There is a particular emotion that comes from creating something that, up until that very moment, felt like the un-reproduceable creation of some distant food lab. The feeling is a mixture of pride, satisfaction, and outright elation. It also feels a little like having super powers.
Make a batch of candy corn and you can ride that emotion for days. Because by golly, you made candy corn! Sure, you can buy a bag of the stuff for about the same price as these ingredients, but that's no way to become a superhero. Go on. Impress your friends and family. Make a batch of candy corn.
How Tricky Is Homemade Candy Corn, Really?
Making homemade candy corn is a surprisingly un-scientific process. No unpronounceable ingredients or fancy stainless steel equipment required. Just some sugar, a pot, and a mixing bowl are all you need, really. You make a sugar syrup, mix in some powdered sugar, and shape this into a workable dough. We're basically making edible play-dough — and yes, that's as awesome as it sounds.
There is a bit of candy-making required here, but it's Candy-Making 101. I definitely recommend having a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the sugar syrup as it cooks, but that's the most stressful this recipe gets. Also, we're only cooking the sugar syrup to the lower end of the candy spectrum — at this stage, if you over-reach your temperature goal, you can add a splash of water to the pan to bring down the temperature and take another run at it.
Once you have the dough, making the actual candy corns is like a grade school craft project. All the rolling, shaping, and cutting can get a bit tedious, so be sure to have a podcast or some good music on in the background.
Before you ask, I will tell you that this recipe uses corn syrup, and unfortunately, I don't have a good recommendation for a substitute. Candy corn is such an occasional thing for me and corn syrup is so good at what it does (namely, making candy-making easy and preventing the sugar from crystalizing), that I feel ok using it in this recipe. This is personally-speaking, of course. I'd love to hear thoughts on good substitutes in the comments section.
Ok, So How Does Homemade Candy Corn Taste?
This candy corn tastes like the real thing. No lies. They are definitely sweet, but not so sweet they make your teeth hurt. Best of all, they have that exact same candy corn texture: chewy at first, then dissolving into delicious ephemeral sugariness.
If you don't like store-bought candy corn, then you're probably not going to be a big fan of the homemade version. But if you love candy corn, then this recipe will blow you away.
What Else Can I Do with This Magical Edible Dough?
I like the way you think! The possibilities for this dough are endless. It is easily dyed to any color and easily moldable to any shape. You can use it to make fun cake toppers or personalized treats. Don't stop at candy corn. The world is your oyster.
How To Make Candy Corn
Makes 225 (1-inch) candies
What You Need
1 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons nonfat instant dried milk (powdered milk)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
Red and yellow food coloring
2-quart sauce pan
Candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer
Stiff heatproof spatula
Nonstick baking mat (like a Silpat)
Bench scraper or chef's knife
Sift together the dry ingredients: Sift the powdered sugar, dried milk, and kosher salt into a mixing bowl using the strainer. This is to make sure there are no clumps in the dry ingredients, which can make the finished candy corns look less pretty.
Melt the sugar, corn sugar, and butter: Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat and set it near the stove. Combine the sugar, corn sugar, and butter in a 2-quart sauce pan. (The size of the pan is important; don't substitute anything smaller.) Place the pan over medium heat and cook until the sugars are dissolved and the butter has melted, swirling the pan gently once or twice. This will take 6 to 8 minutes.
Cook the sugar syrup to 245°F - 250°F: Clip a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan. Let the syrup come to a full boil, still over medium heat. Continue cooking without stirring until the syrup is reaches 245°F to 250°F. Depending on the power of your stove, this will take anywhere between 1 to 5 minutes. If you go over the temperature, quickly add a few tablespoons of water to the pan to reduce the temperature, and monitor the temperature carefully as it reheats. Remove from heat immediately once the syrup reaches temperature.
Add the vanilla: Add the vanilla to the syrup — be very careful since the syrup will bubble up and sputter quite a bit when you add the vanilla.
Add the dry ingredients: Add the dry ingredients and stir with a stiff heatproof spatula until you've formed a thick paste-like dough and very little dry mixture remains. (I've found that it smells quite bad at this point — have faith!)
Pour the dough out onto the baking sheet: Pour all the dough onto the baking sheet, scraping the pan as well as you can.
Cool the dough 5 to 10 minutes: Let the dough cool until you are able to handle it, 10 to 15 minutes. Don't wait too long, though; the dough will stiffen as it cools and become harder to roll out.
Cut and dye the dough: Cut the dough into three pieces using a bench scraper or chef's knife. Make a well in the center of one piece and add 10 drops of yellow food coloring. Make a well in the center of another piece of dough and add 10 drops of yellow food coloring and 5 drops of red food coloring, to make orange.
Knead the color into the dough: Knead both pieces of dough until uniform in color. Be sure to leave the remaining white piece of dough well away from the kneading area so it doesn't get any color. Knead against the baking mat so you don't dye your countertop or work surface. You can also knead more dye into the dough if the color doesn't seem quite right to you.
Pinch off a piece of dough and roll into a thin rope: Pinch off a piece of dough from each section roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. Roll each one into a thin 1/4-inch thick rope. If a rope gets too long and hard to roll, you can break off the end and mush it back into the remaining dough.
Pinch the ropes gently together: Lay the ropes side by side in whatever order you like (yellow-orange-white is classic!), and then gently pinch them together so they stick to each other.
Flatten slightly with a rolling pin: Gently roll over the ropes with a rolling pin just to flatten out the curved edges.
Cut out triangles of candy corn: Use the bench scraper or chef's knife to cut out triangles of candy. Cut in a forward-slash angle and then at a back-slash angle as you work down the length of the ropes.
Repeat with remaining dough: Continue rolling and cutting the dough until it's all used up. If the dough becomes too stiff to work with, microwave individual pieces in 5 second increments until it becomes pliable again.
Dry the candies: Spread the candies out on the baking sheet to dry for a few hours. Separate any candies that are sticking together. Once dry, the candies can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks. Like commercial candy corn, these candies are no longer good when too dry to chew!
The dough is too loose to form into ropes: You didn't quite cook your sugar syrup enough. Try microwaving it for 30 second and letting it cool. You can also try kneading some more powdered sugar into the dough.
The dough is too stiff to form into ropes: If it's so stiff that you can't cut it, you probably cooked the sugar syrup a little too long —best to chuck this batch and start again. If you can cut it, you try microwaving portions in 5 second bursts until softened enough to roll — work quickly since the dough will harden again. If the dough was easy to roll at first and is now stiff, it's just starting to cool down and firm up, which is fine and normal but inconvenient for you — microwave portions in 5-second bursts until it's workable again.
The sugar syrup turned grainy or hard when mixing in the dry ingredients: You probably cooked the sugar syrup a little too long. Unfortunately, this batch can't be saved. Best to start over.
Ropes won't stick together: Your candy dough is likely starting to cool down and firm up, which is fine and normal, but inconvenient for you! Try pressing very hard. If that doesn't work, microwave the ropes at 5 second intervals, checking to see if they'll squish together at every interval.
Finished candies are really sticky or soft: Your sugar syrup was likely a little under temperature. Spread the candies out on the baking sheet in a single layer — no touching! — and let them dry thoroughly overnight. They might still be soft after drying, but will still taste great!
This recipe has been updated. Originally published October 2009.