Recipe: D.I.Y. Divinity

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Divinity is related to nougat and meringue - a soft confection made with egg whites and sugar - and it's a favorite Christmas candy, especially in the Southern US. It keeps well, and it can be a relief from the holiday barrage of chocolate and spice. It's very sweet, with the melting texture of a slightly chewy cloud, which makes it well-suited to salty add-ins. I usually add smoked almonds.

The first time through this recipe can be a little tricky, but when you've done it once and understand the cooking steps, it's easy, one of most hassle-free candy recipes out there. A candy thermometer and an electric mixer are absolutely necessary. A stand mixer is preferable.

In fact, it never fails to amaze me that this recipe was invented by someone who did not have an electric mixer. How did they do it? How would they even think to whip egg whites this long? I wouldn't even do this with a hand mixer - a stand mixer is what makes divinity easy.

The almonds are highly recommended; this candy is so teeth-achingly sweet that it's nice to cut it with some salt and smokiness.

Smoked Almond Divinity

Makes about 4 dozen spoonfuls

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup smoked almonds, optional but recommended

Prepare a work surface with waxed paper and a couple of greased spoons. If you want, put out small paper candy cups to drop the candy into. This should all be set up before you start the process.

Put the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer. Put sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water in a saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium-heat until the mixture comes to a hard boil. Stop stirring and let it boil.

At this point, when the sugar starts to boil, you should start the mixer, whipping the egg whites on high speed. Whip the eggs until they are very stiff. Meanwhile, watch the syrup and when it hits 260'F or the hardball stage, remove from heat. It may be helpful at this point to carefully transfer the syrup to a heat-proof pitcher or measuring cup.

When the egg whites are stiff, very gradually pour the hot syrup in a thin stream over them, beating on low to medium speed. Add the vanilla and keep on beating on medium speed.

Now the mixer has to both aerate and cool the very hot sugar and egg white mixture. This will take quite a while; keep beating, and keep an eye on it. You want to let it cool gradually, so don't turn the mixer to a higher speed. After about 10 minutes check more frequently, but overall this will take between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on humidity and your mixer.

The mixture will be smooth and glossy at first; but then all at once you will notice the texture getting drier and then it will lose its sheen completely - if you're not sure whether it's happened yet, it hasn't! The key to this is watching for when the egg whites lose their gloss.There will be a marked difference in the texture; it will turn from glossy white paint to dull wall spackle. As soon as it hits this stage, turn off the mixer, stir in the nuts by hand, and take it to your prepared workspace. Drop in tiny spoonfuls as fast as you can, before it cools and dries to its hardest state.

Store in a tightly closed container at room temperature for up to 10 days.

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