Candy calamity

Wednesday, December 6, 2006
The inexperienced chef's attempt to make candy canes didn't quite turn out as she'd expected. (Photos by Diane L. Wilson)

Just ask my mother, and she'll tell you I'm not much of a cook. Rarely do I even attempt to bake something in the oven -- that's why microwaves were invented, right?

In an effort to enhance my cooking skills, I will fill this space with my adventures in the kitchen.

Keeping with the holiday spirit, my first attempt was a candy cane.

Did you realize you can actually cook your own candy canes? I didn't until our Recipe Swap columnist Susan McClanahan e-mailed me several recipes for the treat.

I chose the recipe with the fewest ingredients listed -- I thought it might be a little easier.

Here are the ingredients:

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon peppermint oil

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup light corn syrup

Jennifer chose the recipe with the fewest ingredients.

3/4 teaspoon red food coloring

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

The first step calls to heat the sugar, water, corn syrup and cream of tartar in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved.

To demonstrate how little I know my way around the kitchen, I pulled out a skillet. Our photographer had to inform me what a saucepan was.

After a few minutes, the sugar had dissolved. The recipe says to divide the mixture into two separate saucepans. Each batch got 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint oil added to it.

Remember, when cooking with peppermint oil, make sure you're in a well-ventilated area the smell of peppermint oil was overwhelming and my sinuses opened immediately.

In one of the saucepans, I added red food coloring.

Each mixture needs to reach 280 degrees, so a candy thermometer is necessary.

Up to this point, everything was going well. The two mixtures bubbled up, and the kitchen smelled, well, like a candy cane.

I soon realized the saucepan containing the "white" mixture was turning yellow.

The mixture was divided into two pots. Unfortunately, Jennifer monitored the temperature of only one.

Here's another important fact to remember: Make sure you use the same size saucepans, or continually check the temperature of each mixture. The candy thermometer had been sitting in the larger saucepan, which contained the red mixture, and had reached only 250 degrees.

I stuck the candy thermometer into the smaller saucepan -- the temperature read well over 300 degrees. Whoops!

I took the smaller saucepan off the stove and poured the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet.

As the yellow mixture cooled on the cookie sheet, the red mixture reached 280 degrees. I took the pan off the stove and poured it onto a separate cookie sheet.

The recipe said the two mixtures would turn into a taffylike substance, and then you could "stretch the mixture into ropes of red and white, twist them around and form your candy cane."

The result was a not-quite-recognizable candy cane.

I expected my substance would form into something similar to taffy sold at the SEMO District Fair. However, my mixture turned out to be a gooey mess that got hard quickly.

I tried twisting my yellow and red mixture together but it didn't work. The yellow mixture hardened before I had a chance to mold it together with the red mixture.

Learning from my mistake, I quickly tried to twist the red substance into cane-like shapes before it hardened. It wasn't working. I gave up and rolled the mixture into rings, balls and any other shape I could form with the gooey mess.

Cautiously, I stuck a cooled piece of the candy to my tongue. To my surprise, my candy canes tasted pretty good. They certainly didn't look like the perfect, store-bought red and white striped candy canes, but they tasted similar.

After this first cooking adventure, my advice is to not waste an hour of time cooking candy canes. Go to the store and buy a box -- they'll actually look like a candy cane.

Want to read about an inexperienced chef attempting to cook your favorite meal? Every fourth week, Jennifer Freeze will whip up something new in the kitchen and write about the experience. E-mail your recipes to jfreeze@semissourian.com or mail them to Jennifer Freeze, Southeast Missourian, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63701.

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