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Recipe: Gourmet rock candy (Day 1)

Middle school flashback time: remember when your chemistry teacher asked you to grow sugar crystals at home in order to see a large version of the structure? Didn't you think it was awesome?

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Perhaps my recent interest in different varieties of salt has seeded a deeper desire to play more with crystals. In any case, though my attention was purely academic at age thirteen, I was recently inspired by a friend to make some rock candy. After all, I do live in Boulder.

Rock candy uses sugar's natural tendency to crystallize and clump to make a little stick full of delicious and sparkly treat. It is a very old fashioned candy, (I remember begging my mother for some at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where they seemed to produce vast quantities of the stuff,) and is exceptionally sweet, obviously. Too much can really be too much. I thus decided that I was going to grow mini-rock candy sticks of various flavors and give them as favors to friends for my birthday next week. That way they can enjoy a little sweet on the drive home. The flavors (and colors, of course) I settled on were: white=regular sugar, orange=orange, and red=cinnamon/mint/chili.

To make rock candy at home, you need:

  • 9 1/2 pint jelly jars (available at King Soopers, Safeway, McGuckins and many other stores)
  • 9 clothespins
  • 9 skewers, cut into four inch pieces and 'started' by being dipped halfway in water and then rolled in sugar.
  • lightweight cloth to drape over the top of the jars while the crystals grow

For the actual candy, you need:

  • 3 cups water
  • 5 cups white sugar

For the flavorings, prepare two glass measuring cups with:

Cinnamon Chili Rock Candy:

  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (ground)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 10 drops red food coloring

Orange Rock Candy:

  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • 2 drops red food coloring
  • 8 drops yellow food coloring

In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then add the sugar one cup at a time, stirring in between, until each cup is dissolved. Each time it should take a little longer for the sugar to dissolve. After the fifth, the water should be saturated, which is what you want.

Pour a third of the sugar water into each of the two prepared glass measuring cups, and stir them to fully mix the flavor and color in. Reserve the final third in the pan (it's the plain flavored one.) Then fill three half-pint jars about halfway with each flavor. Pinch the skewers with the clothespins and place them over the mouths of the jars, allowing the skewer to stick into the liquid but not touch the bottom or sides.

Set your jars in a safe place out of direct sunlight and cover the tops with a cloth. Now it's time to wait, and watch as the crystals form over the next four to six days.

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