Photo | Depositphotos.com
It’s too much trouble to cook divinity on a humid day, but for the record it can be (and has been) done.
It would be great if I were a better baker or candymaker. Perfect practice makes perfect, right? Ours is the house on the street where the neighborhood kids come and go as they please, having their way with our snacks, staying for impromptu dinners and roasting marshmallows in our fire pit. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if we are going to be THAT house, then we have to do a better job with the Christmas candy.
Last year Katie knocked it out of the park with some amazing toffee and I hope there is more to come, but what I crave is, you guessed it, everything I ate as a kid. This includes pralines, magic cookie bars and the heavenly fluffy candy called divinity. This year I am taking a stab at some of those labor-intensive sugary snacks, adding to my repertoire the sweets of my childhood in an attempt to win the hearts of midtown preteens and affording me King of the Street status.
Lucas already prepared a batch of what are now called Jesus Sandwiches, the Ritz cracker and peanut butter sandwiches dipped in white chocolate, so called because my kids believe if the Christ child were here and wanted a snack, this would be his go-to. We have a point in the win category. That’s our easy one. Up next is the most difficult.
Divinity requires a bit more precision. First off, I am told you should only attempt it on days when the humidity is in that “normal” range between 50 percent and 60 percent. Is this an old wives’ tale? At the guitar shop I have to monitor humidity like a hawk and try to keep it around 50 percent, running humidifiers to catch up once the heater comes on. We deal with conditions that are too dry. My house must be a different scenario.
With Katie as my assistant (or perhaps I was hers), we followed a Betty Crocker recipe from the internet down to the letter. We chose this one because other recipes had too many pop-up ads. With a candy thermometer lifted from Priscilla Belle Jenkins and all our simple ingredients laid out (egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla extract and pecans), we assisted each other in stirring, boiling, beating and folding until we had this gorgeous fluffy white stuff and spooned it onto wax paper.
After a quick nap I went to flip the candy per the directions, and my once-attractive confections were flat as pancakes. I checked the outdoor humidity on my phone: 96 percent. Epic fail.
A good 12 hours later, the candy still had not set. I guess it isn’t an old wives’ tale after all. A quick consult of internet and I learn one way to combat elevated humidity is to cook the sugar a bit higher than hard-ball stage. If you normally hit 260 F., ramp it up to 270 F. on more humid days. But on a day of 96 percent humidity? Threatening rain? Will the higher temps work? Mom says no.
“You’re crazy, Andy. It won’t work. Even the ‘never fail divinity’ recipes won’t work down here when it’s humid. I never believed your grandmother when she would tell me it’s too humid for candy until I started making my own and ruining batch after batch.”
OK, so I’ve wasted a lot of time and I can’t find a plausible fix. This experiment was a mark in the loser column. I guess I’ll just make pralines instead. “That won’t work either,” she said. “You’ll have to wait for another day. Just eat your sticky divinity with a spoon or pretend it’s taffy.” The Khaki has spoken.
So I have all the ingredients for praline-making: brown sugar, granulated sugar, half-and-half, even cayenne, which I planned to use to spice things up. But you won’t be reading about it in time for Christmas. It was looking like I would be baking up a few pans of magic cookie bars again. You may know them as Hello Dollies. These aren’t the “magic” cookie bars your hippie uncle makes for his annual Christmas drum circle get-together. Mine are coconut chocolate chip, great by their own merit but not a replacement for divinity.
I couldn’t get past all the time and effort I’d wasted over the last dozen hours, only to find these didn’t set. There has to be a way to save them. I thought about using a hair dryer. A space heater came to mind. Finally, I decided to fire up the oven to 200 F. and slowly draw the moisture out of these flat, white, sticky disks that resembled miniature petrified cow chips.
One small batch at a time, I monitored them as they became less shiny. For seven or eight minutes, I let them heat up on a cookie sheet until they became easier to work with. I scraped each blob together and stiff peaks began to form again. Pretty soon I had what looked to be true divinity! How divine! Christmas was saved.
My own mother didn’t believe I could do it. The question is whether or not I would do it again. My answer is no. It’s too much trouble to cook divinity on a super-humid day, but at least I now know how to fix it if I ever screw it up again. My kids and their friends across the street once more believe in me. Faith has been restored and we can all watch “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas” with the proper candy.
The lesson is if you believe in yourself and Christmas miracles, then you can cook candy no matter what the relative humidity is, but will I be doing pralines tomorrow? Not until the rain clears out. I still expect Katie’s toffee and Texas Trash to brighten our holidays. Priscilla has her hands into some goodies as well. Watch your weather. If it’ll mess up your hair, it’ll mess up your candy. Just know how to fix it.
Merry Christmas to all. I hope yours is divine.