Candy, candy, candy! Man, I love Halloween. Okay, so I don’t really love the spookiness and deadlike decorations and costumes and general carte blanche for grown people to be unreasonably bizarre, so let me rephrase that. The only things I actually love about Halloween is the abundance of candy, pumpkins as decor, and adorable little kids in sweet, non-creepy costumes. And did I mention candy? I’m partial to gorging on the commercially-made sort myself (except Smarties and SweetTarts–COME ON PEOPLE, DON’T KID YOURSELVES). But this dead simple and utterly delightful Sponge Candy is the kind of homemade confection that just might make you rethink handing out the prepackaged stuff to trick-or-treaters. That is, if we wouldn’t all get arrested for doing that. Nevertheless, this stuff if terrific and hey, look! It comes all Halloween-hued with no food coloring required.
As I understand it, sponge candy is a regional thing, especially popular in upstate New York. I’m not going to give you a whole confectionery history on it, except I will say that its main selling point is the fact that the texture resembles that of the completely addictive center of a Butterfinger bar, with an even deeper caramelized flavor. And since I’m the sort of person who will obnoxiously gnaw all the chocolate coating off a Butterfinger just so I can then unattractively house the entire unadulterated crisp, crunchy, sweet-salty center (while slightly drooling with a vacant stare–just trying to help you visualize, here), I couldn’t wait to whip up some sponge candy in the my very own kitchen. Let’s just say this was a very good call, judging from the golden candy shards all over my keyboard at this very moment.
Now, I’m not going to heartily endorse candymaking as a kid-friendly activity, since boiling, molten sugar and tender, veal-meat limbs don’t mix. But I will implore you to call in the littles during the final stage of cooking this candy, because it’s kind of awesomely magical and science experiment-y. Basically, what you do is cook together sugar, corn syrup and a touch of white vinegar. When the syrup hits the hard crack stage, you stir in some baking soda, which reacts with the acidic candy to create a mass of billowing, bubbling candy. Super fun, right?
After it cools and sets, you hack the whole thing into chunks. Then you can eat the hunks as is (slight drool, vacant stare optional) or you can really do it up and dip the pieces in melted chocolate to coat. Or if you’re feeling kind of lazy and whimsical like myself, just drizzle the whole lot Pollock-style with some bittersweet chocolate instead of dipping. It’s like Halloween candy for grownups! Or at least, a great last-minute fill-in for all the long-ago-eaten Halloween candy you bought too early at Target. (No judgement.)
Chocolate-Drizzled Sponge Candy
Make sure you use a large enough pot here–the candy will bubble up really high at first when the baking soda is added. I used a 5-quart Dutch oven, and it worked fine. The only thing you’ll have to contend with when using a large pot with a relatively small amount of syrup in it is that the pot will probably have to be tilted every few minutes so that the tip of the thermometer is actually in the syrup deep enough to get a proper read on the temperature.
Traditional sponge candy recipes don’t typically include the additional salt, vanilla and butter like I’ve included, but I think it makes the finished candy especially crave-worthy.
And before you ask, yes, I suppose you could try making this recipe with honey or agave nectar or unfiltered organic maple syrup or whatever. But I’ve not tried this, myself. If you do, report back!
Makes about 1 pound
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
Spray a 9-inch springform pan with 3-inch-high sides with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot, combine the sugar, corn syrup, vinegar and salt. Stir to combine over medium-high heat. When the mixture reaches a boil, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pot. Cook the syrup, stirring often, until it reaches 295 degrees (it will continue to sail up to 300 degrees of the heat). Remove the pot from the heat, and quickly stir in the vanilla. Stir in the baking soda until the candy is smooth. Add the butter and stir until melted. Pour the candy into the prepared pan and let set until cool, about 1 hour.
Unmold the candy slab onto a cutting board. Cut the slab into large chunks and place them on a baking sheet (keep the candy shards for an ice cream topping!). Pour the melted chocolate into a small ziptop bag, and snip off one corner with scissors. Drizzle the chocolate artfully over the sponge candy. Let the chocolate set before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
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