This is a candy that goes by many names: cinder toffee, sponge candy, sponge toffee, sea foam, puff candy, hokey pokey, fairy food candy, and old fashioned puff. But it’s all the same thing! I originally saw a recipe on GBBO winner Nancy Birtwhistle’s website, but it has since been removed for no explainable reason. So I went with this BBC recipe that makes a really manageable amount, a good 2-2.5 inch thick, 9×9 pan.
If you adapt it into American terms and measurements, the recipe is:
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 TBSP light corn syrup
- 2 tsp baking soda
Before you do anything else, prep your pan. Grease it, then line it with parchment paper. The greasing agent (shortening or butter) will stick the parchment to the sides of the pan, which is useful for a candy that’s full of air and not heavy enough to weigh down the paper reliably. Put it close to your stovetop, the transfer from pot to pan is QUICK on this one.
Measure out the baking soda and put it in a bowl within reach of the stovetop. Like I said, this one’s quick and you’ll need it quickly.
The cooking is simple enough for an amateur caramel maker named Olivia. Add sugar and corn syrup to a decent sized pot (I think mine was a 1 gallon capacity, but go bigger rather than smaller) and keep it on medium-low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved, or at least mostly liquid. If it bubbles, turn the heat down.
Once dissolved, crank the heat up to medium or adjust accordingly to keep it simmering. No stirring at this stage. Wait until the color starts to change (usually visible first around the sides of the pot) and then stress about whether or not it’s caramel-colored enough and wait another couple agonizing seconds. Then, with baking soda in your non-dominant hand and a whisk in the other, tip the baking soda into the pot and whisk as this mixture just becomes the blob from the movie The Blob. It devours homes, children, city streets, and skyscrapers. Hopefully this one stays in your pot. Whisk just until you can’t see any baking soda (ten seconds maximum, no joke) and tip it into your prepared pan.
On the topic of scraping the pan: If you’re really quick, go for it. If it’s already somewhat hardened in the pot, give up the dream. I tried, wasn’t quick enough, and ended up with a nasty lump of sugar in the middle of my pan. The bonus: unlike caramel, crystallized honeycomb toffee doesn’t seem to spread and corrupt the whole pan, it keeps to itself. If you do mis-time your pan-scraping, you can always cut out your mistake later.
Don’t move your pan. It lives on the countertop for the next two hours. If you move it, you risk knocking out the air and nobody wants that. Past two hours, it’s probably safe to move. If you’re a knucklehead like me, you instantly moved the pan and got frustrated after two hours so you cooled it the rest of the way in the freezer. Needless to say, this was a bad plan. Let cool at room temperature for a couple hours.
Once the toffee has cooled, lift out the parchment paper with toffee in tow. Set it down on the table or another flat, tough surface. Using a blunt object, shatter the toffee into pieces (small, bite-sized pieces are optimal but hard to obtain). I recommend a knife, since the handle/blunt side are good for bludgeoning.
What did Olivia do, you might be asking yourself. Well, after recovering my mistreated toffee from the freezer (a Bad Decision), it kept making snap-crackle noises like it was a TV commercial for some kind of cereal. I called over my little sister, holding the pan up to her ear like it was a seashell, except it was a pan of sugar and you heard surprisingly loud cracks and snaps instead of the ocean. I was able to shatter it with just my hands, which isn’t supposed to happen. Or maybe all those bicep curls have paid off. It turned out fine, but that’s probably not how you’re supposed to do it. Stick with the other method instead.
Toffee at long last! I have crossed oceans of vaguely nervewracking caramels to be with you. But this toffee is notoriously humidity-sensitive, so naturally you should coat it in chocolate. You know, to keep the moisture out. No other reason.
In keeping with the allergen-free lifestyle, I used Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips. Laid down the honeycomb pieces on a parchment-lined baking pan, melted down one entire bag over a double boiler (1.5 bags is a better amount, take my advice), and went on dipping the pieces. I just used a fork to dump in one piece at a time, take it out, and place it back on the tray. Also, I experimented with a couple different kinds of coverage and I’m here to tell you that complete enveloping is the way to go.
Let the chocolate harden, and you’ve got yourself a facsimile of the Crunchie Bar, which isn’t sold in the US but I’ve heard it’s pretty good.
SCIENCE CORNER (because I got a 5 in AP Chem, goshdangit): The bubbles are formed because the sugar is so hot (approximately 300F) that it causes the baking soda to thermally decompose into sodium carbonate, water, and carbon dioxide.
2 NaHCO3 (s) ->Na2CO3 (s) + H2O(g) + CO2 (g)
The water evaporates, the sodium carbonate adds a slightly salty taste, and the carbon dioxide causes that honeycomb structure in the sugar. Now go eat it!