Both of our honey bee colonies are clustering at the top of their hives, which can indicated they’re running low on honey. So, just to be safe, we’ve decided to cook up some candy to get them through the rest of the winter. Welcome to part 2 of The Candy Cake Trilogy: Making Candy Cakes. In part 1, The Recipe, we introduced the recipe that goes something like this: Boil 3 cups of water, gradually dissolve in 15 pounds of granulated, add some apple cider vinegar and pure vanilla extract (or spearmint or anise oil or another essential oil), let it get really hot, then let it cool and pour it into paper plates (or a candy board). Here’s a video of exactly how that worked out for us.

Here are the photos:

A package of smooth paper plates, 15 pounds of sugar (in the recycling container), 3 cups of water, apple cider vinegar, vanilla and…

…a 7-litre pot (about 2 US gallons), but even larger would be better.

The water was boiled and we began to add sugar.

Then we added more sugar and continued to stir.

It takes a while to dump in 15 pounds of sugar.

Adding the vanilla wasn’t a problem. But when we added the apple cider vinegar, all the moisture disappeared from the goop and we had to add extra water to make it liquid again.

Once all the sugar was basically dissolved, we kept stirring while the mixture got hotter.

The temperature took a while to reach 112-115°C (234-240°F).

But it eventually happened. If we do this again, we’re going use a candy thermometer that clips to the side of the pot. Sticking this one in and waiting for the reading made it difficult to stir the mixture and prevent it from burning to the pot. (We didn’t have it on high the whole time either.)

We were supposed to wait for the temperature to drop to 93°C (200°F) before pouring it into the plates, but it quickly became like concrete after we removed it from the heat.

So we just started glopping it on the plates and mashing it down with a ladle while it was still pliable.

It was way too thick and grainy to pour.

The bottom of the pot was mostly wet sugar.

The last few scoops from the bottom of the pot.

Each cake averaged around 500 grams (about a pound each).

All the cakes hardened almost solid as a rock within 30 minutes. We got about 15 cakes in total. They were easy to pull off the plates because the plates were slightly oiled (and now we can reuse them if we ever do this again). I can’t imagine doing this for a large number of hives. I’ll consider following the Mountain Camp or Dry Sugar method of emergency winter feeding if I have to do it again. Cooking a big pot of concrete-thick sugar stew isn’t for everyone. It takes a good two hours from start to finish, it can get messy if you’re not careful, and your arms will get tired from the constant stirring.

Stay tuned for part 3 of The Candy Cake Trilogy: Placing Candy Cakes in the Hives.

UPDATE (Feb. 14/12): I tried the Dry Sugar method and I like it.

18 Responses to “Making Candy Cakes”

  1. Jeff says:

    I didn;t allow mine to cool. I just poured it out on teh board and had enough left over to make one candy cake. It is a weird feeling boiling sugar. It kind of made me nervous.

    • Phillip says:

      I don’t understand why we had to let it cool before pouring into the plates either. It’s going to cool off anyway. Why not pour it into the plates while it’s still in a semi-liquid form?

      I didn’t really enjoy doing this, but next year, it might be better to simply make some candy boards and install them as soon as the bees are wrapped for the winter. I can imagine a big board of this stuff going a long way.

      I’m putting the cakes in the hives in about an hour.

      UPDATE: We’ve got a motherload of wet snow coming at us for the next week. I’ll put the candy cakes (or sugar cakes) on as soon as I spot a break in the weather, but it might not be for awhile. What a dank depressing winter it’s been.

  2. Phillip says:

    So I won’t be placing the candy cakes (or sugar cakes) in the hives any time soon. The weather is too wet and windy.

    But I also won’t be putting them in like I thought I would. I was planning to simply place the cakes on top of the frames (and maybe a queen excluder on top of the frames so the cakes won’t eventually fall down into the frames). Then I’d put the inner cover back on, the insulation and then the outer cover.

    But there isn’t enough room for the cakes between the top of the frames and the inner cover. The cakes are too high. They’ll lift up the inner cover. (I considered this before, but didn’t think the cakes would be too big. They are.)

    I know some beekeepers put a shim or a 3-inch frame under the inner cover to make room for candy, to provide greater ventilation in the summer, etc. But I’m a city boy without the means or the skill for any kind of middle-of-the-winter carpentry.

    So instead, I’m going to replace the inner covers with the insulated inner hive covers I made in October. I never thought I’d actually use them, but they’re designed with some extra space beneath the insulation, enough space for the candy cakes. (Which is probably a deliberate design, but nobody told me.)

    Next year I’ll just use a shim, an inner cover and a piece of insulation, but this year I can probably make do with the insulated inner covers. I hope so, because it’s all I’ve got.

  3. Phillip says:

    Each hive now has 4 pounds of extra sugar to munch of until the spring. I hope that does them for awhile, because I sure don’t like disrupting them by pulling the roof of their houses in the middle of the winter. What I saw when I popped open the hives is not at all what I expected. The unexpected had become the norm.

    Stay tuned…

  4. Jeff says:

    Care to give details. I’m curious now. I am wondering if what I am seeing is similiar to what you are seeing.

  5. Phillip says:

    I saw thousands of bees on the top of the frames.

    I would have posted about it 10 minutes ago but my computer keeps crashing. I need a new computer.

  6. Phillip says:

    Due to technical difficulties, the trilogy won’t be concluded until Saturday.

  7. Jeff says:

    I was at the Bulk barn on Friday. They carry anise flavour there. So if I need to add sugar to the hive then I will add the anise flavour to encourage the bees to feed. Especially the nucs this spring.

  8. Buck says:


    The reason you had a granulation problem is because of two reasons. You need to stir a little slower and when the mixture starts to boil you must STOP stirring. The mixture will increase in boiling rate, raise about 1 or 2 inches and then will fall. This mixture will then turn clear. Boil to reach your target. You allow to cool to 200 degrees so that the liquid can be whipped into a soft fondant. You might want to rethink the vanilla, I’ve had problems with using it. You can also add the vinegar to the cold water first. Great videos, keep up the good work. Buck

  9. Jeff says:

    what kind of problems did you have with the vanilla?

  10. Phillip says:

    I probably won’t need any more candy cakes until next year (I hope), but I’ll try to improve our cooking methods. Ours didn’t turn our perfect, but the bees are eating them without any problems that I can detect so far.

    I do plan to mix in some anise oil or flavourings or whatever it is into the next syrup mixture, though. That probably won’t be until March.

  11. Jeff says:


    Little off topic but when I take semi hard “hardy Kiwi” cutting this year. Would you like some for your yard. They can grow on a trillis or up a fence or even in a tree and they make a very good pollen and nectar source for the bees. I grew mine from cuttings from my aunt’s vines.

    There was a blog on “Honey Bee Suite” regarding the hardy kiwi vines and I noticed you commented on.

    Keep me posted.

    • Phillip says:

      Would you like some for your yard?

      Sure. Come springtime, we’ll be digging up stuff all over the place, clearing areas behind our shed, etc., to get more bee-friendly plants started. I’d love to try out some hardy Kiwi. But don’t go to too much trouble. Thanks.

      I have some medium plastic foundation if you want it, too. I bought it when I first got my hives, but I don’t plant to use it anymore.

  12. Jeff says:

    Sure, I’ll buy that off you. I was going to have ot order some but I didn;t want to order 150 pieces at this point in the game.

    • Phillip says:

      “Sure, I’ll buy that off you.”

      Forget about that. You just have them. Down the road I may have some deeps and deep frames for you too, if I can swing it to all mediums some day.

  13. Jeff says:

    Every year I put a bunch of hardy kiwi cuttings on for people out this way. So it is not a bid deal. I may try some honey suckle cuttings this year. My mother eis after me for those.

  14. Phillip says:

    I’m not too excited about making candy cakes again this year. It’s a pain. I wish I had a better method for gauging the weight of the hives. If I didn’t have to feed the bees candy cakes, I wouldn’t. I’d rather just leave them alone. I’m not convinced that their clustering on the top bars means they’re running low on honey. All the hives seemed packed full of honey in the fall. But I’m also not entirely certain of anything. So to be safe, I plan to feed them sometime within the next month. However, I’m giving serious consideration to the dry sugar method of feeding:

    Basically, I just put a sheet of newspaper over the top bars and pour on raw sugar. The moisture in the hive softens the paper so the bees can easily eat through it. The sugar also absorbs moisture (thus reducing condensation build up). The sugar hardens similar to candy cakes, so it doesn’t all pour between the frames. And I don’t have to bother mixing candy cakes, which is my main incentive for considering the dry sugar method.

    I’m still thinking about it.

    UPDATE: Here’s Michael Bush’s take on it with photos:

    I may have to crack open the hives later in the winter to add more sugar, but I think I’d rather do that than make a batch of candy cakes again. One takes two hours and lots of sweat. The other takes two minutes and little effort.

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