In making candy, fear not and follow the rules
December 13, 2006
Making cookies for Christmas is one thing, but only the truly fearless cook attempts candy.
At least that’s what a lot of Christine Bisbee’s students believe – before she convinces them otherwise.
Bisbee is the resident instructor at The Chocolate Duck, a vast confectionery-supply store in Farmingdale, N.Y., that her parents, Harry and Pauline Cohen, have owned since 1986.
The average cookie maker, she said, “thinks that candy is a whole other ball of wax. But I tell them that in some ways, it’s easier than baking – it’s just a question of knowing some simple rules.”
She started with homemade marshmallows, the rare candy that requires no candy thermometer. For the holidays, instead of cutting them into squares, Bisbee cuts the marshmallows out with Christmas cookie cutters. Then she either rolls them in confectioners’ sugar or dips them in melted chocolate.
Chocolate and chopped candy canes are the only two ingredients needed for peppermint bark. But it is crucial that whichever variety of chocolate you use (white, milk or dark), it must be a designated “melting chocolate.”
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Most consumer chocolate, Bisbee explained, from the lowliest Hershey bar to the most exalted ingot of Valrhona, is what the industry terms “couverture” or “coating chocolate.”Because of the capricious nature of cocoa butter, couverture chocolate must be “tempered” through an involved operation of heating and cooling.
A much easier alternative is the use of melting chocolate (also called confectionery coating or summer coating) in which the cocoa butter has been replaced by vegetable shortening.
The result is a product that can be melted, poured and molded with no loss of texture or flavor.
Bisbee has a shortcut for preparing pecan rolls: Instead of making caramel from scratch – a notoriously tricky proposition – she melts down a pound of commercial caramel candies.
The most challenging candy Bisbee demonstrated was almond brittle. Here, sugar is heated until it reaches 300 degrees, at which point the almonds are stirred in and the mixture must be immediately poured onto a lined baking sheet and spread out before it begins to set.
The result, a sophisticated, bittersweet, entirely grown-up treat, well worth the effort.
Bisbee rarely has time to make holiday candy for herself; along with Easter, this is the Chocolate Duck’s busiest time of year. While she chopped and stirred and rolled, two other employees, Elizabeth Festa and Josephine Taglienti, were occupied with seasonal tasks: piping white chocolate “snow” trim onto dark chocolate sleighs, filling plastic boot-shaped molds with just the right amount of chocolate, placing them in the freezer, then taking them out and filling them again.