School holidays are upon us once again - they seem to arrive more frequently than in my day.
So it's back to the usual holiday-period question: "What can we do to keep the young 'uns busy"?
In the past I have focused on simple kitchen duties suitable for the younger children. Being mindful of just how quickly they become young adults I thought it was time for a somewhat more challenging quest in my favourite part of the house.
Candy making is a lost craft these days. I guess it is the time they take, along with the requirements of a candy or sugar thermometer to get the mixture to the correct point. In addition, considerable patience is needed and there's a chance of it all going wrong, which can result in the loss of a good pan should the mixture be allowed to burn, not to mention the mess a mistake can cause. But the results, once the method is mastered, are well worth the trials and you do know exactly what is in them.
There is also the issue of safety, as one must take extreme care when working with sugar at these very high temperatures. Having said all that, the rewards are well worth the effort, and while most candy recipes are difficult, others will be duly impressed with a successful batch.
Today we will have a look at pulled mints, which are interesting, as they are chewy and tacky when first made, but after several days of ripening soften magically and just melt in your mouth.
Make sure you have a bowl of iced water close to the stove and work area in case of burns.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
6-8 drops oil of peppermint
4 drops of green food colouring (or red if you prefer)
Mix sugar and water and corn syrup in a heavy based saucepan. Drop in the cream of tartar and insert your candy thermometer, stirring constantly over moderately high heat until the sugar dissolves. Allow to continue cooking uncovered without stirring until your thermometer reaches 135 degrees Celsius (265 degrees Fahrenheit) or until a drop of the mixtures forms a hard ball in cold water.
Immediately pour on to a well buttered marble slab or Pyrex dish.
Sprinkle with the oil of peppermint and the colouring.
Allow to cool slightly but as soon as possible begin pulling and stretching with a buttered spatula and, as soon as cool enough, change to using your well buttered hands.
Continue stretching the candy until it has cooled and you have a long rope.
Pull and twist into a rope 2cm in diameter and cut across the grain with buttered kitchen shears every 1-1.5cm.
Spread the pieces out on wax or greaseproof paper and, when thoroughly cool, store air-tight.
Don't attempt to make pulled candies in a cool kitchen. Candy will harden much too fast.
Rally the troops - pulling candy calls for teamwork and strong young arms are very useful.
Remove all jewellery - candy can pull gems out of settings.
Make sure the counter underneath your platter is heat resistant - if not it may get scorched.
While the candy/taffy is too hot to handle, begin the pulling process with a buttered spatula by lifting and stretching.
Use buttered bare hands for the pulling as gloves are hopeless and rebuttering the hands really is a requirement to keep the candy from sticking.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
- The Southland Times