A lot of people are afraid to make their own candy. I’m here to tell you that it just isn’t scary. Yes, it’s temperamental, and yes, it likes to burn. But if it does, you just throw it out and start over. You’ve wasted what, eight minutes and a cup of sugar? Maybe I’m not scared of it because I made my first hard candy at the age of eleven, and my grandmother didn’t seem to think we needed to worry about my eleven-year-old self alone in the kitchen with 320°F sugar, so I didn’t either. And we ended up with bright, tasty lemon hard candies, only a few of which were burned. I think, actually, that worrying about it makes it harder. So here are a few tips, from someone who isn’t afraid to get burned.
1: Don’t use a candy thermometer! I can’t stress this enough. If you can see the sugar, you know what’s happening. By the time a candy thermometer registers the right temperature, it’s too late. Your candy will burn because you were looking for a number instead of a caramel color.
2: Be prepared. If you’re adding cream or butter to the caramel, have it measured and ready next to the stove before you begin to heat the sugar. You do not have time to measure a cup of cream between the time you take the caramel off the heat and the time it burns. If you’re adding nothing, have a pan of ice water waiting on the counter. Before you start the caramel, make sure the base of the pan you are using fits into the ice water pan. Fill it with at least 3/4 of an inch of ice water before you start making caramel. Seriously, once you turn the heat on under that sugar, you cannot look away. This happens fast.
3: Use a bigger pot than you think you need, especially if you’re adding cream. I used a 3-quart pot to make 1 cup of sugar into caramel, because when this stuff bubbles it goes absolutely crazy and you do not want it spilling over the top. Especially if, like me, you’re dumb enough to use your hands to try to stop it. We’re not gonna talk about that.
4: It’s okay if it burns. Just clean the pot by bringing some water to a boil in it (this loosens the caramel), scrub it out, and start over!
Sugar. About 1 cup should do for most purposes.
3/4 cup of cream for later
add salt, spices, or colorings to the cream, not the sugar
Pour sugar into a nice deep pot. Turn the burner on high, and stand ready with silicone implement in hand.
Just when you think nothing’s ever going to happen (after maybe 90 seconds), you’ll notice a bit of amber liquid in the bottom of the pot.
I won’t call what you have to do here stirring, just scrape things around, always toward the center, as more and more sugar melts.
Once it’s mostly melted, I get a little impatient and start squashing the clumps of sugar that stay behind with my spatula. That deep amber color on the edges is what we’re looking for.
As soon as it’s all nice and amber, remove from the heat and pour in the cream, stirring madly as you do. If I hadn’t hamstrung myself with a camera, I might have even switched for a whisk. Because that would have been smart. This picture was taken after the hissing, steaming bubble pile subsided, by the way. This stuff damn near explodes.
Stir until it’s a nice smooth consistency. Any recalcitrant sugar lumps can easily be plucked out with a spoon.
Use to top ice cream or yesterday’s stout cake or really any other dessert you can think of.