My in-laws, who are visiting us, were generous enough to bring three bags of Halloween candy with them from the United States. The Snickers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses looked as precious as gold when they came out of the suitcases. Still, I was worried that it wouldn't be enough candy to get us through three kids' parties and a night of trick or treating. So I decided to take it upon myself, with the help of my friend Adriana, to see if I could make Halloween candy from scratch.
Sometimes in life, things don't go the way you want them to. This was an example of one of those instances.
The afternoon started off well enough. Adriana, a Mexican expat mother who has kids the same ages as my kids, came over. Our goal was to make orange-tinted marshmallows. After the four kids surveyed the rather boring-looking ingredients (including sugar, corn starch, water, and gelatin), they dashed into the playroom, leaving us to work in the kitchen in peace. I’d found the recipe in a Spanish version of a Williams-Sonoma cookbook called Family Meals by Maria Helm Sinskey that Adriana had lent me. I had all the ingredients but two in my pantry. Adriana supplied the missing cream of tartar. We planned to make a version of corn syrup from scratch. (When I'd asked my housekeeper if I could find miel de maize in Havana, she replied, "Que cosa es esa?")
Making the corn syrup substitute was remarkably easy. Following a recipe I found online, I mixed sugar with water and threw in a dash of cream of tartar and salt in a small saucepan. After bringing the mixture to a boil, I let it simmer for about 10 minutes until it became syrupy but still clear. Since the recipe only called for 1 tablespoon of corn syrup, I'll have to find another use for the rest. (Blog post to come!)
Feeling more confident, we proceeded to the next step. In a separate saucepan, I boiled water, sugar, and the homemade corn syrup. The recipe said to leave it to boil, without mixing, until it reached 250 degrees Fahrenheit and turned a caramel color. I clipped a liquid thermometer to the side of the saucepan. Waiting for the syrup to reach the right temperature, we turned our attention to blending the gelatin and water with my electric mixer until they became frothy like egg whites.
We checked on the saucepan from time to time; still no caramel color appeared. We went back to the gelatin mixture and added the food coloring. Turning my attention back to the saucepan, the syrup had turned dark brown in the minute or two I’d neglected it. I shut off the heat and poured out the sugary water, only to notice that my thermometer had partially melted! (I should have known better, since it was a thermometer I used for making yogurt and the highest temperature on it read 220 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The next step called for us to mix together the fluffy gelatin mixture with the hot syrup that had just come off the stove. “Cuidado!” the recipe warned. Adriana gingerly mixed while I slowly poured in the boiling-hot liquid. Thankfully, we escaped any scalding splashes of syrup.
Then we read the next step of the recipe: we were supposed to continue mixing for 20 minutes. “We should have done this at my house!” Adriana scolded me with a laugh. ‘“I have a KitchenAid!” All I had was an electric mixer, since I’d always thought of KitchenAids as overly expensive, frivolous appliances. (Not anymore, though, after this experiment.)
We did, however, have enough hands in the house so that the task could be divided among four people. I went first, after which I handed off the mixer, still running, to Adriana, as if it were the Olympic torch. After Adriana stood there for a grueling five minutes, my mother-in-law assumed the mantle, before finally relinquishing the mixer to my housekeeper. Towards the end of my housekeeper's shift, the appliance began to smoke. My housekeeper turned it off. It refused to turn back on.
The marshmallow was supposed to have turned white, but because we had already added the food coloring, it stayed a pasty yellow. As a result, we had no idea if we were properly following the recipe. Not that it mattered, since we didn’t have an electric mixer to work with anymore. As we tried to press the mixture into the baking pan, it adhered itself to anything that we used to scoop it out, forming taffy-like strings between rubber spatulas, knives, spoons, and fingers. The marshmallow batter resembled cobwebs — appropriate enough for Halloween.
Two hours and many cups of sugar after we’d begun, I ended up with half a pan of a sticky yellow substance that looked like chewing gum. After sprinkling it with powdered sugar and cornstarch, we were supposed to let it sit overnight and shape it the next day. Could this possibly come out right?
Check back at the end of the week for the recipe and to find out how the marshmallows turned out.