Taffy Tastes of Summer

First off, please observe the amazingness of my blue milk glass hob nail compote dish-cum-candy bowl. Next, please cast your eye upon the homemade salt water taffy therein. It is rose-flavored.

Taffy, for me, has always been inextricably entwined with summer – specifically with summers on Cape Cod.  I’d take taffy any way it came – picked out flavor-by-flavor from bins (with a focus on peanut butter), or jumbled in a mixed-flavor box where I’d have to work hard to avoid grape.  When I found a taffy recipe in The American Heritage Cookbook recently, I decided to make it to help extend those last glimmers of summer sun (and salt) into the beginning of fall.

Turns out taffy is made of sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, water, and butter. And salt.  Caramelization is a wonderful process.

Thank god I have a brand new candy/deep fry thermometer with specific markings for various cooked sugar temperatures.  I’ve done the ice-water test thing in the past and have a decent idea of what “soft ball stage” is, but the thermometer gives an extra degree of certainty.  It also showed me that sugar does not heat nearly as fast as I thought it did.  It’s very important to get to the right temperature – or the taffy-pulling is not nearly as fun as depicted below.

Yah, that rope totally got away from me while I was taking this picture.  Also, note the hunk of melty butter in the back – that’s because taffy is STICKY.  It sticks all over.  I had to keep my fingers slicked in butter while pulling the stuff.  And the plate slicked in butter when I put it down.  Eventually, though, it became more solid – enough so that it could be snipped into pieces.  Also, more translucent than store-bought taffy.

Look at how much fun these old-timey people are having pulling taffy! I think the presence of this print in my cookbook really got my into this recipe.

Each taffy piece got its own wrapper.  That was the worst part of the whole process – so much scissor work.  And twisting.

Finally, when it was done, I got to try my first homemade taffy!  And…it was kind of weird.  It really tasted of all the butter I’d used to grease things.  So I put it in my candy bowl and forgot about it for a week.  One night when I was craving something sweet I decided to brave it, so I unwrapped a piece – and it was real taffy!  Apparently it just needs to settle for a couple of days.  Or maybe we’ve all just been eating stale taffy all our lives from those quaint little New England shore shops…

Salt Water Taffy
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
2/3 c. light corn syrup
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. water
1/4 tsp . salt.
Food coloring
Flavor extract of choice

1. Mix sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, butter, water, and salt in a medium saucepan.
2. Heat over a medium flame, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 254 degrees, or “hard ball stage.”
3. Remove from heat, and pour into a buttered 9×13-inch pan to cool. When the cooked sugar is cool enough to handle, put a couple of drops of food coloring in the center, along with your flavoring of choice. I used rose water (1 teaspoon); I have plans to try lemon extract, bourbon, and plain ol’ vanilla.
4. Butter your hands to keep the taffy from sticking, then fold it over itself and over the coloring and flavor in the center, roll it into a ball, and begin pulling. Pull the taffy into a rope, fold it in on itself, and repeat until it is light in color and firm enough to hold a shape.
5. Stretch it out into a roll 1 inch in diameter and cut it into pieces with kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife. Wrap each piece in wax or parchment paper to store.