When I think of my great-grandmother, Grandma “Bridge City,” I think of the color red. I think of the blessings she had in the form of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who she got to meet. And at Christmastime, I think about her candy making. I remember standing in her kitchen – a kitchen that would one day be my own – and watching her set out plates of divinity, fudge and bon bons that we would portion out into little tins to give away.
Food is a love language in my family, one that we all speak fluently, one that clearly communicates across the generations. We’ve passed down techniques and recipes to use for pork roasts, gumbo, and even a “birthday cake” for baby Jesus. And although the family is split into two factions over how dumplins should be made (Flat! NO! Puffy!) we still unite in our love for all things foodie.
This year I thought I’d resurrect my great-grandmother’s Christmas candy craze and try my hand at making divinity. It’s basically a cross between a pure puff of sugar and a meringue. Some people put nuts in theirs, some like to add food coloring to make a pretty pastel presentation. Either way, divinity should be smooth and melt in your mouth. It might be one of the most delightful things you could eat for the holidays.
It’s also one of the most dreadfully difficult things to make just right.
I mean, sure, there’s a recipe. Recipes are fail-proof, right? Just follow the directions. Pffffttthhht. Not with divinity.
With divinity, you have to get lucky. You have to be blessed. You can’t make it on a humid day. You have to beat it just right. Otherwise, you just end up with polar bear poop.
Sadly, I was neither lucky nor blessed at my first divinity attempt. I followed Paula Deens’ recipe, cooked the sugar to 248 degrees, beat the sugar and egg whites until glossy and…plop.
Paula Deen, you are drunk.
According to the rest of the internet food world, there is no way your recipe will work because A) the sugar never got hot enough and B) you’re supposed to beat the cooked sugar and whipped egg whites until they STOP being glossy. You beat them like a redheaded stepchild. You beat them until your stand mixer begs you to stop.
I had better luck with my second try – cooking the sugar mixture to 260 degrees and beating the ever-loving hell out of the cooked sugar and whipped egg whites. When the candies set up and cooled and took a nibble off of the end of one and was instantly transported back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen. They were perfect, and I felt triumphant and somewhat redeemed.
2 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
food coloring (optional)
There are a few really important techniques to remember when making divinity. First, make sure all bowls and utensils are clean, dry and free of any debris. Second, don’t make this on a rainy day or if you live in Florida. Humidity equals polar bear poop. Third, make sure your eggs are at room temperature. Fourth, get a candy thermometer. Don’t even try to eyeball this.
Clip your candy thermometer to the side of a saucepan and boil the sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to 260 degrees. It will look like boiling glass.
While you are waiting for the sugar to boil, beat the egg whites in your mixer until they begin to form stiff peaks.
Once the sugar has reached 260 degrees, slowly stream it down the side of the bowl into the egg whites while the mixer is on high. Continue to beat the mixture until oh, about Tuesday. Seriously, beat it forever. I’m not going to give you an exact amount of time, just leave that sucker on high and go paint your toenails.
Ok, maybe not that long, but you get the drift. When the mixture starts to become a little less shiny, turn it off and lift up the beater. The candy should form a column from beater to bowl on its own. If it drizzles back down into the bowl, it’s not ready. Beat it some more. Read a magazine. Take the dog for a walk.
WAIT. STOP. IT’S READY.
Add your vanilla. Stir it in along with any food coloring or nuts you want to add. Quickly, take the beater out and set the bowl down next to some non-stick foil or wax paper. Dip a spoon in cold water and scoop out some of the mixture. The texture will be unlike anything else you’ve ever scooped – sort of marshmallowy, kind of souffle-ish. You can make messy little dollops, or you can try to make them pretty by placing a pecan on top.
Let the divinity sit out and dry until you can handle it without it sticking to your fingers. Now, you can box it up and share it, or you can store it in an air-tight container in your nightstand where Santa can’t get his fat fingers on it.