I love Christmastime! I is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the sights, the sounds, the smells, and just about everything that comes with the holiday....and yes....even the snow. For me, it's not really Christmas if it isn't a White Christmas. And, of course, I love the foods of Christmas! You know the ones, those cookies and candies that only get made once a year, no matter how much you love them and crave them. Those treats that just don't seem right when made in the middle of summer. Most people, and families, have them, whether it is something as widespread as gingerbread cookies and candy canes or something more specific to your family such as Grandma's special nut filled cookies that she learned to make from her mother, who in turn learned it from her mother, who brought it to this country when she immigrated from eastern Europe before the turn of the last century.
While I have a list, a mile long, of foods that need to be made a Christmastime, from cookies to candies, to beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, there are 2 that I want to share with people because you don't find them often anymore, and I'd hate for these candies to disappear because they are worthy of a place on everyone's cookie platter. The first, Divinity, is one that I remember my Grandmother making every holiday. She wasn't so much known for how good her Divinity was but was known for the spectacular failures she had often while trying to make this easy but somewhat finicky candy. The second, Angel Food Candy (or Sponge Candy as it is known is some places), is one that is relatively new to me. I only discovered it about 12 years ago when we moved to Wisconsin, where it is still a popular holiday treat. There are still a few regions where Angel Food Candy is known, but outside of those areas it is virtually unknown, which is too bad as it is simple to make, although it too can be somewhat finicky to make.
I'm sure that many of you are asking, "What is Divinity and Angel Food Candy?" Divinity is a meringue based candy similar to nougat although not as dense or as chewy. It is often thought of as a Southern candy as many recipes call for the addition of pecans, although my Grandmother never put nuts in hers and always flavored it with peppermint, tinting the candy green and red. Divinity is one of the wonderful foods that you can create endless variations with. Replace the vanilla extract with almond extract or peppermint extract. Make it smooth with no additions or add nuts and dried fruits of your choice. Angel Food Candy is a brittle, crunchy candy made by cooking sugar ,corn syrup and vinegar to the hard crack stage at which time baking soda is added, which causes the liquid to bubble and froth. When it dries you are left with a honeycomb of air pockets much like a sponge. This is then often dipped, partially or completely, in chocolate.
Both candies are easy to make and you can certainly whip up a batch of both in about half an afternoon. But make sure that you pick a day when the humidity is low...at least 50% or less, or your candy will not turn out right. Angel Food Candy will never get really crisp and Divinity will never become anything but a sticky mess.
makes 24-48 candies depending on how big you make them
2 2/3 cups Granulated Sugar
2/3 cup Light Corn Syrup
1/2 cup Water
2 each Egg whites (from large eggs)
1 tsp. Vanilla extract (or flavoring of your choice)
1/2 cup Pecans, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries, chopped (optional)
In a sauce pot combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook over high heat stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and cook until the temperature reaches 260°F.
Meanwhile, while the sugar mixture is cooking, in a stand mixer, beat the egg whites just to the point of stiff peaks. Do not overbeat the whites or they will get grainy. Once the syrup reaches 260°F slowly drizzle it into the whipped egg whites, with the mixer running on high. Continue beating the mixture until it loses its glossy sheen and is no longer sticky. This will take anywhere from 8-14 minutes and you need to stay with it as once it reaches this point it will start to set and it becomes difficult to portion it. Add in the flavoring and any nuts or dried fruits you wish to add.
Traditionally, Divinity was just dropped into mounds, but you could certainly pipe it out for a cleaner look to your candy. Either way portion it onto wax, or parchment, paper for ease of removal after it has dried
Allow the candy to set and dry for, at least 2 hours, then pack into airtight contains between sheets of wax paper. If it doesn't get too humid your Divinity should last about 2 weeks.
Angel Food Candy
makes about 1 pound of candy
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Dark Corn Syrup
1 Tbs. White Vinegar
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 pound Chocolate Chips
Lightly grease a 9x12 metal baking pan. In a medium sized pot combine the sugar, corn syrup and vinegar. Place over high heat and stir until sugar dissolves.
Once the sugar has dissolved stop stirring and cook to 310°F.
Removed from heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. The mixture will foam and expand considerably so be careful and make sure you have used a large enough pot (it will almost triple in volume before it starts to die down again). Once you have made sure that the baking soda is fully combined (do this as quickly as possible) pour the mixture into the waiting pan. Do not try to smooth the mixture out or spread it evenly.
Allow the mixture to set and cool for at least 2 hour. Smack the pan on the counter to break up the candy, then using your hands or a knife break it into 1-2 bite sized pieces. The candy is brittle and will break where it wants to so don't expect perfect pieces. Use all the little shards for topping ice cream. The texture of the candy should be full of air pockets.
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler and dip the candy into it covering at least half, or all of the Angel Food, depending on your preference.
Like the Divinity, Angel Food should last about 2 weeks in an airtight container, unless the weather gets really humid then it might soften up a bit.