Q: How important is the salt to my recipe for salt-water taffy? Will mined salt work as well as natural salt? When should flavorings and colorings be added? I'm afraid of adding these when the syrup is too hot, as most of the flavoring might evaporate. I tried making this taffy once. It turned brittle and broke into pieces while I was pulling it. What might account for its unbending attitude?

A: Salt is a flavoring and has nothing to do with the texture of the candy. Salt-water taffy is supposed to be made with sea water; your recipe's salt content duplicates it.

From a flavoring standpoint, the ocean's essence is too delicate to be noticeable in such candy. Hence, the use of fresh water and mined salt does not change the taffy's character.

Taffy can be flavored with just about any extract or colored with any food pigment. Either should be added just after cooking -- when the butter is melted in. Stir together only enough to mix well, then pour syrup onto counter or marble slab. Never add flavoring or coloring before or during cooking. Otherwise, the flavor evaporates and the color changes.

Pulling taffy induces controlled crystallization of sucrose -- table sugar -- and incorporates air bubbles. At first, only air bubbles are incorporated. This causes the syrup to shine. After 10 to 20 minutes of pulling, sucrose crystals begin to form. The act of pulling, and the presence of the corn syrup, keep the crystals small by inhibiting formation of large sugar clumps. The air bubbles and the sugar crystals eventually give the candy an opaque and creamy appearance.

Brittleness results from premature crystallization. Here are some causes:

Allowing the syrup to cool too much before pulling. To understand the significance of syrup temperature, it is important to understand what promotes or prohibits crystallization. When you boil a candy to progressively higher temperatures, you are driving off water and concentrating the dissolved sucrose molecules. Cooling induces the state known as "supersaturaton" where the sucrose remains in solution despite the fact that at that temperature, only a fraction ought to remain dissolved. If the syrup's temperature is too low (even by a few degrees), the syrup is even more supersaturated. The result is premature crystallization, larger crystals, a grainier candy and brittleness.

The best time to begin is when the candy is still quite warm to the touch. If any portion cools more than another, lumps result that can lead to crystallization.

"Seeding" of the syrup. Any foreign particle or sugar crystal can induce premature crystallization and brittleness. Foreign particles are kept out by using clean utensils. Sugar crystals, which often form on the side of the pan where evaporation (and therefore concentration) is greatest, are best prevented by covering three-fourths of the pot with a lid or a piece of aluminum foil. A candy thermometer can then be placed in the uncovered portion and you can monitor the syrup's progress without removing the lid. Avoid stirring, as this washes in seed crystals.

Cooking too long. A syrup cooked even a few degrees above the soft-crack stage will be difficult to pull and will have premature crystallization. A candy thermometer does not solve this problem. You should also test the soft-crack stage. Drop some syrup in cold water, gather it into a ball, remove it from the water and attempt to pull the ball in half. If it pulls apart into sticky yet brittle strands, remove the pan immediately from the heat.

It is easy to overshoot the end point if you cook the syrup over a high flame. Start the syrup on high heat and continue boiling vigorously to 245 degrees. Then reduce to medium heat and slow the temperature rise.

Here is your recipe, corrected to get the results you want: SALT WATER TAFFY (Makes about 50 one-inch pieces of taffy) 3 cups sugar 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup 1 1/2 cups boiling water 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 3 tablespoons butter Flavoring Coloring

Butter for scissors

Combine first four ingredients in a heavy, 3-quart saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat to 245 degrees, then reduce heat to medium and continue heating to 265 degrees. Remove from heat immediately. Stir in butter, flavoring and coloring and stir just until the butter melts.

Pour the syrup onto a well greased marble slab or smooth countertop. Allow to cool until the edges of the puddle begin to harden. Fold these edges into the center and allow the new edges to harden. Continue doing this until the syrup is no longer hot to the touch.

Begin pulling into ropes, folding them back over on each other and pulling again. Do this until the candy holds its shape and has an opaque appearance. Then pull into ropes and cut into 1-inch lengths with buttered scissors. Wrap immediately in waxed paper.