Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Horror of Candy Corn

By Jerry Chandler

Next month is October. We must prepare properly.

Halloween and the run-up to it is a time of chills and thrills. Sadly, with regards to one great American Halloween tradition, the thrills have gone and been replaced by way more chills than there used to be. What was once something that was looked forward to has now become a thing of scorn and derision, and the only tradition that most people now have is of trying to avoid what was once enjoyed. This, my friends, has been the sad fate of candy corn.

Believe it or not, there’s a good reason that candy corn had such a prominent place in our traditions around Halloween. That reason, unbelievable today, was that it was a damned good candy. The thing is, candy corn became a victim of that worst of all modern blights on our cultural landscape; mass production. It fell victim to the quick, cheap, and easy manufacturing that processed all of the flavor- and all of the fun -out of it.

But there’s no reason things have to keep going along the way they have been going. One of the other reasons that candy corn was once so much more popular than it is now is that it’s a snap to make at home. Basic ingredients, easy prep, a fairly short total amount of time to make it, and steps so simple that you can make it with young kids. Indeed, candy corn a very easy Halloween treat to make. 

Let’s start out by looking at our list of ingredients. You will need-

- 9 ounces powdered sugar (approximately 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 ounce nonfat dry milk (approximately 13 teaspoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 7 ounces granulated sugar (approximately 1 cup)
- 7 1/2 ounces light corn syrup (approximately 2/3 cup)
- 5 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter left out until room temperature
- 1 teaspoon (of typically) vanilla extract
- 5 to 6 drops of yellow and orange gel paste food coloring

That last bit isn’t simply the throwing of a few extra words in to the description. There’s food coloring that you can by on the cheap at any store, and then there’s gel paste food colorings. Gel colors work better for things like this for a number of reasons. My two big ones here are (1) it’s easier to control when squeezing it out of the bottle a drop at a time to vary the color intensity and (2) gel paste food coloring has more intense coloring than just about any basic grocery store food coloring you’re going to find.

This is a common, tried and true homemade recipe that you can find in many places with little variations to it here and there. I’ve seen people replace the vanilla extract with lemon, chocolate, or strawberry flavored extracts as well. A friend of mine used to split her mix so that 2/3 of her mix was on one side and 1/3 of it was on the other. The larger amount was flavored with chocolate extract and she colored it brown while the smaller amount was flavored with mint and colored green. When she assembled her corn, she used two brown cords with one green cord in the middle.

This should take about 50 minutes of active preparation time, 20 to 30 minutes of letting the mixture sit, and about 5 minutes of cook time for a batch. Depending on the size you make your pieces- so long as you’re staying with the traditionally smaller pieces -you should be able to get 150 pieces (give or take) out of this recipe.

First you need to prep your dry mixture. You’re going to combine your powdered sugar, dry milk and salt in a bowl. If you’re using a food processor, you should only need to pulse around 5 to 7 times until your mixture is properly combined and smooth. Hand mixing is going to add a little time, and there’s no time amount I can give you on how long you’ll have to mix it. You simply have to stir by hand until the mixture is properly combined and smooth. Once you get that done, set it off to the side.

Combine your sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 4-quart or 5-quart pot. Place the pot on a burner at medium heat, cover it, and cook your concoction for 5 to 7 minutes. You may want stir it halfway through.

Add in your butter. If you have a cooking thermometer, place it in the mixture and bring it up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit. It should take approximately 2 to 3 minutes to hit that temperature. When your mixture reaches 230 degrees F, take the pot off the heat and remove your thermometer. Add in your vanilla (or other flavor of choice) and your dry mixture, stirring the mixture continuously with a spatula until it’s well combined. Pour onto a half sheet pan lined with a no-stick baking mat. Let it cool until the mixture is cool enough to handle. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes. You should now have something like a sugar dough.

Divide up your sugar dough into 6 equal pieces. Add 2 to 3 drops of yellow gel food coloring to 2 pieces of the sugar dough. Knead the dough until the color is consistent throughout. Add 2 to 3 drops of orange gel food coloring to the next 2 pieces. Again, knead until the color is consistent throughout. Leave the next 2 pieces white for traditional candy corn, or add in brown if you prefer that color pattern for your candy corn. Roll each piece of your sugar dough into a strand about 18-inches long. Once each of the strands uniform in thickness from one end to the other, cut each of your strands in half.

Roll 1 of your white pieces into a strand that’s about a 1/2 inch in thickness and approximately two feet long. Repeat this step with a yellow piece and orange piece. Place your strands side by side and firmly press them together using your fingers. Cut your new, multi-colored strand into separate 4 inch pieces. Lay your new strands 1 at a time onto the no-stick mat and cut it into a wedge/triangle shapes. You can use a very sharp knife to cut the candy into pieces, but a wire cheese or butter slicer works best. In a pinch, you can even use a good pizza cutter at this stage to make your candy corn pieces.

Repeat the above paragraph's procedure with your remaining sugar dough. Place your finished pieces on a piece of parchment or waxed paper and let them dry for about an hour. Package them in small amount in something like Ziploc snack bags and then place them out with your party favors later that night (or the whenever your party is.)

The nice thing about doing your own candy corn, beyond just the better flavor, is the increased variety you have to play with. On top of the above mentioned flavor tweaks, you can play around with colors doing it at home. You can make it as traditional looking or as gruesome looking as you want to. As just one example, you can use two layers of grey with a dark green center layer for zombie corn. You can use black and purple or black and green for witch candy. Color and shape control also opens candy corn up for other times of the year. You can color it and/or shape it for Christmas (red & green) or the 4th of July (red, white, & blue) or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Candy corn should not be one of the horrors of October and the Halloween season. Nor should it be one of its tricks. It’s up to you to help make it a treat again.

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

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