The art of sugar-boiling and the prepara-tion of home-made sweetmeats can be carried on very successfully by amateurs.
That it is a fascinating occupation most will agree, whether it be toffee surreptitiously boiled in the schoolroom, or the dainty bon-bons prepared for sale amongst those who are always eager to secure home-made delicacies.
Many varieties are delightfully simple, but others need the greatest accuracy and skill. The highest results are only obtained by observing scrupulous cleanliness, following an artistic judgment in colours and flavours, and working with deft, neat fingers. Keen watchfulness, perseverance, and patience are further qualities required in the preparation of sweetmeats.
The utensils need not be very expensive or elaborate. At first it is wisest to buy as few as possible, using some of the homely substitutes that will be suggested. When the novice has proved that she possesses some capacity for this branch of confectionery she can gradually acquire an up-to-date set of appliances.
The first utensils that are necessary are:
One seamless steel or best quality tin-lined iron saucepan to hold about two quarts.
One palette knife.
One wooden spatula.
One wire fork.
One wire ring for dipping.
One marble slab.
One hair sieve.
A glass roller.
A few basins; good enamel-lined ones answer well.
Homely Substitutes for Some of the Above
For the sugar-scraper and palette knife, use a long, thin knife that bends easily. For the wooden spatula, use the flattest wooden spoon obtainable, or a strong bone paper-knife. For the wire fork and wire ring, use strong wire bent and twisted into the shapes desired. For the candy-hook, use a stout hook, such as is used in a wardrobe, but free from rust or paint.
For the marble slab, use the thoroughly scoured marble top of a washing-stand - these are usually movable - or a very large meat-dish will serve. For the glass roller, use a glass wine-bottle, but the surface must be quite smooth. If it is too light for the purpose, put a little water in it. Flat wooden lids with an edge make good starch-trays.
Later on, a more complete list will be found necessary, including:
Some Materials and Ingredients that always should be Stocked
Good flavouring essences.
Pure vegetable colourings.
Greaseproof and waxed paper.
Paper bon-bon cases in various sizes.
The best cane loaf sugar.
Cream of tartar.
Sugars. For all syrups and boiled sweetmeat mixtures, the best cane sugar should be used. Even if the initial outlay is a trifle more, in the end it is truer economy, as there is less scum to be removed, and the results are better.
For various creamy sweets the American maple sugar is largely used and is delicious. Where icing sugar is indicated, it must be the best procurable, free from lumps, and as smooth and soft as ordinary flour. Even then, however, it must always be passed through a hair sieve before being used.
Good brown sugar may be used for the dark toffees.
Glucose is bought by the pound. It is a colourless, clear syrup, about as thick as strained honey. It is used for sweets that are not required for immediate consumption, as it prevents granulation.
Cream of tartar is used for "cutting the grain," as it is termed - that is, it prevents sugar graining. It also renders boiled mixtures pliable when hot, and clear when cold; and so is generally added to all drops, toffees, and such-like varieties.
Carbonate of soda is added to aid in whitening various light-coloured toffees, candies, etc.
Highly concentrated essences, specially powerful, are necessary for confectionery, for if too many drops have to be added there is the risk of making the mixture too soft.
Colourings. Vegetable paste colourings are usually best, as liquids are apt to soften the mixture over much. Should, however, a transparent brilliancy have to be procured, liquids will be the more suitable.
Corn starch of good quality or potato starch is the best for taking impressions of moulds. It may be used over and over again provided it is kept dry and clean, in airtight tins, and always sieved before use.
Sweet-ring for dipping purposes
The pans must be kept for this purpose only, for sugar so readily takes up flavours from other foods that the delicate flavours of the sweets would be ruined. This remark also applies to spoons, etc. No strongly scented soaps must be used either for the hands or utensils for the same reason.
If only small quantities of sweets are to be made, and expense is a consideration, a gas boiling-ring, fixed with indiarubber tubing to a gas-bracket, answers very well. When the pan has to be placed directly over the flame, a piece of sheet iron, such as an ordinary iron baking-sheet, or an asbestos boiling-mat placed between the pan and the heat, will save much burning. This plan is most useful for the last few minutes when boiling sugar to very high degrees, such as for toffees, caramels, etc. When pounding chopped almonds, the addition of a few drops of rose, orange-flower, or plain water will prevent them from oiling.