How To Make Salt Water Taffy

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Let’s get this out of the way: Don’t try to make salt water taffy. It’s very tedious. If you do it by hand your arms will be dead when you’re done.

Seriously, if you like salt water taffy go somewhere and buy it. If you want to see it made, take a tour. This was a total pain in the … arms, actually. We won’t be trying this again.

But if you still want to — and how could anyone resist after that buildup? — or if you just want to point and laugh, here’s how we did it.

Ingredients

2½ cups sugar
1½ cups light Karo syrup
1 pint (2 cups) hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
Optional
lemon extract
strawberry extract
food color

Directions

A note on ingredients. Yes, that’s evil corn syrup I’m using. I never use corn syrup, so what’s the story?

This is candy.  Corn syrup is how candy is made. It’s not a substitute for sugar because it’s cheaper. You’ll notice there’s a whole bunch of sugar also. If you want to tell me how bad sugar is for you, or corn syrup in particular, please do it by writing your own blog post and leaving a pingback.

Moving on …

This recipe comes from

The Kappa Key to Cookery
Compiled  by
Gamma Omega Chapter
of
Kappa Kappa Gamma
Fraternity
Denison University — Granville, Ohio
1940

I’ve got some really strange ones in here I’ll be sharing. but for now, let’s get back to our salt water taffy.

Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup over high heat.

Use a candy thermometer — there’s no way to do this based on what it looks like, it’s got to be a thermometer — to make sure you bring it to 253° F.

While it’s heating, butter a large baking sheet. You’ll need it later.

When the syrup is 253° F — I told you to use a thermometer, right? — remove it from heat and stir in the vanilla, butter and salt.

It was still boiling in that first picture even though it was off the heat. Which is a good reminder for me to make this public service announcement:

This stuff is hazardous!

And I’m not talking about a threat to your waistline either. Boiling corn syrup is sticky, and more than hot enough to give you third degree burns before you can get to the sink and turn on the cold water. Be extremely careful when working with hot sugar. And use a wooden spoon. Metal will heat up too much, and plastic could get soft and bendy.

Candy making is not for the faint of heart.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way … Pour the syrup onto the buttered pan.

Let it cool enough to handle without burning yourself. We were making two flavors, so at this point we cut it in half.

For the first one, 10 drops of lemon extract and three drops of yellow food color.

Then start twisting and pulling the taffy.

All the recipe we worked from said at this point was “Pull”, like you’re going to know what that means. Here’s some more detail:

  • Fold it
  • Stretch it
  • Fold it again
  • Stretch it again
  • And again …
  • And again …

For a good half-hour until the color is uniform, which means the flavor should be uniform, too. And the more it cools the stiffer it gets. This is insanity. There’s a reason they use machines to make this.

The other half we did with strawberry extract and red food color.

Stretch everything into long, skinny strips and cut into bite-sized pieces.

And that’s …

… well that’s not it actually. I brought that bowl over to my in-laws. They were really looking forward to it.

Did I mention it’s gotten warm in Cleveland the past week? But not hot enough to turn on the air conditioner yet?

I guess now I know why salt water taffy is always sold individually wrapped in wax paper.

I should have seen this coming. While I was getting that picture of the finished product, I set my knife down on top of the uncut taffy. And just that quick …

We cut the rest, put a half-cup of powdered sugar in a bowl and tossed the pieces of taffy in it. That kept them apart nicely.

The kids at the party we took this to loved it. And we’re never making it again. Never.

Ever.

Comments

  1. I would LOVE to try this, but I may need to wait until winter. I live in FL and it’s already in the 90’s here with close to 100% humidity. Probably not the best conditions for taffy making. :) I’m bookmarking the recipe, tho!

    • i make taffy and i have also talked to a taffy wagon operator at my home town fair he makes his batches of syrup stores them in a cooler till hes ready for them
      that way you can do many flavors out a a batch also if you stor them in smaller containers however to pull by hand its hard to get the candy to the proper temp hands keep candy warmer then wanted for taffy. Taffy making isnt for every one though.

  2. See…. This is why candy was a special treat in the 1940s. LOL! My arms hurt just thinking about this. I’ll wait for our special trips to the Jersey Shore for salt water taffy. It does look super tasty, though!

  3. Please, if you’re going to jump on the “Evil Corn Syrup” bandwagon, at least know what you’re using. Plain Corn Syrup, the stuff in the bottle you picture above, is NOT the same stuff as HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) which has been hydrogenated to change it’s chemical properties.

    If you believe he hype, then it’s HFCS that’s the “evil” stuff.

    Loved the recipe BTW, thanks!

    • Sorry, that read far worse than intended. It’s been one of “those” mornings, and I should have read that commit before posting.

      Love your blog. Thanks

    • Don, you might want to look at a recent bottle of Karo. It’s light corn syrup — with “light” referring to the color only, not calories — and HFCS.

      As for being hydrogenated, as far as I can see that’s only oils. I can’t find any references to hydrogenation being used on corn syrup.

      Here’s hoping your day improves.

      • Corn syrup is NOT HFCS. General consumers cannot buy HFCS as an ingredient. It is found in many of the foods we eat but it is not the corn syrup you show here. Corn syrup is mainly dextrose, HFCS is mainly fructose achieved by a chemical treatment of dextrose. Let’s face it folks, we’re talking CANDY here, it’s not like it’s healthy in any form. HFCS is much sweeter than corn syrup and can therefore be used in smaller quantities which is why manufacturers use it. There are studies citing that fructose is more dangerous than the other sugar compounds because of the effects it has on the brain and the liver, feelings of fullness, etc, but who really knows. The point is, you’re not making broccoli here. Sugar and corn syrup and HFCS is bad for you regardless but corn syrup is not the same as HFCS.

      • Karo did indeed contain HFCS until recently. It was reformulated within the past 5 years in response to consumer pressure. If you don’t bake with it often, you may have a bottle with the old formulation. (We did. Yes, it lasted on the shelf that long.)

        So no, corn syrup is not the same as HFCS, but the Corn Refiners Association is trying very hard to convince people it is. That’s why they’re using the term “corn sugar”, even though that’s already a legally regulated term. Why there isn’t a case pending about that is a mystery.

  4. Drew-

    Great post. I was not even aware that it was possible to make saltwater taffy at home. I mean, I guess it makes sense! I recall in great detail going to my grandparents place in Northern Wisconsin and watching the taffy being made and stretch on the pullers. Wow, haven’t had good taffy in ears. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I was telling a friend about this today, and she said that when she was a child people would invite their friends over for a taffy pull. Everyone would get together and it would be a party, which ended with everyone going home with their own supply of taffy.

    Okay, maybe that I would do. But never again by myself.

  6. I remember as a child my grandmother making taffy and how good it was. She never used any flavoring but the vanilla and butter. IF.. I did say if… I wanted to make it like hers, should I increase the vanilla?

  7. Stephanie says:

    Drew, this was hilarious. I love taffy … and despite your warnings, I still want to make it. Does that make me crazy!?! Off-topic note: I get your blogposts in my email every day, and they’re always one of the four emails I read immediately, without fail — I never save them to read later. They are my favorite. But since they’re in email, I forget to come over and comment. Thank you for your blog!

  8. Lindylou says:

    The gals in my family celebrate Bake Day every year the Saturday after Thanksgiving, where we get together and do all of our Christmas cookie baking on the same day. Taffy is always on the menu, and has been both a joy and a frustration to us over the years. A couple of things we’ve learned….
    Make sure it has really cooled off before you start pulling (Taffy burns are not fun)
    This really works best in the winter, when you can open the door and drop the temperature in the room. If it’s too warm in the room you’re baking in, it’s likely to just fall limp. I’m from Minnesota, so our general rule is only make taffy when there’s snow on the ground or cold enough to snow. It’s nice to just toss the plate of cooling taffy in a snowbank – just don’t forget it out there!
    Also, (though I guess this might be different depending on your recipe) we always butter our hands before pulling. Helps keep things moving slickly.
    If you do try it again… give peppermint a shot. Crushing up candy canes or those peppermint discs gives a fabulous flavor. We also do vanilla a lot which has just a mild sweet flavor.
    Thanks for sharing! We certainly have plenty of pictures of the taffy that didn’t work out over the years, so I’m rather impressed you got it on the first try! (even if it did melt…)

  9. Barbara says:

    I’m still laughing! And I was going to comment on the “Taffy Pulls” of yesteryear… That’s what folks did for “entertainment” — no TVs and electronics! People actually interacted with people! Salt Water Taffy is synonymous with Rehoboth Beach, DE, and Ocean City, MD — That and Boardwalk Fries.

  10. It’s official: My readers are insane. I’m not kidding at all about how much I didn’t like doing this, and here comes everybody saying, “Ooh, I have to try that.” Insane, I tell you.

  11. I will not try this, but I certainly had a good laugh. Thanks!

  12. As a kid growing up in Vermont we occasionally made maple flavored taffy. Mom would invite a bunch of the kids from the neighborhood and make up a big batch. All us kids would then pull the taffy until done. It was tiring for a bunch of young kids but everyone got a baggie full of taffy to take home!

  13. Pete, did you have the hook, or do it by hand?

    Before I posted this, I’d only ever seen machines making taffy. Now that I’ve gone looking, I’ve seen video of people pulling the taffy on a big hook mounted to a shelf or to the wall. Looked much easier than what we did.

  14. I’m going to try making this as it’s not easy to get here in Australia. I had to travel 4hrs to Melbourne to find it (was attending my grandmother’s 90th).

  15. I’ve been trying to make taffy for a couple months now and I keep making hard candy instead. I’ve noticed that no recipe I have found has the same temperature for hard ball candy. I also find that while pulling the candy starts cracking and splintering. What am I doing wrong? Can you give me any hints?

  16. If it starts cracking, it was definitely too hard. You don’t want hard ball for taffy, it has to be soft ball stage.

  17. Sitting on our sofa, watching Boardwalk Empire and the sign for salt water taffy had us wondering what it was. Now your great and very funny blog has us wanting it. But not wanting to make it! Now we’re going to have to find somewhere in London that sells it. Thank you, a good smile for a spring evening.

  18. Chamani says:

    how long does it usually take to cool!?

  19. We were working this for about a half-hour from the time it came out of the pot.

  20. I noticed you used Lemon extract. Would it be alright (in your opinion) to use actual lemon juice instead?

  21. Becca, the lemon extract has a more concentrated flavor, so it would be a bit of a guessing game the first time as to how much fresh juice to use. But yes, it should work.

  22. Ryan Skopec says:

    The only extract I have is Almond Extract… Would that Work? Im just making sure because if you drink it plain, It burns REALLY bad. Please Reply Thanks!

  23. Yeah, don’t do that. As for using it in the taffy, if you really like the taste of almond I guess you could try that.

  24. Thanks for your recipe (and all tI am a girl scout leader and we have already made ice cream in plastic bags. Now we will be trying your taffy recipe. It is the 100 year anniversary of girl scouting and the girls ask about what it was like “way-back-when”. As a leader I truely appreciate the activities that will wear them out. This sounds like a perfect project. Not to mention, I really miss taffy from Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Oh. Only problem is we are in Florida now and I think I may have to really crank up the A/C before attempting this. Thanks again.

  25. This was hilarious. I will not be attempting this. However, if the unfortunate situation of melting in the bowl like that happened to me, I think I’d just use a fork and knife on it. I love salt water taffy that much.

  26. Sophie Perez says:

    How much dose that make?

  27. Glad I found this recipe. I’ll try it and see how it works

  28. I found you when I googled ‘how to make taffy at home’. Honestly, I am so excited to do this w my kids this summer! I have this very strong memory of the time my grandad got the whole family together & we all pulled taffy – all the way across the living & dining room! I don’t care if it melts or turns to mush or breaks their arms! It’s about the memories! Haha!

  29. Drew,

    I know this is an older post, but I hope you’re still checking in. I’m trying to make salt water taffy as a gift for my mom this year. Normally, I can make any recipe work. I got bread down on the first try. But taffy is driving me bonkers. Every time, it comes out hard tack.

    I see many recipes calling for glycerin, but I can’t find it in my city, so I’m trying to skip it.

    I’m following recipes precisely, and have now made 4 failed batches. So I’m coming to you for help. I’ll try to point out anything that seems like it may be relevant.

    -I live in Ottawa, Canada, where humidity is generally high, though it feels very dry now with the cold, but I find it hard to tell if this is relative. It’s also winter here, and has been between -4º to -14ºF (-10 to -20ºC) the past week and a half.

    -My saucepan is somewhat thick, but maybe not thick enough? It is a good quality one.

    -First, I tried heating untouched (after initial stirring) to 275ºF (twice), next 265ºF, finally, 255ºF.

    -I’ve tried both coarse and fine sugar, and have been vigilantly brushing down the sides right after it comes to a boil since I learned after the first time that touching an undissolved grain of sugar could re-crystallize the whole batch.

    -It came out closest to right this time, at 255ºF. I was able to pull for a minute before it cracked, but it certainly didn’t seem to be the right consistency. Every time it has started to crack during initial pulling, even though the first 3 times it was nearly too hot to handle when I started (I was worried it would be too late sooner than I expected!)

    I’m wondering if it could be the climate here that affects the temperature it needs to boil to. I’m considering trying 245º to 250ºF for my next batch. No one I know has made this before, so I come to you desperately for help!

    Any ideas?

    • I really wish I could help, but this was my one attempt and it barely worked. I don’t even know any candy makers I can point you to for advice. Sorry. :-(

    • You could look around the web and see if you have any references for your area that or maybe your thermometer is off although uncommon it can happen….

    • And also try 260 or 270 I have had issues with rain lately I had a batch mess up and I went too high it can be very very picky stuff…

      • @tierney, that’s what I keep hearing about candy making: it’s very picky. For as often as I eat it (not very) I’d just as soon buy it from someone who has taken the time to get good at it.

  30. Winsome Jacobs says:

    wow this was so fun! me and my mom just made taffy using this recipe but we used raspberry flavoring:D

  31. nathanael says:

    hi i make this taffy with out corn syrup i use maple syrup

  32. Love this recipe. :) I only used 1 cup water, and to save my hands I used a stand mixer with the dough hook. I added the flavor and food color after the salt & butter. Then just let it sit in the pan until it cooled off, half hour or so, just like the recipe. Buttered up the dough hook and bowl. Mixed it up, it takes a while, but your hands won’t be aching afterwards. Then with a buttered spatula I laid it out in a sheet on parchment paper. Let it cool a little bit more, and cut it into squares with kitchen shears. Put the pieces in a plastic bag with powdered sugar and shook it up.

Trackbacks

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  2. […] over a hundred trips, trying many varieties of taffy, I truly don’t see the big deal about “home made” confections vs. salt water vs. just plain Laffy […]

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