Is there any greater pleasure than consuming a tiny chocolate bottle of your favorite alcohol?
Think about it: a rich, bittersweet shell of chocolate hides a wafer-thin shell of sugar. At the first bite, a rich "snap" rewards your efforts, which is soon followed by the warming flush of a small sip of liquor. The flavors mingle, interact, explode!
But wait... You just realized, you can't get your favorite flavor of alcohol in a candy, can you? Sure, if all you want is whiskey, rum or cognac. But we here on Instructables are connoisseurs of the exotic and unusual.
Where's the cobra whiskey candy? Can we put grapefruit liquor to work? What about skittles or bacon vodka?
"Oh," you may be saying to yourself, "if only we could make these candies at home, the happy drunken sky would be the limit!"
Well, I'm here to tell you that your heartbreaking search is at an end - you can make these confections yourself... and it's easier than you think.
Step 1: Sweet, Sweet Science
Here's an overview of the procedure we'll be following.
First, sugar and water are heated together to a set temperature in order to produce a near-saturated sugar solution. That means that the water has dissolved the maximum quantity of sugar possible - the addition of more sugar will cause the formation of crystals.
Second, warm liquor of the chef's choice is added to bring the solution slightly above the saturation point.
Third, the solution is gently transferred to pre-prepared cavities in a bed of pre-dried cornstarch. The starch provides seeding points for the now supersaturated sugar solution. If the concentration of sugar in the candies is right, a thin shell of sugar will grow around the liquid centers. When the interior solution has been sufficiently depleted of sugar, the growth of the shell will stop.
The candies can be consumed as they are, or dipped in chocolate to provide a nice finishing touch.
I recommend starting this procedure in the morning on a Saturday. This way, the starch can be dried in the morning, the sugar syrup can be prepared around lunchtime, and the candies will be ready to eat by Sunday morning.
Step 2: Required Equipment
A quick note about measurements - I am a follower of the school that believes everything should be measured accurately, especially in the kitchen. For pasta sauce, this isn't really necessary, but for candymaking precision is vital.
You will need a decent scale with a sensitivity of at least 1 g, and a good instant-read digital thermometer. Both of these items can be found cheaply at any store with housewares, and are well worth the cost.
For the starch molds:
Two baking dishes (9"x13")
Two large metal bowls
Several boxes of cornstarch (four to eight)
A metal mesh strainer/sifter
An object to be molded - this doesn't have to be fancy, it can be anything from a small bottle to a dowel to your finger.
For the candy solution (makes about 100 small pieces):
87 g water
247 g sugar
100 g alcohol. The alcohol chosen must have a reasonably high proof to work. Beer won't work at all, and even wine would be pushing it.
Chocolate (for coating)
Optional but helpful:
Silicone pastry brush
Step 3: Prepare the Molds
The first thing you need to do is to dry your starch well. Very dry starch repels liquids, causing it to bead up. If your starch is too moist, it will absorb the candy solution and leave you sad and frustrated.
Fill each baking dish with enough starch to make an even layer about 1 3/4 inches deep. Transfer the starch to the two metal bowls, and place in a 200 degree (fahrenheit) oven for 3-4 hours.
Once the starch has dried, sift it from the bowls into the baking dishes. Aim for a layer about 1 1/4 inch deep. You need to retain a good bit of starch for later - don't forget that, like I always do.
Extinguish all open flames for this step (seriously). Airborne starch can explode, and you're going to be getting it everywhere.
Shake the dish to spread the starch around, and level it with your spatula.
To produce the cavities for your molds, simply press the object to be molded into the starch to a given depth. I used the pestle from my mortar and pestle - the red mark indicates the depth of the starch, and the blue one is the depth I wanted my cavities to be. This gives me nicely gumdrop-shaped candies.
Step 4: Prepare the Syrup
Pour the sugar into the center of the saucepan, making sure that the middle is higher than the sides. Avoid getting crystals stuck to the sides of the pan.
Pour the water down the sides of the pan. This will wash down any errant flecks of sugar.
Heat on a medium-high burner until the temperature of the syrup reaches 246 F (119 C) for unsweetened liquors, or 243 F (117 C) for sweetened liquors. Yes, that three degree difference really does matter. If crystals have formed on the side of the pan, wash them down with a silicone pastry brush dipped in cold water.
When the required temperature has been reached, remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the liquor, which has been warmed in the microwave. Just make it warm to the touch, no need to boil it.
Stir the solution gently until all of the liquor has been incorporated.
If you agitate the solution too much at this point you can induce crystallization, which will ruin all the work you've done. Just stir the solution in - slowly - with the plastic spoon.
Once it's all mixed, you can fill the molds.
Step 5: Fill the Molds
Using the plastic spoon, gently fill the cavities you've prepared in the starch almost to the top.
Sift the reserved dried starch over the tops of the molds, making sure you've covered them fully.
If you've forgotten to reserve starch for this step, fill the cavities about 3/4 full, and (carefully) sweep starch from the top over the candies using a dry pastry brush.
Let the candies sit for 3-5 hours. Flip the starch-containing tray over (Tupperware-topped Pyrex trays work well for this step), and let it sit overnight.
Step 6: Finish the Candies!
The next morning, the candies are ready! Digging them up is fun, but messy. For maximum efficiency I recommend scooping out ladlefuls of starch and gently sifting it into a large metal bowl. As the candies are revealed, pick them out and set them on a plate.
DO NOT THROW THE STARCH AWAY. The starch, having been properly dried, can be stored and re-used as many times as you want! It's the ultimate molding material for candies - food-safe, infinitely re-usable, and dirt cheap.
At this point, the candies are delicious but not shelf-stable on their own. If you don't want to coat them with chocolate, be sure to put them in a sealed, dry container or to consume them within 24 hours.
To coat them, temper a batch of chocolate.
To do this, melt chocolate in a bowl in the microwave by heating for 5-15 second increments and stirring with the thermometer (which you have washed and dried well, by the way). If you start with tempered chocolate and do not let the temperature exceed 97 F (36 C), you will not lose your temper.
Stir the chocolate well to melt all the chunks and distribute seed crystals. to test the temper, dip a knife in the chocolate and let it sit for a minute. If you can't see any streaks, and the chocolate wipes off cleanly, you're good to go.
To coat, just drop the candy in the chocolate the move it around with a fork to coat. Remove it from the chocolate with the same fork, then tap and scrape on the bowl to remove excess chocolate. Let the candy roll off the fork gently onto parchment paper to cool.
The candies can be dusted with ingredients before the chocolate hardens to identify the contents, like cinnamon for rum candies, or perhaps snake scales for cobra whiskey.
Step 7: Troubleshooting Your Candy
Sometimes, things go wrong. If your candies fail (thin-skinned, thick skinned, lack durability) check this list to get some help. There is an art to making candies like this, and each different liquor you try might need a bit of tweaking to get just right. Don't fear a failure or two, though - sugar is cheap!
Problem: Weak bottoms.
Flip sooner - If the "bottom" side of the candy is thin or weak, that means they the "flip" step came too late. Flip the candies after less time has passed.
Problem: Thin skins, weak candies.
A thin sugar shell is caused by under-crystallization, which can stem from several factors:
Too much water in syrup - cook the syrup to a higher temperature. Aim to increase the temperature by two or three degrees each time, so that you don't overdo it and end up with a solid block. Alternatively, you can add less liquor, or liquor of a higher proof.
Too much acidity - Acidic flavorings "invert" the sugar, breaking it into a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose. This inhibits crystallization, so you should avoid using flavorings that are acidic.
Not enough time - Let the candies sit for another 24 hours. Some liquors seem to require this step, but I can't figure out why. Captain Morgan Parrot Bay rum, for instance, produces candies that are soft and squishy after one day, but perfectly fine after two.
Problem: Candies begin to degrade after removing them from the starch.
Check the humidity - Humidity is the candymaker's worst enemy. Here where I live, the humidity is already reaching the level where it can disintegrate a batch of candies. I think the key here is to carefully limit exposure to the air. Get the chocolate in temper, and remove the candies one-by-one with a fork, de-starching them as best as you can and plopping them straight into the chocolate.
Problem: Skin too thick/candies almost solid.
Thick skins are caused by overcrystallization of the syrup.
Not enough water in syrup - Cook the syrup to a lower temperature.
Sugar syrup cooked improperly - Once the syrup has reached its desired temperature, be sure to avoid stirring or other excessive agitation. If there are crystals on the sides of the pot, that can prematurely seed your solution and cause it to crystallize.
Problem: Chocolate untempered.
Chocolate tempering is an issue all by itself. Until I can put an Instructable up about tempering chocolate, I'd recommend these fine resources:
Tempering Chocolate on Cooking for Engineers
Tempering Chocolate on Chow.com (video)