Oh, what a big, sticky mess I made: dribbles of soft ball sugar syrup all over the mixer and counter, then a beater whisk crusted up with whipped egg whites and sugar, gooey blobs here and there, and my fingers all gummy, too. Thank goodness this stuff dissolves in hot soapy water.
Patsy Carlson from Presque Isle had written to say she hoped I could find a recipe for Divinity Fudge. Dear Minnie McCormick of Dover-Foxcroft and Barbara Cole in Orono both sent along recipes. Offhand I would say, this confection, which is less like fudge, rich and thick, as we know it, and more like meringue, is for the kind of people who like to eat sugar off a spoon or lick up the filling in Oreo cookies. That wouldn’t be me. Nonetheless, the recipe makes a very pretty confection and a lovely addition to the candy plate or gift box at Christmas.
Minnie found her recipe in the Ideals Candy Cookbook, and says her son likes this candy. She’s making fudge and caramel corn this week for Christmas, along with cookies. Barbara wrote, “My mom, who just passed away at 88, gave me this recipe and said it was the best divinity she had ever had, and she really liked the stuff (I’m more of a fudge fan myself). It is actually a recipe from a friend of hers, Maxine Fechner, of Fort Collins, Colorado, who is now in her 90′s.”
One caution that always appears with Divinity recipes is, as Minnie said, “Don’t do this on a cloudy, rainy day.” Humidity keeps this candy from setting up the way it must. The other helpful bit of advice is to use a candy thermometer. Some precision in temperature is needed for this confection, so having a clearly marked and easy to read thermometer is required.
Part way through dropping the candy on the waxed paper, and having tasted it by licking my fingers, I wondered how it would be if I folded some chocolate chips into the meringue. The candy was still fairly warm and the chips melted a little and created a marbled appearance, and as a diehard chocolate lover, especially of semi- and bitter-sweet chocolate, I have to say I thought it made an immense improvement. Divinity often has nuts in it, so I added some walnuts, but I also garnished some pieces with roasted hazelnuts, and I liked that a lot, too.
The process of making Divinity actually puts us on a path for nougat, which I think I probably prefer. The process of preparing the sugar syrup and beating it into egg whites is nearly identical, except nougat also has honey and butter added. Master the timing on beating egg whites and getting sugar syrup to the proper temperature and you are most of the way there for nougat and homemade marshmallows, too.
Minnie’s recipe calls for a half cup more sugar than Barbara’s does, and both need corn syrup. Both use two egg whites, flavor with vanilla, and can take walnut pieces. The nuts are optional. I ended up using Barbara’s two cups of sugar in what was probably a futile attempt to have a less sweet confection. The recipe says to drop the candy in teaspoon sized pieces, but I found I actually had to use a spatula to shove them off the spoon. Pay attention to the temperatures and don’t forget to make this on a sunny, clear day. Good luck making Divinity, Patsy, and everyone else. And Merry Christmas to all.
P.S. Thanks to all who showed up at the beautiful Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport last Saturday to hear me speak on Keeping Warm with Maine Food, where I wore my food historian hat and told about how our predecessors valued fat. Great cooking conversations evolved about bacon drippings and recipe memories, particularly using the salty and aromatic drippings in biscuits, frying potatoes, and even yeast rolls!
If you are desperate for a Christmas gift idea, my book Maine Home Cooking is available in lots of Maine bookstores and also online; just enter the title in the search box.
2 cups sugar
½ cup corn syrup
½ cup water
dash of salt
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cups chopped walnuts (optional)
½ cup chocolate chips (optional)
Combine the sugar the corn syrup, water, and salt in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved completely. Meanwhile beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook to 240 degrees (the medium ball stage)). Slowly pour one half of this syrup mixture over the beaten egg whites, beating constantly. Cook remaining syrup to 265 degrees (the hard ball stage). Beat the syrup into the candy mixture, beating continuously until it begins to lose its glossiness and forms soft peaks. Add vanilla and fold in chopped nuts or chocolate chips if desired. Drop teaspoon-sized portions on a greased cookie sheet.
Makes 25 to 50 pieces depending on size.