Frugal Friday: cheap candy
Okay, I know real candy is fairly cheap. However dye/preservative free candy (which is what my kids require due to food allergies) is NOT cheap. My kids don’t get candy too often–maybe a package a month if I buy it–but that is still $5 for candy. So, instead I have done some research into candy making and have come up with some cheap alternatives. (Some of the linked recipes I adapt to suit our needs.)
Make your own gummi bears: I made these with some adaption– I used my jar of powdered gelatin which works slightly different–instead of a package worth I used a tsp, next time I would use one less tsp–which was still too much and made them rather harder than I would have liked. I still need to work on this recipe some more. I used blueberry juice concentrate for one set of gummies and coconut extract for the other, honey to sweeten, and poured them into candy molds and silicone ice cube trays to form them. They worked pretty well and the kids were VERY happy. If you really want them to be colored right you can use beet juice or other natural food dyes to color them.
Chocolate candy: Pick up some chocolate chips (any flavor) or some melting candy (I prefer Merkins). If you use chocolate chips you will want to add a Tbs of shortening for each bag (don’t use butter or margarine–any water will give the candy a fudge like texture). Melt on low or defrost in the microwave–being VERY careful that it doesn’t burn–your microwave will stink for a week if it does. While it melts get out anything that you like dunked in chocolate–rice krispies, pretzels, potato chips, cereal, nuts, raisins, candy, whatever. Once the chocolate is melted dunk the dunkable stuff first. (Use separate bowls for the salty/sweet/sour things you plan to dunk.) You want to move from largest to smallest. So dunk the pretzels first, then once finished pour some nuts in the bowl and coat them until the chocolate is gone. As you dunk each item put it on a cookie sheet or in little paper cups–I don’t use molds for my candy too much effort for something that will be eaten quickly–though if you are giving it away the molds do look nice. 🙂 Rice krispies are the best thing to do last–you can coat them using the smallest amount of chocolate and they are a great way to clean out the bowl.
Mary Jane/Bit-o-honey style candy: I make this often–about once a month, for the kids. My oldest can tolerate corn syrup but not corn starch so I use tapioca flour to coat the candy after making it to keep it from sticking. I have burned more than a few batches but my mom got me a candy thermometer so now it is much easier to not burn but I think I still prefer using skillet and using the size of the bubbles to decide when it is done. A word pf warning–I don’t follow recipes exactly so I can not give you exact measurements–in fact this is my own hack of a recipe based entirely on what I know of how sugar and other ingredients cook and mix.
Sugar syrup–you can use corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, sugar cooked to syrup consistency in water. Any will work though each changes the flavor. I use a mix of equal parts each that I cook down into a cheap syrup for the kids to use for pancakes. It has a maple/honey flavor that works well.
Oil–I oil the skillet or pan before starting to keep it from sticking. I also oil the sheet I am going to pour it out on and anything else I am going to be using. Olive oil, vegetable oil, shortening, or canola all work fine–I would think that butter would be fine as well.
Starch— rice starch, potato starch, corn starch, tapioca all work or if you want a sweet outside you can use powdered sugar which has a cornstarch content. You just need this to “flour” the pan and coat the candy as it cools so it won’t all stick together.
Flavoring–you can use extract, flavoring oil, peanut butter, juice concentrate, herbs (I have used mint leaves with very good results)–I believe you could also use cocoa or carob powder though I have not tested this yet. The peanut butter will change the consistency a bit but it will work well (and taste incredible if you like peanut butter things). The wetter the ingredients the more you will have to cook it down. (I use about a half cup of peanut butter for every 3 cups of sugar syrup, about 1 tsp flavor for every 2 cups sugar syrup, and about 1 tablespoon concentrate for every 2 cups sugar syrup. Make it in small batches and see what works for you–that is how I do things (though I usually make big batches and live with the results.:))
A skillet or a soup pan–if you have a candy thermometer you will need to use the soup pan. A skillet is better if you are “eyeing it” since it cooks more consistantly across and doesn’t need constantly stirred.
A cookie sheet or cake pan–to pour the hot syrup into when it gets to teh right consistancy.
After oiling the pan for on the stove and the cookie sheet, coat the cookie sheet with starch as you would a cake pan for making a cake. Leave the extra–you will want to be able to coat ewach peice of candy as it cools.
Pour syrup and flavoring into pan. I cover the bottom of a skillet with about 1/2 inch if I am not using a candy thermometer. If I am I put 2 inches in a tall soup pan. Heat slowly–you want it to remain at a slow rolling boil until it reaches hard ball stage on the candy thermometer or until the bubbles are slow and about the size of a pencil eraser. You can test it by dropping a bit into a glass of ice water. If it balls up and you can pick it up in your hands it is good. You will also notice that the candy on your spoon (preferably wooden) will start to string. Immediately remove from heat and pour slowly into the starched pan. You can do this two ways–if you want to avoid an extra step you can pour it slowly around like you would a funnel cakemaking a line of syrup in the starch and occasionally coating with more starch (if you do this you may want to have several pans waiting in case one is not enough–you don’t want it get stuck together or your kids will have an excuse to fill their mouth with a huge piece of candy) or you can cover the whole pan with the sugar syrup then coat it all with starch, wait until it cools some and use a hot, oiled knife to cut it apart. I prefer the first method as it is a bit simpler. If the candy starts to harden in the pan you can reheat it so you can get it out. If you feel really, really ambitious you could pour the candy into a silicon candy or ice cube mold instead. Keep in mind that the candy is not super hard–this is not hard tack, this is the consistency of bit-o-honey or maybe taffy so forming it may not work out well. Once cooled you acn wrap individual pieces in waxed paper or do what I do and store it all in a jar.
When you finish you will want to to fill all pans with HOT soapy water.
You can find more great recipes for candy/desserts that are easy to adapt for food allergies at Vegweb.com that are cheap to make.