Boozy Candy Basics with Jami Curl

boozy candy
Candy may transport us all back to our childhoods, but the addition of alcohol can make for some delicious grown-up flavors. Jami Curl, the wizard behind Quin Candy, has experimented with everything from wine to whiskey, and her collaborations with Portland-based Union Wine Co. have produced treats like Pinot Noir cotton candy, Rosé gumdrops, Pinot Gris caramel popcorn and fizzy sparkling wine candies. Her new book, Candy is Magic, breaks down the often-intimidating art of candymaking and shows that with the right tools and a few simple guidelines, the magic is within reach. We chatted with Curl to get the basics on making boozy candy.

Control Is Key

Candymaking truly is a science of melting points and molecular reactions, so success or failure is largely determined by precision. That’s why it’s important to always measure ingredients by weight rather than volume, and adding alcohol to the equation in just one more variable to consider. But before you give up, Curl says the trick is simply altering the alcohol to a more stable state. “I never add alcohol to a candy recipe without first getting it on the stovetop to reduce it a bit,” says Curl. “Making a reduction with wine or other booze intensifies flavor and reduces moisture—two key transformations for candy making. The reductions are easier to work with because they are more ‘controlled’ and control is key in candy!”

Mix and Match Flavors

Adding alcohol to candy is a bit like mixing a cocktail when it comes to combining flavors, with both complementary elements and well-balanced opposites—think sweet and sour. “I start each recipe by getting to know the booze itself—the way it tastes, the way it smells. From there I draw out two or three of the strongest flavors and really try to capitalize on those, perhaps adding additional flavors and combining them to sort of mimic the booze itself,” says Curl. Her rosé lollipops include flavors of strawberry and pineapple to emphasize the fruity characteristic of the wine, and to the rich, burnt sugar flavors of caramel she has added both whiskey and stout. “One of my favorite caramels ever is a granola stout caramel; the malty deliciousness of granola really does go well with stout beer. Combine that with caramelized sugar and heavy cream, and it’s a very delicious candy,” Curl says. “Right now I’m working on a spiced lime and coconut gumdrop, and I’m trying to incorporate some sort of rum note in it.”

Fake It

Because any booze used in candy is both initially reduced into a syrup and then cooked a second time in the candy mixture, the alcohol itself is cooked off. This isn’t a problem as the goal is to retain the flavors—the vanilla and spice of whiskey, the deep jammy notes of Pinot Noir. But to add back that hint of a boozy kick, Curl experimented with ingredients to imitate the flavor. “We look to additional ingredients to make sure the candy has that boozy edge,” says Curl. “Citric acid, yeast and malt are three really good ingredients to use.”


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