Candy corn is one of those Halloween treats that you either love or hate. I happen to enjoy those stratified orange triangles, and have been excited to try making them at home. But I quickly realized that making candy corn is a great deal like art class in 3rd grade: a little messy, a little fun, but mainly...boring.
Now I'm sure most of you are saying, "Hey! I liked art class in 3rd grade!" and to be quite honest, I did too. But I also felt bound and restricted by the "projects" my teacher always had us do, when all I wanted to do was make grand creations from my own imagination. So in that way, this trial run in candy corn is exactly like my experience in 3rd grade art class. Sure you can make the designated project, but the real fun happens when you get creative.
The recipe I followed (link below) makes enough dough for... well... I don't really know how many candy corns per se, because after I rolled and cut my first length (roughly 1/16th of the dough) of dough, I was done with the adventure. There are some things to be made at home, but unless you are really into making candy corn, this isn't the project for you.
On that same note, I greatly applaud those home cooks who have knuckled down to create and photograph their own work that so inspired me. My hat is tipped to you on this one! As you can see above, I didn't have the same attention span all of you did!
Not all was lost, however. The dough this recipe created can be dyed, shaped and formed into whatever shape you so desire. It would be a blast for a group of children or other little hands helping you along the way. Kids like repetitive things right? This recipe, even if you don't end up actually making candy corn, has a wonderful texture that is perfect for making quick adornments for cupcakes or traditional cakes and sweets. It takes slightly less sweet than storebought candy corn, but in a good way. Also, it's only tasty when the dough has cooled (trust me on this one).
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 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.
Cook the sugar syrup to 230°F - 235°F: Clip a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan. Increase the heat to high and bring the syrup to a boil. Once completely boiling, reduce the heat back to medium and cook just until the syrup is between 230°F - 235°F. If you go over, quickly add a few tablespoons of water to the pan to reduce the heat, and monitor the temperature carefully. Remove from heat immediately once the syrup reaches temperature.
Add the vanilla: Add the vanilla to the syrup — be careful as the syrup will bubble up quite a bit.
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.
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 golf ball. Roll each one into a thin 1/4-inch thick rope. If a rope gets too long, you can break it off 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 together.
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.
The dough is too stiff to form into ropes: You probably cooked the sugar syrup a little too long. If it's so stiff that you can't cut it, best to chuck this batch and start again. If you can cut it, you might try microwaving it in 5 second bursts until softened enough to roll — work quickly since the dough will quickly harden again.
Sugar syrup turned grainy when incorporating the dry mix: You likely 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 dry out, which is fine 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 with at every interval.
Finished candies are really sticky: 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.
This recipe has been updated. Originally published October 2009.