Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bonfire Treats

File:Cinder Toffee.jpg

Source for images here.

Yesterday around Great Britain, celebrations for Bonfire Night were held.  If you don't live in Great Britain and aren't familiar with the customs and traditions of this country, you may be wondering what Bonfire Night, which is held on 5th November, is all about.  It is celebrated as a way of remembering the "Gunpowder Plot" of 5th November 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and a group of other English Catholics attempted to assasinate King James 1st, a Protestant, by blowing up the Houses of Parliament (which still stand today on the banks of the River Thames in London).  Their plot failed, and so the day is remembered for this reason, although nowadays, I think the focus is more on the evil and cunning Guy Fawkes, than it is on the monarch whose life was saved so many years ago.  We prefer to think of it as a way to celebrate autumn, and the fireworks instead remind us of the coming of the star of Bethlehem and the birth of our Saviour Christ Jesus, which we shall be honouring not so many weeks from now.

Although people who aren't familiar with this tradition may not know of its origins, I expect they'll be familiar with the way in which we celebrate it!  With fireworks, bonfires and lots of nice food!  A little like Independence Day, or New Year's Eve.  It's always great fun, and this year we enjoyed it by holding a small party for some of the cubs' Church and college friends.  Little Bear did almost all the organising and catering, and I just stayed in the background to keep things running smoothly!  It was a great success.  We thought it would be good fun to hold the party on Bonfire Night because there is always a huge firework display at the park near our home, and living high up in an apartment block, we have a perfect view of the fireworks - from the comfort of our living room!  It was lovely and all the young people really enjoyed themselves, as did us "oldies"!

Little Bear served many different snacks and treats for a small buffet meal, including some of our favourites such as nachos, hot spiced mixed nuts, roasted chestnuts and mulled "wine".  She also served cinder taffy, which you can see pictured above - and these ...

File:Candy apples in a row.jpg

Taffy apples!

They're both very easy to make so I thought I would share the recipes with you here.   They're great fun, but if you are planning to make these with small children please be aware that they both involve heating sugar to a high temperature - which (as I know from personal experience) can give a very nasty burn if you are not careful.  So do take care.

First of all, cinder taffy.

This is also known as honeycomb, but where we come from, it's called cinder taffy (toffee) and is sold in sweet shops by the quarter.  It's very sticky and needs eating up quickly (which is usually not a problem!).

You will need ...

500 g caster sugar
225 g golden syrup (or use dark corn syrup)
2 tsp vanilla essence
90 mls water
1 T bicarbonate of soda (not baking soda)

1.  Grease and line a 9 x 13 inch pan, making sure to line the sides as well as the base, and grease the top side of the paper you line the pan with too.

2. Put all the ingredients except the bicarbonate of soda in a deep, heavy based saucepan.  Bring the mixture to the boil, watching closely, but not stirring.  Boil for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture reaches the hard crack stage.  This takes a bit of courage!  If you have a candy thermometer it is a little easier - it's between 146 - 154 degrees centigrade, or 295 - 309 farenheit.

3.  Remove pan from the heat and quickly add the bicarbonate of soda.  The mixture will fizz up dramatically, which is all part of the fun!

4.  Pour into the prepared pan and allow to cool completely, then break into inch sized chunks (they won't be neat, but this is how it is supposed to be) and serve.  It has a delicious, caramel-honey taste and a wonderful crumbly, crispy, crunchy texture.  Some recipes add a further stage and coat it in chocolate (like the commercial chocolate bar that can be bought here in England) but this isn't authentic.  We love it - but it's definitely a once-a-year treat!  I'm not sure how many this recipe is suppose to serve - if you have lots of large hungry menfolk like we did yesterday, it doesn't go far (so we doubled it, to be on the safe side).

Slightly healthier, are taffy (toffee) apples, also known as candy apples.  These are just as delicious, but contain a healthy surprise in the centre - a lovely crisp red apple!

You will need ....

(To serve 8):-

8 crisp eating apples (we like Braeburn)
400 g golden caster sugar (you can use white, but golden tastes better in this recipe)
100 mls water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons golden syrup (or use dark corn syrup)

You'll also need 8 lollipop sticks - we used twigs that we cleaned and then sterilised by baking in the oven for 20 minutes on a low heat.

1.  Blanch the apples first with boiling water to remove any impurities in the coating (supermarket apples in England are usually waxed) and to make the taffy stick better to the skin of the apple.  Pat dry and then pierce each apple with a lollipop stick (it may be easier to do this by piercing the apples first with a skewer or large nail).

2.  Place the apples on a large baking sheet lined with paper.

3.  Put the sugar and water in a large pan and bring to the boil.  Bubble for 5 minutes, then add the vinegar and syrup, and now do as for the cinder taffy, and allow to reach the "hard crack" stage on your candy thermometer.  If you don't have one of these (I would definitely recommend buying one - they are really useful for making all kinds of things in the kitchen, not just candy, but yogurt, jam and preserves, caramel and  more besides - I even use mine to test the temperature of chicken stock that I've simmered in my slow cooker) then test it by dropping a little of the liquid taffy onto a dish with some cold water in it.  The taffy should set hard immediately - if it is still soft, it needs cooking longer.

4.  When it reaches the hard crack stage you can start to dip the apples into the taffy to coat.  It's easier to do this with 2 people - one to tip the pan carefully and the other to roll the apples around in the liquid taffy until they are well covered, and then quickly move them onto the paper-lined baking sheet.  Otherwise you'll find you get a lot of sticky, quickly hardening drips of taffy all over your cooker, the worktop, the kitchen floor and of course, you!

5.  The apples need to be allowed to harden completely before they are ready to eat (the joy of a taffy apple, is the delicious contrast between the crisp tasty taffy coating, and the crunchy sweet apple within).  They can be made well in advance, as they do seem to keep better than the cinder taffy.

Isn't it strange how just a few ingredients, when simple techniques are applied, can be transformed into delicious treats in your kitchen?  Who would have known how easy it was!  We really enjoyed our bonfire treats this year - and the fun and fellowship that went with them!

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