Traditional Honeycomb Toffee
Known as Honeycomb in Australia, South Africa and Ireland, also known as Cinder Toffee in England, Seafoam in America, Hokey Pokey in New Zealand, Puff Candy in Scotland and Sponge Toffee in Canada, it's a favourite worldwide, and if you're trying your hand at making it at home, this is the recipe you want to be following!
My wonderful husband is a man of many hats, through his job at Sovereign Hill (an outdoor museum set in the 1850's, Australia's gold rush era) he's been trained in blacksmithing, acting, and most recently.. traditional confectionery! His training in this old world trade is what makes this recipe taste so deliciously nostalgic, and his expert advice on mastering this recipe means that ANYBODY can make it at home.
#1 Don't mix the water! Should you stir the liquid before the sugar has completely melted, you may get sugar granules stuck to the sides of your pot, when it falls back into the toffee it will set off a chain reaction and the entire batch will crystallise, resulting in a crumbly honeycomb absent any of the air bubbles of which we associate honeycomb with (as you can see happened to one of my batches below)
#1.2 Should you wish to stir your toffee before all the sugar has dissolved, have a pastry brush and a glass of water on hand. After string, dip your brush in the water and brush down the sides of your pot to wash any sugar crystals back into the toffee to melt.
#2 Once your sugar has melted, avoid stirring your toffee until it's off the heat. You will know your toffee is ready to be taken off the heat when a section of it begins to colour if you've been mixing your toffee, this colour will have been distributed around in the pot, and it will become less noticeable, timing is everything in this recipe! Leave it a little too long, and when you add your bi-carb soda your honeycomb will burn.
#3 Twice sift your bi-carb soda. When it comes to string in your bi-carb soda, you want to be whisking your mixture as little as possible so as not to be stirring out the bubbles that the bi-carb soda is creating. Twice sifting your bi-carb soda, once into a bowl, and then the second time directly into the pot, will ensure you can incorporate your bi-carb soda into your toffee with ease.
#4 Take your time. At first, we were really rushing to get the bi-carb soda into the honeycomb as soon as it came off the heat, but this just resulted in our batches burning. Take your time, remove your toffee from the heat, set it down on a cool part of the cook-top, mix the toffee gently to evenly distribute the heat, and then sift in your bi-carb soda. Stir your toffee a few times with a whisk to work in the bi-carb soda, and then immediately tip your honeycomb into the pre-prepared tin.
#5 Don't be tempted to cool your pot prior to pouring in your bi-carb soda. After a few burnt batched (due to putting in the bi-carb to soon) we decided to try cooling the pot slightly by dipping it into iced water, then we tried room temperate water, and then just a slightly damp towel. Every time, it resulted in our honeycomb forming atop a layer of solid toffee due it cooling so rapidly, resulting in an in-edible honeycomb.
#6 Set up a water bath. As soon as your toffee is mixed with the bi-carb soda, due to the chemical reaction and the added air in the toffee, it cooks much faster and is easy to burn, for this reason, once your bi-carb is mixed through you want to get as much heat out of the toffee as quickly as possible. Setting up a water bath directly beside your cook-top to immerse your honeycomb container into is the best way to do this. We got the best results using cold tap water, with no ice, ensure it's deep enough to come up and around your container without spilling over the sides and into it.
#8 Don't touch the toffee! At the point where the toffee starts to change colour, it will be around 120 - 130 degrees Celsius! Make sure all fingers are well and truly out of the way while pouring your honeycomb into its container, and keep an eye on little ones trying to sneak a taste of the toffee before it's set!
#9 Don't leave your toffee unattended, the difference between the perfect honeycomb and a burnt honeycomb is only a matter of seconds on the cook-top.
#10 We trailed other recipes before arriving at the idea of creating our own. We trial recipes that used honey, golden syrup, raw sugar, brown sugar, what we found was that these ingredients didn't alter the taste of the honeycomb at all, but it made the process almost impossible to perfect. As these ingredients added colour to the toffee from the get-go, it became very difficult to tell when the toffee was at the right point to be removed from the heat as the colour change was barely noticeable. This is why we chose to use just white sugar and water (the traditional ingredients used in toffee) as it means the toffee starts white/clear so you can easily see the colour change when it occurs.
If your honeycomb is crumbly and disintegrates in your mouth, your toffee has crystallised, remember to watch out for sugar grains stuck to the side of the pot that will cause this.
If your honeycomb sets flat and is 'chewy', your toffee was under-boiled, keep it on the heat a touch longer before adding your bi-carb soda.
If your honeycomb is very dark and bitter, the toffee went too far by the time you removed it from the heat, or it was in the pan too long after you added the bi-carb soda. Remember to keep an eye on your toffee, and soon as a patch of toffee darkens, remove it from the heat, and move quickly once your bi-carb soda in incorporated into your saucepan.
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