Teaching a six-year-old how to read a candy thermometer, and actually see the elusive mercury is kind of like expecting a sixteen-year-old boy still to see invisible friends. For as long ago as I can remember, making Christmas candy has been a part of my life.
My dad made a few candies growing up and taught me the trade. Then, 22 years ago, I married into an even more serious candy making family and soon therafter received a bona fide candy thermometer. December is the one time of year I do anything significant in the kitchen. Karla has her candy specialties as well, and makes each with excellence (chocolate peanut clusters, party mix, pretzels with almond bark, etc.) but for some reason I gravitate toward the more difficult ones, the success or failure of which hinges upon a few degrees or a few seconds.
The two most difficult for me are toffee and caramels…. in that order. I have ruined my share of batches of each over the years, but the making of candy is little more than good science (and proven recipes), precise measurements, “eye of the tiger” concentation, and a good memory.
Candy thermometers are a great help, but some candies, like toffee, must be subjectively judged by the human eye. The right hue of tan must be reached or the batch is a wreck. Too tan (brown) and it’s a complete disaster. Too light and it sticks in your teeth. Whether they succeed or fail, though, I know that these are good and lasting memories for all…the smells…the laughs…the music…the eating, and that makes my heart smile!