Making pulled molasses taffy for St. Catherine’s Day is an old French-Canadian tradition that’s fun for the whole family. Growing up I would make these taffies at elementary school on November 25th, the feast of St. Catherine. I loved seeing the brown taffy turn golden as it was pulled and twisted. Making this taffy with a group of kids is the way to do it – the more the merrier!
Below you will find my family recipe for molasses Pulled Molasses Taffy (La Tire de Sainte Catherine) along with a bit of history about Saint Catherine and La Tire de Sainte Catherine. While this taffy is traditionally made on November 25th, it makes a great treat for the holiday season or even Halloween.
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Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Saint Catherine of Alexandria was martyred for her Christian faith in the year 305 AD. We don’t know much about this saint other than the stories that have been passed down through the centuries. Some say she was a noble woman or a princess that was kind and intelligent. There are also stories that tell of a vision that she had of baby Jesus and His mother Mary. Legend goes that she was sentenced to death by being tied to a spiked wheel; however, when she touched the wheel and it shattered into pieces. She was beheaded instead. Devotions to St. Catherine of Alexandria were popular during the Middle Ages and were eventually brought over to New France (now Québec, Canada) by St. Marguerite Bourgeoys.
La tire de Ste. Catherine: A French-Canadian tradition
La tire de Ste. Catherine is an old French Canadian tradition that was started by Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys in the late 1600s. Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys founded the Congregation of Notre Dame in Fort Ville-Marie (now Montréal, Canada) in 1671 and one of her missions was to provide education for the local children. She was the first teacher in Montreal and helped children learn how to read and write free of charge. She also helped young maiden adjust to life in New France and taught poor women skills to help them earn a living.
To attract new students to her school, it is said that Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys made pulled taffy treats on the feast day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria on November 25th. This taffy tradition became so popular that young maidens started making them as a way of showing off their cooking skills in the hopes of finding a husband.
Pulled Molasses taffy (La tire Sainte-Catherine)
How much taffy will the recipe make?
This recipe makes about 100 taffies (2.5cm/1 in long).
Getting the temperature right
Getting the temperature of the mixture just right is the secret to perfect taffy. If the temperature gets too high the taffy will be hard and brittle, too low and the taffy will be too soft and runny. Be sure to use a good candy thermometer. My favourite candy thermometer, and all around thermometer, is the Thermapen instant read thermometer.
The ideal temperature for this pulled molasses taffy is between 124°C (255°F) to 126°C (260°F) depending on which recipe you read. I prefer my molasses taffy cooked to 124°C (255°F).
Why pull the taffy?
Pulling taffy incorporates air into it and causes small crystals to form. This process makes the taffy chewier and softer. Pulling the taffy takes anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes per handful. Doing it all yourself will take time so get your family and friends involved and you’ll be done in no time at all!
Pulled Molasses Taffy (La tire Sainte-Catherine)
- large pot
- Pyrex dish (33 X 23 cm/9 X 13 in)
- candy thermometer*
- wax paper
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp baking soda
- Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 124°C (255°F) to 126°C (260°F).
- Remove the pot from heat and add the baking soda. Stir the mixture. The baking soda will react with the mixture and make it swell, this is why you don't want your pot to be too small!
- Pour the mixture into the well buttered 33 X 23 cm (9 X 13 in) Pyrex tray and let it cool for 15 minutes.
- When the taffy is cool enough to handle, butter your hands and tear off a piece of the taffy. The piece can be as big or small as you want. A handful is a good amount to start with.
- Begin pulling the taffy. Pull the taffy out into a line. Fold the taffy in halve and then give it a twist. Pull it out into a line again.
- Continue pulling the taffy for 5 to 10 minutes or longer until it turns golden in colour. This part is fun for the kids to do!
- When the taffy is golden in colour shape it into a log and cut it into 2.5 cm (1 in) chunks. Wrap it in wax paper. Or you can simply eat it. Yum!
- Wrap each taffy in wax paper and don't forget to eat a few while they're still warm. Yum!
Catholic Online: St. Catherine of Alexandria
Congrégation de Notre-Dame: Who is Marguerite Bourgeoys?
Congrégation de Notre-Dame: “La tire Sainte-Catherine” in Marguerite Bourgeoys’ days