Monday, August 15, 2011
HOW TO HOST A TAFFY PULLING PARTY
One of my best memories as a teen was going over to a friend’s house for a taffy pulling party. My friends’ mom used to plan these taffy pulling parties every year or two for about 10-12 teens from school.
I remember these parties being tons of fun. My friend’s mom would make up a couple different flavors of taffy, one at a time. After each batch was made, our group of teens would pull and pull for about 20 minutes, to smooth out the candy and get it to the lighter honey color. Usually we’d work with a partner. We’d string the taffy out thin and then rope it together to pull it again. There’d always be longs of laughing if the taffy slipped off our hands or if we pulled it into funny shapes. When the taffy got cold and hard, it would no longer stretch anymore. Then we’d get out scissors to cut out the taffy in bite-sized pieces to take home.
I realize this was a quarter century ago (Oh, that makes me sound OLD!) and teens today may that sounds like too much of an “old fashioned” activity for them. After all, no electronics are involved. However, I bet if they tried it, they might think taffy pulling is kind of fun—in an “old timey” sort of way.
I have no doubt that younger kids would definitely enjoy taffy pulling. It can be a wonderful activity to plan to do during a child’s birthday party. Or maybe your kids have a day off school coming up soon and you’re looking for a unique activity to do with them. Perhaps you have some grandchildren who are coming over to your house for a visit. Why not plan a taffy pulling party for them?
Here’s what you need to do to pull off a taffy pull:
1. Invite your guests. Taffy pulling parties are best done with small groups—no more than 6 to 12 kids (if you’re inviting younger children, maybe not more than 5-6 kids). When you invite them, let them know a little about the process of taffy making, so they know what to expect. Have them wear “play clothes” or bring a painter’s smock, like they’d put on in art class in school.
2. Choose a recipe (or two!) to make. My two favorite taffy recipes came from a small booklet called Old-Fashioned Candy Recipes (Bear Wallow books, 1986). Here they are:
SALT WATER TAFFY
2 cups granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1 T. glycerine
1 tsp. vanilla
3 T. butter
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Add corn syrup, salt and glycerine. Cover pan and cook over high heat until candy thermometer registers 267 degrees F. Add vanilla and butter, stirring quickly. Pour mixture onto a buttered slab or buttered cookie sheet. Allow to cool until you can handle it. Then start pulling it. Keep pulling it until the taffy becomes porous and white. Then shape it into a rope about a half-inch in diameter and cut into bite-sized pieces. Wrap in waxed paper and twist ends.
2 cups dark molasses
1 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. cider vinegar
2 T. butter
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
Use a medium size, heavy saucepan. Butter the sides. Combine molasses, brown sugar and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil. Stir in vinegar. Continue cooking and stirring until mixture registers 260 degrees F on your candy thermometer. Remove pan from heat and add butter. Spring in soda and cream of tartar. Stir quickly until the last three added ingredients are well mixed. Pour candy onto a large, buttered stoneware platter or marble slab or large buttered cookie sheet to cool.
Taffy directions for pulling and stretching: As the mass cools, pull the edges toward the center. When cool enough to handle, butter your hands and pull the candy, stretching it back and forth and doubling it over. Repeat this process until the mass becomes a glossy golden color. Then pull it into a rope-like piece (one half inch thick) and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Allow to harden. Wrap each piece in some waxed paper, twisting ends.
3. Buy your supplies. You will need a 3-4 quart saucepan with a heavy bottom and straight sides; a stainless steel candy thermometer with a reading up to “thread” and “hard crack,” which will clamp to the side of the pan; a long-handled wooden spoon, a cookie sheet or granite or marble slab, kitchen shears, and some painter’s cloths for the floor around your workspace. You will also need the ingredients for making the taffy. This varies depending on what recipe you choose, but generally you are going to need granulated or brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, glycerine, butter, flavorings and food colors, and candy wrappers or waxed paper. You can pick up most of these supplies at your local grocery store. Some of them you may have to order online (like if you want actually taffy wrappers or specialty flavorings, and you don’t have a candy making supply store in your area) so you will need to place the order for these special items way in advance of your party. Depending on how many children are coming over, you may want to make a double or triple batch of one of the above taffy recipes.
4. Set up the work station before your guests arrive. Put the marbled or granite slab or buttered cookie sheet on your countertop or center island—wherever you are going to be working—and lay painter’s cloths on the floor around your workspace. This is important—just in case there are spills. And there usually are!
5. Measure out your ingredients in advance. Then once your guests arrive, you can make the taffy mixture up in front of the kids, over your stovetop, while they watch.
6. After you’ve poured the mass of hot taffy onto your buttered cookie sheet, give the children each a dab of unsalted butter so they can grease their hands. Then let the pulling begin! Divvy up the mass of taffy to pass out to the children—one “blob” of taffy for every two children who will be working together. Make sure the children are all standing over the painter’s drop cloths (just in case there’s a spill!). Each child can hold one end of the taffy blob and take a step back, stretching the taffy about 12 to 18 inches, and then quickly bringing the two ends back together. Then repeat this pulling back and forth, until enough air has been incorporated into the taffy that it is smooth, light-colored and glossy in appearance.
7. After several pulls, have the children pause for a few seconds while you add a drop of flavoring and food coloring to the taffy mixture. (Hopefully, you’ve surveyed the children before you’ve gotten to this stage, asking them what flavor they liked and to come to an agreement. If you’re already at the pulling stage, this is a little too late to decide.) Once you’ve added the flavoring and coloring, have the children resume pulling until the flavoring and coloring is incorporated well into the taffy.
8. If you want to be creative, you could have each of the groups of children make up a different flavor and color of taffy. Then before it gets too hard to work with, each of the groups can exchange half of their taffy strands with another group of two kids who have been making another color/flavor. Then they can press the new strands of different colored/flavored taffy with the kind they had been working with. This creates a very pretty, colorful, two-toned taffy.
9. After about 20-25 minutes, the taffy will hold its shape if laid out on the countertop, and will no longer be able to be easily pulled. Instruct the children to make taffy “ropes” and hand them to you. The taffy is now ready to be cut into pieces. Rub unsalted butter on your kitchen shears, and then cut the taffy ropes into bite-sized pieces. Allow about 10-15 minutes for each of the pieces to cool and harden all the way.
10. Once the taffy pieces are cool and hardened, it’s time to wrap them. You can either wrap them in small squares of waxed paper (which hopefully you’ve cut up in advance), and then twist each end. Or, for a professional look, buy special taffy wrappers, which typically come in 4 ¼ by 5 ½-inch sheets, to wrap your taffy pieces in. Taffy doesn’t stick to these specially-coated waxed paper sheets. These are the same sheets that professional confectioners use. You can buy them online from Amazon.com (they sell a brand made by LorAnn Oils), Kitchen Krafts and the North Coast Candy Company.
11. Give each child a ziplock sandwich baggie, and put at least a handful of taffy inside for the child to take home. If several flavors have been made, try to give each child some of each.
It’s sure to be a fun activity. Chances are, you’ll hear a lot of giggling while everyone’s pulling, and “oohing” and “aahing” afterwards when the kids taste the taffy. It may be an “old fashioned” activity (not because kids did it a quarter century ago, but because it was done in Colonial America!), but definitely something still worth doing.
Happy taffy pulling!