Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Divinity Chronicles

I have always loved divinity, that "southern" soft and smooth candy that you really can't buy--and it seems hard to make (but it isn't). I like it smooth, with no nuts or cherries in it.

But I'm not much of a purist.

So when I decided I needed to make a batch of divinity, I divided it and made half of the batch vanilla, and half chocolate. I had never heard of chocolate divinity, but I had a recipe for chocolate nougat that my mother recognized right away as divinity that hadn't been whipped long enough.

So, for each dozen or so divinity you want, the recipe, which requires a heavy-duty stand mixer like a Kitchenaid, is:

1 egg white
1 c sugar
1/4 c light corn syrup
1/4 c water
1 pinch salt
1/3 tsp vanilla (opt)

Boil the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt until they reach soft crack stage. Most recipes say around 275 degrees on the candy thermometer. I don't have a candy thermometer, so I test the candy by drizzling it in cold water. When the drizzles hold their shape and stretch but then crack when you pull on them, they're ready (and the kids LOVE tasting the "ice candy" that comes out of the cold water each time I test the syrup). Set the syrup aside to cool slightly while you whip the egg white until it forms firm but not dry peaks when the beater is lifted. Add the vanilla and mix. Then, while beating on medium low, pour the hot syrup in a fine stream into the egg whites. After the syrup is all in, various sources say to change the speed of the mixer. It's not necessary. Keep it on about a 4 on the kitchen aid (out of 10) until it holds its shape when plopped on a sheet of wax paper. This can take 20 minutes, but it usually takes less if the syrup is cooked long enough and cooled slightly before pouring. Dipping spoon and finger in cold water frequently, spoon blobs of divinity onto wax paper to cool. It should hold its shape perfectly, but not be grainy or dry all the way through.

To make chocolate divinity: Make vanilla divinity, but then, just as the divinity reaches the "finished" stage, dump 1/3-1/2 c chocolate chips into the "dough" and let it mix up. Once the chocolate is in, if the nougat recipe is right, the divinity won't set up any further, so you don't have to worry about over-mixing it.

So those were both such a success that I started getting ideas. I grasped right away that the secret is the hot syrup into the whipped egg whites, so I theorized anything that can be cooked to hard-crack stage and poured in a fine stream could go into whipped egg whites and make divinity.

My first experiment was adding sweetened, peach-flavored gelatin to the sugar mixture--to get flavors, of course. Turns out gelatin prevents sugar from reaching the soft crack stage (at least before it takes on a burnt smell). So it made a lovely, puffy, soft creamy creme, like marshmallow cream, that would have been tasty frosting, I suppose. Didn't work as divinity.

So the next try was to use Brown sugar. It made fabulous syrup. Until it was done and I made the mistake of adding a capful of maple flavoring and a capful of vanilla. That completely ruined the syrup--it almost instantly crystallized into fantastic maple sugar. The kids love it.

I had the egg whites already whipped, so I pulled out my toffee recipe. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying close attention, and I made exactly 1/3 the amount of toffee syrup I needed for the 3 egg whites I whipped, so it never really set up, but the resulting sauce was really really tasty. If I do this again, I'll make the toffee with the 3 cups of requires sugar, but only 1 c of butter (instead of 3) to make the syrup/candy less crumbly.

I gave up for a few days but couldn't put it out of my head, and I realized somethings by looking online at divinity recipes. The secret is that you don't mess with the syrup. You mess with the egg whites if you want variations. You can (and people do) make "Jello Divinity"--by sprinkling the Jello on the egg whites while they whip. That's where you add the flavorings (vanilla is traditional, but I suppose you could add maple, or orange, or lemon, or strawberry, or almond, or brandy--many recipes call for almond flavoring).

So today I wanted to try making "butterscotch" divinity. I made the basic recipe, but, after whipping the eggs, sprinkled in 1/2 c brown sugar, making brown merengue just like on the "Foamy River Brownies" recipe I posted last year. Then I followed the recipe exactly as above (for 3 dozen, so with 3 egg whites), and it came out GREAT. It has a flavor somewhere between butterscotch and that old fashioned "burnt sugar cake" flavor (the "burnt sugar cake" recipe was very popular in folk and fundraiser recipe collections in the 1930s-1950s). It's good.

Next try? I don't know. Strawberry gelatin flavor? Lemon? Maple? Oh--I know. White chocolate. Or butterscotch made with butterscotch chips. Or maybe raspberry chocolate divinity (raspberry jello in the egg whites, and then 1/3 c semi-sweet chocolate chips). Now that I got the formula, I can really start trying things. And I suppose I'd better start giving away candy!

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