Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night/Lookin' for the sponge of her lii-i-ife. This girl's steel town is Buffalo, NY. (True, Buffalo is not really known as a "steel town" these days, but in the 1900s it was one of the largest steel-producing locations in the U.S. By the mid-20th century most of the steel plants had shut down.)
Though I don't hail from B-lo, I did spend four glorious years there for college and routinely visited growing up because we had family there. I still go back at least once or twice a year for weddings, babies and food. And let me tell you, BUFFALO IS AWESOME. If you don't think it's awesome, go jump in a lake and/or never speak to me again.
Buffalo has produced some of the greatest things on Earth: buffalo wings (Superbowl Sunday would have no redeeming qualities without these guys); Loganberry juice (ummm, hello, it's purple. That means it's got to be at least 8% natural.); snow (oh, you didn't know they invented snow in Buffalo? Well, now you do. Please inform your old history teachers.); and most importantly, sponge candy.
Sponge candy is basically a puffy kind of toffee, typically covered in milk or dark chocolate. The ingredients are sugar in granule form and sugar in liquid form. And it has similar addictive properties to crack. Just FYI.
In Buffalo, you can't even go into a gas station without sponge candy smacking you in the face, which is just the way I like it. I've been told that they sell similar types of candy outside of Western NY (under the aliases "sea foam candy" or "honeycomb"), but sadly, I have yet to come across any. So when I had a hankering for some sponge candy last week, it seemed my only option was to make it myself.
This past Saturday was another superfun DC blogger event - this time it was a wine tasting at Lauren's place. What better to go with wine than the most delicious chocolate covered candies under the sun?! Perfect op for my spongy experiment.
1) If you want to make candy, you need to have a candy thermometer. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can guess when your candy is at the "soft ball" or "hard crack" stage, because you can't (believe me, I tried). The boiling sugar looks exactly the same at 200 degrees as it does at 300 degrees. I use the Good Cook thermometer that I got for $7 at my local Safeway. It's not exactly high-end, but it does come encased in a glass tube so you don't have to worry about numbers melting into your candy (which is a common complaint about candy thermometers).
If you are looking at thermometers and can't tell which ones can be used for candy making, just look for two things: 1) temperature levels exceeding 350 degrees Fahrenheit (usually they will go to 400 or 500); meat thermometers usually only go to about 220; 2) some kind of clip or hook that allows you to secure the thermometer to the rim of a pot or pan. So you might find a thermometer that is unlabeled or labeled as a frying thermometer, but will work fine as long as it meets the two aforementioned prereqs.
2) Use a single round pan, at least 9" wide. It is tempting to think, "Oh I'll just use my square baking pan. It will be easier to cut that way." Or maybe, "I'll use two smaller pans." No. Wrong. Stop. I already made these mistakes for your benefit. A circle pan works better because you need a stiff mold of parchment paper. Getting a stiff mold in a square or rectangle pan is way harder, trust me. The hot, foamy candy is poured into a lined pan and left to harden. The usable parts of the candy are in the inside, so you want as little surface area as possible (i.e., one mold, not two).
For the same reason, don't halve this recipe (or, if you halve it, use a circle pan with a small diameter so that you have less surface area). If you only want a little candy, I recommend making the whole batch and chucking whatever you don't want. The ingredients are sugar and sugar. Cheap and plentiful.3) Use at least a medium-sized pot for boiling (at least 3 quarts), preferably one that you can lift with one hand. The candy foams up a lot, so you need a good amount of extra space in your pot. Ideally, you would pour the foam into the line pan with one hand and scrape out any excess with the other hand using a spatula. If you need both hands to lift your pot and then you scoop out any excess foam, that's fine. It just might result in a few lost bubbles.
Also, you will see the leftover foam bits start to harden on your pot and whisk. Don't worry, they will clean up no problem with some hot water.
Ok, I know that was a lot of instruction - on to the candy making!
recipe from Intimate Weddings
Makes about a pound of candy
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
6 tbs. water
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbs. baking soda (sift or stir to break up any lumps)
1 bag of milk or dark chocolate chips (or coating chocolate if you can find it)
Prepare a 9-10" springform or cake pan with parchment paper: cut out a circle for the bottom; make a double thick cylinder lining for the sides that reaches several inches above the rim of the pan. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
Mix sugar, corn syrup, water and vanilla. Pour into pot being careful not to get excess sugar up on the sides of the pot. Place your candy thermometer on the edge of the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high. Without stirring, let the sugar mix come to a boil and then continue to heat up to 300-302 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove from heat. Take thermometer off the pot (otherwise it will get in the way of your stirring). Immediately add the baking soda and whisk until incorporated (5-10 seconds). Watch the awesome chemical reaction take place before your eyes.
Pour foamy mixture into your prepared pan and let cool completely. Once the foam is completely hardened and cooled, remove from pan and peel away parchment paper. Cut into the hardened foam and begin to cut pieces of candy. Discard the outer 1/4 inch or so of the foam shell - you will be able to see (and taste) the difference between the inner foam and hard shell.
Using a double boiler, melt 2/3 to 1 bag of chocolate chips, depending on how much candy you want to make and how much chocolate you want on each piece. Dip foam pieces in chocolate and set on wire rack or wax paper to cool. Then say goodbye to your life as you formerly knew it and hello to your new addiction.