Lacking glowing rectangles to stare fixedly at, people of the olden days had to find some way of killing time. Taffy pulls are one of the ways they did it, and I’m here to tell you, it’s darned fun. Making the taffy mixture requires equipment no fancier than a $3 candy thermometer, and pulling the translucent goo until it turns into opaque, chewy taffy is much easier when you have a crowd. Winter, with its cool and humid days, is the right time for taffy.
Salt Water Taffy
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
Flavorings and food color (optional)
1. In a great big ginormous saucepan, mix together the sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Don’t use a skillet like I did; as I stirred and cooked, big glops of hot sugar would come flying out at me. I narrowly escaped severe injury several times. Do as I say, not as I did. Or as the picture shows you. Thank you.
2. Mix in the corn syrup and the water. Wow, that’s sticky. Wash your hands.
3. Throw in the butter, clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan, put the heat on medium high, and stir that mother until it’s nice and clear and the butter has melted. And remember not to touch that thermometer again—it’s hot as a mother.
4. The candy cooks and cooks and cooks. It takes a while. About five minutes after you start cooking it, the candy will suddenly bubble up dramatically. You’ll think it’s going to boil over. It’s not. Let it bubble away, stirring occasionally, as the temperature slowly rises.
5. Ten (or so) minutes later, when the mixture hits 250 degrees, turn off the heat and pour the whole gooey mess into a buttered vessel of some kind. A jelly roll pan works well.
And now for the fun part! Once the taffy’s cool enough to handle, butter up your hands, grab a hunk of candy and a pulling partner (heh), and start pulling. The taffy will slowly stretch into a long rope. Loop it back and stretch repeatedly, until the taffy gets too stiff to pull and is opaque. It takes from three to ten minutes, according to the weather that day, how quickly you cooked the taffy, the earth’s gravitational pull, the astrological chart of the cook who made it, and other ephemeral and confusing things. Once the taffy gets too hard to pull, use a buttered knife or scissors to cut it into bite-size bits and wrap in waxed paper.
You want flavor in your taffy? What? Unflavored isn’t good enough for you? Well, OK. The time to add flavoring and/or color is just after you take it off the stove, while it’s still hot and pliable. You can separate the hot taffy into different pots and stir in the flavor and color neatly with a wooden spoon, but why do that when you can drop it in and knead it by hand, rendering your mitts bright yellow and stinking of maple? Worked for me! You’ll want about 1/2 teaspoon of flavoring (extract of your choice) and 4 drops of food color in the entire batch of taffy, so divide accordingly. Oh yeah, and if you’re coloring things up by hand, you’re going to get food coloring mixed with butter on your floor. Put down newspaper, go outside, or resolve to clean afterward.
One caution: Beware hot sugar. Pulling taffy is easy enough for a small child, but it’s also easy to hurt yourself, bad. Hot taffy sticks to you and burns you as it sticks.