Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/April 1888/A Paper of Candy



FULLY to set forth the changes undergone by a cupful of cane-juice during its conversion, first into a cube of white sugar and then into a musk-lozenge or a lemon-drop, would require volumes. And even then one could not give a complete account of candy-making, for the reason that each skilled confectioner of hand-made candies has—like a painter or sculptor—his own incommunicable touch and methods. Yet a few words will suffice to give a general outline of the toothsome art.

We get our word "candy," not from the Cingalese city of that name, but from the Arabian quand, meaning sugar. Now, sugar is the crystallized juice of one of the gigantic grasses; candy, therefore, is only boiled grass-juice. As the bee collects from its two and a half million plants the nectar for its pound of honey, so man—a kind of giant bee—extracts from various plants their delicious liquors, which he afterward turns by his art into that sweet and shining sand called sugar. It was the ancients who called the crystals of sugar sweet sand and gravel—the Sanskrit word çarkara (our sugar) meaning gravel. Sugar is made in small quantities, it is true, from the palm-tree, the sorghum-cane, beets, California watermelons, potato-starch, and milk; yet the only kind that is used for the best candies is the clear juice of the Chinese cane, that tall and beautiful purple-striped and straw-colored plant of Malabar, Assam, Otaheite, Louisiana, and the West Indies, which even more than our mondamin, or tasseled maize, deserves the honor of poetical legends and myths.

The sugar-cane, like the domestic fowl, has taken two thousand years to make the circuit of the globe, always faithfully following man along a certain latitude in his westward migrations. From China or Bengal to Persia, Arabia, Spain, Madeira, Cuba, Louisiana, California—such has been its route, until now, facing westward, it may nod a welcome across the great Pacific to the shores of its old home in China and the East Indies.

In the making of candy some "raw" or brown sugar is taken (the best coming from the West Indies), but for the bulk of confections only refined sugar is used. Sugar may be clarified in small quantities by the white of eggs; in the plantation sugar-houses it is refined by lime or lime-water; but, in the great refineries, bone-black or animal charcoal is now used for this purpose, bullock's blood being discarded. When blood was used, its coagulation collected the impurities, which were then skimmed off, together with the coagulated blood. The reason of the immense height to which these refineries are built is that the liquid sugar, having once been raised to the highest story, may, in its succeeding treatment, which consists chiefly of a series of filtrations (through cloth bags and hone-black), pass down from story to story by its own gravity. After the liquor has been passed through charcoal it is boiled to evaporate the water, then crystallized, the molasses or "sugar-drip" drained off, and the residuum of sugar dried in a centrifugal machine.

The philosophy of the action of heat on boiling sugar and water is by all odds the most curious and important matter connected with the making of confections. Put a little water and crushed sugar into a clean brass kettle, and note the changes which ensue when it is placed over a brisk tire. First, when the sugar is dissolved, we have what is called "simple sirup"; continue the boiling a little longer, and the liquor, if cooled, will deposit its excess of sugar on the sides and bottom of the vessel in the form of rock-candy; boil a little longer, and the sugar shows an inclination for the granular condition; longer still, and it forms a thick, pasty, transparent mass; longer yet, and it "caramels," or turns yellow and then brown. This whole series of processes, or states, is technically divided by the confectioner into nine degrees, which form his nine mysteries, his nine points of the law. These degrees are styled the "small thread" and "large thread," the "little pearl" and "large pearl," the "blow," the "feather," the "ball," the "crack," and the "caramel," all of which are produced by a heat ranging from 230° to 260° Fahr. In the thread degree the sugar threads or strings when held up in the air by the fingers; the blow is so called from the workman dipping his skimmer into the liquor, draining it, and then blowing through the holes; if small, sparkling bubbles are seen on the farther side of the skimmer, the sirup is known to be in the "blow" degree; when in the "feather," the sirup hangs from the skimmer like flying floss, and is then said by the French to be "à la grande plume"—it is the point of crystallization; in the "ball" degree it makes hard balls when rolled between the fingers; in the "crack" it snaps like a clay pipe-stem—it now tends to grain; the ninth or caramel degree was discovered, or first intelligently noted, by Count Albufage Caramel, of Nismes, The greater part of our candies are made from sirup which has passed the eighth or crack degree (250° Fahr.), and the skill of the artist is shown in bringing his sirup as near as he possibly can to the caramel (260° Fahr.) without permitting it actually to reach that undesirable point; for, when sirup begins to caramel, it becomes quickly dark-colored, froths up and fills the kettle, emits puffs of smoke, and acquires a bitter taste: the sugar is then called "burnt sugar," although it is not really burned.

But it is high time we saw the magician at work. His manufacturing-room may look a little like an alchemist's den, if you choose. Here arc large coppered kettles, full of steaming sirup; there, men are at work picking up Malaga grapes with a fine pair of nippers and dipping them into creamed sugar; at yonder table one is cutting up a pile of candied figs, and a pile of preserved cherries lies beside him; while still another is sugar-coating almonds in an oscillating kettle. In the middle of the room are low tables covered with marble slabs, on one of which an operator will perhaps be working out stick candy, and on another you may see long, shallow canals, or rivers, of congealing peanut or molasses candy, confined on the slab by long, solid iron bars. Scattered around are the workmen's simple tools—spatulas, strainers, molds, paste, syringes, and the like. The materials of the candy-maker are equally simple and few, consisting in the main of only three kinds of articles—sugar, flavorings, and colors. The flavors usually employed are the essential oils of various aromatic plants. Mixed with spirits these oils form extracts and essences, the extract being a stronger flavoring than the essence. The extracts of lemon, wintergreen, peppermint, clove, cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger, are used in great quantities. Extract of lemon is best prepared fresh by grating the rinds of lemons either with a grater or with cubical lumps of hard sugar, the operator being careful not to get down to the bitter white portion which underlies the outer yellow skin. As to the vanilla vine, the best Mexican pods will, if macerated in alcohol, give a fresher flavor than that of the bottled extract. The colors employed by reputable confectioners are nearly all purely vegetable, and are quite harmless. They are such as cochineal, carmine, saffron, Prussian blue[1] (a preparation of iron), and the like. For brown, caramel is used, and mixed with carmine it forms orange-yellow. To convince one's self of the harmlessness of these colors, one only needs to know that a bit of red coloring-matter the size of a gum-drop will color five thousand pounds of candy. Cheap candies colored with poisonous mineral stuffs are annually seized by the New York city health officers. Many French candies used to be colored not only with such disagreeable earths as umber and sienna, but with red lead, chrome-yellow, and vermilion, all of which are highly poisonous. French confectioners have now, however, not only formed themselves into a national association to protect themselves against unprincipled manufacturers, but they themselves are strictly supervised, being allowed by their government to use only the following harmless colorings: Blues—indigo, Prussian blue, ultramarine; reds—cochineal, carmine, carmine lake; yellows—saffron, French berries, and turmeric or fustic; greens—mixture of above yellows and blues; purples—mixture of red and blue. Cheap candies are not only often poisonous, but badly adulterated with terra alba, corn-starch, and starch-sugar or glucose. Cheap gum-drops are made from corn-starch, to which ordinary glue is sometimes added; whereas the best gum-drops are made from gum arabic and cane-sugar. Stick-candy made from glucose may be detected by its lack of sweetness, its yellowish color, and its extreme frangibility. The nuts and fruits used in the cheaper varieties are also of poor quality, being mostly worm-eaten, old, or damaged.

To return now to our boiled sugar, which we left in the half-cooled pasty or doughy condition produced by 250° of heat. A mass of sugar in this state is the common or basic material of all candies; it is the nodal point of the line, the focus of all the processes. Antecedent to this lump of waxy paste lies a held of waving, tasseled cane, and forth from said lump proceed the thousand fantastic and toothsome dainties that glow in the golden trays of the confectioner's window.

The candy is worked by placing it on a marble slab kept warm perhaps by steam (sometimes an iron plate at one end is kept heated), and having movable iron bars for sides and ends—like the chase with which a printer's "form" is surrounded. When cool enough to handle, the flavor and the coloring ingredients are worked in. Clear candies are run into pans or trays without being kneaded or pulled; but if a white opaque article is desired, the mass is pulled on a hook similar to those seen in butchers' stalls—pulled out, folded, and thrown back over the hook, and again pulled until it assumes a sufficiently white appearance. For stick-candy "A" sugar is used, boiled down with a little cream of tartar to prevent crystallization. The striping of sticks is a very curious thing to see. The operator takes from the warm mass of candy a portion which he colors as desired, then draws it out into long, coarse strips, pressing them into the main mass, which is then rolled into a cylindrical shape, and gradually tapered out smaller and smaller until it is of the diameter of a stick of candy; the mass then resembles somewhat a balloon laid on its side, with its drag-rope extended on the ground beside it. Now, the colored stripes (having been rolled up in the paste) have been drawn out with the rest and in proper proportion, so that they appear both in the inside and on the outside of the stick as stripes. Sometimes a slight twist is given to the long stick before it is cut by the scissors to the required lengths. The working of candy by kneading or pulling it on the hook separates the particles and increases the bulk, so that the youngster who buys a stick of white candy imagines wrongly that he is getting more for his penny than if he had invested in a clear stick.

Lemon and other drops are now made by machines, which consist of two revolving cylinders, with holes on each side so arranged as to come exactly opposite each other when the cylinders revolve; the movement of the cylinders forces the candy into these molds.

The flat, striated cream-sticks of the shops are made simply by working the candy very thoroughly until it acquires the creamy texture. Peppermint-drops are made of granulated sugar and water heated to the boiling-point (but not actually boiled), and afterward flavored with the essence. White molasses candy is made of "coffee C" sugar, mixed with equal proportions of sugar-house and New Orleans molasses, and a little carbonate of soda; if this candy is poured into trays without working, it forms a fine, plain taffy. Nearly all cough-candies are made of boiled brown sugar, flavored or medicated with anise, camphor, cayenne pepper, and peppermint, in varying proportions. The medicated lozenges, known under the name of troches, pastilles, and pulmonic wafers, contain substances possessing demulcent, sedative, tonic, and often slightly astringent properties. Most bronchial troches are composed of extract of liquorice, sugar, gum arable, powdered cubebs, and extract of conium.

The delicious cream bonbons, of which the most popular variety is the chocolate cream, form a group by themselves. The materials used are the best loaf or crushed sugar, water, with a little acetic acid or cream of tartar, the whole boiled to the thread degree. The creaming of the mixture, so that it melts in the mouth, is produced by rubbing it back and forth on the marble slab or against the sides of the kettle with a wooden spatula or spoon. Sugar in this state is fondant by confectioners. Owing to the peculiar granular texture of the creamed sugar, it can not be cast in ordinary molds without breaking; hence the use of finely-powdered starch for molds. Plaster models of the shape desired are fastened at regular distances from each other on a flat slab, and when pressed into a tray of the starch-flour produce cavities into which the creamed sugar is then run. The starch easily separates from the bonbons when they are cool, just as the earth mold falls away from the finished iron casting. The candies are also generally shaken in a sieve to remove the starch-particles that may still adhere. If it is wished to crystallize them, they are submerged for ten or twelve hours in properly boiled sugar, with a small portion of alcohol added; when removed they will be covered with sparkling crystals. The chocolate on the outside of chocolate creams is applied by simply rolling the cream-balls in thick fluid chocolate. The chocolate is prepared by grinding it on a hot plate or bed, the heat of which melts the oil in the substance and keeps it in a fluid condition.

Children are often mystified by brandy and wine gum-drops and other liqueur drops. The mystery is easily penetrated. The boiled sugar is simply mixed with the brandy or flavored water, and the whole poured into starch molds. As the sirup cools on the top and the sides, the sugar crystallizes around the liquor, leaving it safely prisoned within. So, in the case of pure gum-drops not containing liquor, the evaporation of water from the surface of the gum arable forms a hard crust, which prevents the further evaporation of the interior liquid, for a long time at least. The delicate little aromatic disks known as white lozenges are also made of gum arable, which is mixed with dry, powdery icing-sugar, the mass then flavored, rolled flat with a wooden roller, and cut into shape with a tin cutter. In this case the sugar is not even heated or mixed with water at all. Sugar-coated confections, such as sugared almonds, pistachios, and perfumed cherry-kernels, are now generally made on a large scale by machinery, as follows: The almonds, we will say, are placed in spherical copper pans over a hot fire, and a heavy sirup allowed slowly to drip over them. The pans are heated by steam passing through coils of pipe, and are kept in continual oscillation; the water of the sirup quickly flies off in vapor, leaving the almonds covered with crystals of sugar.

The fruit-pastes sold at candy-shops are prepared by reducing the fruit—be it peach, orange, or quince—to a kind of marmalade, mixed with the exact amount of sugar required. The roots of the marshmallow are not often used nowadays in the compounding of the popular paste of that name. This is owing to the unpleasant taste of the roots. The juice or jelly of the apple is employed instead. The other ingredients are gum arable, the beaten whites of eggs, and flavoring—the whole thickly dusted with powdered starch.

Chocolate caramels are made of gelatin, dairy cream, sugar, and chocolate. The delicate molasses chips made for fastidious consumers of confections are compounded of sugar and a little molasses for flavor; their brittleness is simply due to the fact that the sirup is boiled to the brittle or "crack" decree.

  1. [Prussian blue is not a vegetable color, and can not be correctly regarded as "quite harmless." In Battershall's "Food Adulteration and its Detection" it is classed, as a coloring for confectionery, among pigments of a "very objectionable character."—Editor.]