The original Puffed Wheat Square: A 100-year-old Red Deer treat

In 1913, candy-maker AJ Russell opened a store on Red Deer’s Ross St. and for the next 30 years, created treats like all-day suckers, coconut “Ping Pong” brittle and the puffed wheat square. Yes, that’s right – your favourite lunch-box treat was made by another remarkable Red Deerian.

Thanks to the Red Deer & District archives, we have tracked down Russell’s original puffed wheat candy recipe.

Russell’s Candy Factory: Original Puffed Wheat Candy

Step #1 

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • ½ cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup water

Step #2 

  • 1/8 lb. butter
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Step #3 

  • 4 cups puffed wheat, oven warmed 250° (Large pot necessary)

Instructions:

  1. Bring #1 to boil while stirring.
  2. Cover and steam for a few minutes.
  3. Put in thermometer and boil without stirring to 280° (use clean wooden spoon)
  4. Add #2 and stir slowly to 280° again.
  5. Add #3, puffed wheat and punch down into candy.
  6. Pour on oiled surface (cutting board broiler sheet). Keep loosening candy underneath with a large carving knife. Pull and stretch while hardening.

Recipe from Red Deer & District Archives, Biography reference file, A. J. Russell.

Molasses, marshmallows and cocoa hullabaloo

I have seen a lot of modern recipes that also sweeten with marshmallows, maple syrup, brown sugar or even molasses. And most recipes nowadays also add cocoa powder – because the idea of puffed wheat squares without chocolate is scandalous, I know. These days, the squares are also much softer and gooier than Russell’s original candy.

More variations on the puffed wheat square

  • Extra chocolatey: Use between 3 & 7 heaping tbsp. of cocoa
  • Extra gooey: Melt 10 big marshmallows into mix on stove
  • Nice warm flavour: Add a tbsp. of maple syrup for warmth
  • Just nutty: Try a couple tbsp. of peanut butter

Tips and tricks for bakers

As I remember, from being a puffed wheat square connoisseur as a kid, one challenge is to make them gooey but not so soft that they fall apart in sticky little hands. Here are some tricks to get them just right, like mom used to make:

  • Cooking time is important: you want to boil the mix briskly for a couple of minutes, but boil it too long and the squares will be hard (then just call them candy, like AJ Russell.) On the other hand, if your squares are falling apart, try boiling the syrup mix longer.
  • To test the syrup mix: drop a small dollop into a cup of cold water – if it forms a ball, it’s done.
  • Press the squares firmly into the buttered pan (with a clean wet spoon or buttered hands) so they’ll stick together.

If you try this original recipe – or have your own variation of this local treat – let us know on the Tourism Red Deer Facebook page.