Making homemade hard candy may seem intimidating, but it really isn’t difficult! My dad makes a version of this candy every year for Christmas, but I thought it would be fun to do a cute Valentine’s Day version. I’ll outline exactly how I do it so there is no guess work for you. And you don’t even need candy molds! I snagged these heart molds on sale, but I’ll show you how to make it without molds as well.
First, let’s talk a little bit about the science behind candy making. Don’t leave! It’s cool, I promise. When you make candy, you mix up sugar and water. In the case of this recipe, it’s water, sugar, and corn syrup.
At room temperature, there is only a certain amount of sugar that water can dissolve. That’s why we have to heat the sugar and water when we make candy. Basically we are forcing more sugar to dissolve in the water, creating what is called a “super saturated solution.” This happens at a certain temperature, which is why candy recipes usually specify the temperature you need to boil the sugar mixture at. You will need a thermometer for this recipe, I recommend this one!
When this super saturated solution cools, the magic starts to happen. Because we packed a whole bunch of sugar molecules into the water, when they cool down they will need to do so in a super orderly manner. Super orderly = crystallization! The size of the crystals is determined by how much agitation the solution encounters, in other words, how much you stir the candy. Stirring frequently yields small crystals, desirable in smooth candies like fudge. Not stirring yields large crystals, which is what we are going for when we make hard candy. Also why following the instructions precisely is important!
In this recipe, the only stirring happens before the sugar is dissolved and then after the mixture is taken off the heat, if you are adding flavoring. Otherwise you just let the color incorporate via the boiling action of the mixture. If you’re geeky like me, you can read more about the science behind candy making here.
If you do want to flavor your candy, I recommend using flavoring oils. They are much more potent than extracts. I have tried both and the extract flavor is very mild, even when a lot is used. Just be sure you are not leaning over the pot when you add them! They will make the mixture steam vigorously and that can burn easily.
I don’t usually use candy molds either. If you don’t have candy molds, you have a few options. The simplest method is to just pour your candy into a quarter or half sheet baking tray that has been sprayed with oil. Spread it out, if needed, and then when it’s hard brake it up and toss it with powdered sugar.
Option two is to free-form candies or suckers. This is most easily done when the mixture has cooled for just 1-2 minutes and is slightly thicker than it is just off the heat. Pour dollops of the mix onto parchment and let it harden.
And, of course, you can use molds. Just be sure they are for candy. Molds that are only for chocolate will melt when this mixture is poured into them.
Don’t be afraid anymore to make your own candy! Give it a try today.