A Sweet History of Nearly Everything

I realised yesterday after checking through my blog for a recipe – yeah, I forget recipes quite easily – that I never ended up writing about confectionery. I wrote this entire post about my love for my new sugar thermometer, which has now been christened, and I made no attempt at a follow up. Not that any of you guys will have remembered, but apologies all the same. I was originally going to write about the wonders of marshmallows, but I decided that I wasn’t having a marshmallow week, I was having a honeycomb week. 

Apart from being a really lovely word (is it odd to notice that?), it’s a pretty damn tasty thing to eat, and eat it I could, until I was sick. Well, yeah, I found a little while ago it’s actually surprisingly easy to make, you just need to work speedily to get it perfect. A little background first, I promise it’ll be quick. 

The basics of  sugar: 
Sugar is created from a plant known as sugar cane, it’s big, it’s grassy, and it can pass for a mighty fine looking Windows wallpaper. 

It’s speculated that the grass originated in New Guinea around 2500 years ago, and spread throughout Eastern Asia not long after that. They sort of chilled and enjoyed it’s various uses (like chewing it) and it spread further and further West through to the Middle East. Fast forward a few decades and Spain was controlling a number of plantations throughout the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where the high rainfall and warm temperatures were perfect for the cane to grow. Then, in short, everybody sort of exploded with a desperate need for sugar and all hell broke loose, the French grew sugar beets to help alleviate their dependence on Spanish and English imports, and it was refined from a greenish sap-like liquid, to a brownish sugar ‘loaf’ and eventually into the white powdery varieties that you can find today in shops. This is, however, all down to those lovely guys over in the Middle East, who helped to build the sugar trade ridiculously in the early times, and gave us the root word for our English word ‘sugar’ from their shakara. Thanks dudes.

The cinder toffee/honeycomb history is sort of fuzzy, there’s not many records on where exactly it began, but there are a number of books noting it’s popularity in the early 1900s, especially with children. Other then that there’s not much to tell, so I won’t bore you with speculation.

Short-ish and sweet, there are so many stories, of cruelty, slavery, genocide and everything which should be told as well, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the sugar trade. But, those stories shall not be told today. Today is about peace, and sweets. 

So onwards to my recipe for the day. I, in no way, made this recipe. All the kudos has to go to James Martin, his ‘Desserts’ book is nothing short of genius on a page. I did, however, alter for the sweeter golden syrup version. You need a sugar thermometer to make this particular recipe, there’s no way around it i’m afraid. But you can pick them up for £2 or £3 from Amazon or eBay, so it’s not the worst expenditure you’ll ever make, and they’re very very useful to have around.

Sweet, Sweet Honeycomb 
James Martin’s Cinder Toffee Honeycomb
Makes a good few handfuls of honeycomb – and several missing teeth

400g caster sugar
100ml runny honey (you sort’ve need good quality honey, it’s important!)/golden syrup
(If you happen to have it) – 2tblsp liquid glucose (SilverSpoon sell a tube of this in Sainsbury’s if you can’t find it)
Oil for greasing
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Optional: chocolate of some description.
NB: If you want more traditional tasting honeycomb, or one with more of that tang of honey, use honey, if you want one that tastes more like a Crunchie, use golden syrup)

– Place the honey/golden syrup, sugar and glucose in a heavy pan with 100ml water. Put it on a high heat and bring to 160C/325F (or to light caramel stage).
– Grease a big, I mean BIG baking tray while it’s boiling. 
– You need to work very quickly here because you’re working with bicarb. Add it to the mixture and whisk  in with super speedy hand. And pour it onto the greased tray.
– Don’t freak out, it’ll bubble like crazy, but leave it, don’t touch! Leave it to cool completely on the tray, break it up and enjoy.
– If you’re gonna dip it in chocolate, melt it over a double boiler and dip away. If you’re gonna do this, use dark, not  milk, come on, we’re not animals here. Milk is sweet sweet overload, dark goes much better. Trust me on this.
– Now you can use it however you want, ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate, by itself, with fruit. It’s relatively versatile. So go nuts with your sweety treat.

I hope you enjoy making it, it is actually really fun to make, and really easy once you have the tools. I’ve honestly never bothered to try another recipe for it because it’s already perfect for me! I hope it is for you guys too.