I have to admit it. My name is Lynley and I am a sweet-aholic. I blame my parents. Clearly, judging by the amount of sweets they consume, it is hereditary. I was born with a sweet tooth. And it looks like I’ve passed this on to my son as well.
So now that I’m a parent, I recognise that there’s no point in denying a child all sweets. Where’s the fun in life if you do that? By the same token though, although I worry less about the sugar, I am concerned at the numbers of additives put into commercially available sweeties. Not to mention the price. Since when did it start to cost more than 50p to buy a bag of Minstrels from the corner shop?
Then I remembered. When I was a child, we often simply made our own sweets. It was fun! In fact, if you want to get all educational, these recipes are really quite good chemistry lessons too. So you can have fun, you can learn something and you can save money. What’s not to like?
Here are three of my favourite recipes. I first started making these when I was about eight years old. Although today’s kids are far more cosseted than we were, it is a good age to start to learn a bit of responsibility. Like being in charge of a gas ring in the kitchen on your own!
This is a bit like the crunchy, golden stuff you find inside Crunchie bars. In Scotland, so I am told, they call it Puff Candy. In New Zealand, where my recipe comes from, it is called Hokey Pokey and is virtually a national dish. The recipe I used for this feature came from the website of Alexa Johnston although it is essentially the same as the recipe to be found in the classic New Zealand Edmonds Cookbook. It is wonderfully simple. All you need is sugar (mine is from a 98p 1KG Fairtrade bag of white granulated bought at Sainsburys), golden syrup (75p a tin at Iceland) and one teaspoon of baking soda.
Do not, as I did, be half way through cooking when you realise that the soda you thought you bought earlier that day was in fact baking powder. I can say from experience that baking powder will not give you that wonderful light, sticky crunchiness that honeycomb is known for!
What makes this recipe such a great chemistry lesson, and my favourite part as a child, is the dramatic fizzing up of the mixture when you drop in the baking soda. Make sure you do this immediately after removing the mixture from the heat, or if it is still on the gas ring take it off as soon as you’ve dropped the soda in. It isn’t dangerous but it will burn, and if you get the smoke in your eyes, it will sting.
Now if there’s one sweetie that stands out above all others, the king of the sugar fests, it would have to be fudge. This is surprisingly easy to make at home. And there are a ton of different kinds of recipes out there. My favourite resource for this is The Fudge Recipe Collection.
The type of fudge I like the most is ‘Russian’ fudge. This sounds impressive but is quite easy to make. The recipe I use can be found here. You’ll need condensed milk – it took a bit of hunting for me to find this. I had been looking in the aisle with all the milks, yoghurts, creams, evaporated milk etc. Then I found a can in the aisle with the jellies, sponge bases, custards, meringue nests and so forth. You won’t have even used half the sugar and golden syrup bought for the Honeycomb recipe, so you can re-use that here. The condensed milk cost £1 for a 405g can, and we used about half of that. So even taking into account the butter (85p for 250g), it cost less than a pound to make two sandwich tins of fudge. Now that’s a lot less than Thorntons.
Here’s a tip though – it is important to really beat the mixture into a very thick state when you’ve taken it off the heat. Not too much though!.This is one recipe that you’ll probably have to make a few times to get a really good feel for it, but it is well worth the effort.
I love sucking on pear drops and sour lemons. But I had no idea I could make my own until I found this recipe. Now I have to hold up my hands and admit that out of all the sweets I’ve ever tried to make, this is definitely one of the scariest. There just seemed so much that could go wrong, especially with ingredients like tartaric acid. Actually it turned out a lot less fiddly than it looks. Just like with a chemistry experiment, if you are careful to follow the instructions precisely, you can’t really go wrong.
The Edmonds Cookbook has a few sage words of wisdom for making boiled sweets. It advises that you make sure all sugar is dissolved on a low heat before boiling, to avoid a ‘grainy’ finished product. Also, try putting a lid on the saucepan for two to three minutes as it reaches boiling point, to dissolve any sugar crystals on the side of the saucepan.
Now the next time your offspring start asking for sweets, instead of herding them down to the shop you can simply point them in the direction of the kitchen.