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As I write these words, I haven’t yet begun my taffy-making adventure. I’ll be alternating between writing and cooking today, so you get to read along with my first ever candy-making experience.
I’ve been thinking about Taffy for weeks. Salt Water Taffy was the first thing that came to mind when I requested Taffy Day, and I originally intended to make some, and maybe do a comparison with some commercial taffy. Granville Island on a gorgeous sunny Sunday provided commercial taffy in a wide variety of flavours to sample.
Now, I don’t really like taffy simply because candy and I aren’t really chums. I do have a soft spot for White Rabbit taffy (and its cousin Milky) but I haven’t got a clue how to make them. Salt Water Taffy gets points because even though it isn’t noticeably salty the name reminds me of salted licorice, which I might die without. Some good Dubbel Zout would go to the desert island with me long before even chocolate, who, I’ll admit, is a pal.
I’ve been browsing some recipes and I have had a change of heart. Salt Water Taffy is getting kicked to the curb (or boardwalk?) and I have devised a new plan. A molasses taffy I-will-make, to be topped with a sprinkle of smoked Malden sea salt. I shall call it Deerfoot Taffy after the Calgary thoroughfare, in honour of the molasses/salt mixture used to economically de-ice winter roads. I believe the name is appropriate, because just as Salt Water Taffy contains no salt water, my Deerfoot Taffy contains no deer feet.
Molasses is cool stuff. I love that it isn’t too sweet, I love the mineral-y, almost bitter flavour of it, and I love the fact that due to the invert sugar content molasses keeps baked goods nice and moist by actually sucking moisture out of the air and into the goods. I often substitute in some molasses when I bake, and though the alteration is always performed with some trepidation it has always worked out well. Hopefully that luck will carry through into my candy production.
I decided to try this recipe, because the appeal of simplicity won out over the appeal of “that looks like a tasty, reliable recipe”. Otherwise I probably would have tried this one: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/pulled_molasses_taffy.php . Never mind that the recipe I chose had poor grammar and formatting. Was the author’s candy-making skill better than their writing? One hopes.
So with everything in the pot (sweetened condensed milk, molasses – I used the cooking variety – and salt) I began stirring constantly as the recipe instructed. Very shortly the liquid started looking a bit… grainy. ”That’s not right, is it?” I wondered. The next 30 minutes or so I was very nervous. My inner monologue went something like this:
“Hmm, come to think of it most candy recipes say not to stir at all. Am I remembering that correctly? Maybe this stirring isn’t such a good idea. Oh well, I’ll stick to the recipe.”
“Hmm, this is definitely looking even grainier. Is this the dreaded crystallization of the sugar that I’ve read about? Am I going to end up with a sugar-glue-rock in my pot?”
“Hmmm, most recipes seem to talk about that ‘washing the sides of the pot down’ business. This one doesn’t. The goo sticking to the sides of the pot seems too thick to wash down. I guess I’ll trust the recipe.”
“I hope this isn’t burning”.
“Why is it taking so long to reach 235?!”
The magic 235 was finally reached, so I executed an inconclusive cold-water test and poured the mess out into a buttered pan where it is now cooling. So far, so good… I think? Next up the pulling!
Okay, so I have to admit that this step was pretty fun. Here’s how it goes: when the candy has cooled just enough to be handled you form it into a rope and then proceed to fold it over on itself, twisting it up, and pulling it out again. This process goes on for 5-10 minutes and incorporates air into the candy. As the air content increases the colour of the candy lightens, and the texture becomes lighter and chewier. You need lots of butter for this stage so that you don’t end up kneading a sticky mess. I love how recipes imply that the butter is just there as a release agent. You an I both know that plenty ends up being worked into the taffy.
(Before and after pulling)
Once it was sufficiently pulled, I formed it back into ropes and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I crushed some of my coarse smoked sea salt on a saucer and up-ended each taffy onto the crystals, then wrapped each candy up in wax paper.
I have to say, they’re delicious. They’re a bit softer than the salt water taffy I sampled, which I like, but that may be because they’re still fresh and warm. They’re not too sweet, and have a nice bite from the molasses. The crunch of the salt is a nice contrast to the smooth creamyness of the taffy. Looks like molasses came through for me again!
[Ed.: 365Foods would like to welcome guest blogger N., who has been a boon foodie companion of ours for quite some time. N. will let out a vocal "Oh My Hells!" at the very mention of an oozy cheese or a new yummy restaurant. She has a little song and dance she likes to do when yummy tuna sashimi is nearby. In other words, she's our kind of people!]
A list of American food holidays would not be complete without Indian Pudding, also known as Hasty Pudding, which traces back to mid-18th century New England and is therefore perhaps one of the most originally American of American foods. It is known as “Indian” pudding because it makes use of cornmeal rather than wheat flour, which was in short supply in those days, and as we know corn was introduced to the European settlers by aboriginal people. The Deerfield Inn in Deerfield, Massachusetts, reports that this is still one of their most popular desserts, 300 years after its creation.
A quick Google search revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes for Indian Pudding. Some of the variation includes whether or not eggs and milk are included, the addition of raisins or apples or even pumpkin (yum!), and perhaps the most fancy version (of course, attributable to our overachieving friends at Bon Appetit magazine) is accompanied by nutmeg ice cream. I am reminded of the Five Spice Ice Cream debacle of 2008, in which E was enlisted to bring her ice cream maker all the way from Vancouver for an epic dinner party at D’s house which extended until at least 2am the next day. [Ed.: I wouldn't call that a "debacle" just... happily epic.]
I decided to use the Deerfield Inn recipe, mostly because it called for ingredients in amounts that I already had in my pantry. All of the recipes using milk and eggs use roughly the same proportions; some of them use pints and quarts, which I don’t understand, so I used this one.
One of the nice things about this dish is that it is a pantry dish – you can whip it up on a drizzly November afternoon (or in my case a spectacular Victoria day, of the kind that one might brag about to one’s Calgary relatives – not that I would do anything like that) without braving the cold or the swine flu by appearing in public. It is baked in a bain marie, so it fills the house with the kind of moist, aromatic baking smells that make everyone want to marry a baker. I used my spectacularly beautiful pea-green Staub dutch oven (without the lid) – it’s one of the things I’d rescue from a burning house.
4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat milk in a double boiler until skin forms. [This takes FOREVER; not a good task for when you're trying to bake something during your 3 month old's precious "quiet awake" time]. Whisk in cornmeal, sugar, and spices. Cook until thickened, stirring occasionally [I had to stop here for about 2 hours due to aforesaid 3 month old and his so-called "needs". I don't think it was any worse for the wait, although the word "thickened" is a bit vague - I took it to mean thicker than it was; it was not thick by any means]. Add molasses and maple syrup, heat through. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. [At this point remove from the heat; otherwise you will scramble your eggs]. Whisk small amount of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk egg mixture into the original mixture. Add butter to the mix. Pour mix into dish for baking. [Then panic, because you think this stuff is WAY too liquidy to amount to anything]. Bake at 350°F in a water bath until set (1 1/2 to 2 hours). Baking time depends on the size of the baking dish. Serves 6-8 people.
After two hours, I took it out of the oven and let it sit overnight.
I think this would be delicious served with a hot custard sauce (I use Harry Horne’s powder, but you could go all Martha Stewart and make your own, if you had more time than common sense), or with a gorgeous vanilla ice cream. I also think that this dish would be an excellent application for Miss B’s cardamom caramel sauce, as long as you cut it first with some whipped cream or custard.
The variations on this recipe are endless. Instead of ground spices as called for in the recipe, one could steep the milk with cinnamon sticks, star anise, fresh ginger and vanilla beans. The recipe does not call for ground clove but I think it would be a respectable addition. One could add pumpkin, raisins, apples, or any other autumnal deliciousness. If I were to make it again, I would reduce the amount of molasses and sub in more maple syrup; this is a very molasses-y dish using these proportions and, while I like molasses, maple syrup has a much more nuanced flavour.
[ Ed.: ..... TIME PASSES....THE NEXT MORNING....]
STOP THE PRESSES!
This stuff tastes just AWFUL. There is way too much molasses, to start with. There is basically no other flavour, and it approaches medicinal in its over-the-top molasses-ness. The texture is weird too. If it was a more delicate flavour one might flatter it by saying the texture approaches panna cotta, but combined with this weird flavour it is more accurately described as slimy and greasy. There is no cornmeal taste or texture to it. Yes, it would be delicious with creme anglaise or hot custard sauce, as long as you drowned it and put it out of its misery.