Salt Water Taffy

Getting an actual batch of soft taffy sure took me a while, but in the end, it was worth it. While the failed recipes were all too hard (well, except for the strawberry blob), they were all eatable; just lots of sucking required. The four batches were split between two recipes, taken from the Science of Candy site and from the Candymaking book. They both share a common base, but have some differences in the rest of the ingredients and cooking details. What I discovered was they all had a different texture when they warmed up and got chewy, and over the course of the various hard batches I had started experimenting with different combinations.

The successful batch of salt water taffy I made this week was a hybrid, taking some ideas from both recipes. Before I get to the actual recipe, here are the differences between the two, and why I settled on the combinations I did.

Glycerin | I picked this up for the second batch of taffy at a Michael’s, in the cake and candy making section. The batch without it stuck to my teeth a bit when chewed, and both of the recipes at hand recommended it. It helps give the taffy a chewier texture that does not stick to teeth. The Candymaking book used half a teaspoon, while the Science of Candy site used two full teaspoons. I made the former recipe first, and while it was chewy, it also had a slight plastic-like texture. So surely the two teaspoon method would be even worse? Well, no.

Cornstarch | The SoC recipe also includes two tablespoons of corn starch, which the site says gives the taffy a smoother texture. It also works with the glycerin to counter the plastic texture. The result is a smooth chewing taffy that is not sticky.

Butter | Both recipes include two tablespoons of butter, but added at different times: SoC at the beginning, to cook along with the sugar and corn syrup, while Candymaking adds it at the end of cooking. This comes down to a matter of preference. If you add the butter at the beginning, the taffy takes on a richer, somewhat darker taste; the butter adds a tiny hint of caramel to the flavor when cooked in. When added after, it adds a light buttery overtone. I preferred the latter.

Temperature | SoC cooks to 270 degrees, Candymaking to 265. After all my experience with hard taffy, I took the under.

Salt | The addition of salt balances against the sugars that form the base of the taffy, making it a little less overwhelmingly sweet. One had half a teaspoon, the other a full. I used a full teaspoon, as I was going for a mellower flavor. For sweeter taffy, use less.

The real fun of taffy comes after it’s prepared – this is where candy making turns into a full contact sport. You’ll want to set aside about an hour and a half for the recipe, and make sure you don’t get distracted. The taffy cooks undisturbed when it hits boil, but once it gets close to being done, timing is crucial from there on out.

Recipe

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons glycerin
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • flavoring (extracts, oils, gourmet liquid flavorings)
  • coloring (optional)

Stuff You’ll Need

  • Pastry brush
  • 3-4 quart heavy saucepan
  • buttered, chilled jelly roll pan
  • candy thermometer
  • wooden spoon
  • moderate upper body strength, or a stretching partner
  • patience

Directions

Before starting, lightly butter the jelly roll pan and park it in the refrigerator. Chilling the pan will help the taffy cool down faster.

Gather up your ingredients and equipment – I find it good to have everything on hand that will be used for the recipe. Time is precious near the end and it helps avoid scrambles.

Everything at arm's length.

Combine the sugar, salt and corn starch in the saucepan, and mix until you cannot distinguish them. This will prevent the corn starch from developing clumps when the liquids are added.

Add corn syrup and water, and stir the mixture until fully incorporated over medium heat. If you want to add the butter now, you can. Otherwise set it aside for later. Stir frequently so that the sugar and salt are fully dissolved before it comes to a boil.

Once boiling, stop stirring and brush the inside edges of the pan down with a moist pastry brush. This will dissolve any sugar or salt crystals that may have clung to the sides while stirring. If left on, they can recrystallize the candy when it is poured out.

Below, you can see some particles clinging to the sides of the pan; those get washed down after the mix comes to a boil.

Working on dissolving the sugar as the mixture heats up.

When it first hits a rolling boil, the top of the candy base will be foamy. This is normal, and you should resist trying to stir it down.

The candy is foamy when it first comes to a boil.

After a few minutes the foam dissipates  and the mix becomes cloudy; it would be clear but for the corn starch.

Clip on the candy thermometer and keep a close eye on the temperature. Cook to 265 degrees without stirring at all, and no higher. This will take about a half an hour or so. Be patient, but keep an eye on it. The temperature will stall out for a while as the water is boiled off, and then rise more quickly near the end.

The mix should be at the firm ball stage when complete; firm, but squishy and not hard. If it’s hard, the taffy will be too. Your jaw is in for a workout if the mixture is overcooked by more than a couple degrees.

Once it hits 265, remove from heat. If you didn’t add the butter before, do so now and stir until fully incorporated; this will help the candy cool slightly. If you did cook the butter in, then let the candy cool to about 240 degrees before proceeding to flavoring and coloring. Adding food color and flavoring right off the bat can scorch them and give the candy a rather nasty taste. (I learned that one the hard way.)

For concentrated flavorings such as LorAnn’s, use 1/4 teaspoon. For extracts such as vanilla and orange, use one teaspoon. 3-4 drops of any food color will give the taffy a soft, pastel color.

For this batch, I wanted something that tasted like an orange cream popsicle, so I used 3/4 teaspoon orange extract and 3/4 vanilla. (In hindsight, I should have gone with 1/2 orange and a full teaspoon of vanilla – the orange is stronger.) I used two drops red and two of yellow food coloring.

Stir in the coloring and flavoring quickly, but not so fast that you are whipping the candy.

Pour out onto the chilled, buttered jelly roll pan. I set the pan on a cooling rack with a chilled towel under it so the bottom can cool quickly.

The cooked taffy spreads out to cool.

After about about five minutes, the edges of the taffy will be firmer than the middle because they cool faster. When you can lift the edges with your hands, fold them into the middle to even out the cooling process. If you don’t do this, the candy will cool unevenly and you’ll start out with a hot, soft middle and firm, cool edges.

When the middle of the taffy is still warm, yet cool enough to touch – about 10 minutes after pouring – roll it up into a log. If it sticks to the pan, use a metal spatula or pastry cutter to help lift and fold it.

Taffy Log! Yum!

Taffy, cooled and ready for stretching.

At this point you’ll have a firm, chewy candy. To make it taffy, it needs to be stretched – a lot – so that air is pulled into it, making it fluffy. You can do this solo or with a partner. The partner will make this a lot easier on your upper body, but it will take some coordination. Communicate so you have a good plan and don’t end up dropping any. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Now the fun begins. First, butter your hands. (Take of your rings, unless you want them buttery and covered in taffy.). I find it easiest to start with about a 1/2 tablespoon pat of butter on a small plate and use about half of that on the initial hand buttering. Keep the rest close by as a reserve if the taffy starts to stick to your hands.

Stretch the taffy in a pattern, pulling the ends out from center, then folding them into the middle. Right away, on the first pull, you’ll see air getting pulled into the taffy and the color will lighten up. After 10 to 15 minutes of stretching, the color will be a soft pastel, the mixture will have expanded slightly and when pulled parallel ridges will form. It is the parallel ridges that are the tell tale sign to watch for; when they show up, give the taffy a few more pulls and then get ready to start cutting. The taffy should be just above room temperature at this point.

Mmmm, Taffy

Note the parallel ridges forming as it's pulled, a sign that the taffy is about ready.

(The wrist band is from here.) Then, pull it out into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. You can do a thicker rope if you cut the pieces shorter, it all depends on the shape of the pieces you want. If you want long pieces, do a thinner, flatter rope. Anything thicker than 1/2 inch will make that first bite a long slow one.

Don't let it bite.

I use kitchen scissors for cutting, but a sharp knife or pastry cutter works as well.

From snake to pieces

Snip snip.

This will make about 100 pieces, and can be stored at room temperature, away from moisture and heat. Make sure to wrap them tightly in waxed paper or candy wrapping.

Taffy!

Taffy! Lots of it!

If the cooking and stretching went according to plan, the cooled taffy will be firm, but stretchy and chewy out when it’s fully cooled.

So good

The end product, stretchy and chewy and yummy and oh gosh.

Good luck, and have fun.

~Ben

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6 Responses to Salt Water Taffy

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This sounds so yummy! :) Thanks for posting.

  2. Christina says:

    I really wish I had found your site before trying to make taffy twice today. Both were taffy failures. Now that I know that glycerin is helpful for a chewy taffy and that 265 is better than 270, maybe next time I will get a nice chewy taffy like you did. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Miriam says:

    Hi Ben,
    I just found your blog and discovered your article about how to make taffy, which is the best one I’ve found so far. Thank you for all your efforts. I made one batch yesterday before I read your piece and it came out as hard as candy canes, because I mistakenly thought the temp should reach 285. I made a second batch today where my thermometer read 265 and I took it off the heat immediately, and it was softer, but still much harder than what it should be, more like hard candy. What am I doing wrong if the temperature was 265?
    thanks!

    • Ben says:

      It could be a number of things. The first would be to double check the thermometer in a pot of boiling water; it should read 212 at full boil. If it’s different, adjust your cooking temperature accordingly. Another possibility is the thermometer was not covered fully and so wasn’t reading properly – the mixture should cover about an inch of the bottom of the thermometer. If those aren’t your culprits, try notching down the cooking temperature another five degrees.

  4. Zimara says:

    Ben, We made salt water taffy with a similar recipe, except that I took it off the burner at 258 F. After pulling, cutting, and wrapping with parchment paper, and letting sit for a few days, the taffy has become chalky and crumbly, which is putting a damper in our plans of taffy domination.

    Do you have any useful advice?

    Thank you :D

  5. Nicole says:

    I just attempted to make salt water taffy with a complete fail. I actually had the exact recipe you used. My taffy never got firm its just candy syrup. What happened?
    Thanks Nicole

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