Penides, Pennets, and Pulled Sugar

When it comes to sugar confections (with the intent here on separating them from chocolates and liquorices), the most important thing you can take away is that there are created types of candy created at different points in the sugar boiling.

Historically speaking, the first “candies” (which were more akin to medicinal lozenges) had a rudimentary aspect of this, where the medicine maker would create a sugar paste with granulated sugar (of no specific qualities, as it was dependent upon what was available), mix in the appropriate herbs, spices, and/or oils as the recipe would require, and then be scooped into a small mold (usually connected to a pair of tongs) and then placed into a fire to get hot. After a few moments, the tongs were removed from the fire, probably dipped in water, and then the mold was opened, and a basic lozenge (or locach) would be in its place. I’ve over-generalized the process somewhat, but you get the idea.

Soon these medicine men discovered you coudl actually do this on a much larges scale. Recipes in large quantities were boiled, probably to the soft crack stage, and then spread out on a flat surface where it was allowed to cool briefly before the mass was worked by hand. There are two paths one can go down by this point. You could shape the mass, as is, letting it cool enough to cut and shape as desired. The end result is a confection that’s more translucent than not.

The more common approach was to the one where the magic happened. For if you play with the sugar as it is cooling, the more opaque it would get. And if you were able to work it well enough, the end result was a confection that was a brilliant, shining, white. Think of your candy canes and you’d be spot on of the result.

This was process was discovered by accident, as most processes are, but when and where have been lost to the times. It probably started out with someone rolling the sugar into strips and noticing the changes to its physical properties. Soon afterwards, rolling gave away to out and out pulling of sugar, a process one can see in the artisan candy cane places that are around here and there (I know of one at Disney World, thanks to a recent special on Food Network).

This resulted into a variety of candies that are avaiable today – everything from Barley Sugar…

Barley Sugar

…to peppermint discs…

…to candy canes, and even lollipops. But more on those later.

So why the title? These types of candies used to be called pennets, or penides, likely from the Arabic al-fanid, a term traced back to 13th century Spain that means “pulled sugar”.

Using this type of candy as a foundation, an entire new industry was born.

Note: Peppermint disc picture comes from bmb’s Flickr Photostream, used under the Creative Commons license.