It used to be obvious when summer was here. The end of June; the end of classrooms; the end of Regents week; the expiration of our student Metrocards; buying coconut Italian ices from a cart on Houston street on the way home from school.
I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong, but getting out of school mid-May complicates things. Freshman year, after a breakfast of froyo, I packed my bags and we drove off into a spectacularly sunny morning, making a pit stop at Dunkin Donuts for iced coffee.
This year on move-out day, the first day of collegiate summer, it was raining. It drizzled as we pushed a moving cart down Spruce Street to a storage container. Rain splattered my glasses and my queen-size comforter as I hauled it to the dry cleaner for a spin in an industrial-size washing machine.
It didn’t quite feel like summer. It didn’t quite feel like summer when I realized that at home, weeknights are still school nights. My sister still has trigonometry homework, and my mom still makes school lunches. The alarm still goes off at 6:30, and occasionally 5:40 for a shower or last minute studying.
Fortunately, I can now say for sure that is it summer. It’s summer in New York when I pull out my scarf against the chill of the 2 train. It’s summer in my family when we walk up West End Avenue at night, until we hit 121st street so we can say we walked two miles. It’s summer in my world when Pinkberry looks like lunch.
And since it is summer, I think it’s time for me to share this salt-water taffy. Salt-water taffy is just another name for plain old taffy, and while the recipe does call for both salt and water, that’s not where the moniker comes from. As one story goes, David Bradley’s Atlantic City candy shop was flooded with ocean water, soaking his wares. When a little girl asked to buy some taffy, he explained that he only had “salt water taffy.” The little girl left happy and the name stuck.
Ocean water or no, salt-water taffy is definitely a beach thing. In the beach town of your choice, candy shops along the boardwalk are lined with rainbows of taffy: Cinnamon, Rum, Wintergreen, Root Beer, Banana, Licorice, Pina Colada and Orange Crème. I steer clear of Bubble Gum Taffy—no crossbred candy for me—but I’m a happy camper with a mouthful of Maple.
So, scanning the grocery store shelves for new types of extract (because that’s what normal people do at the grocery store), a bottle of maple extract caught my eye. I recruited my taffy-loving friends Shoshana and Shoshana (yes, there are two), and we set to work. It was March, distinctly not summer, but spring break felt like a good time to get in the mood. We used Not So Humble Pie’s recipe for Cherry Cheesecake Saltwater Taffy, but split the hot sugar in the last few steps to make a half batch of Orange Taffy and a half batch of Maple.
Pulling taffy by hand was awesome. How often can you sincerely say that your workout of the day involved baked goods? As we pulled and pulled to incorporate air, the taffy slowly hardened until we were really yanking. But in the end, it came out perfectly. The ropes of taffy cut easily with a (cleaned and) buttered scissors, and the bite-size pieces didn’t stick to the twists of parchment paper. The flavors were just strong enough, and the taffy was satisfyingly chewy.
Orange and Maple Salt Water Taffy
Adapted from Not So Humble Pie
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus extra for buttering things)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 1 teaspoon maple extract
- 1-2 drops Americolor gel food coloring
Lightly butter two (or more if you want more flavors!) shallow, heat-safe pans (we used frying pans). Get the extracts and food coloring ready and butter a heat-safe spatula for each pan.
In a medium saucepan, sift together the cornstarch and sugar. Mix in the corn syrup, water, melted butter, and salt. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture boils, cover the saucepan and let it cook for 3 minutes. When 3 minutes are up, uncover the saucepan, attach a candy thermometer, and cook until 260 degrees Fahrenheit (this will take a while, so pull up a chair).
When the sugar mixture hits 260 degrees, pull it off the heat and divide it evenly among your pans. In each pan, mix in the extract and the food coloring. Mix well to distribute the flavor and color.
Let the taffy cool until it’s solidified a little and you can touch it without hurting yourself. Butter your hands (not too much, but keep the butter around—you’ll need more), and you’re ready to pull the taffy! Stretch the taffy out, bring the ends together, and stretch it out again. Keep going for 15-20 minutes until, as Not So Humble Pie describes it, “the taffy has a creamy, satiny appearance.” The more you pull, the more air you incorporate, and the more air you incorporate, the softer and chewier and better the taffy will be.
When you’re done with your workout for the day, stretch the taffy into a rope (as thick as you want, you can see that our orange and maple are two different thicknesses), and cut it into pieces with a scissors. Wrap each piece of taffy in parchment paper, and show off to your friends and family!