Monday, January 25, 2010

Heart of darkness

I'm working on a story about making home-made sweets as a Valentine's gift. It's not Treadstone, or even Sugarhorse, but yesterday I decided to do a spot of deep background research and make some chocolate-covered honeycomb, aka cinder toffee, aka Crunchie.

One of my interviewees for the piece is Chantelle Nicholson, sous chef at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and co-author of Nutmeg & Custard, Wareing's rather lovely book. There's a whole chapter dedicated to home-made sweets and, before I start blithely advising readers to create one of the most dangerous situations known to the home cook (all it takes is someone to come along and stick their finger in that tempting molten sugar), I wanted to walk a mile in the sweetmaker's shoes (which are, sadly, usually dirty Crocs).

Nicholson had told me that the honeycomb was a piece of the proverbial, and she was almost right. You add three tablespoons of honey and one of golden syrup to 150g of sugar, stir until the crystals dissolve, and add two teaspoons of bicarb. Then it explodes into sweet, amber-coloured foam, which you steer into the waiting lined tray. 15 minutes and a dip in chocolate later, you've got that Friday feeling.

Except. As you can see from the picture, in which my first attempt looks considerably darker than the second, I burnt it. It started boiling before the sugar had dissolved, and by the time I got it out of the hot pan, it was smoking. You can see the dark seam of burniness running through the middle, and although the texture is great, Tim rightly observed that it tastes of petrol. It's not the love token I was aiming for.

It had also filled the house with the smell of burnt honey. In my excitement about finding a purpose for some of the stash kindly sent by a man from Rowse last year after we discussed the plight of the honey bee, I had forgotten that we both hate the actual taste. It's all floral and pervasive, and brings to mind a 23-year-old with a beret and a book sweetening her tea in an ostentatious manner here.

For the next lot I subbed in all golden syrup for the honey, used caster sugar to encourage melting and boiled it briefly. The result wasn't as spectacular – the burnt stuff had formed a much more voluminous foam, presumably because the base liquid was thinner and lighter to start with – but as you can see (it's on top of the stack), it looks like proper honeycomb. Sweet.

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