Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sea Foam Candy Failure

This video is a perennial favorite, mainly because I have been trying to make Sea Foam Candy for approximately fifty years and have NEVER had it turn out. No matter how closely I follow the recipe, when I make it, it tastes carbonized and scorched, or else so gummy and sad that your first impulse is to spit it out.

It was brave and good-hearted of this woman to post this disaster, which is quite dramatic after all, and could have been even worse if she had spilled any of this molten lava on herself. Liquefied sugar has the power to dissolve human flesh. There are sixty million YouTube videos showing you how to make this "simple" candy (and it IS simple, if you only look at the ingredients). It's one of those things that is all method, in that the syrup must be cooked to exactly the right temperature before adding the baking soda. The woman even uses a candy thermometer here, so the temperature is exact, but it makes no difference whatsoever.

This woman is right to call the recipe a "science experiment", for the seething sugar slurry (which inevitably calls for a tablespoon or two of vinegar) combines with a spoonful of baking soda to create something like one of those volcanoes we used to make for a middle school science project. The baking soda, a caustic substance, is dumped in all at once and stirred violently to prevent the whole thing from overflowing the pot onto the counter. Molten sugar is a particularly evil substance, cooking down ever more thickly and darkly, until the sudden violent injection of thousands of tiny gas bubbles triggers a fulminating monsoon. 

But the worst aspect of this evil stuff isn't the method, or even the success or failure of the result. Even the best sea foam candy (or sponge toffee or honeycomb or yellow man - yes, it really is called that in Ireland for some reason) leaves you with a nasty surprise. Once you have chewed your way down through all the sticky sweetness, you're left with a bitter, metallic, even caustic taste in your mouth, as if you've taken fireplace ashes and mixed them with Comet cleanser. It's the baking soda, and if you keep on chewing you're left with a hard little nub of it. How delightful. Let me wash out my mouth now.

I had a wonderful Nigella Lawson video on this, and now I can't find it. She said this was a "Cornish" recipe (baloney!), and that the original name was "hokey-pokey". Myself, I thought that was a dumb dance you did at wedding receptions, but never mind. Nigella was remarkably smug as she cooked up the "gol-den cah-ra-mell" on the stove, then snuck naughty little bites of it while in the back of the limousine on her way to the dinner party. I just couldn't relate. Just how does she deal with that nasty little nub, the Revenge of the Science Project, as "hokey-pokey" inevitably turns back into the caustic chemicals from which it was created?