So you’ve mastered Christmas cookies, and now you want to take your kitchen skills to the next level by trying your hand at homemade candy. Mastering this new talent will require a few more tools than your standard bowls, spatulas and stand mixer, so be sure to stock your kitchen with the right gadgets before getting started (and avoid these deadly sins of candy making).
A few of the easiest candies to start with are caramels and chocolate truffles, which can be made a myriad of ways with different flavors of fillings and spices. Once you’ve mastered those, you may want to move on other candies such as fudge, brittle, divinity or toffee. When working with chocolate, remember to start with top-quality ingredients. Brands like Valrhona are staples in many chocolatiers’ kitchens because they yield the best-tasting results.
Once you’ve gotten all the tools of the trade, it’s ready, set, truffle!
“If you call yourself a confectioner, then you have to work with chocolate; and to work with chocolate, you must have either a double boiler or a tempering machine,” says Todd Baker, owner and general manager of Bakers Candies in Greenwood, Nebraska. OK, so maybe you’re not on Baker’s level or ready to call yourself a confectioner just yet—but a double boiler will come in very handy when it comes to melting chocolate slowly and gently. A good beginner option isthis $35 set from Amazon, says Baker.
You may want to spend a few more dollars to get a quality thermometer instead of just picking up one at the supermarket, says Baker. When working with chocolate candy, here’s what to look for: Ideally, an analog thermometer that ranges from 60 degrees to 120 degree Fahrenheit, with 1-degree increment markers. “One degree is a big deal when working with chocolate,” he explains. Digital thermometers are generally cheaper and easier to find but can be less reliable. If you’re planning to make other types of candy that require higher heat, such as brittle or toffee, get a thermometer that goes up to 400 or 450 degrees, such asthis $35 digital model from Williams-Sonoma.
If you’ve never used a Silpat (or any nonstick mat), get one ASAP and you won’t remember how you ever baked without it. Created by a French baker back in 1965, the Silpat is also ideal for candy making. “It’s a superb nonstick surface and essential for working with sticky materials,” says Joann Hofer, chocolatier and owner of Xchocol’Art Gourmet Chocolate in Carmel, Indiana. She uses a Silpat for easy shaping of caramels and chocolates.
Stainless Steel Bowl
“Every candy maker owns several—we use them for absolutely everything,” says Baker. Different sizes have different applications, but in general, aim to use a bowl that can hold three to four times the total amount of ingredients. A good all-purpose size to start with is a 20-quart bowl, likethis $24 one from Amazon, says Baker.
Just as important as the bowl is the spatula used to work the confection in the bowl. “That ensures you aren’t leaving any of ‘the good stuff’ behind,” says Baker. Make sure to get a silicone spatula that’s heat resistant and made from solid silicone rubber (i.e., no wooden handles) for easy cleaning and sanitizing. Baker lovesthis $16 set of four spatulas (two small and two large) from Amazon.
They may look fancy, but molds are actually an excellent tool for a beginner candy maker. “They provide uniformity and the ability to create unique shapes with the chocolate for a more fun chocolate-making experience,” says Hofer. Find them in the baking aisle of most craft stores, or shop Amazon for a wide selection of molds. Try the silicone varieties, which make it easy to pop out the chocolate once set. (This Christmas-themed set of four molds for$9 on Amazon would be perfect for holiday candy making.)
Buy It: 4-Pack Christmas Candy Molds, $9
If you want your chocolate truffles to look as good as they taste, this tool is a must-have. You can use it to clean up the edges for a smooth look, as well as move pieces from one surface to the next, says Crystal Thomas, a chocolatier at Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates in Kohler, Wisconsin. You can even use the side of it for cutting, making it a universally useful tool.
Buy It: Offset Spatula Set, $12
Hand Immersion Blender
When making truffles, chocolates or caramels, a hand immersion blender is essential to get that silky-smooth texture. It’s easy to use, and using a regular blender can often allow for too much air to get into the ganache mixture, which can attract bacteria, explains Hofer. She recommends this super affordable version for$15 on Amazon—which will be well worth the investment when you can also use it for soups, sauces, eggs and more.
If you’re making truffles and want to add a dusting of powdered sugar, cocoa powder or even sea salt, use a sifter or powdered sugar shaker rather than your fingers. “It will give you that beautiful, even finish to perfect your homemade treats,” says Thomas.