon handles. Wooden spoons are poor heat conductors. Remember to stir in a figure eight pattern for the most effective anti-sticking technique. Last but not least, an accurate candy thermometer will take most of the guesswork out of candymaking. Your success rate will be higher with an accurate thermometer.

There are three basic forms of candy: crystalline- fudge, fondant, divinity, penuche; non-crystalline- hard, brittles, caramels, taffy; and miscellaneous- no cook, fruit and nut confections, cereal sweets, gum drops, etc.

Most candy—soft and hard—uses a sugar syrup as the basis. The concentration of the sugar in the syrup depends upon the degree to which it is cooked. The temperatures are either checked by a candy thermometer or a series of cold water tests.

• Thread stage- the point at which a spoon coated with boiling syrup forms a 2-inch thread when immersed in cold water (230°-234°F)

• Soft-ball stage- a drop of boiling syrup immersed in cold water forms a soft ball that flattens of its own accord when removed (234°-240°F)

• Firm-ball stage- a drop of boiling syrup immersed in cold water forms a rigid ball that is firm but pliable (244°-248°F)

• Hard-ball stage- a drop of boiling syrup immersed in cold water forms a rigid ball that is somewhat pliable (250-265°F)

• Soft-crack stage- a drop of boiling syrup immersed in cold water separates into hard, though pliable threads (270°-290°F)

• Hard crack stage- a drop of boiling syrup immersed in cold water separates into hard, brittle threads (300°-310°F)

Good candy making is not dependent upon luck, but upon following recipe directions and some important rules. Be sure to test your candy thermometer every time you use it. Do this by inserting it in boiling water. The thermometer should read 212°F or 100°C when read at eye level. If temperature doesn’t register 212°F (100 degrees C) you will need to adjust accordingly. For example – if your thermometer reads 218°F and your recipe says to cook to 265 degrees F, then you should add 6 degrees to 265 degrees to correct your thermometer reading. Therefore, you should

cook your candy to 271°F. If your thermometer reading is below 212°F, subtract the difference in degrees.

Another important rule to remember is to measure all ingredients accurately. A good recipe is well standardized and all ingredients are measured level. And use the quantities and ingredients specified in the recipes. For example, if the recipe calls for butter, do not substitute margarine.

Fine granulated cane sugar gives the best results. If your sugar appears coarse, measure it, then put it through the blender to reduce the size of the sugar crystals. Cook the sugar solution to correct stage or temperature.

Overcooking will make the candy hard and grainy, and will destroy its creaminess.

Insufficient beating will produce coarse crystallization upon standing. Too much cream of tartar, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, or corn syrup in the crystalline type of candy will destroy too much of the crystalline formation, and the candy will be sticky, soft, or “runny”.

Check the weather. When the humidity is high, cook the candy a degree or so above the temperature given in the recipe. Candy is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture from the air around it. It helps to choose a dry day for sugar cookery.

After the candy is made, you know you have been successful if the appearance is uniform in shape, the color is pleasing and the consistency is smooth and creamy and holds its shape. The texture should be smooth, and the flavor should be sweet , not tasting strongly of one ingredient of burned.

I hope these tips help make your candymaking for the holidays successful! See you in 2014!


3 1⁄2 cups sugar 1⁄4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup water 1/8 tsp. baking powder

1⁄2 cup light corn syrup 1 tsp. vanilla

2 egg whites

Cook sugar, water, and syrup to soft ball stage (240 degrees F). Pour slowly, and beat half of syrup into egg whites that have been stiffly beaten with the salt. Put rest of syrup back on heat and cook to very hard ball stage or soft crack stage (270 degrees F). Beat mixture constantly while pouring in rest of syrup. Add baking powder and vanilla. Beat candy until it will hold shape. Drop from spoon onto waxed paper. This is a large recipe which hardens fast, so spoon rapidly.

Buttermilk Pralines

2 cups sugar 1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. baking soda 2 Tblsp. butter or margarine

1/8 tsp. salt 1 1⁄2 cups pecan halves

Combine sugar, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk in heavy, 5 qt. Dutch oven. Cook over high heat to

210°F, (about 5 minutes). Stir frequently, scraping sides and bottom of pan. Add butter and pecans. Cook, stirring constantly, to very soft ball stage, 230°F. Remove from heat; cool 2 minutes. Beat till thick and creamy. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper.

Yield: 15 (2 1⁄2 inch) pralines.

Fanny Mae Fudge

1 stick butter (not margarine)

1 lb. sugar

1⁄2 cup milk

1⁄2 tsp. vanilla

2 boxes pudding mix-chocolate

nuts (optional)

Put butter, milk, and 2 pkgs. of pudding mix into heavy pan. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add 1 lb. sugar, 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla and nuts. Stir only long enough to mix well. Cut before fully set. Do not freeze or over refrigerate. Can use mixer on low to stir.


(use a good candy thermometer)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup butter

1 3⁄4 cups light syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups whipping cream

1⁄2 cup nuts (optional)

Cook together sugar, syrup, half the cream, and the butter, stirring constantly. When mixture boils, stir in the rest of cream – but don’t allow boiling to stop; add slowly. Keep boiling over medium heat. Test for a firm ball – 238 degrees F. Boiling takes about 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Add vanilla and 1⁄2 cup chopped nuts, if desired. Pour into a buttered pan, 9x13 inch glass or metal pan. When cold, cut and wrap.

For more information contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269. Information for this article was obtained from, a website managed by the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
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