Making sweet treats for Halloween: Pro offers tips for success
No lollygagging around: Do not plan to text or phone chat while candy is cooking. And keep little children and pets out of the kitchen. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune / October 22, 2013)
Now the new mom is busy encouraging others to have fun with candy-making in "The Sweet Book of Candy Making" (Quarry Books, $24.99) and as the "guide to candy" at candy.about.com.
"I still have an unapologetic love of candy," LaBau admits in her book. "The basic thrill of simply eating sugar has been replaced by the joy of working with sugar to invent my own creations."
Those creations are packed into the book that boasts lots of recipes, how-to photos and helpful tips for making truffles, marshmallows, fondant and more, as well as that kid (and adult) favorite, lollipops.
When we caught up with LaBau for a phone chat, she offered several tips for candy-makers, especially those who want to try making lollipops — or get over the fear of making them. Lollipops can seem intimidating to some, she figures, because there's a candy thermometer involved.
"As soon as you start talking degrees or thermometers, people are like, 'Whoa! There's heavy equipment. There's precision. I can't possibly do this.' But you really do have sort of a generous amount of wiggle room especially with hard candy," she says.
"You probably have a 15-degree area in which you can successfully make (the sugar syrup) before it starts burning. So I would say, A) Don't be intimidated. But B) Just become familiar with your thermometer. Give it a go. Take it slow. Just stay with the candy because probably the biggest risk is just overcooking it and getting it burned."
So rule No. 1? Make sure your candy thermometer is accurate.
Don't get distracted. Pay attention. "Baby-sit it the first time, and I think you'll be really successful."
"The truth is, cooking sugar for candy can take a long time to get up to the higher temperature. So you can be watching, then get a little bored, then go check your phone, and pretty soon," she muses, it goes from perfect to burned in no time. "Oh, and the stink and the cleanup.
"You need to sort of plan to take the time, to be there and be present when you're doing it."
In other words, do not plan to text or phone chat while candy is cooking. And keep little children and pets out of the kitchen.
With older children, "make sure they're careful with their movements," LaBau says. "And it's a good idea — for both adults and kids — to have a bowl of ice water nearby so if you do get sugar (hot syrup) on your skin, you can immediately dunk it in cold water to stop the burning. It's a basic safety precaution."
The best part? Decorating them for Halloween.
"Use Halloween candy to decorate these lollipops," she says. "Once they're poured and the sticks are in and they're still tacky, arrange candy corn in a circle radiating outward, and sort of press them into the surface. Or use gummies or licorice — not chocolate, that's going to melt with the heat — or novelty Halloween sprinkles."
Elizabeth LaBau's tips for lollipop-makers
• Use extracts you find in grocery stores, such as lemon and orange. Stores that sell candy-making supplies may sell more concentrated flavorings. "Those are more intense, and you want to be careful."
• Add flavorings after bubbles stop. "And you don't want your face above the pan because you'll get a big nose-full of the flavor."
• Use molds designed for high-temperature candies (usually metal or thick opaque plastic). Do not use molds designed for chocolates.