Shawnee News-Star Sunday December 24 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg What began as my first attempt to make my mother's divine divinity turned into an intensely frustrating effort to salvage uncooperative nougat. I am a health food nut, not a cook. One restaurant blog cite states there are 4 types of cooks in the world: (1) […]
Shawnee News-Star Sunday December 24 2017
Becky Emerson Carlberg
What began as my first attempt to make my mother's divine divinity turned into an intensely frustrating effort to salvage uncooperative nougat. I am a health food nut, not a cook. One restaurant blog cite states there are 4 types of cooks in the world: (1) they show up (2) they view cooking as a way to make a living (3) they are food lovers who just enjoy being in the kitchen (4) they are dedicated and consider cooking a calling, their true purpose in life. I fit in the first category. I am there. Making the divinity was my mother's domain. She had usually completed the temperamental process before I arrived on Christmas Eve with sugar cookies in tow. Spread out along the surface of the bar between the kitchen and dining room were sheets of wax paper. Each translucent section was topped by dozens of neatly lined up symmetrical white patties of cooked whipped sugar and egg whites. Some years the divinity was rather two dimensional and very flat while other times the candy formed perfect 3-D mounds and pinnacles. Only black walnuts were permitted.
How hard could it be? Even though I do not possess a stand mixer, the tool my mom trotted out once a year just for divinity, I figured my hand mixer would suffice. My Sunbeam Mixmaster was equipped to advance through five speeds plus it had the infamous 'Burst of Power.' The green wonder has only been occasionally used to whip egg whites or cake mixes. How long has it been around? The Mixmaster can still be purchased, but only found under the 'Vintage' category. This translates to older than the hills. Great. Both my Sunbeam beater and I are considered antiques but this works with divinity, considered an heirloom candy. Heirloom sounds much better than antique or vintage.
Years ago I had copied my mother's recipe I thought she used. It came straight out of 1950 Woman's Home Companion Cook Book, page 778, directly below the general direction 'If you do not happen to have an electric mixer you will find a wire whip more satisfactory than a rotary beater for making these candies.' What would they have recommended for Aunt Bill's Brown Candy? My Michigan mother often told the story of the one and only time she made Aunt Bill's from the recipe given to her by her Okie sister-in-law. Toward the end of the long ordeal my dad decided to put a paddle on his drill and proceeded to beat the candy into submission. The candy was delicious but never again seen.
To my surprise, I discovered my mother had written another divinity recipe on the front page of the old cookbook. It did not match my divinity recipe nor the one printed in the cookbook page 778. This one called not only for sugar, corn syrup, water, salt, egg whites, vanilla and walnuts, but 2 tsp of white vinegar. Sticking with my recipe, I proceeded to boil the sugar concoction until a small amount formed a firm ball when dropped in cold water, as directed. This sounded reasonable. The egg whites were beaten and half the syrup was poured into the whites while my Sunbeam performed spot on. The remaining syrup went back onto the burner to be cooked until it was supposed to form hard threads in cold water. Two of us stared at the syrup as it hit the water and created a lattice pattern on the bottom of the glass jar. Is that what is meant by threads? Sure. The syrup was slowly added to the first mixture and the true beating began to form a candy that would hold its shape.
Five to ten minutes the recipe said. My old Sunbeam began to protesteth. The little machine became rather hot and bothered while nobly trying to whirl the candy goo into a thicker consistency. The denser the divinity, the slower the beaters rotated. I decided to end the beating process before my Sunbeam did and with spoon mixed in the nuts and vanilla.
Pieces of parchment paper covered each counter. The problem was not dipping the spoon into the hot mix but keeping the candy down on the paper while removing the spoon in preparation for the next scoop. The spoon became heavier and heavier as the sugary white adhesive glue clung desperately to the spoon and metal bowl. The spoon handle even accumulated divinity. The size of each patty kept decreasing. My divinity circles could function as an eye chart; the largest patties lined up along the top, shrinking down to tiny little blobs at the bottom. I later read it helps to dip the spoon in hot water. Eh.
Done. The recipe said to let the divinity dry a few hours. The house humidity was 46%. No problem. That evening I returned to find. flat white circles of Elmer's glue tightly adhered to the parchment paper. Apparently divinity comes with a host of problems affected by humidity, boiling temperatures, length of beating time or refusal to come off the wax paper. Either the cook has mastered the knack to make divine divinity, thrown out various attempts, or, occasionally, as with my mother's divinity, a spoon would be required.
My divinity refused to leave its parchment paper. Perhaps it simply needed more time to dry. I needed the counter space. The rest of the divinity was put into the cold oven to dry through the night.
The next morning with great anticipation I opened the oven door and saw various renditions of Edward Munch's 'The Scream.' You know the picture: A man holding his distorted skeletal face between his two hands and his mouth is gaping wide open. Divinity had surrendered to gravity and was crawling in layers off the papers hanging between the bars of the oven rack into the dark abyss. No longer divinity, it had become taffy out of control. At least the weird patties still had a foot-hold on their papers and were firmly attached. I drug the sticky candy-draped parchment out into the open, scraped each portion of taffy into lumpy rings, plopped the assemblages onto cookie sheets and into a 225 degree oven for the entire morning. That should dry the divinity taffy.
It certainly did. I now have light and airy divinity chips. The crisps are delicate and have a nutty flavor with crunchy meringue overtones.and they peeled off the parchment paper with little effort. Yes, crispy divinity.
Should I have used vinegar?