Jami Curl, the owner of Portland sweet shop Quin, takes the fear out of cooking sugar.
TRICK OR TREAT!
Or, if you ask Jami Curl, you can get both at once.
The trick — a neat one at that — is learning to make your own candy at home. The big treat is using natural ingredients, like strawberries or coffee beans or, in one recipe, a “very drinkable” red wine.
Curl is the dynamic owner of Quin, a Portland-based shop known for intensely fruity lollipops, flavored caramels, gumdrops and other sweets. The candies are on elegant and rather grown-up display in Curl’s tiny retail store or online — and they’re not priced to drop into every plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket that comes to your front door. But you can DIY, maybe for ghosts and goblins with advanced palates, thanks to her 2017 book “Candy Is Magic” ($35, Ten Speed Press.)
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The biggest problem Curl sees home cooks face — an appropriate one for the season — is letting candymaking scare them.
“It’s true that melted sugar is hot and sticky. Accept and respect it. Understand it. Take care,” she writes. “Think of it this way: Cooking sugar is like any other regular cooking process, from boiling water for noodles to simmering a pot of tomato sauce.”
When I tell Curl that I’ve grown comfortable over the years making big pots of jam, but still get nervous at the idea of cooking caramel, she says caramel is actually a little easier. Just pay attention when you should, she said: Don’t take a phone call when you should have both eyes on the stove, and set up all your equipment and ingredients in advance.
“If you’re supposed to be watching a pot but you’re digging around for a whisk in the drawer, that’s not a good setup.”
In her cookbook, she clues in readers to ingredients like glucose syrup (available online or at shops like Seattle’s Home Cake Decorating Supply Company) and useful tools such as candy funnels and plastic lollipop molds. But it’s also possible to make great treats by using a glass measuring cup and a nonstick mat, she said. There are only a few nonnegotiable pieces of equipment, including a kitchen scale and a candy thermometer.
She shares that perspective firsthand, as someone who also had to learn on her own.
“How this whole thing started was, I had a bakery,” she says. Curl’s first career was in marketing, but in 2005, she opened Saint Cupcake, which became well-established as one of Portland’s best stops. It was big, beloved and busy nonstop. It was what she’d dreamed of — until it turned tedious, a place that felt like it limited her creativity instead of giving it an outlet.
Then one day, she made a pot of caramel. The sense of wonder returned to her work. She followed that with some of the spectacular Willamette Valley fruit the bakery had on hand, roasting it and showering it in sugar and vanilla and cooking it down to a jammy puree. It took a few tries before developing the berries into a candy recipe that would hold up on a stick, but eventually she had the glowing, deep-flavored treats she imagined. “Look at that: It’s totally beautiful. You can see strawberry seeds in it; it’s sort of a fruit on a stick!”
Now, she loves marshmallows because they make such amazing transformations in texture. She’s a fan of her own “magic dust,” a combination of cocoa powder and vanilla bean powder and other ingredients, the foundation for many recipes. But, “I will always hold the idea of a fruit lollipop very close to my heart, because it was the first thing I made candy-wise, where I thought, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe it works.’ ”
Cherry Dreams Come Chew
Makes about 160 candies if made in a frame, or 115 candies if made in a pan
616 grams glucose syrup
644 grams granulated sugar
200 grams unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
24 grams natural cherry flavoring (available online or in specialty shops)
10 grams citric acid (available in bulk at some markets as well as online or in specialty shops)
7 grams natural red food coloring, brighter pink to red (available online or in specialty shops)
1. Set up a 12-by-14-inch candy frame, or lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch pan.
2. Weigh the glucose syrup, sugar and butter directly into a heavy-bottomed pot, then set the pot over medium-high heat and watch as the ingredients start to melt together.
3. Grab a high-heat spatula or a wooden spoon, and use it to ease the candy from the outer edges of the pot into the center. You’re not stirring; instead, you’re gently scooting the candy so it will cook evenly. Continue scooting the candy to ensure even cooking until it reaches 248 degrees F, which will take about 10 minutes.
4. Remove the pot from the heat, and allow the candy to rest for a handful of seconds until the furious bubbling ceases. Once that happens, add the cherry flavoring, citric acid and red coloring. Grab a whisk, and start whisking. (Much like the approach to caramel making, Dreams need a good whisking at the end to emulsify the fat into the candy and to ensure an even flavor.) Whisk for a full 4 minutes. The candy will be very smooth and slightly thickened. Another good reason for all that whisking? It incorporates air, which results in a lovely texture when the Dreams are cool and ready to cut (and eat!).
5. When you’ve finished whisking, pour the candy into the prepared candy frame or pan, using the whisk to ease it into the corners as needed. Allow the candy to sit until cooled and set, at least 3 hours or preferably overnight, before cutting.
Recipe from “Candy Is Magic” by Jami Curl