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Candy-Making Woes. What went wrong?

  • l

Okay,maybe I'm a fool for continuing to use the same recipe when it's failed on me no fewer than four times, but I've also had success with it and I persist in thinking it's user error. I just can't figure out what my error is. My toffee with almonds keeps on separating (the sugar and butter are not friends). Here are the details and I'm hoping someone can pinpoint the problem. I'll mention first that I am a careful candy-maker and followed all instructions religiously.
1. Used Fannie Farmer toffee with almonds recipe
2. used 1lb. trader joe's unsalted butter
3. used 2 c trader joe's evaporated cane juice sugar (it doesn't matter that i didn't use white refined sugar, right?)
4. brought mixture to a boil. after 5 min added chopped almonds. washed down sides with water.
5. cooked over medium-low gas in a heavy pan
6. stirred slowly in only one direction with wooden spoon.
7. all was well until temp hit about 275 (Fannie says to get it to 290 for hard crack)
8. suddenly, butter and sugar separated and sugar seized into a mass
9. after having this issue in the past, I'd read you can add cold water a few tablespoons at a time to get it back together. This was a disaster and I think made things worse.
The day was foggy, but I've had this same issue with clear weather, too.
What am I doing wrong? Why has this recipe worked in the past but now ceased to work? How can I make successful toffee in future? Should I hang up my apron when it comes to candy-making?

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  1. I'm not a candy making expert, but I'm wondering what would happen if you didn't stir the mixture and left it until the thermometer reaches the desired temperature.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Charlieboy

      It would burn in spots - stirring helps distribute the heat.

    2. You really do need to use sugar to get the caramel. Using that cane sugar juice changed the chemistry.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Candy

        The Trader Joe's product is sugar---they call it "Organic evaporated sugar cane juice," but it's white, crystalline sugar. I made caramels with it last night and didn't have any unusual effects.

        1. re: Christine
          c
          Caitlin McGrath

          I take this information from a post on General Topics some time ago that I can't now find, but it appears to be tehe case that standard granulated sugar is made with a certain, and constant, moisture content, while the moisture content can vary greatly in evaporated cane juice, turbinado, etc., affecting the success of candy recipes that depend on such variables. Now I've successfully made caramels and marshmallows using evaporated cane juice, but it may be that Laurella's recipe really requires standard granulated sugar to work. If it's worked for her in the past with regular white sugar, it may be an issue.

      2. I make enormous amounts of candy every Christmas and have never had something like this happen, but I have also never used a Fanny Farmer recipe. First, I'd use traditional sugar, regardless of whether the TJ sugar looks the same or not. Second, I know a lot (if not all) candy recipes say to cook candy over med-low heat. I always cook on med or med-high heat. Also, what kind of thermometer are you using? It could be innacurate. Also, I've never heard about stirring in the same direction. I stir, stir, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, unless the recipe specifically says no stirring. But I'd certainly try again but with regular white sugar and see if that's the problem. Oh, and one more thing-most of the candy I make (except for peanut brittle)calls for adding the nuts after the temp hits 290 and its been removed from the heat. Maybe try cooking the candy and then at 290, remove from heat, vigorously stir in nuts, and then pour it out.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Samantha

          Thanks Samantha and everyone else for your ideas. I might even have the heart to try again this year. Fannie Farmer says something about stirring slowly--I think it has to do with fear of sugaring. My thermometer was a Pyrex that has been accurate in other instances--in the past I've used a different thermometer or the water test for hard-crack.
          I might try with the white sugar and see if that really could be it, and also I'm going to add the nuts at the end rather than at the beginning. I'd like to eliminate as many variables as possible.

        2. I, too, suspect the sugar. I have found that using plain, refined, white cane sugar (usually Dominos) gives me the most consistent results in making caramel for flan, croquembouche, etc. A pastry chef once told me that sugar is refined to various degrees, depending on the brand and source. He usually boiled his sugar with water until a gray scum appeared, skimmed that off, and proceeded with cooking it. He used beet sugar for a demonstration and noted that it was very "impure." It took a good 10 minutes of boiling before it clarified.

          When I have made flan with non-cane sugar, it has often seized and will not melt out before burning. With the Domino's it may tighten a bit, but it has always
          melted out quickly. I find it worth the extra $$ for ease and speed.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Devon

            Devon--
            You all may be right about the sugar. Just to note, the sugar I used IS cane sugar and actually costs more than refined white sugar I can get at the regular grocery store. I use it because I prefer the taste and like to use products that are as little refined as possible. But if my toffee will consistently fail otherwise, I can use the other kind once a year!
            One success I had with the recipe was in Scotland, again with less-refined sugar, but it was a different brand and could well have had a profile more similar to normal white sugar.

          2. You have to use granulated sugar. Candy making is a science as well as cooking. You shouldn't deviate from basic foundations of recipes.