I use Ultra Gel in a lot of my candy recipes, and I’ve been asked more than once why that is. It takes a little explaining so here we go. (With much thanks to my mother and grandmother who taught me candy making and to Mr. McMurry the 7th grade science teacher who taught me about crystals.)
When working with candy, both chocolate and sugar work, what you’re really looking to do is to take one form of sugar, usually granulated sugar which is a lot of small crystals, and reform it into other crystals structures. Sugar is neat stuff and it likes to replicate its pattern with other sugar molecules. This is why you can create a great science project by growing your own sugar crystals and making rock candy with it!
This process of creating and controlling crystal structures is why candy making is possible, but it can also be a big problem. Once you get the structure you want any stray seed crystal added to the mix will turn the structure you want into a grainy mess. The traditional method of keeping stray sugar crystals away is called washing down crystals. This is done by taking a wet brush and running it around the inside of the pot where the candy is cooking. Alternately you can put a lid on a boiling candy pot and let evaporation and condensation run water down the pot and back into the mix. The only problem with this method is that it cannot be done on anything that has dairy products in it. If you clamp a lid on a dairy based candy you’ll get a giant mess as it tends to boil up and all over everything.
So this is where the Ultra Gel comes in. I still wash down the crystals the traditional way, but when a little bit of Ultra Gel is added to the recipe as well it gets in the way of the sugar structures and keeps them from forming huge grainy ugliness.
However, you do have to have a gentle hand as too much Ultra Gel can create an elastic quality to your product that you don’t want. Particularly in the case of candy canes I’ve found that too much Ultra gel makes candy canes into really nice elastic bands. 🙂 It was hysterical and had a lovely creamy texture, but not exactly what I was intending. So I suggest about 1/2 to 1 tsp for a good sized batch, then eat and enjoy!