Although it's important to read and thoroughly understand any recipe before you begin, with candy recipes, it is essential.
Start by reading the recipe through and noting:
Be sure to use the proper equipment and allow plenty of time to prepare the recipe successfully. Don't be fooled into thinking that a short recipe is necessarily going to take little effort or be fast to prepare.
Next, assemble all of the equipment you'll need and measure all of the ingredients. For example, have the walnuts chopped before the fudge recipe says to beat them in. The time it takes to chop the nuts is too long for the fudge to sit idle.
Measure accurately, and don't make substitutions for basic ingredients. Never alter quantities in candy recipes. Do not halve or double recipes; the proportions have been worked out for the recipes as they are printed. The only safe way to double your yield for a specific recipe is to make two separate batches.
Humidity affects the preparation of all candies, so avoid making candy on very humid days. Humidity affects the preparation of divinity and nougat to such an extent that you should plan to make these two candies on a relatively dry day. If the day is humid, no amount of beating will make these two candies set up.
1. Butter the sides of the saucepan. This helps prevent the mixture from climbing the sides of the pan and boiling over.
2. Usually, the next step is to combine the sugar with the other ingredients and bring the mixture to boiling. It's very important to dissolve the sugar entirely during this step.
3. As you cook the mixture to dissolve the sugar, stir it constantly, but gently, so it doesn't splash on the sides of the saucepan. This precaution helps prevent sugar crystals from forming and clumping together in the saucepan.
4. If some of the candy mixture splashes on the side of the saucepan, cover the pan and cook for 30 to 45 seconds. As the steam condenses, it will dissolve any crystals that may have formed, so that the candy mixture doesn't boil over. (Candy mixtures using milk products or molasses should not be covered; they foam if steam cannot escape, and may boil over.)
5. After the sugar is dissolved, carefully clip the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan. (Always check the thermometer accuracy before you begin.) For an accurate reading, be sure that the bulb of the candy thermometer is completely covered with boiling liquid, not just with foam, and that it does not touch the bottom of the pan. Always read the thermometer at eye level.
When cooking candy mixtures, it is extremely important to keep the mixture boiling at a moderate, steady rate over the entire surface. Throughout our recipes we suggest rangetop temperatures for cooking the candy mixtures. If you use this information as a guide, you'll be able to maintain the best rate of cooking for optimum results. Because every rangetop heats differently, however, you also will have to rely on knowledge of your rangetop to judge whether you'll need to use a slightly higher or lower temperature to cook the candy mixture within the recommended time.
Candy-making depends ultimately upon the transformation of sugar and liquids into syrups. Learning how to cook these sugar-liquid mixtures is the key to successful candy-making.
Sugar-liquid mixtures change character as they increase in temperature, so the final temperature to which a mixture is cooked has a definite effect on the finished candy. Mixtures boiled to relatively low final temperatures yield soft candies such as fudge; mixtures boiled to very high final temperatures produce hard candies such as brittles. Mixtures cooked to temperatures in between produce caramels, taffies, and divinity.