Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Edition: Divinity and Turtles

I find that as I get older, it's harder and harder to find gifts for adult loved ones because they already have most everything (meaning: every   thing) they need. My solution tends to be (you guessed it!) homemade edibles. There's just more heart in something that I prepared myself, particularly something that was complex or time-consuming. The love is in the effort.

For this year, Edwin and I distributed homemade divinity candy and chocolate turtles. We also gave some of the candies to my cousin, who recently sold my late grandfather's car after a year (!) of straightening out issues with the car title and searching for a buyer in the not-so-seller's-market of North-Central Louisiana. Thanks, Scott!
Spotted: nekkid caramel for the chefs
My paternal grandparents, from Louisiana, used to make divinity and give it out as gifts.. maybe around holiday time? I remember they would cut it into bars, and it was amazing. We tried to make it a few times at our house growing up, but it's such a mess that it never gained much traction in terms of tradition. 

In adulthood, I have experimented with divinity a few times and I have learned one very important lesson: it simply cannot be done without a stand mixer. You see, divinity is a candy made by whipping egg whites and pouring a sugar syrup over the whites as they're beaten. The idea is that the sugar syrup combines with the whites and then crystallizes while it is being whipped so the tiny air pockets become "permanent." The finished candy should be fluffy, solid, and melt-in-your-mouth. If your whipping mechanism (a whisk? hand beaters?) can't work a very thick, glue-y substance on high speed for ten minutes or longer, the finished product will be, well, glue! I learn from experience. And don't get me wrong, the marshmallowy glue tastes amazing, particularly on ice cream, graham crackers, or a spoon. It just doesn't travel very well, and doesn't quite meet the parameters of divinity.

As for the turtles, well... for my mother's birthday a few years ago, I asked her what treats she would most like to receive. She requested turtles, which I would say is prrrobbbably one of the most time-consuming and difficult of all the possible choices. But! I took a deep breath, made the turtles, it was a huge success, and she love love loved them. Due to the length of this post, I'll be covering the turtles in a Part Two.

Let's start with the divinity:

I followed this recipe, printed below.

2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted chopped nuts (pecans are traditional)
pinch salt

Optional seasonal additions include dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries, food coloring, and maybe other things, like... crushed pretzels? Chocolate chips are not an option because the mixture will be super hot and the chocolate will a) melt and b) interfere with the crystallization process, preventing the mixture from firming up properly. You can, however, dunk the finished product in melted chocolate. I've never tried this, but my interest is piqued. 

Also, NB: it's tough to whip egg whites when it is humid, so don't try this if it is rainy outside.

I set the eggs out for a couple of hours so they could come to room temperature, then Edwin separated them and put the egg whites in the mixer bowl.
Doesn't look like much, does it?
Then I toasted the pecans in a dry skillet. This can also be done in an oven or toaster oven, but nuts can burn quickly and I prefer to keep an eye on them on the stove. I use medium heat and swirl them every minute or so to ensure even toasting. You can hear the oils in the nuts start to "sizzle" when they're getting close.
When they smell amazing, they're done.
Then I move them to a cool surface, like a plate, so they'll stop cooking. When the nuts were cool enough to handle, we broke them into smaller pieces. I did not get a picture of this.

Now the nuts are ready and the whites are standing by. I also like to go ahead and put parchment paper on a few cookie sheets and set them on the counter next to the mixer. It's time to make the syrup!

Mix the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan with a candy thermometer attached. Using medium to medium-low heat, boil the syrup until it reaches 260°. This takes kind of a long time. You're looking for a steady simmer, not nutso boiling. Safety first!
I used Florida cane sugar because it's all I had at the time. Hence the more golden hue.
If you're making rock candy or something that is supposed to end up crisp, like toffee, the rules about "don't stir the syrup, swirl only, wet down the sides with a paper towel" apply. Since this is supposed to end up a little chewy AND there's corn syrup in there to help stabilize the sugar, I think it's okay to stir it around as you please. At least, I can tell you that we stirred freely and nothing bad happened. That said, it does not need constant stirring. You can just let it ride until it reaches the appropriate temperature.
While the sugar bubbles, as it gets close, I like to go ahead and whip up the whites. They will deflate if you let them sit, so there's no point in whipping them too early. But, also, there's no harm in "refreshing" them with more whipping, so... it's not exactly a science. You're shooting for firm peaks. I also like to add a pinch of salt to the whites for both flavor and stability reasons.
These aren't quite ready.
When the syrup has reached 260° and the whites are whipped up properly, you're ready to combine the two. This is a very dangerous step! The hot syrup must be poured onto the whites as they're being whipped at a high speed. Do this carefully, slowly, steadily, and do this with someone else in the room just in case disaster strikes.
Edwin did the pouring. I hovered helpfully and took blurry photos.
The syrup will, inevitably, splash onto the sides of the bowl above the egg whites. Don't stop to scrape it down! Just keep going! It's important to slowly stream the syrup into the whites at a steady pace, while it's still hot.
Action shot.
Once the syrup has all been added, you whip whip whip on high speed for ten minutes or so. For most of this time, it will be a lovely sticky shiny marshmallow mess. 

When it's almost done, you can add the vanilla. You know it is finished when:
  • the mixture is super thick 
  • your Serious Business professional series mixer is worn out and making weird clicky noises
  • the candy is significantly less glossy 
  • it holds its shape when you stop the mixer 
Take heart: I find this usually happens right when you are completely sick of waiting and you're convinced it won't come together. I didn't get a shot of this "finished whipping" stage because things happen quickly at that point. But I did get a shot of the whisk, which shows you about what divinity looks like when it is finished...
See on the right, where someone sneakily pinched off a taste? It's quite solid. Almost circus peanut texture but waaaay more delicious.
Mix in the nuts by hand. (The mixer would have crushed them too severely; you want there to be noticeable shards of nuts in the final product.) Keep in mind: It's still hot! The bowl is hot! The whisk is hot! All quite treacherous. Keep your game face on.

Then, you have a couple of choices: you can scrape the candy into a greased 13" x 9" pan and spread it out into an even layer. Let it cool completely, then cut it into squares. OR you can use two spoons and drop it, cookie-dough style, onto a pan covered with parchment paper. We chose the latter. It hardens quickly, so no bathroom breaks!
It's messy business.
Just divine.
Soak the bowl in hot soapy water to re-dissolve all that sugar. 
And you're done! The candy is actually quite stable once it is fully cooled. As long as it doesn't get wet, it shouldn't be too sticky, and it won't melt unless it gets extremely hot. Like, microwave hot. These are terrific candidates for party favors since they're unusual, tasty, and so stable. I think they would look lovely in a decorative plastic bad and tied with a ribbon. But, I get ahead of myself. 

Stay tuned for Part Two: Chocolate Turtles.


  1. I love your blog and thanks for the candy! We got your package last week and have been sharing it with Shari's family from Wisconsin. Take care and love you!


    1. Hey Scott! So glad you all are enjoying it. Sorry if the turtles ended up looking weird... I'll post Part Two soon (tomorrow?) and in it I propose some, y'know, explanations.

  2. Thank-you! They are quite yummy, and we are really them enjoying plus the turtles. Turtles are also one of my favorites - the perfect combination of chocolate and nuts and caramel. I am so happy you are going to be my future daughter-in-law for many of reasons, of course, but turtles mmmmmmm.

  3. mmmmmmmmmmmmm those candies taste so good....what a fun Mother's Day gift! And how illuminating to see the step by step process with the photos. Yes, I know it also happened right in my kitchen in the past, but I feel I understand the process better now, having previously left the actually cooking to you, my dear, and stayed out of your capable way.
    Thanks again.