Crafting your own conversation heart candy (a.k.a. Sweethearts) is a surefire way to get your Valentine’s Day message heard, plus these hearts are surprisingly easy to make. Dissolve unflavored gelatin in lemon-lime soda to give the candy its trademark muted citrus flavor, then mix in heaps of powdered sugar to form the “dough.” Add whatever festive colors and flavorings you prefer, like mint, orange flower water, or rose water; roll out the dough; and stamp out the hearts. Let the candy harden for a couple of days, then use food-safe markers to write fun, personalized messages on it. All that’s left to do is pass the hearts out to your friends and loved ones.
Special equipment: Although not necessary, wearing a pair of disposable latex gloves will save you from staining your hands while blending in the food coloring.
You’ll need a 1-inch heart-shaped aspic/jelly cutter to stamp out the hearts. You can find aspic/jelly cutters in gourmet cookware stores or online.
You’ll also need food-safe color markers to write the captions on the hearts. You can find them in gourmet cookware stores or online.
Game plan: The finished candy takes 2 days to dry completely, so plan accordingly. Also, you can flavor and color the candy however you like, so only buy and use flavorings and colorings that suit you.
1Pour the soda into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface (the mixture will ripple). Let stand undisturbed until the gelatin softens, about 3 minutes. Whisk to combine (the mixture will foam).
2Place the saucepan over low heat and whisk constantly, scraping down the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula as needed, until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture no longer feels grainy when rubbed between your fingers, about 3 to 4 minutes. (Don’t let the mixture simmer, or the gelatin won’t set properly.)
3Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add 2 rounded cups of the powdered sugar and the salt and mix on low speed until the powdered sugar is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with the rubber spatula. Add 2 more rounded cups of the powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated, about 30 seconds; stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and paddle. Repeat 2 more times until all of the powdered sugar has been added. Increase the speed to high and mix until the dough is smooth, pliable with your fingers, and resembles thick frosting, about 1 minute (it will stick to the paddle in a large mass).
To flavor and color the candy dough:
1Generously dust a work surface and your hands with powdered sugar and, using your hands, a plastic scraper, or a rubber spatula, scrape the candy dough onto the prepared work surface. Using your hands, pat it into a 1-1/2-inch-thick disk and cut it into 6 equal portions. Set 5 portions aside and cover them loosely with plastic wrap.
2Pat the dough portion you’re working with into a 1-inch-thick disk. Using your thumb, make a small well in the center. Drop the desired flavoring and food coloring into the well. (At this point you can use any one of the flavorings you like, and color the candy as you like too, but if you want to leave some of the hearts white, roll and cut them first to avoid staining the rest of the dough.) If desired, put on latex gloves to avoid staining your hands.
3Using your hands, bring up the sides of the disk to enclose the well. Knead the dough until the food coloring and flavoring are evenly dispersed, dusting the surface and your hands with powdered sugar as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Taste and evaluate the dough, adding more food coloring and flavoring as desired by patting the dough back into a disk, making a well, adding more color or flavor, and re-kneading. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and repeat with the remaining portions.
To roll and stamp the hearts:
1Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
2Generously dust a work surface, rolling pin, and your hands with some of the powdered sugar. Working with 1 portion of the candy dough at a time, roll it out to a 1/4-inch thickness.
3Using a 1-inch heart-shaped cutter, cut out as many hearts as possible, dipping the cutter into the powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking. Transfer the hearts to the prepared baking sheets, arranging them close to one another but not touching.
4Gather the scraps of dough, reroll once, and cut out as many hearts as possible (you should have about 30 hearts total). Repeat with the 5 remaining portions.
5Allow the candy to sit uncovered at room temperature for 24 hours. Flip the pieces over and allow them to sit until completely hardened, about 24 hours more.
To finish the candy:
1Using the food-safe color markers, write captions on the hearts. Package in airtight containers and store at room temperature for up to 1 week.