As I was poking around my regular blogs I stumbled upon this YouTube video here http://youtu.be/auRNHI2nkIU which has inspired me and my sister to try the recipe out and to share what we've learned.
The recipe for the candy is in fact dead easy make, it is the technique to magically change a solid puck of sugar into a cotton candy like consistency that is really the tricky bit.
Now where I live it is more likely known as Dragon's Beard candy, but in essence it is a type of pulled candy like taffy. It can also be described as a hand-pulled cotton candy.
Bare in mind that we're amateurs at making this, so the end result is not pretty and if this is your first time making this do not expect it to turn out perfectly until you have made it a few times.
You can find other names for this candy here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon%27s_beard_candy for educational purposes.
Now onwards to the next step...
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Step 1: Ingredients and Tools
For a basic Dragon's Beard you need,
* 1000g / 2.2lb of sugar
* 100g / 3.5oz of light corn syrup or maltose
* 1 tsp of white vinegar (careful here, too much or too little might mess up the final product)
* 500ml or 2 cups of water
* 3 to 4 cups of corn starch or rice flour
* 2 to 3 cups of peanuts
* a saucepan that will comfortably fit the ingredients
* a candy thermometer
* a pastry brush
* round disposable plastic containers or preferably silicone doughnut baking molds
* your hands
Note: We highly HIGHLY recommend you use silicone doughnut baking molds or just silicone baking molds in general. We will cover why a steps down.
Step 2: The Syrup
For the syrup you pretty much just dump in the sugar, corn syrup, vinegar and water into the saucepan.
Clip on the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan.
Then just turn on the heat to a medium-high flame, we are aiming for 133 Celsius or 271 Fahrenheit and try to keep the cooking time between 20 to 25 minutes.
Now here is a slightly tough part, but resist the urge to stir the syrup. The reason for this is to avoid sugar crystals forming from the agitation.
You will want to kill the flame when the temperature hits 132 Celsius or 269 Fahrenheit, it will hit the required temperature on it's own.
Also note that the temperature will stop rising at about 105 Celsius or 221 Fahrenheit momentarily, this is normal and you do not have to raise the heat. It is just the chemical process of the sugar crystals changing from one state to another.
Step 3: The "Puck"
Once you have taken the syrup off the heat you should let it cool down to 100 Celsius or 212 Fahrenheit, especially if you are using a disposable plastic container as a mold. If you are using silicone baking molds then go ahead and pour the syrup straight in.
You may need help pouring the syrup into the molds, one person to pour from the saucepan and one to control the flow with a wooden spatula or equivalent.
Allow these, for lack of a better word, pucks to cool down completely which takes about an hour of two depending how thick the pucks are. Do not put them into the fridge to shorten cooling time, you might disrupt the crystal formation and ruin the final product.
Note: The reason we suggest using silicone baking molds is that chemically it is safer than plastic, can take higher temperatures and is extremely flexible. Our first try using disposable plastic containers suggested by other sources did not turn out so well. The heating and cooling of the plastic caused it to turn brittle and made it harder to take the puck out, out of frustration I whacked it on the table and the plastic shattered.
So please take my advice and use silicone baking molds if you have them on hand. Specifically use silicone doughnut molds, you will be wanting the hole it makes when you start working with it you will see in Step 5.
Step 4: While Things Cool Down
Now here is something to do while you wait for the syrup pucks to completely cool down. You can also do this while the syrup is boiling and working it's way to the desired temperature or do this at the very beginning.
Put the cornstarch or rice flour into a dry pan and roast it for about 10 minutes on a low to medium flame so that is does not brown. Then put aside to cool along side the pucks.
Next is to dry roast the peanuts in the same pan until cooked. Once that is done just chuck it into a food processor, blender or even chop it with a knife. You want to chop it fine and not turn it to dust or powder like i did. But even if you do it does not effect the taste, it would effect the texture of finish product though.
That done, go ahead and do something else while things cool down.
Step 5: Pull It, Dip It
Now to the heart of this little project, turning a solid puck of sugar into flossy delicate hair-like candy. In the first picture you can see that if you have decided to use a plastic container or silicone cupcake molds you will have to punch a hole through the middle of it. Your thumb will suffice but it does take quite a bit of effort in which case you can use a tool of your choice, we used a sturdy chopstick on our first go.
The goal here is to get a ring instead of a puck which is why we tried doughnut molds and to our delight it turned out wonderfully. The flexible silicone made it a dream to pull the puck out and having the hole already there made it easier to get started. As an added bonus, the smaller puck was just about the right amount of candy to work with. We found using the bigger puck made in the plastic container was too much to work with and were more prone to making mistakes.
First thing to do with you ring is to dip it into the cornstarch and be sure to get an even coat all over it. Now just keep working it in your hands, you will feel it begin to bend to your will. Dipping and coating the candy with cornstarch prevents the strands from sticking and keeps them separate. If where you live has high humidity levels, like where I live, you will need to dip it more often to combat the moisture in the air.
Slowly pull the ring while making sure it is an even thickness all round the band of the ring. Dip in back into the cornstarch to coat it. Work it until you get about 4 times the size of the original puck.
Then you make it a figure-8 like in picture 5 and fold it so that you now have 2 rings or strands. Be sure to dip it into the cornstarch again.
Now you need to work the strands again until you get to a size where you can get a figure-8 and fold it again to get 4 strands. Oh and, you've guessed it, dip it into the cornstarch.
With that you work it again so that you can get a figure-8 and fold to get 8 strands and then dip it in cornstarch. As you can see a pattern is emerging, you will continue to do this for a further 8 times for a total of 11. At the end of 11 folds, you will have about 2048 strands. At this point you may stop but if you want finer strands you can go a further 3 more folds for total of 14 pulls with a strand count of 16384.
Onwards to the next step for the filling.
Step 6: Fill It, Fold It, Roll It Up.
Here you need to lay the floss or "beard" on a flat surface dusted with cornstarch, this helps keep the strands separate and leaves your hands free for the next step.
Now just tear off a rough 4inch section of the "beard" so that you can put your filling in. You will need to tear it it off and not cut it off, cutting it might cause it merge which you don't want to happen.
Just spoon in some chopped peanuts in the middle of the 4inch bit, fold it in half and then roll it up. You are done :)
You now have the first piece of Dragon's Beard candy, go ahead and eat it instead of keeping. You have definitely earned it, enjoy :)
Step 7: Packing and Storing
Now for this sized recipe you should get about 120 to 160 Dragon Beard's candy pieces, I kind of lost count near the end. Even then I am unsure due to the fact that we kept pinching at pieces here and there to reward ourselves :D
You should be able to keep it in an airtight container for about a week of two, we're not sure since it never lasted long for us to find out. If you have any desiccant packets on hand toss one or two in with the candy, it is very susceptible to humidity and those packets will help keep it fresh longer and less sticky.
If you have any left over pucks that has yet to be turned into candy you can keep for up to a month but I haven't had a chance to try that yet. When you are ready to use the pucks there will be a layer of crusty sugar on the surface of the puck, just pick it off or try to work it back into the candy. You will also need to microwave it for a few seconds to soften it up before you work with it.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
Here are some ideas and thoughts that occurred to us while we were working with the candy.
For when you pull and fold it:-
As mentioned in Step 5 you can pull and fold it about 11 to 14 times before things start getting odd. As a lark I just kept going after I hit number 14 and all the strands slowly merged back into a single strand as I kept going. But a rather interesting thing happened, even though it was getting to the consistency of chewy candy but had the taste and texture of cotton candy which you could count as a new kind of candy. It is like getting two candies with one recipe.
For the puck:-
We found a using a little veggie or olive oil on your hands makes it easy to get the initial ring started. Keep in mind that a little oil goes a long way so do not go overboard.
For the dusting and dipping powder:-
Cornstarch is a good place to start for it's bland flavour, here in my country we use glutinous rice flour which gives it a more oriental taste. You could mix cocoa powder with the cornstarch at a 50|50 or 25|75 percentage to get a chocolate Dragon's Beard. You could mix it with mustard powder to get a more savoury candy. Basically you could use pretty much anything as long as it is in powder form.
For the filling:-
You could use different kinds of nuts instead of peanuts. Chocolate chips or sprinkles works as well. Jelly or jam could work too as long as it is not too wet, you would end up with a sticky wet mess.
For the syrup:-
You could infuse the syrup with essential oils like orange or mint, vanilla extract, rose water or whatever you else you imagine. Though bare in mind that these additions can effect the end product so be aware.
I do hope that you have fun in making this candy and will enjoy sharing it with friends and family. It does make a rather unique gift in my opinion. Do experiment with it and see what you can get, you might just make a new candy.