Skittles may be the easiest candy to freeze dry at home – they are certainly one of the most popular for beginners, and the final product is a customer favorite if you have a freeze-dried candy business!
If you're new to freeze drying, the process may seem complicated at first, but once you are familiar with the settings on your machine, the process will seem simple.
Having said that, this post will be long! We wanted to go through every step of the process of freeze-drying Skittles, because you can substitute many other candies and simply adjust the time and temperatures. Some candies will be a bit more fussy, and we'll be adding posts for those, as well.
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What you'll need:
A freeze dryer that can be set to a temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (57 degrees Celsius). We'll be using a medium Harvest Right freeze dryer, with Candy Mode installed, which allows us to run at up to 150 degrees F (65 degrees C).
Regular Skittles-brand candy. Your local store may have larger bags in the candy section, or you can do this with several smaller bags. To find better prices, look for the large containers/tubs at warehouse stores like Sam' Club. You'll want enough Skittles to spread some on each tray without overcrowding, or you can also run other candies in the same load, if they have a similar run time.
That's it – that's all you need. If you'd like, you can spread parchment paper on your trays, but Skittles don't tend to melt or stick to the trays, so cleanup should be easy.
We're going to run this candy in a Harvest Right freeze dryer, using Candy Mode, which comes installed on their newer machines.
On the Harvest Right machine, after powering on, you can click the “Customize” button to open your settings for this batch.
(If you don't see “Candy Mode” come up during these instructions, or can't raise the tray temperature here, you can run the candy through a normal full cycle, instead. You can also upgrade your freeze dryer's software to a version that includes candy mode, by contacting Harvest Right's support.) If you are comfortable with your machine, you could also run the candy in “test function mode” by pressing the leaf button to access your individual function settings.
You may have heard that you can run a “piggybacked” load after running other food, but take note:
The Harvest Right user manual does NOT recommend “piggybacking” food (running multiple loads of food without defrosting the machine between runs). Ice will build up from the moisture extracted from the foods, and they say that doing this will VOID YOUR WARRANTY.
But candy does not carry the moisture that most food does, and Harvest Right now includes directions for running back-to-back loads when using candy mode, in their new Candy Mode Instructions.
Settings on the Customize screen:
Initial freeze – you can set this to zero degrees.
Extra freeze time: Leave this at 0:00. You don't need to freeze most candies; you're only sing the initial freezing of the chamber to trap any moisture and prevent it from entering the vacuum pump.
Extra dry time – This is the amount of time you will allow for your candy to dry. You can set this to 12 hours or more. Your Skittles should be done long before this, but leaving lots of extra time means that if you can't be there to remove the candy when it's done, or if you've gone to bed and are running this overnight, the machine will continue to keep the candy drying (it won't overdry – there will be no moisture left to pull).
If the extra dry time does run out, and you come back to find cold trays, go ahead and add more drying time. Cold trays mean that the drying has stopped, and the machine has switched to cooling any food, for safekeeping. So your candy could have reabsorbed the moisture it was exposed to in the cold chamber.
Tray temperature – This will be set to something like 125 F (52 C), by default. Raise this number to 145 or 150 F (63-65 C) by pressing the upward arrow. As you do so, you should see an on-screen note appear, indicating that high-temp mode/candy mode is on.
Dry mode: Regular/Fast – This is a small toggle button tucked in on the left side of the screen. Leave it toggled to regular mode. (This setting affects the way heat cycles on the trays.)
Click SAVE to keep your settings for this batch – if you cancel your candy run later, or power off the machine, you may need to go back into the Customize window to set these up again.
After saving, you should find yourself back at the Customize or Start screen.
This time, press START.
You will hear the compressor kick on, as the freeze dryer begins cooling the chamber. This is a good time to make sure your drain valve is turned to the closed position, and that your vacuum pump's power switch is on.
While the freeze dryer is cooling, you can get your trays of candy ready.
Filling and loading trays
You'll want to have something occupying every tray. You can simply divide your Skittles among the trays, or you can run other candies at the same time – you'll want to go with candies that work with similar run times ( you try a tray of mini marshmallows, or some Werther's soft caramels that are cut into thirds). You can line your trays with parchment paper for easier clean up, if you like.
When your freeze dryer has finished its initial cooling (the chamber walls have ice on them, and the screen will let you know it's time to continue), you can load your trays of candy into the machine. In Candy Mode, the freeze dryer will cool the chamber for 15 minutes, and then ask you to load your trays.
You can wait longer than the 15 minutes. We like to let the temperature get down to at least below freezing (23 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees C) or the teens, just to let the chamber walls get nice and cold. It's not required to wait longer, though. The machine will continue to freeze the walls throughout the process.
Load your trays of candy into the machine, then close and lock the door. You should feel some resistance as you close the door – you should have to push it shut against the seal. Turn the handle clockwise until it stops, so that you know the door is locked.
Again, make sure your drain valve is closed off, and your pump is powered on (this keeps it ready for the machine to tell it when to start running).
But before you hit “Continue”…
Toggle Candy Mode to “On”
Yes, you've already set up your machine to run in high-temp mode, but there is one more step to making sure you are in Candy Mode while running the batch.
This is one of the easiest steps to miss, because the words are there on the screen, “High Temperature Mode, Candy Process”, but if you look closely, you'll see that the toggle is red, and is set to “Off”.
Press it to change it to green (“On”, and you are now in Candy Mode. This will allow the machine to run properly for processing candy.
If you skip this step, your freeze dryer will think you are in regular freeze drying mode, and will start a freezing phase. If this happens, you can just hit cancel and start the batch again.
“Warm Trays” or skip warming trays?
In Candy Mode, you will now have the option to warm your trays – the screen will ask if you want to cancel, skip, or start. The tray temperature will rise to match the level you set in the customize screen, and this is where you can add tray-warming time before the vacuum process begins. For example, under “WARM TRAYS”, if you click START, you will be able to adjust the amount of time listed, using the up and down arrows.
This is one of those settings that you will play with over time, as you learn how to get the best results from different candies. Try setting it to five minutes. You'll be able to watch the tray temperature rise on the screen, and once it reaches your customized temperature, the timer will begin to count down. This warming time can soften candy a bit, making it more likely to puff while under a vacuum. (It's safe to try this with Skittles. Some candies are a bit TOO likely to puff, and you could end up with a huge sugary mess in your machine!)
Once any warming of the trays is finished, you should hear your vacuum pump kick on, and the screen will let you know that it is in drying mode. This is where things get exciting! It doesn't take long for the vacuum to start having an effect: if you watch your Skittles through the door of the freeze dryer, you'll see their coating start to split, as the pieces expand.
The door to your freeze dryer will also start to pull more tightly against the machine. You should start to see what looks like a darker ring where the seal presses against the door. Also watch your screen to make sure that your mTorr (mT) reading gets below 500. Every machine is different, and factors like humidity can come into play, so this could take 5 minutes or it could take15-20 minutes.
Once you've reached a low mTorr number, the process takes care of itself – after about three to four hours, check your Skittles for dryness. You'll do a taste test – try one straight from the tray – if they're crunchy, they're done. If they're chewy at all, they're going to need more time – put them back in and run them for another couple of hours, then check them again.
(You can pause or stop the process by turning off your vacuum pump, then slowly, slowly opening your drain valve a bit, to let air back into the chamber, so that you can open the door and remove your trays. Before you restart the pump, MAKE SURE your drain valve is closed again.)
Once your Skittles are done, you can click CANCEL. The freeze dryer will then ask if you would like to defrost the machine, or if you would like to run another batch of candy. If you're ready for more, click START NEW CANDY BATCH, and keep going!
Store your freeze-dried Skittles in air-tight containers, and they will keep relatively well, if you intend to eat them soon. You can also add silica desiccant packs to your containers, for extra protection. We suspect you won't have to worry about long-term storage, if other people find out you have a supply.
You can have even more fun with your Skittles by getting creative with flavors: try adding pickle powder, Tajin, Chamoy, or hot pepper sauce to your next batch!
(And if your finished candy disappears immediately, you may have realized what a money-maker freeze-dried candy can be. Starting a freeze-dried candy business is one of the many ways you can make this machine pay for itself!)