June 17, 2011

So I was going to try nougat take two yesterday, but then I decided I was too lazy. Nougat is, as you may have gathered from the previous post, finicky and exacting. So, still wanting to make candy, I decided to try something new, and decided on divinity. Apparently divinity is not a universally known candy (I remember having it as a kid), but it’s basically a cousin to meringues and marshmallows, so I figured it should go over well around here.

The steps for divinity are pretty much the same as a lot of other candy. You need a simple syrup and a meringue. This is actually  the easiest of all of the candies we’ve done, because there really are only those few ingredients and a couple of flavorings.

You beat the meringue to stiff peaks, hopefully at close to the same time you get your syrup to 250 degrees. You then beat the syrup into the meringue, let it go for 5 minutes or so, and add some vanilla for flavor. Then beat it for five more minutes, until it starts to loose it’s shine and dish it out with spoons. If you have more patience or dexterity than I do, you can make them into nice little rounds with a spoon swirl on top. Mine are more free-form, but they still taste good!

They do dry, so the texture is less sticky than something like marshmallow and less sticky than something like meringue. They’re also very sweet, so this is definitely a recipe for those who love sugar. The original recipe I used can be found here.

Vintage? And Recycled!

June 14, 2011

So this week, I attempted my first complete from the thrift store sewing project. One of us missed out by not being  born in the 70’s, and so the love of vintage flourished. Conveniently, many of the sewing and craft projects that you see at thrift stores are from approximately that era. So, this project was a match made in heaven. I started with this pattern:

The best thing about thrift store patterns-the price. They range from about .29 cents to about .59 cents at most of the thrift stores around here. The worst thing about thrift store patterns-there is no organization, so they are kind of the epitome of thrift store shopping. You have to be willing to sit there and look at every one of them, to see if any of them are worth your time. And many, many of them will be from the 80s, and remind you of fashions you hoped never to see again.

This particular pattern straddles the line between awesome and horrible (check out the cool smock in the upper right corner). However, sometimes all it takes to break into awesome is a little conviction. So we paired this pattern with a fabric we also found at the thrift store:

Pretty much the epitome of vintage. The nice thing about fabric from the thrift store-again the price. This was about two yards of fabric, and it cost $1.99. However, you have to have a good eye for estimating how much yardage you have. Thrift stores frequently roll their fabric yardage, so it’s not always possible to see exactly how much there is. Also, it’s like mis-tinted paint-if you don’t have enough there’s no going back for more. So have a contingency plan in mind.

The apron I had in mind from this fabric is the center-top version. It’s a fairly simple bib apron, and in the fabric they used bias tape to encase almost all of the edges, for decorative appeal and to save you from the boredom of hemming.

I decided right away to toss the bias tape out the window, because I usually think it’s ugly and find it even more irritating than hemming. I also wanted to bring in a little more flair, just because I could. I started with the pockets, and a little bit of ruffly trim, that I just had hanging around. You’ll notice I used a solid color for the ruffles and for the ribbons because the pattern on the fabric is so exciting.

Then I cut and hemmed the skirt part of the apron, and placed the pockets where I wanted them. Then I put a two rows of basting along the top, so I could gather the skirt. 

After that I turned my attention to the bib. This is also just hemming straight lines around all of your edges. I then attached the ribbons that I had chosen for the strings. It’s possible to sew your own strings, but I find turning them a bit tedious. The pattern in the case actually called for ribbon or something similar, so I took them up on their suggestion. After the bib was done, then I did the waist band. This was probably the trickiest part of the whole thing, although nothing too complicated. You sewed the ribbons for the waist to the waistband, and then folded it in half so you end up with a shape like an extremely long narrow man’s wallet.

Then you attach the waistband, open side down, to the bib.

This leaves you with a nice open space to hide the raw, gathered edge of your skirt. I gathered the skirt, working the material until the gathers were even, and it was the right width for the waist band, pinned it in place, and sewed the whole thing together.

I think the finished project came out well, and it ended up being vintage, but not terrible with the modern touches I added. I think the teal ribbons really help it look more modern, and they help play up some of the blue/teal color in the fabric, rather than the oranges and yellows that were so popular in the 70s.






So anyone who knows the two of us, knows that fluffy, meringue-based candy is apparently the way to our hearts (marshmallows, anyone?). So with that in mind, and two days off in a row, I decided to try to make a homemade version of the Holy Grail of meringue candies-nougat. I started off with this recipe, which is honey-almond flavored.

Nougat starts off a lot like marshmallows, but unlike marshmallow, you don’t use the magic of gelatin to make it set up. Just the magic of egg whites, which, really, are pretty amazing. The big difference in the set up was that I added honey to the sugar and corn syrup in the simple syrup. This gives me the honey part of the flavor, and allowed me to use up an old, sugared, bottle of honey I had lying around. 

That came to a boil just like any other syrup, and at the same time I was beating two egg whites to stiff peaks. The idea is that one’s egg whites reach stiff peaks and one’s syrup reaches 251 degrees (remember 241 for those at Denver altitude) at the same moment. My timing wasn’t great, so I ended up bringing the eggs up a little fast and hard, which may have been one of my issues in the end. Once you get to this magical point, you take a 1/4 cup of hot syrup and slowly add it to your meringue. Now it’s a hot syrup meringue.

At the same time, or if you’re more organized than I was, a little before this, you should toast the nuts you want in your final candy. I went with all almonds because it’s what we had on hand. The original recipe also calls for pistachios and walnuts. The original recipe also wanted whole nuts, but I thought that might be a little unruly, so I did a rough chop on the nuts as well.

The whole time you’re doing all of these other things, your syrup continues to cook until it reaches 315 degrees. This is the beginning of a whole lot of mixing, and the transformation from egg whites and syrup to candy.

As you can see in the picture the syrup is a nice golden brown color  at this point. You want to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch. Once it’s at the appropriate temperature, slow your mixer way down, and drizzle the syrup into the meringue mixture which should be at stiff peaks. The syrup is so hot it will kind of melt your meringue, but turn the mixer back up, and let it run until the candy starts to hold it’s shape again. While that mixture is re-inflating, you can grab the rest of your ingredients.


This particular recipe is flavored with vanilla and almond extracts (2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond), a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors, and butter. Once your mixture is re-inflated, stop the mixer and add in your last ingredients. You’ll notice the butter makes the mixture shiny and opaque like taffy. From here you’re going to beat it some more, until you get a ribbon when you lift the beater out of the mixer. This texture, is like taffy, but a little softer. From here, you stir the nuts in by hand, and then spread in a well-oiled baking pan.

As you can see, this is where my experience got a little interesting. Once I had the nuts in there, it started to set up fast, and it was very hard to spread. I didn’t even manage to get it to cover the whole bottom of the pan, and I don’t seem to have the quantity of candy that the recipe suggests that I will. I suspect that my timing was a little off and some of the sections involving mixing could have been done a little more slowly and gradually. However, the taste is good, as I can attest from licking the bowl, so that gives me hope and little more preparation for next time.