When I was growing up in Michigan, we made trips to the many waterfront towns all over the mitten-shape state. My favorite stop in all these little picturesque hamlets were the local candy stores, virtually all of them offering some variation on the golden, crunchy, sugar-rush concoction known as sea foam candy.
Sea foam candy offers the burnt sugar vibe of an briefly on fire campfire marshmallow but with a lightness and frail crunchiness more reminiscent to meringue. It’s unique texture has led to other names throughout the U.S., from sponge candy to buffalo foam to golden nuggets to my favorite, “fairy candy.” In the UK, it’s known as honeycomb or cinder toffee.
Although it’s a fine candy on its own, candy stores tend to sell it dipped in chocolate and embellished with all kinds of toppings from sea salt to cinnamon to chopped nuts.
A key ingredient in sea foam candy is vinegar, it’s part of what helps yields its distinctive airy, holes and lightweight crunch. This recipe is adapted from one by Aaron Cozadd, Union Woodshop in lovely Clarkston Michigan, courtesy the book Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar, by Michael Harlan Turkell.
Sugar, vinegar and baking soda: a yummy science experiment
Turkell recommends Aleppo pepper, dried lavender flowers and toasted fennel seeds as elegant toppings, a bit of savory and spice against overtly sweet crunch. I’ve used chopped dried banana chips, toasted sesame seeds and coconut flakes. You’re limited only by your imagination – and if you’ve got a deep enough pan and a candy thermometer.
I first made this for an interview with Turkell on my podcast, Hungry for Words™ You can listen in to my conversation with him below.
Since then, I’ve kept making it. Once you get the knack, it’s easy to prepare, stores for weeks and makes a great gift. It’s fun to make with kids as a rainy day science-experiment-style activity. My favorite topping is a light spread of sea salt. One Christmas, I topped it with broken candy canes. After all, what goes better with sugar than more sugar? Taking a bite, it took me back to my childhood and a chilly walk in a quiet seaside town decorated with holiday lights, quiet and luminous, except for the crunching.
Sea Foam Candy
- Large pot (6 quarts or larger) with lid
- Candy thermometer
- Heatproof spatula
- Baking sheet
- Silicon baking mat or parchment
- 2 1/2 cups sugar (450g)
- 3 tablespoons honey or corn syrup
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar (60ml)
- 1 cup water (240g)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 cup tempered milk, dark or white chocolate
- 2 tablespoons lavender flowers, aleppo chili or fennel seeds (optional)
- Before you begin, line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment. Get a set of oven mitts, a whisk and a heatproof spatula and have them ready.
- Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cider vinegar and water in a deep pot. (In other words, everything but the baking soda.) Place the pot over high heat and cover. The lid is essential as its keep the sugar from crystalizing on the side of the pot.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. As the water evaporates, you’ll hear the boiling get louder, like rain moving in close from a distance.
- Lift the lid and affix your candy thermometer to the side of the pot and then recover with a lid so you can watch the temperature. Continue to boil until the temperature reaches 290F/145C.
- Carefully whisk in the baking soda and let the mixture bubble up to allow air bubbles to form. Using oven mitts, grab the pan and immediately pour it out on the lined baking sheet. Sprinkle your toppings over the top quickly and let it cool for 20 minutes or more. Once cooled, break the candy into pieces.
All photos by Kathleen Flinn