Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homemade Seafoam Candy {#SundaySupper}

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there was this great little candy shop called Sweetland Candies not far from our house.  My best friend and I used to hop on our bikes and ride down the street, and then turn and all the way up the next street, which ended in a hill, to see Sweetland's sitting atop that hill.  And across a busy street.  Like, a really busy street... a main thorough-fare.  And while we rode our bikes all over that town (or so it seemed at the time), we didn't often venture across Plainfield.

However, my dad was a huge over of good, homemade candies and sweets, so he would often take me across that busy street and into the cozy shop that smelled of happiness.  And sugar.  Perhaps they were one in the same.  I was mesmerized by the rows of chocolate in so many forms encased in those glass cases.  Looking back, I can't remember what my favorite homemade candy was.  It may have been the brightly colored clusters of rock candy sticking out from their wooden pole like a technicolor Christmas tree.  Or maybe the fat bouquets of balloon-like suckers... or the candy canes striped like barber poles in the glass jars next to the cash register.

But I do remember what my dad's favorite candies were.  He always, always brought home fat, homemade turtles and little chocolate-covered rectangles of seafoam.  Those were the chocolates of my childhood.  I tended toward the turtles - the seafoam seemed like such a grown-up treat to me.  But every once in a while, I would crunch through one of those little cuboids to get to the airy center, and let it melt on the warmth of my tongue.  I have not had seafoam since we moved away from Grand Rapids.  It's been 25 years.

Or rather, I hadn't until a few days ago.  I mean, it's something that I remember fondly.  One of the good memories of my dad.  It's just that I've never really seen it since.  I'm sure it's around.  Somewhere.  Every once in a while I get little urge for some.  It's been on my to-make list (aka my culinary bucket list) for a few years now.  It finally just came down to that whole "what are you waiting for" thing.
I began by doing a little research on Seafoam.  Apparently it's not a universal term for this candy.  It is in Michigan, of course.  And also in a few other states, oddly none of which surround Michigan (think California, Washington, Maine).  Even within the US it's known by other names, such as sponge candy and (I love this one) fairy food.  In Britain it is known as Honeycomb or Cinder Toffee.  In New Zealand it is known as Hokey Pokey.  And I just found out that Scotland calls it Puff Candy, but unfortunately I didn't come across any on my trip there a few months ago.  Now, I know that some of these names cross borders - there are plenty more states and countries out there, but these are some of the explanations I've come across.

Oh, and just in case that wasn't enough, I've found that some people also known Divinity as Seafoam.  I can see that, since Divinity actually looks like a little cap of sea foam, but I'm going with the candy that I associate with the name Seafoam.  And that is the crunchier, yet equally airy, deep-caramel-tasting version you see here.

It took me two tries to get the result that I was looking for.  Not too shabby.  My first go round yielded a somewhat holey, yet together all-too-flat version.  Plus the amount of baking soda was so high that it gave both me and the husband a stomach ache.  Not pleasant.  After going back to the drawing board, I started a second batch - it uses only half the baking soda of what most of the recipes I've come across use.  But it still produces amazing air bubbles and height.  And the taste is spot-on to what I remember.  I made my second batch in a loaf pan, just to see what would happen.  I won't do that next time.  It's fine, but it makes for difficult scoring and breaking.  It tastes the same, it just looks more...shall we call it...rustic.  If you're going for more uniform squares or rectangles to dip entirely in chocolate, you'll want to make this in an 8 or 9-inch square pan and probably score it just before it gets too hard to do so.  But no matter which way you do it, it will taste the same.

So, what does it taste like?  My daughter put it perfectly when, after her very first bite, she said "it tastes like a perfectly toasted marshmallow".  Huh.  I never thought of it like that before, but it really does.  Not the texture, mind you... just that warm, toasted sugar taste.  She likes it best plain.  My oldest son, like me, loves it dipped in chocolate.  My little guy, he's on the fence.  I think he feels that "grown-up candy" thing I felt as a kid.

Seafoam Candy (aka Sponge Candy, Honeycomb, Hokey Pokey, Cinder Toffee)
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by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
Keywords: boil dessert sugar Christmas Easter Valentines Day candy American

Ingredients (varies)
    seafoam
    • 2 c. water
    • 2 c. granulated sugar
    • 3 Tbs. corn syrup
    • 2 Tbs. cider vinegar
    • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    • 1½ tsp. sifted baking soda
    chocolate coating (optional)
    • 12 oz. chocolate (milk, bittersweet, dark)
    • 2 Tbs. coconut oil, optional
    Instructions
    Line a pan (8" or 9" square or round) with foil; butter the foil. Set aside. Clip a candy thermometer to a large heavy-bottomed pot.

    Combine water, sugar, corn syrup, vinegar, and vanilla in the prepared pot. Stir while heating, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and let bubble until candy thermometer reaches 300° F (just about hard crack stage).

    Remove pan from heat; sprinkle baking soda over the mixture and stir quickly, but thoroughly to combine. It will bubble up considerably at this point, so it's important that you used that large pot.

    Carefully (hot sugar sticks and burns ridiculously bad) pour mixture into prepared pan.  It should just sort of pour into place, so don't fiddle with it - you want to keep those air bubbles formed by the addition of the baking soda.
    Let candy cool completely at room temperature. If you'd like, you can score the candy into pieces with a thin-bladed metal spatula before it hardens (after 15-30 minutes). Once cool, either cut the candy along the scored lines, or just break and bash it into rough chunks. This gets messy - save any small bits and crumbs and stir it into ice cream- so good.

    Combine the chocolate and the coconut oil in a heat-proof bowl. Microwave for 1 minute (or set over a double-boiler filled with simmering water). Stir. If not melted completely, heat in 15 second intervals until completely melted and smooth.

    Dip pieces in melted chocolate (either entirely, or just half). Set on wax paper to harden.

    Wrap individually in wax paper or store in an airtight container with sheets of parchment or wax paper between the layers. Dipping in chocolate is optional... but delicious.

    notes:
    I like using the coconut oil in the melted chocolate to make it smooth and glossy, but it does take longer to "set" this way - especially if it's particularly warm. This also makes it thinner. If you'd like a thicker chocolate coating, simply melt the chocolate and dip as-is.
    I'm not the only one tackling something on my culinary bucket list today.  Check out this list of things that the #SundaySupper crew is sharing around the family table today.  Each and every one can now officially be crossed off of somebodies list.
    Breads
    Main Dishes
    Desserts & Snacks
      So tell me, what's on YOUR culinary bucket list... and do you plan on tackling anything from that list in the new year?  Also, feel free to join us for our live twitter chat tonight at 7pm (Eastern) using the #SundaySupper hashtag, and check out the Sunday Supper board on Pinterest.
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