I recently had the opportunity to speak with author and candy-maker extraordinaire Elizabeth LaBau about her passion for candy and chocolate, along with some fun tips, tricks, and stories. Here is what she had to say.
I'm always on the lookout for candy inspiration, and I keep a huge file of potential candy ideas on my computer. I get my ideas from everywhere: favorite foods from my childhood, desserts that I've tried, colors or patterns in fashion, fruit that's in-season, trendy ingredients or new products I spy in the store, food blogs and websites like Pinterest, everywhere!
Sometimes I have just a vague notion of what I want to explore (for instance, animal prints or polka-dotted candies) and sometimes it's much more specific, like an ingredient combination that I can't get out of my mind.
Once I've decided on the general idea of the candy, I turn it around in my mind to figure out what form it should take. Here's an example: If I want to make a candy that combines fresh strawberries and fresh mint, what would be the best way to get those true, vibrant flavors across? Obviously something like a toffee wouldn't work well, but truffles take well to flavor infusions and fruit purees, so that's one possibility.
A better idea, though, might be to make a candy composed almost entirely of fresh fruit, without other strong flavors like chocolate masking the fruit. So in that case, I might decide to make pate de fruits, a chewy fruit candy made mostly from puree. After deciding on the form, it's a matter of creating a base recipe and tweaking it until it has just the right flavor, texture, and appearance.
By this point in my life I've made many, many different types of candy, so I usually have a good idea of where to start with the base recipe, and I'm rarely starting from complete scratch these days.
I should add that even though I've been doing this for years, I still have my share of candy failures on a regular basis! I try to learn from each failed recipe, and sometimes good things come as a result—I might not always make the exact candy I dreamed of, but sometimes I stumble upon a different, but equally good, end product.
2) What is your favorite recipe? Why?
This is an unfair question—it's like asking a parent who their favorite child is! That being said, I do have a few recipes that I find myself making over and over again, just because I love the way they taste.
The Mint Chocolate Chip Truffles are one example—mint is one of my favorite flavors, and the cool mint ganache is so refreshing, I find myself eating way too many whenever I make them. I also love the Passion Fruit Marshmallows, because passion fruit is one of my favorite flavors and it's pretty uncommon in candies, at least where I live. Finally, I love the Red Velvet Fudge—it's is a little time-consuming to make, but it looks amazing and is always a show-stopper when I share it with people.
3) What do you find most challenging about candy/chocolate making? What do you find the easiest?
I mentioned this before, but I do still have the occasional spectacular failure, and that's never fun! Candy making is so precise, even a small mis-measurement or temperature mistake can ruin a batch of candy, and that can be challenging and discouraging.
In writing the book, I think I had the most challenges with the fudge chapter—old-fashioned fudge can be so finicky! If I got distracted by other candies and let a batch cook too long, or cool too long, it was sure to be disastrous. In contrast, I've never met a truffle I didn't get along with, and they're pretty forgiving, so I generally find truffles to be simple and enjoyable to make.
4) Which recipe would you recommend to first time candy/chocolate makers?
Peanut Butter Cup Fudge is an easy fudge that's almost impossible to mess up! It does require a candy thermometer, but that's really the only tricky part—there's no extended cooling or beating required, unlike some more complicated fudge recipes. I think of it as a "gateway recipe"—after tasting the smooth, creamy fudge, hopefully folks will be more confident, want to try more, and be willing to experiment a bit with more complex recipes!
5) Have you ever had a balloon explode while making your chocolate bowls?
YES! I have spent some quality time scrubbing chocolate from my kitchen walls as a result of chocolate bowl explosions. I was actually nervous that one would explode when we were shooting the cookbook, and I warned the photographer that she might want to keep a close eye on her camera and lenses, so she wouldn't get chocolate on them. Fortunately I've become pretty good at judging when the temperature is ready to make chocolate bowls, and we avoided any explosions during the cookbook shoot!
Elizabeth LaBau is the author of The Sweet Book of Candy Making. Elizabeth is a food writer and confectioner based in Los Angeles, California. She applies her years of experience as a professional pastry chef to bringing a modern touch to the world of old-fashioned candy making. Since 2006, she has been the Guide to Candy at About.com, an online division of the New York Times Company. At http://candy.about.com, she provides fun, creative candy recipes and step-by-step tutorials for the home cook. When she's not playing with sugar in the kitchen, she can be found running the trails around Los Angeles with a piece of candy tucked into her pocket. Visit her online at http://www.elizabethlabau.com, http://www.sugarhero.com, and http://www.runningwithsugars.com.