Every year at our house, it’s a battle of the Christmas trees. I’m all… artificial pencil tree. White lights. Dollar store ruby red plastic glitter bulbs and white snowflakes. Red poinsettia and gold leaves sticking out of the tree to hide the gaps. The more, the merrier!
And he’s all… Real tree. Colored lights. Traditional assortment of delicate glass bulbs and ornaments. Leave some green on the tree. Less is more.
It’s come to the point that we alternate being in charge of decorating the tree every other year. But the one thing we can agree on every year is the tradition of Hard Tack Candy. Otherwise known as stained glass or old fashioned hard candies.
It’s so beautiful to me. I’m fascinated with it really. Just look at it would you? I mean really look at it. Some may see just a plain ol pile of candy, but I see a work of art. A labor of love.
This candy transports me back to my days as a child going to visit my mom’s side of the family on Christmas Day. In particular, my Aunt Madelyn was a big time baker. She was a Foodie before being a Foodie was cool. One of my favorite memories of Christmas time was eating her treats and bakes. My absolute favorite was her hard tack candy. She would have every flavor under the sun out on her dessert table.
For the hour long ride home I would stuff my pockets with just about every flavor of those candies, making sure to grab some extra butter rum and spearmint. As I sat in the last seat of our station wagon facing the rear window, watching all the Christmas lights go by on the homes nestled in the hills along the Ohio River, I would pull those warm sticky candies out of my pocket and have to pick off the lint before popping it into my mouth. Save for choking down a few strands of pocket lint, it was a little taste of heaven and has forever since reminded me of Christmas.
Funny how such a small candy can elicit fond memories that bring about a big feeling of comfort and fun family gatherings. My Aunt sadly passed away this year. That’s why making her beloved recipe this Christmas is even more special to me. She kindly shared it with my sisters and I months before her passing.
I did cut down the proportions to get the right amount for one batch and to have enough time to cut the candy.
- 2 Cups white sugar (I use organic white sugar)
- ¾ Cup water
- ⅔ Cup light corn syrup
- ½ tsp food coloring
- 1 dram flavoring or ½ dram oil (note*** oils are much stronger than the flavorings and only require half the amount.)
- ½ teaspoon confectioner's sugar for dusting
- IMPORTANT SUPPLIES:
- Quality candy thermometer
- Sturdy deep nonreactive pot
- Wooden Spoon or silicone spatula
- Silpat or bake pans
- Pizza cutter
- ****IMPORTANT**** Have all your ingredients and supplies prepped and ready to go. Read through entire post before starting. Sugar is extremely hot and can cause serious burns. Keep an ice cold bowl of water handy in the event of any small burns. This cooking task is not recommend for small children.
- In a sturdy, deep, non reactive pot on medium heat, add sugar, water and corn syrup.
- Attach candy thermometer on side of pot, careful not to touch bottom of pan.
- Stir mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until sugar melts and becomes smooth.
- Stop stirring just short of boiling point (212 degrees)
- When mixture reaches around 200 degree mark it will begin to bubble up over pot.
- Watch carefully and remove from heat, until the bubbles subside.
- Replace back on medium heat and DO NOT stir after this point.
- Let mixture reach 260 degrees and carefully pour in food coloring.
- Do not stir. Bubbles will disperse the color.
- When mixture reaches 300 degrees, turn off heat and remove pot.
- Let stand about 20 seconds then stand back and carefully add flavoring or oil as stated above.
- Stir the mixture to evenly disperse the flavoring/oil.
- Pour mixture quickly and carefully onto a nonstick surface that can withstand more than 300 degrees of heat
- Place pan and spoon/spatula and thermometer in sink and fill with hot water to soak
- Wait 15 to 20 seconds and with pizza cutter begin on outside and cut in semi symmetrical strips lengthwise and widthwise.
- Cool completely.
- Break apart and dust lightly with confectioner's sugar.
- Place in airtight containers or canning jars.
Read through entire post before starting. Sugar is extremely hot and can cause serious burns. Keep an ice cold bowl of water handy in the event of any small burns. This cooking task is not recommend for small children.
***Remember the oils are stronger than the flavors. For example, if making butter rum, I use a whole bottle. If making cinnamon, I use 1/2 the bottle.
In a sturdy, deep, non reactive pot on medium heat, add sugar, water and corn syrup.
Attach candy thermometer to side of pot, careful not to touch bottom of pan.
Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until sugar melts and becomes smooth.
Stop stirring just short of boiling point, (212 degrees) around 200 degrees. When mixture reaches around 200 degree mark it will begin to bubble up over pot. It will begin to rise.
And continue rising. Don’t turn your back for a second. Trust me, I can stress this a thousand times, but it’s inevitable. You will at some point in your career of hard tack candy making, overflow the syrup. It’s sort of a rite of passage. Just smile and move on.
When it gets to this point, remove it from the heat until the bubbles subside.
If you make it to this step, you’re home free. Give yourself a pat on the back. Cleaning all that hot syrup off the burner and stove will really get your tinsel in a tangle. If it does happen, just move to a different burner.
Once you return the pot to the burner let it continue to boil on medium heat. It will look like this. Don’t panic if yours isn’t brown. I use organic white sugar. The brown hue is the impurities in the sugar. It will lighten up as the temperature rises. Feel free to use the white sugar of your choice.
Let it continue to boil. Do not stir. You might reach a stand still for a bit. That is just the water evaporating out of the syrup. The syrup will Bubble and thicken as the temperature increases. Don’t worry, it won’t overflow again.
When it reaches 260 degrees it’s time to put in the food coloring.
Stand back and pour it in carefully. It might sizzle and bubble a bit.
Resist your innate urge to stir. The bubbles will do the work for you. If only they followed you around all day.
****Have all your tools and pans/silpat nearby and ready to go. Call in the elves for back up if need be. You gotta move and move fast. Once your syrup hits the cool surface it’s going to begin cooling right away. You only have a matter of minutes to cut your strands of candy.
When your thermometer reaches 300 degrees, remove the pot and shut off the burner. Wait about 20 seconds and pour in your flavoring or oil. If using flavoring, use a whole dram. If using oil, use half a dram (bottle.) Stand back when you pour, it’s going to sizzle and release steam. You don’t want your beautiful face in the way of that.
Now you may stir. Stir the pot with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to evenly disperse the flavor/oil. Now quickly and CAREFULLY pour the syrup onto your surface of choice. You can even use a marble counter top, but I prefer a silpat. A cake pan is fine too. Make sure it is covered with a light dusting of nonstick cooking spray of your choice.
Here is a video demo on how to quickly cut the candy with a pizza cutter
Here is where you have to move fast. Give it barely a few seconds to begin cooling. Say 15 to 20 seconds. Begin at any outer edge and with a pizza cutter, slice the cooling candy lengthwise and widthwise into semi symmetrical squares. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly exact. It’s candy, it WILL get eaten.
Let the candies cool completely. Once cool, you can begin to carefully break them apart and place them into a ziplock bag with 1/2 tsp of confectioners sugar. This candy can be like working with shards of glass at times, much like the syrup spilling over the pot, at some point, you are going to get burned or get a small cut or two. So I wouldn’t recommend having the tiny tots helping with this task. The pain is worth all the reward. I promise!
Toss the candies around in the bag to get a light coating of sugar to prevent them from sticking together. I suggest pouring the candies into a colander over the sink and shake all the excess sugar off, which also gets rid of any dangerous shards of candy.
These make great gifts for friends and family. Layer them in canning jars with a ribbon. They will love you forever.