It's so easy these days to buy whatever sweet treat you're craving -- from Trader Joes peppermint Jo Jos to Bouchon Bakery macarons, it's all just a quick walk or subway ride from just about anywhere in NYC. But this year I was feeling nostalgic, and wanted something that reminded me of my childhood, so I decided to make some old fashioned peppermint divinity candy. It turned out to be a treat in more ways than one!
Just a bit about candy making. It's hard! You have to be patient. It doesn't always turn out for a number of reasons -- the humidity in the air as well as your elevation above sea level can affect the composition of the sugar. Once I started down the road, I remembered the times my mom and cried over fudge that crystallized too soon, or taffy that cooled too long. But I also remembered the fun of molding lollipops to sell at the school bakesale, and listening to my dad patiently explain how to turn sugar syrup into caramel. With that in mind, I roped Kate into helping me make peppermint divinity to take to a holiday party.
I pulled out my battered Joy of Cooking cookbook. With all the celebrity chef cookbooks we own (and watch on TV!) I have been neglecting this tried and true book. I re-read the beginning of the candy-making chapter, and refreshed my memory of cooking sugar -- soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack, caramel and then burnt. Got it.
Kate grabbed a half-dozen candy canes off the tree and pulverized them in a mini-prep machine. And i put her in charge of separating the egg whites for whipping later.
Then the magic began -- we dissolved the sugar, put the lid on the pan, and left if over the heat for three minutes. Once the lid was off, we waited and watched. It's a wonderful thing to watch the syrup begin to boil, and see the bubbles get sluggish. I told Kate stories about burning my hand on hot syrup, and losing a tooth on a homemade lollipop. And we waited and watched some more. I made a quick check of the candy thermometer dropped a dollop of syrup into ice cold water and showed Kate what it means to get the candy to a soft ball stage and later to a hard ball stage. Dash was playing a computer game with some friends in the other room, and Kate ran in to show them what the candy was doing. We quickly whipped the egg whites and slowly poured the syrup into the mixture -- adding the crushed peppermint at the last second.
A handy-dandy ice cream scope made it easy to form dollops of pink fluffy candy and drop it onto waxed paper. As it cooled, it became slightly dry and crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The bits of peppermint added an extra crunch as well as flavor. Perfect!
Hmmm, that wasn't so hard. Maybe we'll try our hand at some old-fashioned fudge for Valentines Day.