Saturday, December 13, 2008

Divinity: Only semi-divine

Erica over at The Good Old Days has a regular "retro recipe" feature, in which she chronicles her attempts (sometimes successful, sometimes scary) to reproduce vintage recipes.

Recently, she made pecan confections, which suddenly put me in mind of divinity, a type of candy I remember making when I was a kid, which--as I recalled--also started from a base of egg whites and sugar.


So, I tracked down a recipe in a 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking that we keep around for a few of the old-school dishes that the current edition ditched in favor of things like "Penne with Vodka Sauce."

Not only was there a divinity recipe in there (several, in fact), the previous owner had hand-written yet another divinity recipe on one of the blank pages in the back. That one was too complicated for our tastes (it required boiling the sugar syrup twice, once to the soft-ball stage and then to the hard-ball stage). So we stuck with the original.


If I made this as a kid, I seem to have forgotten the part in which you have to put the syrup-egg white mixture back over the heat and beat it until it forms stiff peaks. Let me tell you, you have to work for this candy; working in shifts, the two of us beat the mixture for a good 15-20 minutes before it started to set up, and this is not light whisking...this is serious muscling-around of an incredibly thick and viscous substance. Our arms are gonna hurt tomorrow.














Then into a greased pan...

And later, after it solidified, we cut it into pieces, and--having determined that it was way too sticky to store--wrapped up each individual piece in waxed paper. That's right. About 80 pieces, total.

The verdict? Meh. The flavor and texture are a lot like a really heavy marshmallow fluff, but with chopped pecans in it. Subtle flavor, not as sweet as you might expect...I suppose it's kind of like a nougat.

But is it worth the time and effort? I don't think so. It was fun to make it again and remember what, exactly, divinity was, but unsurprisingly, it didn't live up to my memories of it. No Proust moment here!

6 comments:

Erica said...

This is great! I can't believe you wrapped 80 pieces of candy in waxed paper, that is amazing dedication :) I must confess, would have probably given up and wadded it into a Tupperware dish and just spooned out servings later.

I'm always reluctant to try homemade candy that involves the stovetop at all. The few times I've tried to make caramel for topping flan, it resulted in severe burns and destroyed spatulas (and a fair bit of hilarity while we nurse our burns and laughing speculate why we thought this was a good idea).

Being a fan of nougat, I might try this... but I'll wait until after the busy holiday baking season. If I have to do LOTS of goodies, I stick with easy things like rum balls.

Rose said...

I know what you mean about stovetop candy, Erica. It's been awhile since I made something like this, and I always forget how LONG it takes for the syrup to get to the right temperature.

I wouldn't mind the time-consuming aspect so much if there weren't so much more work afterward! We'll probably make some peanut brittle for the holidays, for example, which follows more or less the same process, except that once you get it to the right temperature, you dump it onto a cookie sheet and you're done.

--and the peanut brittle is a tastier payoff, to boot, IMHO.

Christy said...

Are you using the peanut brittle recipe we learned in 11th-grade chemistry at BHS? Tracy Brown (my lab partner) and I pulled the 'brittle' portion too early and ended up with a sticky mess. I think we got a C+ on that project: insult to injury. :-)

Rose said...

Christy, I totally forgot about the peanut-brittle "experiment." But when we were making this, I *did* recall the equally annoying taffy-making "experiment" in physics the following year.

I think the taffy turned out OK, despite my being saddled with C. Kondrake and S. Lashen as lab partners.

So, no, the peanut-brittle recipe I'm using isn't the 11th-grade chem one, but it's almost as old: it's the one my college roommate, Janet, gave me in 1985.

She, BTW, was also the person who introduced me to kohlrabi, which her mom grew in her very large kitchen garden. That was the first time I'd ever *heard* or it, much less seen it.

historiann said...

Rose, your hands are so hairy--what happened??

Rose said...

@Historiann: Blame it on toxic runoff from mountaintop mining.

Actually, it's because I made my personal sous chef do all the work, while I leisurely swanned around with the camera.