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It's like caramel-flavored crunchy cotton candy, covered in chocolate
January 16, 2014 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Wings and Beef on Weck aren't the only culinary legacies coming from Buffalo, NY. Sponge candy is an airy, cripsy, delicious confection made with the magic of chemistry (video).

Sponge candy can also be found in other Great Lakes/Midwest states, but not farther south. Sponge, although hard and crispy, is very delicate and the slightest humidity will cause it to melt.

Another sponge-making video with bonus annoying Food Network host. Or try it yourself at home! (Previously.)
posted by misskaz (75 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Heh, I wasn't expecting the change to a modern-looking confection factory after the first scene with the old handsaw. I'm curious about the mouthfeel of these, but alas yhe gelatin is a deal breaker. Now I guess I should make my own with approved ingredients.
posted by planetesimal at 10:35 AM on January 16


This was known as "sponge toffee" growing up here, just over the border from Buffalo. I had no idea this was a Buffalo thing, but it makes sense since I've always thought it was disgusting.
posted by davebush at 10:36 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


It's fun to make and delicious.

And there's not a single restaurant on earth with gastronomic aspirations that doesn't feel the need to include it as an element in most desserts on the menu.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:38 AM on January 16


So it's basically Honeycomb toffee?
posted by zamboni at 10:42 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


My (Wisconsin-Northwoods-based) grandparents always have a bowl of this out at Christmas time. I'm not exactly sure that I like it, but I end up eating a lot regardless.

The mouthfeel is similar to a meringue, but crunchier.
posted by Fig at 10:43 AM on January 16


Sponge candy is wonderful, but the texture feels weird on my teeth so I can usually only stand to eat one piece each time I'm home.

I still think it's really weird that wings were the food to make it big out of the region. Sometimes when I'm homesick I google image search beef on weck.
posted by troika at 10:44 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I've had sponge toffee that is like an oversized version of a Crunchie bar (available basically everywhere in the English-speaking world except the US). Is that what we're talking about here?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:45 AM on January 16


Crunchie bars are a little denser and chalkier, I think, but the concept is the same. Sponge candy is lighter.
posted by troika at 10:48 AM on January 16


Growing up in Southern Ontario, I always thought sponge toffee was a uniquely Canadian thing. Is it really from Buffalo, or is that just where it made landfall in the US?
posted by rocket88 at 10:48 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


@Pruitt-Igoe ... I'm in Midwest USA and have three locations within 10 miles where I can get Crunchie Bars. (I really like crunchie bars....)
posted by Jacob G at 10:51 AM on January 16


Pruitt-Igoe, yes, it is pretty much the same thing. Funny story, I worked at a tourist attraction on the border during high school and American tourists would load up on Canadian chocolate bars. Especially Coffee Crisp. I always discreetly directed them to a grocery store where they could get them for about 1/3 the price of the giftshop in which I worked.

I, too, an from just over the border from Buffalo and had no idea this was a regional thing. It totally crumbles when you bite it and makes a huge mess.

I grew up eating Buffalo wings, and since leaving the area I've never been able to find any that remotely compare.
posted by torisaur at 10:52 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Sponge! Yesssss! I remember being a kid and going to visit family in upstate NY. There was always that moment of anticipation leading up to our visit to the town candy shop - the hope that they would have made a fresh batch of sponge and that we would eat it until we were sick.

I've found it twice in the south. Once at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. And once (last month) at Central Market, a grocery chain. Unfortunately, neither was "right" - probably because they were produced in industrial quantities and the recipe was modified to withstand humidity and shipping conditions. A shame.
posted by jph at 10:52 AM on January 16


I was just looking up toffee recipes on the web last week and stumbled across the honeycomb toffee recipes. My understanding is toffee + science fair baking soda volcano = honeycomb toffee.

I'm keen to try it, but that video doesn't show them using any butter, and I think there's gotta be a way to get some butter in there, and it will taste much better.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:54 AM on January 16


In the US, you can get "exotic" candy like this at Cost Plus/World Market: Violet Crumble Is this the same (and the same as a "crunchie" bar)? Because if so....yum!
posted by but no cigar at 10:56 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


but alas yhe gelatin is a deal breaker

There is no need at all to use gelatine in honeycomb toffee. Sugar, honey, water--flavoured water if you're feeling funky like that. Cook your caramel to just past golden straw colour, stir in baking soda, pour into a greased pan and leave it somewhere dry to set.

If you want to keep it, this is a good reason to keep those silica packets you get with electronics and stuff.

And there's not a single restaurant on earth with gastronomic aspirations that doesn't feel the need to include it as an element in most desserts on the menu.

Hah! Guilty as charged. I used to do a dessert--coconut-lemongrass panna cotta topped with mango gelee, juniper & star anise candied mango, black tea fluid gel, honeycomb candy (made with honey, very little added sugar), and amaranth shoots. Pretty popular actually, though I basically had to make the candy every day due to kitchen humidity. (Recipes avail if anyone wants).


also sponge toffee is one of the best things on the planet. When I get a Crunchie bar I carefully denude it of the extraneous chocolate before slowly nomming the good stuff inside.


I'm keen to try it, but that video doesn't show them using any butter, and I think there's gotta be a way to get some butter in there, and it will taste much better.

I suspect the fats would impede the chemical reaction. That being said, you could e.g. make a brown butter stock (make brown butter, simmer with water. Chil, scoop brown butter off the top) and use that as the water phase of the caramel.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:56 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


In Milwaukee, or at least at Kehr's, this was known as "Fairy Food".
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:56 AM on January 16


I've only encountered this in England, as cinder toffee. I didn't know we had it here at all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:57 AM on January 16


Huh, it's Crunchie Bars.
posted by GuyZero at 11:00 AM on January 16


this was known as "Fairy Food"

no sorry that's eggs Benedict and mimosas at the civilized hour of 1pm or so on a Sunday.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:00 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Anytime we'd go to visit my grandparents in Hamburg, NY, we'd always stop at Highland House to get sponge candy. It might be my equivalent of tea with madeleines.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:05 AM on January 16


In Ireland it's apparently called Yellowman.
posted by LN at 11:05 AM on January 16


There is no need at all to use gelatine in honeycomb toffee.

I wonder if the gelatin is what keeps the bubbles so much tinier and finer in sponge candy. I've never had anything labeled honeycomb toffee (or Crunchie Bars), but from Google Image Search results honeycomb toffee looks like it tends to have larger bubbles, or a mix of small and large, more like the inside of homemade bread. It may be that you can replicate the tiny bubbles without the gelatin, but I'm not enough of a food scientist to know for sure.

I probably shouldn't have claimed sponge as a Buffalo thing, because I don't know for sure that's where it originated in the States. But in my experience Buffalonians love it and claim it as their own in a way that other areas don't. Maybe I was brainwashed, but I grew up thinking it was ours.

I worked in a chocolate store in Buffalo in high school (20 years ago), so my love of sponge candy runs true and deep. When they cut up those rounds of the hardened sponge, they end up with lots of weird round-triangle-shaped pieces that are no good for fitting into a rectangle box, plus the edges are usually a little bit denser. So they would have these clear garbage bags full of "sponge ends" which some employees (myself included) and even customers actually preferred to the chocolate-coated stuff. To this day, my favorite way to eat sponge candy is to eat all the chocolate off the six sides first, saving the crispy, melt-in-your-mouth, teeth-gumming-up sponge for last.
posted by misskaz at 11:06 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


In Ireland it's apparently called Yellowman.

'tis! And frequently served with--or even including--seaweed. Surprisingly delicious.

I wonder if the gelatin is what keeps the bubbles so much tinier and finer in sponge candy.

I doubt--gut instinct only--that gelatine would have that effect. It would, however, have a stabilizing effect on the final product, and I think might ameliorate the hygroscopic properties of sugar candy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:08 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't the gelatin stabilize against humidity?
posted by Keith Talent at 11:09 AM on January 16


Oh and would make for a more luscious mouthfeel; gelatine melts at body temperature.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:09 AM on January 16


Is this the same as Sea Foam? <--Michigander
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:11 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


There is no need at all to use gelatine in honeycomb toffee.

Violet Crumble Is this the same (and the same as a "crunchie" bar)?

As a point of reference, Violet Crumble uses gelatine, Crunchie does not. My theory is that this partially accounts for the larger bubbles and coarser texture typical of a Crunchie.
posted by zamboni at 11:12 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I doubt--gut instinct only--that gelatine would have that effect. It would, however, have a stabilizing effect on the final product, and I think might ameliorate the hygroscopic properties of sugar candy.

Yeah, that's what I mean. Stabilize it and keep moisture from dissolving parts of the structure as it hardens & making larger bubbles. If a piece of sponge candy isn't fully covered in chocolate (which happens sometimes due to the nature of enrobing uneven pieces) it lets humidity in and you can end up with a mostly hollow chocolate cube with an interior coating of gummy sugar.
posted by misskaz at 11:12 AM on January 16


So they would have these clear garbage bags full of "sponge ends" which some employees (myself included) and even customers actually preferred to the chocolate-coated stuff.

If only there was a defibrillator for a diabetic coma.
posted by GuyZero at 11:13 AM on January 16


Cue flashback to Saturday morning cartoons.

That's the way, crunch crunch crunch crunch, we like it! (weird drum machine sounds, random karate guy)
posted by aramaic at 11:19 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


from the comments in the final link, the blogger (a chemist) confirms that the gelatine stabilizes the tiny CO2 bubbles formed by the baking soda and makes for a lighter, finer texture.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:29 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I stand (well, more like lounge-sit) corrected, lonefrontranger.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:39 AM on January 16


aramaic: Click here and cringe a little
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:49 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Seconding "fairy food" as the appropriate southeast Wisconsin term. My wife is from south of Milwaukee and loves this stuff; I can't look at it without my teeth hurting.
posted by aaronetc at 11:50 AM on January 16


Hey Baby_Balrog, it's really not seafoam. Seafoam is generally another name for divinity candy or divinity fudge, which is made by whipping egg whites to peaks while cooking sugar to firm ball stage and then pouring the latter into the former in a very fine stream while whipping the hell out of it. The result is similar to a meringue but usually includes some corn syrup and pecans, and is creamy rather than crunchy. It's another thing that's best made in dry weather.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:51 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I used to make this as a kid (along with toffee and turkish delight). It was in some massive 1940s cookbook my mum was given by her mum. In Cornwall it's called Hokey Pokey, by the way - we have a lot of funny names for things.

In fact I'm off to make some now.
posted by pipeski at 11:58 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Looks really simple
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:03 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Oh yes, sponge candy! I remember going to the canteen when I was in elementary school in Montreal and getting sponge candy and grape juice at snack time. I aged out of that combo, but still have a soft spot for a nice Coffee Crisp.
posted by maudlin at 12:10 PM on January 16


So maudlin, how do you like your coffee?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:11 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Just made some (using that recipe, actually). It's fun.

Make sure your pan is much bigger than you think you'll need. When you add the bicarb and stir, the whole thing froths up like some evil science experiment. I poured it into a metal tray lined with baking parchment, and I'm pretty sure it almost caught fire.

Looking good though...
posted by pipeski at 12:12 PM on January 16


Pipeski: you can skip the parchment, just butter or oil the pan. Less waste!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:14 PM on January 16


So maudlin, how do you like your coffee?

:P (Only in bar form, actually. Team Tea all the way!)
posted by maudlin at 12:14 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


you don't know from jokes
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:16 PM on January 16


So maudlin, how do you like your coffee?


Face it dearie, you're no Jane Rivers!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:18 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Hah! My parents, to this day, are huge Red Rose tea drinkers. They live in Houston now, land devoid of sponge candy, Red Rose tea, and proper Christmas dinner ingredients (Redlinski's kielbasa and Friendship farmer's cheese for pierogi) so they order it all online.
posted by misskaz at 12:19 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


God I loved those ladies. I went to a high school with a very significant Jewish population, and those ladies were easily half of my friends' bubbes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:21 PM on January 16


Waitwaitwait, misskaz: Swiss Chalet sauce is counted as "Buffalo food"?

This will not stand. Make the White House painters stand by. Again.
posted by maudlin at 12:22 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


oooh I remember getting that stuff when I was a kid - there would be a block of it wrapped in cellophane, and if you ate the whole thing too fast it would make your tongue bleed. good times.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:24 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I think that's more of that it's a thing that people who moved away from Buffalo enjoy and can't get wherever they moved than a "Buffalo food." Swiss Chalet is not a Buffalo thing, but it is a thing that is/was in Buffalo that isn't everywhere else.
posted by troika at 12:24 PM on January 16


Laymon's Candy Company makes this stuff, and lots of other goodies.
posted by and for no one at 12:31 PM on January 16


Also big in Rochester. Stever's on Park Avenue has it so you can pick some up when you stop in for your bacon and eggs (at Easter time).
posted by tommasz at 12:34 PM on January 16


You can get Red Rose tea in the US. It's different than (and IMO not as good as) the Canadian version, though. Also you can send in box tops for little figurines. But as far as I know it's the same company.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:44 PM on January 16


The figurines used to just come in the tea box. My mom kept them (all animals) lined up on the kitchen windowsill. There were so many.
posted by misskaz at 12:46 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


We have a couple of Buffalo Wild Wings locations here in St. Louis. Some people called them BW3, and I asked where the 3 came from.

"Wild Wings and Weck."

"What?"

"Weck."

"What the heck is weck? That's whack."

"...I don't know."

(And now I know. But it's still a weird nickname for a place that doesn't actually serve it.)
posted by Foosnark at 12:58 PM on January 16


Oh, man. Red Rose tea figurines. I was raised in a household where we didn't really have "toys," - we could have educational toys, like legos or butterfly nets and lots and lots of books - but I would cherish those little figurines as I led them into battle against lines of bottle caps and loose buttons.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:06 PM on January 16


Baby_Balrog: Yes! I knew I'd been forgetting the right name for it around here. I too grew up knowing it as "seafoam" or "seafoam candy." It's long been a favorite. Funny how it has a different name in every region. Perhaps the accident of spilling baking soda into toffee is just that common?
posted by Smells of Detroit at 1:06 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I'm stuck thinking about weck rolls now...
posted by mikelieman at 1:09 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I expected more comments from the people who find that the little holes give them the creeps.
posted by bad grammar at 1:11 PM on January 16


pipeski: In Cornwall it's called Hokey Pokey, by the way - we have a lot of funny names for things.

As several people have already mentioned, I think, in Australia this is commercially available under the names "Crunchie" and "Violet Crumble". But "hokey pokey" is also used here in Australia to describe integrating smashed pieces of either into vanilla icecream. The wikipedia article is slightly off, referring as it does to "small" pieces of toffee.
posted by curious.jp at 3:09 PM on January 16


Another Michigander (though long gone from the state and living in the land of the Crunchie) who recalls that stuff as seafoam!
posted by skybluepink at 3:15 PM on January 16


The emigration of Cornish tin-miners in the 18th and 19th centuries led to a lot of little pockets of Cornishness around the world, including parts of both Australia and Michigan. Maybe Hokey Pokey took the same journey as the pasty...
posted by pipeski at 4:37 PM on January 16


I thought it was a Scottish thing: puff candy. Used to get it in craggy slabs from the sweet shop. Looked for all the world like the urethane insulation that everyone got in the 1970s. Easy to make, but I remember a couple of occasions when a batch turned into a flaccid slick of sticky goo. The best bit was getting a pocket of unmixed bicarbonate when you bit it, so you could make exaggerated retching noises while spitting white powder. Good times!
posted by scruss at 7:17 PM on January 16


Michigander. It's seafoam. When I was growing up, my stepmother had connections with ad agencies, and so one time my stepbrother modeled moon boots for a Meijer ad. The moon rocks were actually seafoam, and they brought a bunch of it home to nom on. Yum. Haven't had sea foam in years. Miss it.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:59 PM on January 16


I remember being able to buy sponge candy from the bulk food department at Wegman's in Rochester. We didn't know how good we had it!

We were surprised and excited to find that a local confectioner had some for sale, but the person behind the counter said they probably weren't going to keep making it because nobody around here (north-central New England) knows what it is, so they don't buy it. She seemed a little hostile towards the stuff, actually.
posted by usonian at 5:10 AM on January 17


...cringe a little

Cringe a little? No, no .... there's a lot of cringing going on.
posted by aramaic at 6:05 AM on January 17


West Coaster here, grew up in Buffalo. I experience "seafoam" and sponge candy as different things, going off the seaform I've had at a million Oregon/Washington/CA coastal towns. Seafoam has bigger airholes of variable size, almost always enrobed in chocolate, while I remember sponge candy as consistently foamy and with tiny tiny holes, frequently presented without chocolate.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:39 AM on January 17


Crunchie is definitely more dense than WNY sponge candy. The worst is when you get a dud that dissolved inside of it's chocolate shell- sometimes it's gooey....
posted by ridiculous at 9:52 AM on January 17


black tea fluid gel

wat
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:46 PM on January 17


aramaic: I found the karate one
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:02 PM on January 17


black tea fluid gel

wat


I made a very strong tea out of a blend of pretty standard black looseleaf and a little lapsang souchong. Lightly sweetened, but only just enough to take off the bitter edge. Sheared in some xanthan and agar (adapted recipe from here). Put in fridge to set. Then blended with a hand blender until it was a fluid gel.

Fluid gels are really common.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:01 PM on January 17


I made sponge toffee for Christmas and looked like a superstar. They didn't see the first batch, which my defective thermometer allowed to overheat and basically ended up as a slab of glassy, burnt sugar. I still have a big bag full of the good stuff, which I am trying to ignore as I do the post-holidays low-carb thing.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:11 PM on January 17


Oh, you don't need a thermometer to make sponge toffee. When your caramel is the colour of straw, add the baking soda.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:20 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


(NB regarding baking soda: if, for some reason, you need to make caramelized onions in a hurry, a small pinch of baking soda takes the process from an hour down to 10-15 minutes. Something to do with changed pH affecting sugar, I'm not clear on the science.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:22 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I just made Nigella's recipe. 3 attempts and 3 fails.

Heating the syrup to maple colour gave me a dark, burnt-smelling toffee. I threw it out.

Heating to a straw colour gave me a toffee that tasted like over-toasted marshmallows. Not terrible enough to throw out, but not what I wanted.

Heating to yellow gave me the right colour and almost the right texture, but it's bland and has a baking soda aftertaste.

I can't win with that recipe. Going to try the one in this post later.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:26 PM on January 18


I made the one in the post (without the gelatin) and it's approximately like sponge toffee! Maybe not the best sponge toffee I've eaten, but good enough to cover in chocolate and give to a friend.

I don't think the flour is necessary in the baking dish. Butter alone works fine. And if you halve the recipe, halve the size of the baking dish too (like to a loaf pan).
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:45 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


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