My Funny Valentine: Home Made Conversation Hearts
Moose loves Valentine’s Day. Not Valentine’s Day in and of itself, just the proliferation of Valentine’s Day candy. He’s especially a sucker for conversation hearts. So while searching for custom candy hearts, I ran across a website on how to make your own. And I was completely sold on the idea.
Moose is a hard man to shop for, so it takes months of creative thinking and plotting to come up with something that will tickle his fancy. It doesn’t help that we share a bank account, so I have to be sneaky about any purchases I make. Keeping this particular surprise a secret was destined to fail, though. I had to ask him what flavors he wanted and I would have to kick him out of the house for several hours to get the time that I needed. I gave up on the idea of secrecy when some friends of ours invited us to come visit for the weekend.
The box from Adams extracts arrived smelling of black pepper. Not the scent I expected, but the bottles inside were the right flavors. Vanilla for me (because I was damned if I was going to make these without a flavor I liked), strawberry and banana for him. As much as I prefer to use all natural flavors, being able to make banana flavored candy despite my allergy was pretty cool. I also used my Wilton Pastel Gel food coloring, because it’s what I had, so the banana flavored candies wound up being peach. If I do decide to make these again, I’m going to see about hunting up the natural food colors I used to have, because I find the flavor of the dye unpleasant. I recognize this as something that most people won’t even notice, so take that as you will.
I packed a bag with everything I needed, but as is often the way of recipes, I didn’t have everything I really needed so had to borrow from my friend. All told, the whole process took about three hours of actual labor. I think if I’d had a bigger cutter or a better designed cutter it would have gone quicker. The tiny metal cutter was hard on my hands after a while, and not all the red on my hands was from the pink coloring. That plus the constant kneading resulted in waking up the next morning in a lot of pain. Moose has promised to help if I ever decide to make these again and suggested that we try using my mixer next time for most of the kneading. Knowing Moose, he will have engineered the optimal cookie cutter by then.
1 packet (1/4 oz or 2 tsp) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup water
2 tsp corn syrup
2 lbs powdered sugar, plus additional 2 lbs for dusting and molding
Food coloring markers
Small microwave safe bowl
Stand mixer or large bowl and hand mixer
Large cutting board or very clean counter top
Heart shaped cookie cutters
Wax or parchment paper
Large baking sheet or plate
1. Add the gelatin and water to a small microwave safe bowl. Whisk thoroughly until mostly blended. Microwave for 30 seconds, then whisk in corn syrup.  Whisk until gelatin dissolves.
2. Pour the mix into the larger bowl. Add the sugar a cup at a time, blending on low. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula between cups and completely incorporate each cup before adding another. For the last two or three cups, fold the sugar in by hand before turning on the mixer to avoid spraying sugar everywhere.
3. Once you’ve incorporated a full 2 lbs, dust the large cutting board or counter top with a handful of sugar. Scrape your dough out onto the surface and dust the whole ball generously.  Knead the dough like bread, adding sugar as necessary until the dough is no longer sticky but still malleable. 
4. Divide you dough into the number of flavors/colors you intend to make. Round off dough balls and set aside all but one. Put on your plastic gloves. Add flavor and color to a single ball.  Knead the dough until the color is completely blended. You may need to use additional sugar to compensate for liquid flavors and colors.
5. Roll the dough out to you preferred thickness, 1/4″ for smaller candies,1/8″ for larger. Use additional sugar to make sure both sides of the dough aren’t sticky. Use the heart shaped cutter to cut out your candies, and lay them on a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet or plate. 
6. Fold scraps into a ball, add a drop or two of water to moisten the dough and knead until silky again. You may need to redust the ball if you add too much water. Keep rolling, cutting, and refolding the dough until you’ve used it all.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 for additional flavors and colors. The dough will dry fairly quickly, just add a couple of drops of water if the flavoring and coloring aren’t enough. Be careful about adding too much water, otherwise you’ll have to add more sugar and get stuck in the “Too Wet, Too Dry” dough loop.
8. Allow finished candies to dry for at least 24 hours before attempting to write or draw on them. If you can’t find food coloring markers, you can use a very small paintbrush and gel food dye. Store in an air tight container at room temperature. Assuming the candies last long enough to go into storage.
 I rub a drop of olive oil onto my teaspoon so that the corn syrup slides off cleanly. This trick works really well for anything really syrupy or viscous.
 I kept a cup of sugar near my work station for dusting and to maintain texture. I also kept another cup of water with a 1/8 teaspoon measure for when the dough became too dry.
 Between this process, dusting, and maintaining the proper texture of the dough over the course of creation, I used a little over a pound of additional sugar.
 I made four “colors” and used about a teaspoon of flavor per ball. Excepting the vanilla, the flavor came through strong enough to be noticeable, but wasn’t too overwhelming.
 I cut a whole bunch at once, and then used a spatula to scrape up any candies which didn’t come up with the cutter. Dusting the surface better would have solved that problem, but I have a bad habit of kneading first and dusting later.