Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't fear the Divinity!


Update (4/13):  I recently picked up a tiny package of divinity from a great candy shop to give to my dad while we were visiting.  He said it was very soft and marshmallowy and too sweet and he liked mine much better.  This recipe, which I have now made dozens of times, was superior in all respects.  Woot!

There it is.  Divinity: that aptly named, heavenly, ethereal, melt in your mouth confection.  Kind of like a cross between marshmallow, nougat and fudge, but light as air.  No mass produced, store bought divinity compares to homemade.  It's just not remotely the same and it's bloody difficult to find anyway.  And nothing compares to the memories of Grandma's/Mom's divinity.  My Dad grew up with his mom's divinity and it was always a Christmas tradition when I was growing up to get him a little (ridiculously expensive) box of that particular candy for either his birthday or Christmas itself.  (The days were close together.)  I know it's terrible of me to post this right now when I'm de-sugaring and low-carbing it, but this is such a special treat.  And I was always afraid of divinity, so having it turn out so well makes me want to crow a bit. ☺ Truly it is hardly more difficult than making an italian meringue, marshmallows or marshmallow fluff.  And I'm really good at those now, having no choice but to make them from scratch to avoid the corn syrup for the corn allergy in the house.  So in my confectionery frenzy this holiday season, I decided to tackle my Dad's favorite confection. 

From all that I had read, the one thing that can make or break your divinity is humidity.  So I waited for a sunny day and was fortunate enough to see one before Christmas.  Then I checked a weather station website for a park 4 blocks away.  It said 55% humidity.  That was good enough to be safe so I went for it!  Apparently you don't even want to attempt this particular confection if the humidity is greater than 50-60%.  Honestly, I don't know how they do it in the south and this is a southern candy as far as I know.  Maybe cook the syrup a couple degrees hotter?  Who knows.  (I just learned something new - apparently it is not humidity that will sink your divinity and some other airy or tempermental confections - it is barometric pressure, which should be at least 30 inches or higher.  The batch I made today, 5/15/13 turned out perfectly at 30.01 inches!)  The recipe I used though, has some safeguards in it that I hadn't seen in others.  I don't know if it is no fail, but it sure was easy.  Required equipment: stand mixer and a candy thermometer.  Yes, you can use the ice water method to test, but a thermometer is easier and less subjective.  With one caveat: CALIBRATE YOUR THERMOMETER.  Even if it's brand spanking new, it could be off a few degrees.  And that makes a world of difference in candy making.  I realize now it's why I had so much trouble making the candy corn in October.  My thermometer was off about 5º.  It only took me a year to figure it out.  I hope to save you that heartache!  Stick it in boiling water and it should read 212ºF.  If not, adjust your recipe accordingly.

This recipe is seeded with a tiny bit of powdered sugar.  I believe this helps promote a velvety smooth, non grainy candy.  It passed the Dad test who proclaimed it perfect and delicious.  It's also not purely tooth achingly sweet, this one.  Very good.  It may need to be made again to deliver to the school staff room or work...  So here's the recipe, named for the flavor it approximates.  (You can successfully make a half batch.)


11-15-13 - Regarding barometer and humidity:  I love this recipe more and more.  It was raining and the barometer was 29.87.  I cooked the syrup a few degrees higher just to be safe.  The divinity, both batches, set up so well I had to scramble to get it all spooned out in time!  I really think the powdered sugar makes a huge difference in providing seed crystals to give the structure a significant boost.

Salted Caramel Pecan Divinity

Meringue:
2 large egg whites (room temp)
2 oz (¼ c) granulated sugar
½ tsp cream of tartar

Syrup:
1 lb (2 c) granulated sugar
6 oz (½ c) Lyle's Golden syrup
4 oz (½ c) water

Additions and Inclusions:
2 tsp vanilla
1 scant tsp fine sea salt
1 oz (1/8 c) confectioner's sugar
8 oz (2 c) roughly chopped toasted pecans*

Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Lightly sift powdered sugar over the parchment.  (Helps prevent the candy from sticking.)

Combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar for the meringue in a 5-quart mixer bowl with a whip attachment.  Don't whip yet.  If your bowl isn't this big, do a half batch.  I filled two baking sheets with candies from a half batch!

Combine the sugar, golden syrup and water for the syrup in a 2 qt saucepan.  Heat over medium to boiling.  Cover and boil for 3 minutes.  (This washes down errant sugar crystals.)

Uncover, attach candy thermometer and cook without stirring to 230ºF.

When syrup reaches 230ºF, start whipping the egg whites on high speed.

Continue cooking the syrup to a final temp of 260ºF.

Pour the hot syrup into the whipping whites in a small, constant stream.  Aim for the outside so it won't splash off the whisk.  Continue whipping on high for 6 minutes.  (It took less time for mine to be obviously ready to add in and finish up, maybe 4 minutes.)

Add vanilla, salt and confectioner's sugar to the whipping egg whites to combine.

Remove from the machine and fold in the pecans by hand with a rubber spatula.

Using a spoon dipped in warm water each time, forget that, what a pain in the butt!  No water, just use two spoons, one to dip out the candy and one to scrape it off onto the baking sheet.  Go for whatever shape you like, egg shaped or more rounded with a flip on the top; whatever floats your boat.  You will need to work fast because it sets up very quickly - another reason possibly to do a half batch!  Another option is to pour it into a lined pan and cut it into squares later.  It will take longer to set up that way but might not be as fragile as individually formed pieces.  Nobody will care what shape it is when they taste it, believe you me.  (And with individual pieces, if there are some that don't look quite the right shape for giving or company, why that is a perfect excuse reason for some quality control measures and testing!)  ☺

Let the divinity set up for an hour or so at room temp before serving or storing.  The texture will change once it is properly set.  Mind the humidity at this point.  Divinity is highly hygroscopic and will almost literally melt on you.  Well maybe not melt, let's just say it will get darned sticky.

Store in an airtight container to protect from humidity.  Single layers work best to preserve the appearance of the candy, but you can always separate layers with waxed paper.  I understand you can freeze divinity well, but haven't tried it myself.

* An easy way to get perfectly uniform (beautiful) chopped pecans is to put a few pecans at a time (no more than three) through a veggie chopper.  You know, the kind that were originally meant to chop onions.  They make fabulously easy diced dried fruit too.  Then you can quickly toast up the nuts for about 9 minutes in a 350º oven.

Adapted from Chocolates and Confections  At Home with The Culinary Institute of America

7 comments:

Mary said...

My grandmother use to make divinity. I haven't had it for years, so I must thank you for the memory and the recipe. Regarding cornstarch: It is not necessary in the roll recipe. If I had to use it else where the addition of cornstarch would be the way to go. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

girlichef said...

Okay. I DO fear it. But yours is so beautiful!!

A little bit of everything said...

it's the first time I'm hearing about these sweet treats. all i can say right now is "congratulations" i can hardly make my own marshmallows, these would definitely set my house on fire.
all i can do right now is dream :)

have a wonderful weekend

M said...

The humidity warning of others found online doesn't "hold water." I live in Seattle and purposely made it while it was pouring rain this year 3 times (to prove them wrong). I also placed my kitchen-aid over a counter that held a steaming dishwasher while mixing it up. Still, I made it perfectly: light as air, every time. Store it in an air-tight container after it hardens to the level you like- otherwise it will get too hard. I use the simple recipe found in the Better Home & Gardens cookbook. Just: sugar, lt. corn syrup, water, egg whites & vanilla. A must for success is having a candy thermometer & a great mixer.

For those who "can't" make it: Be vigilant about the temperature it reaches. Stir well- like Jell-O until it boils, but not after. Once ready: pour in a thin and slow stream as your mixer does the hard work- like how a soap dispenser pours. Let it mix for a while, (adding vanilla when cool enough not to evaporate it) but pay CLOSE attention for when the mixture cures. It tastes "light" not syrupy, is a satin sheen not gloss, does not oose but holds it's shape, air pockets will appear and the process will sound noisier. At that point: spoon it out immediately!

hobby baker said...

Thanks for the great tips! Good on you for debunking the myth. ☺ This was a Seattle batch myself. And while I can't use corn syrup, I may try out a simpler recipe with Lyle's to give to the local fire fighters.

Patti said...

Thank you for this great post! I've been considering making divinity, but it's been humid and raining and the the forecast predicts more of the same right up until Christmas. I also appreciate some the very helpful comment from M.
I LOVE the title of your blog -- that is me. Baking and decorating cakes in whatever space I can find.
Again, thank you for the great information.

hobby baker said...

Haha, thanks Patti! I hope you love your results if you try some divinity for yourself! It's a holiday staple for us. Just gearing up for a messy kitchen marathon of holiday baking. :D

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