Saturday, June 14, 2008

makin' lollipops

it's the bride-to-be and her lollipop buttons!

i'm helping a wonderful friend with her wedding - i'm so excited to be her DOC (day of coordinator); to make sure everything goes smoothly for her rehearsal and the big event. during one of our meetings, she discussed her button "theme" (it's not really her theme, but there are button elements throughout the day) and showed me a picture from martha stewart with button lollipops as decorations and favors. they looked easy enough and i had just heard from a student i work with that he made lollipops during a trip home. i figured if he could do it, we could do it.

i did some preliminary searching, found an online supplier of button candy molds and 'bride a' ordered sticks, bags, and 10 mold sets. we scheduled a june candy factory date and set up shop in her kitchen and dining room.

clear and white plastic molds - white was deeper and easier to fill, but clear made cute, thin pops

on a balmy sunday at noon (it was a billion degrees), we started our adventure into candy land. we carefully coated the molds with butter pam spray (too much, at first), put a stick in each lollipop crevice and got the ingredients ready for our first batch. i had printed notes and tips from online sources and things my friend had mentioned during my quick "training" session...we were so ready for success. 

simple lollipop recipe
1/3 c water
1 c sugar
2-3 tsp light corn syrup
few drops liquid food coloring

1. boil water
2. stir in sugar, corn syrup and food coloring
3. stop stirring and boil until hard crack stage or 300F on a candy thermometer (i'll discuss this further down)
4. pour into well greased pyrex measuring cup
5. quickly pour into greased candy molds
6. allow to cool completely before removing, store in plastic wrap or tied candy bags

so we followed steps 1 and 2 and, and since we had no candy thermometer, we used a water testing method to find the hard crack stage. you can find this information anywhere online, but i'll tell you right now, it's a load of crap. the theory is that you drop a bit of the candy liquid into cold water at various cooking points and it will do obvious, easy-to-determine things. examples include forming a tight ball, forming strings from the spoon, and turning solid upon entering the water then cracking if broken (our goal).

yes, it was totally that simple!

round 1: a&a 0, candy 1

we started with yellow. yellow was hard. we tested and tested and it remained gel-like and never formed a ball. we waited. waited for the bubbles in the pot to become tiny, the sign of soft crack stage, just one step before the hard crack stage. but how small is tiny? we waited more. i asked, "do you think it smells like it's burning?" bride a says, "yes..but i think it should, you know? like it burns off and then it's ready." we realize we have no idea what we're doing. we allow it to "burn away" a little more. it becomes darker than yellow, caramel-colored first, then darker still. "take it off!" bride a yells. so i do and we run to to sink with our burned sugar. round one: fail. (don't eat it at this point. bride a literally spit her taste test on the counter and gagged a little.)

it's still early, though, and we're barely sweating. we decide to try again and use purple this time. it's seems luckier. during this round we also get our hands on a brand new candy thermometer that bride a's fiance has purchased especially for this endeavor.

candy thermometer + water testing gives us an advantage. but what stage is this?

so this time we test more often and we've got the candy thermometer telling us the rising temperature. halfway through, bride a's fiance tells us the analog thermometers have a bit of lag compared to digitals and our reading might be off. oh good! 

but bride a gets better at testing. while i work over the stove, not stirring but collecting samples at various temperatures, she waits at the water bowl for a specimen. tests 1-5 are usually still in the gel stage. essentially, this means nothing except that it's not even close to ready. the next samples are more pliable. they hold a little bit of shape in the water. between our thermometer's 200-220 marks, we start to get to soft crack stage. the candy sample is like taffy out of water. at 225, our last test point, it makes a pop as it enter the water and audibly snaps when broken. we get that candy off the stove faster than fast.

it's a success! candy to pyrex, pyrex to mold. pouring quickly, two trays are filled per batch. we continue this process 6 times. all purple, 12 trays. it didn't take too long for the candy to cool and they popped easily from the molds. but it was a long process. long and hot and upon finishing 12 trays of purple, we were only half way done.

cute as a button! (i couldn't resist)

so we took a break, studied her ceremony in her air-conditioned bedroom and fiance made us smoothies (so sweet!). fully chilled inside and out, it was onto yellow. but this time, we fared better and had batch after successful batch.


so suck it, yellow...we won. bride a got so good at testing and pouring that i would consider her an expert. i admit that my cooking and lollipop edge clean-up were just as stellar. the a&a lollipop shop is open for business. except not, because whoa it was a long, hot day and i don't want to make lollipops in the foreseeable future.

lollipop, lollipop, oh lolly, lolly, lolly.

120 or so lollipops later, we were finished. we wrapped those babies in plastic wrap and fiance boxed them up for transport to the wedding. we let out a long sigh and i went home and fell asleep.

after doing all of this, i've got some tips:

*don't try double (or more) batches. the liquid will cool down and seize and you'll be unable to pour it.

*use a wooden spoon to stir and test. plastic will melt and metal will burn your hand.

*don't stir once the sugar has dissolved in the water. crystals will form and your candy will not be smooth and glassy.

*don't rely on a specific temperatures or perfect stage results. we never once saw a ball form and didn't reach 300F.

*have plenty of molds. they're cheap and you won't have to wait as long if you're making lots of lollies.

*don't under-boil. we had a batch of opaque lollipops that crumbled when eaten because we didn't reach hard crack.

*don't over-fill the mold. a few of the lollies at the end of the pours spilled over the edge. if you don't clean/remove that before they harden, say goodbye cute button, hello giant circle thingy.

*don't make 120+ lollipops on a humid, 85F day without air-conditioning. you've been warned.

 see you cuties in a few weeks!

really, this was pretty easy in the end. the ingredients and supplies are cheap and if you were doing less than we did, it would take just a few hours, start to bagged and bowed finish. these are going to be so cute at her wedding - i'll be sure to take pictures of them all spiffed up on the big day.


Thomas said...

Hilarious. I'm glad you conquered yellow and lived to tell the tale.

Husband's Mom said...

I hope the bride has those stored somewhere cool and not in her apt with no air because they will be a sticky mess by her wedding. They are very cute though!

alauna said...

They are in a climate controlled (air conditioned) room, thank goodness...or all that hard work would have been for nothing!