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Making taffy in your microwave can be fun

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a repeat of a readers' favorite. Joyce Battcher is on vacation. To liven up a Sunday afternoon, make a batch of taffy in your microwave. Then gather family or friends for a good, old-fashioned taffy pull. Or microwave a batch of hard candy and let everyone shape it into ribbons, buttons and lollipops.

Go ahead and have fun with today's recipes. I've included specific directions in each for the candy ``pullers or shapers.'' For the cooks: Follow recipes exactly and keep in mind the following candy-making hints.

Make taffy or hard candy on a cool, dry day. If you try it on a hot, humid day, candy will be sticky.

Use a large microwave-safe and heat-resistant glass container. Anchor Hocking's two-quart glass Batter Bowl (really about 2-quart) is ideal for either recipe.

Use a microwave candy thermometer for easy cooking and best results. Remember, you can't leave a regular candy thermometer in during microwaving, and a temperature probe doesn't register high enough. You can use the old cold water test, but it's messy, time consuming and not as accurate.

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Cover dish with plastic wrap and microwave on High until candy is boiling. Then stir well to dissolve sugar. Continue microwaving, uncovered, until candy reaches the proper doneness. Microwave time in each recipe is just a guide. If your microwave wattage output is lower than 650 watts, you may need to add as much as one-third more cooking time to these recipes. Check for final doneness by reading the microwave candy thermometer at eye level.

After boiling has stopped, stir in coloring and flavoring. Use oil-based flavoring (not water-based extract) for best flavor and to prevent stickiness. Oil-based flavoring is found in drug stores or candy-making shops.

If you want a variety of flavors, it's best to make several small batches the size of today's recipes and flavor each differently rather than try to divide a larger batch.

If either candy gets too hard to work with, soften it by placing the pan in your conventional oven at 350+ F for a few minutes. Salt Water Taffy

1 cup granulated sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch cup light corn syrup cup water teaspoon salt (optional) 1 tablespoon margarine or butter -1 teaspoon oil-based flavoring 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Stir together granulated sugar and cornstarch in microwave-safe 2-quart measure or deep bowl. Stir in corn syrup, water and salt. If using powdered food coloring, add now. Microwave (High), covered, 3 to 4 minutes or until boiling. Stir well. Microwave (High), uncovered, 8 to 10 minutes until candy thermometer register 265+ F (hard ball stage). When bubbling has stopped, stir in margarine and flavoring. If using liquid food coloring, add now. Pour onto lightly buttered jelly roll pan. When cool enough to handle, pull and shape. Lightly dust finished pieces with powdered sugar. Wrap pieces in waxed paper and store in a tightly covered metal or glass container at room temperature. Or, store unwrapped pieces in tightly covered glass container in refrigerator or freezer. Makes about 1 pound.

To pull and shape: Let candy cool about 10 to 15 minutes. To test, press with your finger. When a dent remains, candy is ready for pulling. Divide it into several pieces (depending on number of ``pullers'' available). Pull with lightly buttered fingertips and thumbs until candy is satiny and light-colored. Keep pulling candy into a long rope, folding half of candy back onto other half until candy is hard to pull. Form into a rope and cut with a lightly oiled scissors into 1-inch pieces, letting pieces fall into a dish of the powdered sugar. Continue as above. Festive Hard Candy*

cup hot water cup light corn syrup 2 cups granulated sugar About teaspoon powdered food coloring or 2-3 drops liquid food coloring - teaspoon oil-based flavoring 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

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Combine water, syrup and granulated sugar in microwave-safe 2-quart measure or deep bowl. If using powdered food coloring, add now. Microwave (High), covered, 6 to 7 minutes or until boiling. Stir well. Microwave (High), uncovered, 10 to 14 minutes until candy thermometer registers 300+ F (hard crack stage). Mixture will turn light golden brown. When bubbling has stopped, stir in flavoring. If using liquid food coloring, add it now. Pour into lightly oiled 9x13-inch pan. When cool enough to handle, mold into shapes. Or when completely cool, break into pieces. Mix with powdered sugar to keep pieces from sticking together. Store in a tightly covered metal or glass container at room temperature. Makes about 1 pounds.

Anise candy (as requested by a Dubuque, Iowa, reader): Use red food coloring and anise oil-based flavor.

To shape candy: Let candy set about 10 minutes. Check coolness with a metal spoon or lightly oiled fingers -- lift edges gently and pull gently. When candy is warm to the touch but still pliable, mold pieces into squares with your forefinger and thumb, roll pieces into round balls, flatten round balls into buttons, and pull and shape pieces like ribbon candy, or pull a large piece into a rope and cut with a lightly oiled scissors. Continue as above.

Lollipops: Pour hot mixture into lollipop molds. Or shape partially cooled mixture around lollipop sticks.

*Used with permission from ``Microwave Candies'' by Joyce Battcher, copyright 1982, revised 1987. Questions and answers -- Q. Do you know where I can buy a microwave candy thermometer, or do you still have them for sale?

A. The Acu-Rite Microwave Candy/Food Thermometer is often hard to find in stores. Look for it at hardware, discount, microwave, gourmet and kitchen stores. Questions for Joyce?

Do you have a question about microwave cooking? Send it to Microwave Minutes, % Extra Newspaper Features, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903. Please include a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope.

Recipes in this column are tested in 600- and 650-watt microwave ovens. With an oven of different wattage output, timings may need slight adjustment. Joyce Battcher is an independent home economist microwave specialist. She is author of ``Microwave Family Favorites'' and editor of ``A Batch of Ideas'' newsletter. / 1989 Extra Newspaper Features

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