Look, making candy is hard. But in light of that, I attempted to make divinity candy this year to take to my family get together using my grandmother's recipe. What ended up happening? I messed up. I got my mess-up on camera since I was making an Instructable for divinity. Alas, you get this!
I don't usually use a candy thermometer and have always had divinity turn out well. This time, the sugar syrup mixture got a little too hot. The result was...not divinity. However, it did taste like divinity! Instead of being white and fluffy, it was tan and chewy. As disappointed as I was, what I got out of this mess-up was sort of a "Divinity Chew", kind of like a taffy with a divinity taste to it.
This is a traditional candy turned into something new. In fact, I decided to cut them into little pieces, wrap them in wax paper, and hand little boxes of them out to the family on Christmas Eve.
In giving the boxes out, I opted to not tell the family that I meant to make divinity and ended up with a chewy thing instead. When asked, I urged them to try it first, then tell them the story.
There seemed to be a common theme in the response I got: "You might be on to something with this!"
Step 1: Gather Ingredients and Materials
I used my grandmother's recipe, which has been copied by my mother and appears to leave out how much vanilla is needed, but a credible source (my mom), has told me it's 1 teaspoon. After making this recipe and getting my "Divinity Chews" I was also told some steps were left out because my grandmother made it from a recipe in her head and apparently missed a couple while transferring it to paper. Nevertheless, here's what I used.
- 3 cups white sugar
- 3/4 cups white karo syrup
- 3 egg whites
- 3/4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Pecans, shelled and crushed into pieces
- Nut cracker (if using in-shell pecans)
- Stand mixer (to whip egg whites)
- Candy thermometer (optional)
- Cookie sheet, buttered
- Waxed paper
So if you've checked out the recipe, it's pretty confusing. She never used a candy thermometer and relied only on what the sugar did when you dropped it into cold water. I'm not going to be using a candy thermometer either, so in the next step, I'll review the stages sugar goes through when boiled.
Step 2: Soft-Ball to Hard-Crack: Stages of Candy-Making
When you mix sugar syrup and water and heat, the water boils out. The mixture of heat and water loss is what gets you to the correct stage of candy hardness for the appropriate type of candy you're making. For instance, I sometimes make "no-bake cookies" and boil sugar and water for a minute and a half and they harden up just right even without testing the hardness of the sugar beforehand. However, my boyfriend has never had them come out right - my guess is that he doesn't boil the sugar long enough!
Stages of Sugar
The sugar for no-bake cookies is boiled until it reaches the Soft-Ball Stage. At this stage, the mixture ranges from 235° F–240° F and has a sugar concentration of 85%. In the absence of a candy thermometer, when you drop some of the sugar syrup into cold water, it will form a ball that, when removed by hand, will flatten.
Ever made caramel? You probably cooked the sugar until it reaches the Firm-Ball Stage. We'll be using this stage for this recipe too. The mixture is now 245° F–250° F and the sugar concentration has raised 2% to 87%. A ball will still form when dropped in cold water, but when removed, it will not flatten until squeezed. In this recipe, when it first mentions hard ball, it actually means this stage, as some of the mixture will be cooked longer until it reaches the next stage.
For this recipe, we're looking to get to the Hard-Ball Stage. Once past the firm-ball stage, there's a little more leeway on temperature range: 250° F–265° F. The sugar concentration is up to 92% at this point, so when the sugar drips from the spoon into the cold water, it does so in thick strands. Once in water, it forms a hard ball that doesn't flatten when picked up unless you really squish it. This stage is what is referred to in the recipe when it says "until it bounces off the table".
Past the ball stages, you reach the Soft-Crack and the Hard-Crack Stages.
During the Soft-Crack Stage, the temperature is between 270° F–290° F and the sugar concentration is 95%. In cold water, the syrup will form threads that will bend before breaking. The Soft-Crack Stage is what my sugar syrup mixture ended as.
During the Hard-Crack Stage, the temperature is between 300° F–310° F and the sugar concentration is 99%. In cold water, the syrup forms threads that break when bent.
Anything past the above stage will get you caramelized (brown liquid) sugar, where all of the water has evaporated. I won't be talking about these here.
Now to begin!
Step 3: Prepare the Eggs and Pecans
Going with tradition, I used whole pecans. My family had an overabundance of them this year, but usually I just use pecans which have already been shelled. If I had to guess, I used about a cup of shelled pecans, which was probably about 1/3 cup of crushed pecans. I would have liked more, so feel free to put in pecans until your heart's content (or none at all if you prefer).
Set these aside for later.
Separate the whites from the yolks on all 3 eggs and put the whites in the mixing bowl.
Break out that stand mixer (or a hand mixer and buff arms) and whip the egg whites until they are stiff. Mine got super stiff, but were not over beaten.
Step 4: Sugar Syrup Mixture
Add the sugar, karo syrup, and water in a saucer and set to high. As it heats up, stir it so it mixes together.
Now, ♪let it boil, let it boil, let it boil♪
If you're being safe and using a candy thermometer (probably a good idea), heat the mixture until it reaches 245° F–250° F, the Firm-Ball Stage.
If not using a candy thermometer, you should test occasionally by dropping some of the mixture into a glass of cold water until it makes the firm ball. Remember, the sugar syrup will make a ball, but will flatten when squished.
At this point, very slowly pour HALF of the sugar syrup into the mixing bowl with the egg whites while mixing on a lower setting. Pouring too fast will make the whites cook! Keep the mixer on while going to Part 2.
Put the remaining mixture back on the burner.
Now heat the mixture until the candy thermometer reaches 265° F–290° F, the Hard-Ball to Soft-Crack Stage, or when you drop some sugar syrup into cold water and it will be a hard ball and solidify into threads that will bend before breaking. My mixture I believe was either between these two stages or just going to the Soft-Crack Stage because it formed a hard ball when in water, but when I took it off the burner, it was a tan color.
Once again, very slowly pour the mixture into the egg white/sugar syrup mixture while the mixer is on a low speed.
WARNING: The mixture is EXTREMELY HOT. Do not have the mixer on a high speed or it might splash back up at you. Be very careful when pouring the sugar syrup at any stage!!
After pouring the remaining mixture, turn the mixer to a higher speed. After about one minute, turn off the mixer, remove what you can from the whisk, and very carefully remove the mixing bowl.
Put the bowl on a pot holder.
Step 5: Add Vanilla, Pecans and Spoon
Add your 1 teaspoon of vanilla and your pecans (if you choose to use them) and mix well.
Now you potentially have 2 options.
Option 1 (how I did it)
Spoon the mixture on to buttered cookie sheets. You might need to use another spoon to scoop the mixture out in cookie-sized pieces.
Once cooled, use kitchen shears to cut each piece into bite-sized chunks.
You might want to take a somewhat easier route without two spoons. Pour the divinity mixture on to a buttered cookie sheet or two so it forms a large puddle. Let it cool and then use kitchen shears or some other shard device (maybe a pizza cutter?) to cut it up into small pieces.
Step 6: Wrap and Serve
Cut squares of waxed paper and wrap each piece individually. I ended up with about 130 pieces, which I stuffed into small 3" x 3" x 2" gift boxes.
At Christmas before our unwrapping "ceremony", I handed them out to my family and got good reviews. They taste like divinity, but have the texture of a taffy. My aunt admitted that she isn't a fan of the texture of traditional divinity, but that these "chews" are much better for her.
All in all, I was able to salvage my failure into a success! I managed to take a traditional candy and make it "modern" according to one family member.
Luckily for you I recorded my failure and now you too can make these yummy holiday candies!