Honeycomb, the dessert classic that is sometimes called cinder toffee, sometimes called hokey pokey and almost never made using honey or honeycomb. You’ve had it coated in chocolate, most prolifically the iconic Crunchie Bar (or less iconic Violet Crumble), but most don’t know just how simple it is to make.
To achieve our desired honeycomb, we need to boil sugar in an invert sugar syrup and to take the mixture to 150 degrees celsius. At the last second, baking soda is added and reacts to the high heat in the pan, causing the mixture to foam and swell as carbon dioxide bubbles are released. These fizzing bubbles are caught in the final product as it quickly cools - leading to the effect for which the dessert is named for, a honeycomb of sorts.
Whilst it’s a no-brainer to make this with readily available golden syrup (by far the most popular choice for the invert sugar syrup in honeycomb), we’re here today to try something new. My recipe for vegan honey takes apple juice, sugar and carob powder and turns it into a beautifully viscous sweetener that has held up as a honey substitute in all applications of honey that I tested - the question was, would it work for something like this? (Answer: yes, it does.) If you’ve made a batch of my vegan honey recipe, this is a brilliant way to use a little of it to create something even more special. There’s something lovely about handing someone a magnificent chunk of golden honeycomb, and then to tell them you made it from scratch using apples and sugar.
When dissolving the sugar, use only a wooden spoon and don't stir the mixture again once the sugar is dissolved - this helps us to avoid early crystallisation (of which we don't want any in our final product!). In fact, the reason we use an invert sugar - homemade honey, golden syrup, agave nectar - is that this inhibits crystallisation of the sugar as we want it to set into hard sucrose in the final product. You could also use vinegar in lieu of these, but its contribution to the final flavour doesn't compete with the others. You might also be tempted to add a small dash of water when dissolving the sugar - I'd recommend against it as it can affect the structure of the set honeycomb.
Some recipe authors will tell you that you can make this without a candy thermometer. Those authors put way too much faith in the reader, and should be ignored. It’s important to use a candy thermometer to ensure you’re taking the honeycomb off heat and adding the baking soda at the exactly correct moment. Candy thermometers can be found for literally $5, so just grab one (and have heaps of fun, they open up so many more recipe possibilities!)
When we create sweets, and once our sugar mixture is past the boiling point, the heat at which we remove our sugar will dictate the structure of the final product. As the heat rises, around 113c we reach soft ball temperature, and by the time we get around 132c our sugar mixture is at the soft crack stage. We want our carbon dioxide bubbles to be trapped in the final product, so we need to take our sugar mixture all the way to the hard crack stage. This stage is named for the original way to test the temperature, which was dropping a small amount of the hot mixture into a glass of cool water - if the mixture cools and cracks immediately, then you would know you had reached 150 degrees celsius.
Sugar caramelises from 160c, but as we aren't using just a pure sugar syrup (many of the sugars in this recipe come from fructose), this caramelisation point is lowered. When we add an impurity (such as the alkaline baking soda, which doesn't need an acid to work in this case as the high temperatures work as the catalysing agent), this caramelisation point is lowered further still. That’s why it's important to remove the mixture from the heat (it will continue to rise in temperature immediately after, anyhow!) and have it cool as quickly as possible. Plus it’ll be ready to be eaten quicker, so the benefits are aplenty.
Once the baking soda has been added, moving quickly is essential as the setting process has already begun so we also want to ensure it sets in a big chunk, and not in a pot that you'll never be able to use again. You’ll need a tray covered in baking paper ready to go. Don’t mess around with anything but baking paper, if you wouldn’t like that something else to also be attached to your finished honeycomb. I like to keep the tray in the freezer until I need it to help cool the honeycomb mixture. Having this ready before cooking means the mixture can be poured out of the hot pan immediately, minimising the time it stays at high heat once we've taken it to the desired temperature.
The final product is good to eat after an hour or two of cooling. You can eat as-is, temper some chocolate and dip it in, crush it up for a crumb, smash it into ice-cream, use it to decorate cakes etc. Enjoy!
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegan honey (recipe here) or golden syrup
3.5 teaspoons baking soda
Cover a baking tray in baking paper and place in the freezer to cool.
In a small bowl, sift the baking soda and place near the stove.
Pour honey into a large pot over low-medium heat.
Add in sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved and don't stir the mixture again for the rest of the recipe.
Using a candy thermometer, slowly bring the mixture to 150 degrees celsius, or just before. Avoid going hotter than this, but make sure the mixture reaches this temperature to ensure the right consistency in the final product.
As soon as the temperature hits 150 degrees celsius, pour in the sifted baking powder and stir with the wooden spoon vigorously.
Quickly pour the hot mixture over the prepared baking tray and allow to cool for at least an hour or two.
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