On this day of torrential downpours, excessive reading and television viewing, I am not sure that there is a better time to experiment with food.
As I previously wrote, I don’t like cooking. Baking and candy-making is a bit more up my alley. Sometimes, various ingredients I use in cooking, like a tin of chickpeas, have castoff bits. Normally you strain your beans, sending the valuable bean water down the sink. But in fact, this miraculous liquid (also known as aquafaba) can act as an egg-white substitute and used to make vegan meringue, vegan Swiss meringue buttercream, and any number of other things… like espresso meringue cookies (my first aquafaba experiment).
I had some chickpea water leftover from one of my ugly cooking extravaganzas, and I thought about what kind of sweet things I could attempt. I thought back to a baking/candy-making disaster of my childhood. My mother tried to make traditional divinity candy many years ago, and it requires (as all divinity does) such extensive beating that she burned out her ancient hand mixer. She’s never made it again, despite replacing the hand mixer with a more heavy-duty stand mixer.
I should also note here that corn syrup is called for in this kind of recipe, and apart from believing that corn syrup is flavorless and bad, it’s also just not sold here. I use golden syrup instead.
I recently watched the lightweight but engaging Nadiya’s Time to Eat on Netflix, in which the affable host, Nadiya, visited the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery and made a recipe using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is something I use liberally and always have on hand for my baking.
I had never given much thought to the syrup but had a gab with S about it, and he said he always thought, as a kid, that there was a dead lion on the label. We looked it up, and indeed, it is a dead lion with bees buzzing around it, bearing text related to a Biblical passage (Judges 14:14): “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”. A rotting lion carcass seems like an unusual slogan and brand position for a sickly sweet baking ingredient, but it has remained the same since the beginning. I read up a bit on Abram Lyle only to discover that he was a teetotaler and devout Presbyterian Scot, and is quoted as having said he’d “rather see a son of his carried home dead than drunk”.
Not terribly strange, but when you consider that his company merged with the rival Tate enterprise (to form Tate & Lyle), it’s strange bedfellows. Henry Tate, best known perhaps for giving his name and art collection to numerous art galleries in the UK, also gave freely to “non-establishment” causes and workers’ conditions. What struck me, in contrast to Lyle, was that he established a bar to let his workers have a good time (and probably to keep them out of trouble, trouble being bad for productivity, of course). Though Lyle and Tate the men never met each other, it’s hard to think Lyle would have approved of this kind of recreation. I love the contrast and kind of wish the men had met, and we could have a semi-fictional miniseries on the competing sugar refiners, along the same lines of The English Game to tell what could probably be a fascinating story. Much more fascinating than the tale of how my experimental aquafaba divinity candy turned out.
Aquafaba vegan divinity candy
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup golden syrup (or corn syrup, which isn’t sold here, and is not as nice or flavorful as golden syrup anyway)
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons aquafaba/chickpea water
1 teaspoon vanilla
(Add chopped nuts, if desired)
Heat sugar, water, syrup and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Add a candy thermometer, and continue cooking until the mixture reaches hard ball stage on the thermometer.
Separately, beat the aquafaba with a mixer using the whisk attachment until it holds a stiff, meringue-like shape.
Very slowly add the sugar mixture and vanilla into the beaten aquafaba, and beat until stiff peaks form. You must beat to get the stiffest possible peaks; divinity will not hold its shape if you don’t beat it to the right consistency. That means you are going to beat, beat and beat some more… and you will be very happy that you have a stand mixer that can work autonomously.
To give you an idea of how much time the beating will take, know that I read a whole book. Between waiting for the syrup mixture to reach hard ball stage and the interminable beating stage, I read Virginia Woolf‘s A Room of One’s Own in its entirety. I’m a fast reader, and it’s not an excessively long book. But you get the idea. This is a very easy recipe – but it’s extremely time consuming. You will, however, be able to do multitask while the mixer works its magic. I think the “hard ball” waiting period was about 30 minutes, and then the beating process to reach the final product was another 30 minutes. Obviously this can differ, but this is just what worked for me.
At the very end of the process, add nuts if so inclined. Oh, I also added a wee pinch of red food coloring just to get a subtle tint for the final product.
Make small, rough blobs of divinity on pans lined with parchment or wax paper, or put into a pan and cut into squares. Let the little overly sweet balls set. I don’t eat stuff like this but did take a wee taste to make sure these at least taste edible. Apart from being sickeningly sweet (which some people like), they have a more complex flavor than if I’d made them with corn syrup, and also have a deeply vanilla flavor (thanks to the vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder I added).