How to make hard candy from table sugar

I really don’t want to write another post about cooking with sugar, mostly because all my carefully honed and lovingly nurtured communication skills fall to ruin after I type the word “sugar.” For some reason, people don’t understand what I’m saying and there’s only one person to blame.

But after a bunch of recent requests for a recipe, I decided to try again. The problem begins with the idea of a recipe because a recipe implies a ratio of ingredients that will give you the proper results. But cooking with sugar is more of a process than a formula.

If I start by explaining that table sugar (or sucrose) is a disaccharide that you want to invert into a mixture of glucose and fructose by way of a hydrolysis reaction, you won’t remember. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter. Trust me on this.

Just think of it this way: when boiling sugar you are changing its format. Instead of little crystals you will get either a smooth and pliable dough (fondant) or a hard candy, something akin to a lollypop. These formats are easier for you to handle—and less likely to be discarded by your dinner guests—than tiny sugar crystals.

To make fondant or hard candy, you simply dissolve the sugar in the smallest amount of water possible and then cook it to drive the water back out. Really. You don’t need any other ingredients, but a little lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar helps to speed up the conversion of sucrose into glucose and fructose.

Beekeepers argue about the amount of water needed to start, but it doesn’t matter. You can put ten pounds of sugar in three cups of water or in five gallons of water—you will get the same thing in the end. But the more water you use, the longer it will take to drive it all off again. The trick is to use as much water as necessary, but as little as possible.

The temperature you cook the solution to determines the consistency of the final product. Boiling until 234°F gives you fondant, boiling to 250°F will give you hard candy. For more on these temperatures, called stages, and for information about calibrating your thermometer, see my previous post, “Notes on cooking with sugar syrup.”

Below are directions for hard candy. I will add fondant in a day or two.

Hard Candy

Serves 4-5 hives
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hour, 10 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free, Vegan
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve at Hive Temperature
Occasion Winter
These candy cakes can be kept on hand and slipped quickly into a hive that is low on stores.

Ingredients

  • 10 lb granulated sugar
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice

Note

If you are extremely picky, you can wipe down the inside of the pot with a wet pastry brush while the mixture comes to a boil. This will keep any errant sugar crystals from forming more crystals as the mixture cools. I don't do this because the bees don't care.

When the cooking is done and the bubbling has stopped you can add a few drops of essential oil, if desired. I like to add anise oil because the bees seem to find the sugar cakes faster. If you decide to add an essential oil, it may cause the hot syrup to splatter, so be careful. After adding the oil, give a quick stir before pouring the syrup into the molds.

Directions

Step 1
Prepare molds in advance. I like to use paper plates lightly sprayed with canola oil. Lay them out on a flat, heat-proof surface.
Step 2
Measure the water and the vinegar (or lemon juice) into a large pot and bring to a slow simmer.
Step 3
Pour in the sugar, stirring until it dissolves completely. Keep stirring until you feel no "grits" in the water. If the sugar won't dissolve add more water, little by little, until all the crystals disappear.
Step 4
Once the sugar is completely dissolved, you can gently turn up the heat to medium high and stop stirring. Insert your candy thermometer. (Because the crystals are gone, there is nothing to settle on the bottom and burn; the sugar is in solution.)
Step 5
Boil the mixture until the thermometer reads 250 degrees F, then remove the pot from the heat. If you wish, you can test the candy at this point. Place a drop of syrup into a glass of cool water. Reach in and get the drop. The drop of candy should hold its shape, but you can flatten it between your fingers.
Step 6
Carefully pour the mixture into 8 or 10 paper plates.
Step 7
Allow the candy cakes to cool completely and then pop them out and store between layers of wax paper.
Step 8
You can store the candy cakes for long periods. Just keep them away from insects, mice, and moisture.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

HB (@Hello_Kitty_)
Reply

I’ve probably read every one of your candy posts six times over, and it’s just now occurring to me that I should make cake instead of fondant next time. My poor stand mixer is about to give up the ghost, and I wouldn’t have to use it! Only problem with the cake recipe for me is, I need paper plates instead, and my Mom raised me crazy/frugal so I don’t use them in my house. Do you think I could pour the stuff into a eke? How would you keep it from flowing out?

Rusty
Reply

HB,

I’ve been mulling over this since yesterday. I don’t know how to do it unless you build something like a candy board to pour it in. Nan mentioned using pie plates, which is a good idea if you have a lot of them. She used aluminum ones, but you could use regular ones if you could get the candy out. One reason I don’t like candy boards is they are very heavy and also I’ve seen the candy break out of them and fall all over the place. I don’t know the answer . . . still thinking on it.

papa jim
Reply

Now I know what you are talking about, lol. I made a batch about six weeks ago and now I know I put in way too much water. Thanks for helping us new beekeepers.

Chuck
Reply

Even though I know what you are talking about in your blogs, I appreciate you taking the time and explaining things the way you do. Sometimes, some of us readers listen then can’t follow the simple steps in front of us. You are truly a great help to the BEEKEEPING Community!

Rusty
Reply

What a nice compliment! Thank you.

Nancy
Reply

Note to readers: Do use a candy thermometer! As kids, we made candy, so I tried guessing at the “hard ball” stage. Um – if your sugar cakes don’t harden, you can scrape it back into the pot and re-boil. But what a mess. Also, any syrup you spill on the stove or counter will harden to marine varnish.

I found 3/$1 aluminum pie plates work better than paper plates. While they’re cooling, I can lay cookie racks over them and more cakes on top, to clear counter space. And the cakes pop out easier. (Remember Rusty’s post of bees shredding a paper plate from under a sugar cake? That was mine ;-))

Rusty: all is not lost with the next generation! The young couple from our club who came to help me check hives quickly on a cold day asked how to make sugar cakes. When I described the process, the young man shrugged, “Oh, just like making candy.” Yessss! There is hope!

Last: if you are removing Varroa boards after a cold night, note the debris circle to locate the cluster so you can place the cake right over it, giving the bees quick access to it. It does seem to make a difference where you set it.

Thanks as always for the wealth of information.

Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, KY

Rusty
Reply

Really good point about the location of the cluster.

Phillip
Reply

I added raw sugar to my hives last year and the bees seemed to eat it up just as well as the hard candy. I plan to feed them raw sugar again this year as soon as I get a mild day to do it.

I understand how hard candy is easier to add to a hive on a cold day, but I don’t think the format of the sugar makes much difference to the bees, does it?

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

Personally, I now feed just plain old granulated sugar in a tray. To me, it is way too much work to cook sugar and I hate doing it. This is my second year of feeding sugar straight out of the bag and I can’t tell any difference in consumption or bee health.

Phillip
Reply

I’m only going into my third winter, but ditto on all that. When I switched to the so-called Mountain Camp Method last winter, feeding the bees raw granulated sugar, I was in love.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

I’m actually using a variation on Mountain Camp, using Amino-B Booster. That will be my next posted recipe.

Nancy
Reply

With seven hives, I do like the solid cakes, because I can tip up the moisture quilt with one hand, slip the cake in with the other, and let it back down. With sugar I’d have to either set the tray on the bars, then pour, or fill it first and then set it in. Either way, it takes both hands and the lids & quilt all the way off, plus the risk of spilling.

And your recipe makes enough cakes for two feedings, a month apart. So it’s that not much trouble. Just something for others to consider.

Nan

Phil
Reply

Just yesterday I cooked my first batch of fondant and found your recipe and instructions perfect! Thanks for publishing your blogs.

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