Lolliologist Koh Wen Yao takes City News on a step-by-step journey behind the process of making rock candy.
Contributed By Joshua Chang
Who doesn’t love candy? But not many of us know what it takes to make these sweet treats. For lolliologist Koh Wen Yao, the art of transforming raw sugar into delicious candy is all in a day’s work.
The 25-year-old culinary arts graduate works at Sweet Enchantment, a rock candy shop at VivoCity which specializes in sugar moulding. The store has an open kitchen concept that lets customers watch the lolliologists creating candy of all sorts of patterns, designs and flavors.
Despite being well-versed in his profession today, Koh did not always plan to pursue a career in the culinary industry. After graduating with a diploma in business IT, he enlisted into National Service and took the time to reflect on his future career path. Deciding that pursuing his passion of culinary arts was more important than the financial security of a nine-to-five routine, he enrolled himself into At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy and pursued a 15-month course in pastry-making and baking. Today, he credits the lessons he learned there as the foundation upon which he builds the practical knowledge gleaned from his day-to-day experience at his workplace.
Upon graduation, he worked a year as a pastry chef at Marina Bay Sands but eventually grew tired of the workload. While he was contemplating whether or not to leave, a colleague introduced him to Bernard Chow and Liang Shiqi, the husband-and-wife owners of Sweet Enchantment. The duo, both in their early 30s, had attended a sugar art course in the USA, and returned to Singapore to start up their store at VivoCity. Business has been brisk at the shop, with an almost constant stream of walk-in customers due to the open kitchen concept.
TURNING SUGAR INTO SWEETS
He quickly adapted to his current job, something Koh credits to his ability to learn fast and being good with his hands. As the store is a relatively new venture, his only training was the official hands-on experience on his first day. Koh says that having the right attitude—being humble and willing to learn—is crucial. He could have insisted on doing things his own way, given his culinary background, but instead he chose to be open and accepting of new ideas and advice.
“Making candy is actually a very precise art as compared to making desserts or pastries, because you are dealing only with sugar,” explains Koh. While most of us might imagine candy-making to be some form of magical cooking that conjures up fantastical delights from simple sugar crystals, truth is, the only magical touch needed is patience.
According to Liang, the co-founder of Sweet Enchantment, one treats candy just as one treats a lady. You can’t keep them waiting too long, nor can you rush them, and you must be able to find the right balance. Indeed, the process is heavily dependent upon timing; if a batch of sugar is cooled too soon or too late, it will spoil and the entire lump would have to be discarded.
The candy is made in eight-kilogram batches, an amount large enough to ensure efficiency while small enough to remain manageable by two lolliologists. Sugar is first boiled and then poured onto the heating table where coloring is mixed into the sugar. At the same time, the entire lump slowly cools off and resembles dough with a very elastic and glutinous texture.
This “dough” is then placed onto a hook where the candy chefs pull and stretch the lump of candy to give it texture, to aerate it and give it shape. The candy dough has to be pulled at least 50 times, after which it hardens and achieves a uniform consistency.
The lump, which looks like pieces of building blocks in a child’s playhouse set, is then cut into six triangular prism-like shapes and assembled in various combinations to form patterns. The candy is then stretched into long rounded strips and pulled into long cylindrical rods. These rods are then cut with rapid precision into its final shape and size.
Sweet Enchantment uses only natural extracts. Its rock candies are grouped into four categories: Fruit, Floral, Afternoon Tea and Happy Hour. Those with an adventurous streak will like the beguiling and uncommon flavors such as ume (Japanese plum), sakura (Japanese cherry blossom flower) , yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) , geranium rose and lemongrass. In addition, the candy store offers candy customizations for events and social gatherings.
Koh hopes to create different flavors of candies by combining the existing extracts that are available. His long-term goal, however, is still to go back to his first love of pastry-making and baking and one day, to open a pastry shop of his own.