In the spirit of full disclosure I offer this post as evidence that I have many culinary events that don’t quite turn out as planned.
About this time of year, as I start in on holiday baking in a big way I often become nostalgic about things from my childhood. One of the things that has been coming to mind for a year or so it the candy that one of my Aunt’s made every year. She made several different varieties but two that keep pushing their way into my mind are Divinity and Penuche.
I had decided to make them both this year and have been looking at recipes trying to find something that seems like it was what my Aunt made each year. Unfortunately, I can’t just ask her as she passed away several years ago. It turns out that most divinity recipes are very similar and so I decided to use the one in my old Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, figuring that would be very likely to be the one she used.
Now, making divinity comes with all kinds of warnings about humidity and weather. You can’t make it if it is "too" humid or if it’s raining. The moisture in the air will keep the candy from setting and drying properly. However, I couldn’t find anywhere what "too" humid actually translated to. But I grew up in Oregon and my aunt lived across the street from me and she managed to somehow successfully make this candy in the Northwest winters so I figured I could, too!
Yesterday, we had our second dry day in a row – at least at my house, although there was rain in the area. I checked the humidity – under 60% outdoor and about 45% in my house (it’s winter and I’m running the heat for gosh sakes!) and thought that might be safe.
So I measured all my ingredients, starting heating the sugar, corn syrup and water and was generally really looking forward to the final product!
I should have known that whole thing might not turn out as planned when about 5 minutes into the process I had my first little setback. The sugar mixture had just started boiling and I was attaching the candy thermometer to the pan when the thermometer suddenly snapped out of the clip (that would hold it to the pan) sending hot sugar all over the stove top, down the oven doors, all over the floor and onto some cookies sheets I had sitting nearby waiting for another batch of cookies! Now it wasn’t that much that splashed out but, as you know or can imagine, even a little bit of liquid sugar is a sticky, sticky mess.
So, while trying to watch and whip the egg whites for the next step and watch the thermometer (I was now using a quick read that I had to dip in every now and then) for hardball stage – 260F, pretty dang hot – I was also trying to clean up the sugar mess before it had a chance to spread over the entire kitchen and from there take over the house!
So it is possible that I messed up somewhere in there but I really think I was juggling it all pretty well.
Anyway, after the whites were whipped and the sugar mixture incorporated and letting it beat until the batter was super stiff I started dropping the candy by teaspoonful onto the prepared cooking sheets. I was very proud as I was even getting the little twirl on the top (kind of like a Hershey’s Kiss top but fallen over) that I remembered from my Aunt’s candies. However, as I finished spooning out the candy the first pieces were slowly slipping into pools of white glue.
My first thought was that I just hadn’t beat the egg whites or the egg whites mixed with sugar long enough, which could be the case. But after waiting several hours and then trying to peel the candy "disks" from the wax paper to no avail – they weren’t letting go, it was clear that the candy just wasn’t dry enough – was this a problem with the hated humidity???? I’m not sure. There’s a third possible point of failure and that’s with the temperature, as using the thermometer the way I was is not really the most accurate way of measuring temperature.
So yesterday afternoon I took all the white polk-a-dotted wax paper from the cooking trays and tossed them into the garbage. I was bummed. But it looks like we have a streak of dry (and colder!) days coming later in the week. So I think I’ll have a chance to try again soon!
I also looked at an older version of the same cookbook that was my Mom’s. It was printed in 1951 and I noticed that there are slight differences in the recipe. I may try that version next time.
In the meantime, Penuche is not as temperamental so I’ll give it a try and see if I can duplicate the taste I remember from those Christmas past.