Saturday, December 19, 2009
The Great Cream Butterscotch Debate
Long ago and far away, John and Josephine Lander owned a general store. It was located in Lucinda, Pennsylvania. Lucinda, to this day, is no bustling metropolis. It is one of those places you miss if you blink while driving through. It is not a place that you would choose to visit. In fact, getting out of there is probably one of the smartest things my grandparents ever did.
John and Josephine were both of German ancestry, as were most of the occupants of Lucinda. These were pretty humorless people and they had a pretty tough existence. They were lucky enough to own the town store, but that also meant everyone worked in the store. Since they sold candy in their store, Josephine would make homemade candy for the family each Christmas and Easter. This tradition was carried on by her daughter, Hilda (my grandmother).
My father and his two sisters have all continued family tradition. By carrying on the family tradition in their own ways and putting their own stamp on it, a debate has raged for years over who makes the Cream Butterscotch correctly. Susan's is very shiny and smooth. Patrick's is grainy and hard. JoAnna's is very creamy and soft. Perhaps their end product says something about their different personalities? You bet your ass it does!
Well, this year I entered the fray. I have attempted to make the candy previously, but have had little success. I made Cream Butterscotch with my grandmother Hilda that never got firm. It was more like pralines. It tasted fine, but was not the right consistency. Hilda, ever the queen of passing failures off as successes, deemed it taffy-like and wrote me a note of encouragement. She suggested leaving the candy alone for a while to watch a show that Peter Jennings was doing on education in the United States (yeah, this was in the 80s, but it turns out the sentiment was correct).
We had an old fashioned candy thermometer that looked like a thermometer for a farm animal. It had a clip on it that was wildly undependable and could result in all kinds of disasters (molten sugar is REALLY HOT and REALLY DANGEROUS!).
When Mr. Smith and I got married, someone gave us a gift card for Williams Sonoma. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Money to spend on cooking stuff! Yippee! One of the gadgets I bought was a digital, programmable candy/oil thermometer. I have used it for oil and now for candy. It has a clip that is much more reliable and it is far more exact, so you are not guessing at what the temperature is of your candy/oil, which can be a dicey affair.
I can not emphasize enough the importance of a good candy thermometer. My grandmother would tell you that she made candy for years without one. I would tell you that Hilda was and still is the master of selling cooking flops as innovations. Some day, I will tell you the story of the Butterscotch Pie Incident.
Having the right thermometer will take the guesswork out of making the candy. I am the type of person that is really really upset if I screw up a recipe. It bugs me for days and I obsess over it. I feel the need to make it again to prove that I can't be deterred by a failure. I might have a problem in this area.
Lander Cream Butterscotch Candy
1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Boil sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and evaporated milk until it reaches 235° (or soft ball stage). Let the mixture cool, stirring it occasionally to check the consistency. As it cools, it will begin to thicken and become more creamy-looking. Once you see this beginning to happen, you need to stir it until it lightens in color and thickens. Keep stirring until you feel like you are about to die, that is just about when the candy is ready to scoop (I would recommend one of those tiny scooper-deals, you know what they are. Get the smallest one, I believe it is 00 size, whatever the hell that means. It will give you the right size consistently, which is what you want).
Go ahead and scoop it out into individual pieces and nestle a pecan or walnut on top while the candy is still slightly soft. You can put the candy onto wax paper, but I prefer parchment paper.
Now, if you decide to eat some of the candy while it was still warm, that would be perfectly understandable. After all, you might be tired from all that stirring and need a little snack. Just be careful not to get caught!