The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking

What’s Going On?

Why do I add corn syrup?
Corn syrup acts as an "interfering agent" in this and many other candy recipes. It contains long chains of glucose molecules that tend to keep the sucrose molecules in the lollipop syrup from crystallizing. Lots of sucrose crystals would result in grainy, opaque candy instead of the clear, glassy lollipops you're trying to create.


What is cream of tartar?
Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, is a fine white powder that is a by-product of the wine-making process. It's derived from argol, or tartar, which forms naturally during the fermentation of grape juice into wine and is deposited on the sides of the wine casks. It is useful in this recipe because it's an acid, another form of "interfering agent," which inverts sucrose into fructose and glucose and thereby helps to prevent crystallization of the sugar syrup.


Why do I add citric acid?
Citric acid, sold as colorless crystals or powder, is an optional ingredient that adds tartness to fruit-flavored candies. The sour coating on the "super-sour" candies that are so popular today is a mixture of citric acid and sugar. You can find it in many supermarkets, craft stores, and baking supply stores—sometimes it's kept in the Kosher food section and is called "sour salt." It's also what gives fruits such as lemons and limes their sour taste.


Why do I need to stop stirring after the syrup begins to boil?
At this point, you have dissolved the crystal structure of the sugar. Stirring or other agitation is one of the many factors that can encourage the fructose and glucose molecules in your syrup to rejoin and form sucrose—crystals of table sugar.


Why do I wash down the sides of the pan?
Again, the sugar crystals are dissolved at this point in the process. A single "seed" crystal of sugar clinging to the side of the pot might fall in and is another factor that can encourage recrystallization.


Some tips for flavoring hard candy
You can use flavoring extracts that are available in the baking supplies section of your local supermarket, such as vanilla, almond, anise, maple, and lemon. Approximately 1 teaspoon of this kind of flavoring should be enough for a batch of lollipops.

There are also highly-concentrated flavorings specifically for candy making, available online or in specialty stores. The flavor choices are almost endless. These usually come in tiny 1-dram (1 teaspoon) bottles, and 1/4 teaspoon should be sufficient to flavor a batch of lollipops.

It’s a good idea to have the flavors and colors that you will add to your candy measured out and ready beforehand. You will need to work quickly once the syrup reaches the hard-crack stage because it will harden quickly!

When using stronger flavors such as cinnamon, mint, and cherry, you can use a small amount (about 1/4 teaspoon). Subtler flavors such as lemon, strawberry, orange, and peach require more (1/2 to 1 teaspoon.) You can add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract with these flavors to accent them and add a "creamy" flavor.

If you're making several batches, save the stronger flavors for last or they may contaminate the other batches. Be sure to wash all measuring and mixing spoons in between batches as well.


close this window