Who knows when humans first were enticed to satisfy their sweet tooth? Certainly, it has been a process, evolving over years and years. Many believe that honey was the earliest ways we calmed the cravings for something sweet. Honey was easy enough to find, required no processing and with a little cooperation from the bees or even with a few stings, the bee’s sweet nectar was found to put a smile on even the grouchiest of faces. Since those days, we have found it wildly enjoyable creating more and more ways to savor something sweet.
By the early nineteenth century, Americans used sugar beet juice to make new candies. Still, hard candies were the primary confections. In the mid 1800s there were around 400 candy making production facilities or as they were termed “confectioneries”. Those hard candies were cheap to make, easy to transport, and did not spoil easily. As we became more advanced and found other things sweet we began to experiment and test other ways to create candies. This was one of those experiments that have continued to be a very popular treat.Created or consumed by itself, added as a topping, placed inside a candy (like a Snickers candy bar), or used as a topping like the classic Candy Apples;it has found a place in the candy world as a great ingredient pleasing millions each and every year.
These were also made at some of those first small confectioneries. In fact, the famous Hershey chocolate empire that Milton Hershey started began with it. Hershey was born in 1857 in Pennsylvania, as a young man he founded a candy-making business in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. By 1886, he had founded the Lancaster Caramel Company. He learned about chocolate-making because he sought new coatings for his famous caramels.
During its production, ingredients are added, machine mixed, cooked steadily, cooled, extruded, and formed into small caramel squares or prepared for use in other creations like Caramel Apples, Pecan or Cashew Turtles, Dark or Milk Chocolate Hand-dipped Caramels or even drizzled over a Chocolate Dipped Turtle Pretzel Rod for an extra special sweet touch just to name a few.
The production of it occurs using a heavy copper pot over direct gas flames, watched carefully by a confectioner who uses a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, and when finished poured onto a marble slab or a water-cooled table and scored into squares.The heavy, deep candy kettles that true gourmet producers (like the Sweet Hut) swear by are still used today for that unmistakable rich flavor you just can’t get by taking short cuts.
The raw materials vary with the manufacturer and type of caramel under, production.However, the most frequently made caramel,the vanilla flavor, contains many ingredients if it is mass-produced. The ingredients include milk,sometimes sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup, sugar,oil, whey, calcium carbonate, salt, flavor, and butter. Milk is essential to distinguish it from a hard candy, and it is the milk solids that change chemically to produce it. Corn syrup lends additional sweetness to the candy batch but also keeps the mixture from becoming grainy, which would indicate there is too much sugar in the batch (graininess will ruin a batch of caramels). Corn syrup also lends body to the slurry. At least one fat is added to the mixture as well. Butter is often the only fat added by gourmet makers as it provides superior taste.
The making of candy requires precise measurements of ingredients, since too much sugar makes the candy grainy (the sugar does not entirely dissolve in the liquid) and makes it an inferior product. If there is too much moisture in the product, it will be too gooey in warm weather. Too little moisture and cooked at too high a heat, and a “long” or chewy caramel is the result. So, the process must be very carefully checked and calibrated for accuracy in the mixing and weighing of materials.Temperature controls, too, must be extraordinarily accurate, since just a few degrees can affect the consistency of it. Experienced caramel-makers are essential to the production of gourmet caramels,made in smaller batches of 30-50 lb at a time. Their experience can detect any slight variation that may result in an inferior batch just by the look, smell, and feel of the batch.
As with all food manufacture, the quality of all consumable ingredients must be checked for quality. Ingredients of the highest quality are needed for this candy manufacture. Only using the best corn syrup, butter etc.can create that ultimate flavor and texture it connoisseur craves. At the Sweet Hut in Wisconsin Dells, the process takes around 3 hours from start to perfection.The ingredients they use, their heavy copper pot and time taken make their family recipe a real treat for your taste buds.
Penny Kowalke has been creating sweet since she was a little girl.She started the Sweet Hut 11 years ago in 2000 and continues creating their famous caramel and other mouth-watering confections.
For more information about caramel or other special sweet treats go to www.sweethutcandy.com, call 608-253-9866 (YUMM) or stop by their location in the lobby of the Kalahari Resort on your next visit to the Wisconsin Dells