We make tools for artists because we’re artists ourselves, so side projects are especially important at Big Cartel. Inside Out features projects that feed our creative appetites outside of work.
Karen Kenney has never met a creative challenge she didn’t like. Last year she started her own greenhouse and now she’s elbow deep in sugar, learning everything she can about making candy. As part of our Support team, Karen’s days are spent dispensing invaluable knowledge of all things Big Cartel to artists and makers. Her nights - aside from raising two adorable kids - are spent perfecting all kinds of sweet treats. We had to get some details.
What’s the latest on your candy-making adventures?
I’ve become obsessed with candy, and committed to making the best of everything I love, from brittle to toffee to truffles and caramels, you name it!
I’ve perfected the basics, like caramels, sesame candy, brittle, and toffee, and moved on to variations like S’mores caramels, pumpkin pie caramels, toasted macadamia nut & coconut toffee, toasted pecan and cinnamon brittle. And I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing like biting into a caramel and finding a mini pretzel hidden inside.
Truffles are tricky, but so fun to make, and my favorite so far is coconut & lime white chocolate truffles, and candy cane truffles. I finally learned how to properly temper chocolate, from a legit pastry chef no less, and it makes dipped candy, like candied citrus peel, so much prettier!
Lollipops can be a total drag because flavorings vary in strength, and even from batch to batch. I’ve nailed down a really good licorice flavoring and root beer flavoring, so I get expected results with those two when making lollipops, but the fruity ones drive me bonkers - so temperamental! Many a batch has ended up in the garbage as a result. But that’s all part of the adventure.
What’s the best thing about it?
Eating candy that tastes how it’s “supposed” to taste.
I remember my sister-in-law’s peanut brittle every Christmas being just heaven, and homemade brittle still is. And I’m not even a fan of caramels really, especially those stale little bricks you can buy in bags at the store. But dang, a homemade caramel made exactly how I like it just rules!
And that’s the beauty of it! It’s all science, so you figure out how each ingredient works and cooks, and then you get to choose whether you want softer or firmer caramels. You can chose if you want really hard sesame candy, or slightly chewy sesame candy. It’s awesome! And you can start getting crazy and just make stuff up - switch out the whipping cream in caramels with coconut cream instead, and add toasted coconut to make coconut caramels! Or switch out the butter in a batch of homemade Starburst candy with a vegan butter substitute for a vegan alternative - boom, totally worked!
What’s one thing people should know about making candy?
It’s not as scary as it sounds - I was intimidated by the thought of working with boiling hot sugar water, and candy thermometers, and all the tools, and ingredients involved. It’s pretty straightforward once you get over it. As long as you pay really close attention to your recipes and temperatures (and take good notes for future batches), then you’re golden.
Taking notes is more important than I would’ve thought too - your own preferences come in handy when fixing what you might consider a problem with a recipe. It took seven or eight batches of bacon buttercrunch to get it exactly how I wanted it, but I took notes each time on what I did differently, so now I have an altered recipe to suit me - and let’s be real, I’m cultivating this skill for my own benefit. (Hahaha, woo! The power of sugar!!!)
See what else the Big Cartel team is up to these days.