I always try and make edible Christmas gifts. This decision, made in November, always seems like the easy, simple and relaxing option. Instead of braving the hordes of Christmas shoppers, I envision that I will be smugly ensconced at home, effortlessly whipping up batch after batch of delicacies. The reality, however, is always far from this. I end up leaving it until the last minute, then spend a couple of days covered in smudges of chocolate, trying to hold back the stress-induced tears.
This year was no exception. I chose to make honeycomb, having read several recipes that insist it’s a piece of cake, only requiring three ingredients and a casual fifteen minutes. Having seen the process on Masterchef, including the rather showy moment when the bicarbonate of soda is whisked into the caramel and froths up spectacularly, I thought that this would provide the elusive balance of ease and impressiveness.
Oh how wrong I was. I ended up trying several different recipes, no one of which quite provided the desired effect of crisp, crackling honeycomb. One batch made nowhere near the quantity I had expected, requiring a dash to Sainsbury’s midway through to replenish my stocks of golden syrup and sugar. Another batch set too soft, rendering a hasty re-labelling of the finished product as ‘burnt sugar toffee’ (so you’ll know if you’re a recipient of batch one). Finally I found a recipe that seemed to set close to the imagined crispness, but still took a fraught three hours to firm up, in which I couldn’t resist wandering over and prodding it every five minutes.
The resultant stickiness of the soft, toffee-like honeycomb was slightly maddening, as it stuck to the kitchen cabinets, my socks, hair and pretty much everything else. I was prising bits out from between the sofa for the rest of the day. I slathered the end product, hastily titled ‘honeycomb toffee’ to account for said stickiness, in a generous amount of dark chocolate, the tied it up in cellophane bags. Finally, I sat down with a cup of tea, surveying the carnage that covered every surface of the kitchen, and wondering, as I do every year, whether simply ambling around the shops would be all that bad.
Makes 1x 20m square block (I made at least 3 times this, although I’ve lost track of exactly how much…)
You will need a 20cm square cake tin, lined with greaseproof paper and generously greased with butter.
200g caster sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
50g dark chocolate, melted (optional)
Off the heat, mix together the sugar and golden syrup in a pan (allowing enough room for the mixture to double in volume once the bicarb is added). Set the pan over a medium heat and let it simmer (without stirring, just swirl the pan occasionally) until the mixture turns into an amber coloured caramel, about 3-4 mins. At this point, take the mixture off the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarb – the mixture will foam and froth and double in size. Pour into the greased and lined tin, and leave to set (this takes at least 3 hours). When firm, smash or cut up into chunks, then drizzle with melted chocolate and leave in a cool place for the chocolate to set.
Recipe from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’