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Weekend candy diasters - any advice?

Good morning,

I tried to "test drive" my new candy thermometer this weekend - marshmallows and toffee.

Marshmallows - Got the marshmallow recipe from cobiming Martha's, cooking for engineers and egullet (they were all VERY similar - gelatin, no egg whites). Each recipe called for a different temp b/t 234 - 250. We cooked to about 250, poured into stand mixer and followed directions to a "t". Marshmallows never really increased in volume. They were sticky like taffy. End result was hard and gross, a hyrbid between candy/taffee/marshmallows. I've heard of them not setting up, but not being too hard...

Toffee - Followed a very basic recipe from Ghiradelli. Butter, sugar, water, add vanilla later. The recipe called for cooking to 305, which I found suspect as other recipes called for 280. I decided in advacne to stop at 290. Between 280 and 290 I started to see a bit of smoke and it smelled it was buring. Immediately removed from heat, stirred in vanilla. While it set up fine there is a slight burnt flavor/aftertaste. My SO will eat it, but I can't give as holiday treats.

Help, what am I doing wrong? Thermometer is brand new from Crate & Barrel. A candy/deep fry model for approx $20.

Any insight? TIA!

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  1. Did you calibrate your thermometer? Bring a pot of water to boil & put the thermo in....see how close it registers to 212, assuming that you're at/near sea level. RE: toffee, I never use a thermo, but use my nose instead. If you make it a couple of times, you'll find the sweet spot between cooked & burnt by smell and color.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Hungry Celeste

      yeah, great advice on the boiling water calibration test. Just be aware that if you are at a higher elevation, your boiling point will be different.

    2. sounds like you've answered your own question about the toffee. if most recipes call for 280, then i'd suggest that after you calibrate your therm(brilliant, celeste)you cook to 280.

      i have ruined candy before too.sigh. at least its just cheap sugar and water....

      2 Replies
      1. re: opinionatedchef

        Yes, excellent suggestion to calibrate. Shall do that tonight. And yes I should have gone with my instincts with the temp. Candy just seems much more difficult than baking...I'm trying both again Friday night, hopefully with better results!

        1. re: opinionatedchef

          my english toffee recipe takes the sugar/butter to 320, 10 degrees past hard crack. Constant stirring avoids real charring, but there is very light scorching in my Le Creuset style pot even with CONSTANT stirring. I like the heavily developed flavor, but it doesn't taste burnt to me, or others I've gifted.

          Would never use a steel pan for this purpose. You need the even heat spread of enameled cast iron for this.

        2. I prefer to pull my marshmallows at about 238, it will have a little carryover heat. By pulling at 250, it probably rose a bit, and that is really too high. I use a Thermopen, and it is really almost instant. Those other thermometers are a lot slower. I'd pull yours at 235 next time.

          Also, one tip about marshmallows, always stir the soaked gelatin mixture before putting it on the mixer. That will break it off the bottom so it all gets incorporated.

          1. i don't know if it applies to your situation, but here's the issue i ran into last year while making toffee. i, too, was using a new candy thermometer. the first couple batches got way too hot, despite me watching the thermometer like a hawk (and yes, i calibrated it). what i finally realized, after much frustration, was that the thermometer was poorly designed. it had a metal foot that was supposed to allow it to stand up, but what it really did was elevate the bulb, so that small batches didn't touch it. the design of the metal foot also precluded thicker liquids from flowing freely around the bulb, so it had a cool pocket immediately surrounding the bulb, while the rest of the toffee burned. the thermometer went into the trash, out came the old one. no more problems.

            1. I made marshmallows this weekend! I've used a MS recipe (the one from her first big cookbook, the book that has a green & blue cover from '96 or '97) for marmallows with much success. I usually stop boiling the sugar mixture just before it hits 240. I follow the recipe closely and always get the same result--beautiful, pillowy marshmallows.

              1. One other idea as to why it didn't work - what was the weather like? I've had disastrous results when making fudge and brittle when the weather is humid; not sure if that also affects marshmallows but maybe?

                1. I have made toffee ad nauseum for gift-giving, and, per the recipe, I boil it to 310--for me, actually about 312. I've never had an inedible batch.

                  My thermometer is the $9.99 (I think--I've had it a while) Martha Stewart version from K-Mart.

                  However, my mom had trouble with the same recipe, and I think her problem was a thin pan and a hot (as in: nuclear) electric stove.

                  What kind of pan are you cooking candy in?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mamaciita

                    I used my everyday sauce pan - stainless steel cusinart. I wouldn't say it's heavy, but I wouldn't say it was thin. I cook with a gas stove and tried to keep the heat to medium...

                    1. re: eriberri

                      beg or borrow enameled cast iron for this job. You won't be dissapointed.

                  2. 1) calibrate your thermometer - boiling water at sea level should an exact reading of 212

                    2) Marshmallow, you need to pick one recipe and stick with it without changing anything. Funny, I have made marshmallow at work and we always use the egg white version. Never made the non-egg version. I remember someone (rick rodgers I think) who said that marshmallow is simply an Italian meringue with a little melted gelatin in it. I look in some cookbooks, the one in Time-Life Candy book is close to the mark.

                    3) Smoke? make sure that the flame is medium, not high. The physical flames from your gas stove should only touch the bottom of the pan, and not lick up the sides. I would suggest you get a special pan just for candy, i.e. All-Clad saucepan, where the thick metal goes up the sides and not just a disk on the bottom of the pan. A candy book with a real good section on brittles would be a good idea: I like the one by Bloom: Truffles, Candies, and Confections.

                    4) what is the brand and model of your thermometer? Could you list the recipe you used for the toffee and marshmallow? It might help in trying to figure out what went wrong.

                    1. Candy making does depend on precision because of the way sugar behaves at different temperatures, and I agree with jerry i h that you should certainly stick with one recipe, instead of winging it, especially if you're not an experienced candy maker (I am not). I'm not sure if there's a particular reason you were avoiding marshmallow recipes with egg whites, or if those were just the ones you saw. I originally bought my candy thermometer to make marshmallows, and have found this recipe from Gourmet very succesful: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                      1. I did actually follow a recipe, it was on cookingforengineers.com. I misspoke. The recipe states that it is comglomeration of different recipes, but I followed the one posted to a T. I felt comfortable with it as it seemed to follow similar recipes on martha and egullet.

                        I stayed away from recipes with eggwhites b/c I felt that marshmallows without would probably keep longer. I also live in the 'burbs and never trust the eggs completely (even organic -silly I know!).

                        I'm going to follow Martha's recipe this Friday and also put the book recommended by jerry on my requested items list from the library.

                        Thanks for all the tips & suggestions!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: eriberri

                          eri, isn't it great the knowledge that these CHs have?!! i would also chirp in that if you intend to do more cooking that requires a thermom, i chose an allclad pan that was particularly NARROW so that in the case of small batches, the mixture would reach higher up on the thermometer.

                        2. I didn't get to the marshmallows this weekend...but I did make more toffee using the epi Mixed Nut Spiced Toffee recipe. It took forever to heat to 290, keeping the heat on med, but the results were fantastic. Thermometer was fine...I'm thinking I had the heat too high the first time and it was a dud of a recipe. Thanks for all your help!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: eriberri

                            I love that toffee recipe! So good and easy too!