This alone should serve as sufficient introduction: while the rest of the Northeast was in the grocery store stockpiling water, candles, and generator fuel for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene, I was in search of candy-making ingredients. While our neighbors were taping their windows and testing their sump pumps, I was busily clipping samples from my tiny (and illegal) fire escape herb garden. But at least I was able to ease the pain of a weekend spent bailing water from my mother’s basement with a homemade lollipop!
Like most of my true, lifelong loves (books, ponies, scary movies), my obsession with and devotion to all things candy is rooted so deeply in my childhood that I don’t remember when or how it started. What I do know is that there is nothing as charming, fun, and satisfying (to me) as those small, adorable treats after which I quested so diligently in my single-digit years: cotton candy, caramel apples, marshmallows, and, perhaps the easiest to procure, lollipops.
I like to update my childhood favorites now that I’m a “grown-up,” and have had some success translating these kiddie treats into more sophisticated, subtle flavors despite my lack of both formal culinary training and square footage (ahh, apartment living!). What I love best about sharing the finished product with my friends & loved ones is that since we all know and love these yummies from our childhoods, they’re already endearing, so the “wow” factor is upped from the start. This recipe really glams up our old pal, the lolly, and the incorporation of herbs (hopefully grown on your own windowsill) cuts down on the usual all-sugar taste.
Since I know better than most what it’s like to want to try elaborate recipes in the aforementioned ill-equipped apartment kitchens, I’ve thrown in some tips on how to make these even if you haven’t got the single piece of specialty cookware that this recipe suggests: a candy thermometer. And a word to the wise—sugar at this temperature can cause serious burns, so tread carefully.
1 c sugar
½ c light corn syrup
¼ c water
flavoring/extract of your choice (fruits go very well with herbs—I used grapefruit, lemon, and lime)
herb clippings, chopping finely if desired (I used roughly chopped rosemary, lavender, and basil)
food coloring, if desired
Candy thermometer—or a clear glass of cold water
Wax paper sheets or lollipop molds—either way, coat with non-stick baking spray
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water over medium-high heat and stir continuously until the sugar dissolves. Clip on your candy thermometer if you’ve got one. If you don’t, set a clear glass of very cold water to the side.
Once the sugar is dissolved, let the mixture boil, without stirring, until it reaches 295’. This is called hard-crack stage.
If you don’t have a thermometer: You can tell your sugar mixture has reached hard-crack stage by dropping a dollop of it into the glass of cold water. At hard-crack, it will instantly harden when it touches the water, and you can easily crack the candy strings that will be created as it sinks. If the drop of sugar is pliable at all once it’s in the water, it hasn’t gotten there yet. Wait a few seconds then try another drop.
Once you’re at hard-crack stage, quickly stir in your extract of choice, a few drops of food coloring, and your prepped herbs.
Immediately pour small dollops of the mixture onto the wax paper and insert sticks. This mixture cools very quickly and becomes difficult to work with. If it cools too much, return to the stovetop and reheat. It’ll be difficult to get perfect circles, so if you care about that, use molds. (Check out www.candylandcrafts.com or specialty stores in NYC, such as NY Cake)
Allow the lollies to cool completely (I waited at least an hour). If you’re not serving them relatively soon, you can wrap them loosely in parchment, or even better—grab some lollipop bags and ribbon and make them fancy.
Pro tip: keep a pot of water boiling for cleanup. When this mixture cools, the inside of your pot will be coated in hard candy. Pour the boiling water into the candied pot, and the mixture will soften enough to make removing it much easier.
The combinations I used—lemon lavender, grapefruit rosemary, and lime basil—were really lovely! The tartness of the fruit and savory touches of the herbs really worked well with the sweetness of the lollies. I added food coloring to mine to help me tell them apart, but I personally think these would look a lot more elegant if they were uncolored—the sugar mixture will have just a tint of honey if you leave the coloring out, and you’ll really see the herbs through the glass-like candy.
Next time, I’ll add a dash of chili powder to my lime-basil lollies, and maybe even a splash of rum & a few leaves of mint to make a mojito pop. The beauty in the simplicity of these babies is that you can make them what you want—for both the adult and the kid in you.