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Pecan Divinity

I don’t know when it happened that “sweet” became synonymous with both unsophisticated and undesirable in desserts. As though there is some level of sophistication past which your palate is too evolved to eat sugar. For the record, I don’t feel this way. I love sugar and candy is the perfect way to showcase it. In fact, this week I did a complete 180-degree turn from the anti-sugar sophistication and made a classic, Southern holiday treat: divinity.

Divinity is an ultra sugary treat that is balanced by the inclusion of nuts. It is sometimes called divinity fudge, as it is a textural cross between fudge and marshmallow, dense, light and smooth all at the same time. It is quite close to nougat, actually.

Though the ingredients are simple, I have always found divinity to be very difficult to make. This is because almost every recipe I ever looked at was identical. Identical and, frankly, not very good. Up until this time, I failed in every attempt I ever made to make divinity. Most recipes seem to not cook the sugar long enough and not direct you to beat the mixture for enough time; their divinities never set up. I went straight to the source for my new recipe, Karo Corn Syrup, on the theory that their product is such an essential ingredient in divinity, they must have a workable recipe. And they do have one.

For divinity, the sugar and corn syrup mixture is cooked to 260-266 degrees Fahrenheit, the upper end of hard ball stage. A candy thermometer is the best way to do this (If you want to try it without one, however, just drip a bit of the syrup into water. When it sets up in a stable ball that is pliable with your fingers, it is ready). The syrup is drizzled into beaten egg whites and beaten until it has cooled enough to set up firmly, which takes anywhere from 10-15 minutes. The beating is the point where most recipes fail, as they underestimate the beating time. The point of beating is not only to generate the divinity consistency, but to cool the mixture down to the point where it will set up quickly and maintain that consistency.

Pecans or walnuts – roasted and salted are always my preference – are folded in at the end and the mixture is pressed into a baking pan, like fudge, too cool before it is sliced.

Cut it into small pieces. It’s addictive, but too sweet for large chunks.

(courtesy of Karo)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (roasted and salted, if desired)

Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with parchment or wax paper.
In a medium sauce pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and water. Bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Cook over high heat until a candy thermometer reaches 260F, 20-25 minutes.
When the syrup reaches 260F, beat the egg whites to fairly stiff peaks in a large bowl. When they are ready, the syrup should be at about 265F. With the mixer running continuously on low speed, carefully drizzle the syrup in a steady stream into the egg whites. When all the syrup has been added, turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat for 4-5 minutes. The mixture should have thickened somewhat by this point. Add the vanilla and turn the speed down to medium-low and continue to beat until the mixture is no longer glossy and begins to stick to the sides of the bowl, pulling away from the beaters.
Quickly fold in 3/4 cup pecans. Spread divinity into the prepared pan, pressing the remaining 1/4 cup pecans into the top.
Allow it to set up for at least 2 hours, until completely cool, before slicing into small pieces.
Makes 1 pound of candy, or 36 small pieces.

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  • Rainey
    December 15, 2005

    I think working with sugar is very satisfying since it’s capable of such enormous and dramatic variations. You gotta feel good, too, when you push it to the exact form you’re looking for since I can be utterly unforgiving; sometimes burning back to the carbon that’s its essential nature, sometimes oozing into an undisciplined syrup and sometimes insisting on returning to distinct crystals.

    Looks like you’ve nailed that divinity. It looks lustrous and airy.

  • Clare Eats
    December 15, 2005

    Greatjob Nic
    My sister would love it, but I don’t think my hand is up to the hand beating yet. LOL

  • Nic
    December 15, 2005

    Rainey – I agree with you. Sugar is a very satsfying medium. I really want to try tackling salt water (we’re sort of near the ocean, right?) next. And thanks for the compliments. You should have seen all my less successful batches…

    Clare – Thanks! I’ve tried doing this by hand and it just didn’t work for me, even though some people sweat it has to be done that way. I think you have to start working out well before you try to beat divinity into submission!

  • Beth
    December 15, 2005

    Yum! I just posted a similar-ish recipe on my blog this week. If you’re interested…


  • Niki
    December 15, 2005

    Goodness that does look sweet. I can feel the glands either side of my neck tingle at the thought! Remind me a little in presentation of the Italian Torrone which my nonna always brings for our Christmas day lunch. Sugar & nuts are an excellent combination.

  • Lori
    December 16, 2005

    Divinities aren’t meringues, are they Nic? Someone sells treats here in Manila and calls them divinities, but they’re more like meringue kisses.

  • Nic
    December 16, 2005

    Beth – I checked out your pecan treats. The cream chesse sounds tasty!

    Niki – Sugar and nuts is just about as good as it gets. Except, perhaps, for chocolate.

    Lori – No, divnities aren’t like meringues. They have creamy texture, rather than an airy one. They are also not crisp in the way that meringues are.

  • Mary Kirby
    December 16, 2005

    Hi … I’m a surfacing lurker … no blog yet … enjoy reading yours …

    Your divinity looks gorgeous.

    I love meringue and divinity has such potential though I hated it the first time I had it (from a small fudge type candy shop). A friend made delightful homemade divinity (just like yours but with 1/2 cup less sugar) a few years ago and I’d like to make it someday.

    In our house we don’t usually have corn syrup but we always have Lyle’s golden syrup which I sometimes use as a substitute. Think it would work with divinity? One of my cookie books says it can be substituted but candy can be so fussy.

  • culinary bookworm
    December 16, 2005

    My great-grandmother was famous in Mississippi for her divinity. She swore that the way it turned out totally depended on the weather–a dry, cold day meant perfect candy, even a drop of humidity and it would be too chewy. I haven’t tried her recipe yet, but your post made me want to. And, for the record, I love sugary sweets too.

  • Cindy
    December 17, 2005

    Looks lovely. I don’t know why I’m saying so as everything on your blog looks fabulous. If only I could have a taste… 😉

  • faith
    January 8, 2006

    I made divinity this past Christmas, too – twice, in fact! I wish I would have seen your blog before I did; it would have saved me much searching and recipe cross-referencing. Fortunately it turned out well both times, due to the ever-handy stand mixer. I added smoked salted almonds to mine.

    The thing I can’t figure out about divinity is how it was probably invented by women without mechanical mixers, let alone a Kitchenaid… I mean, make divinity by hand and spoon? Whoa.

  • beachwave
    December 24, 2006

    I like divinity alot being form the south and all, but I have a difficult time making it. I have burned up three mixers (200 watt) and have had several flops. The times I have had it turn out though ti was really good. that is probably why I keep making it. Do you have any tips on the size of mixer or how to not burn them up when making this treat?

  • Dawn
    June 25, 2011

    The tricks that I’ve found to making divinity are the usual: dry day, candy thermometer so it’s the right temperature but then the real tricks are: a good-quality stand mixer (like Sunbeam) but NOT a KitchenAide. I have to beat it until it “sounds different”. That seems strange but it’s really true. It sounds different when it’s ready. If there’s any doubt in your mind about whether or not it’s sounding different, it’s not ready yet. And then we spoon it onto wax paper immediately. It takes at least three people working as fast as they can, but then it turns out great. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE divinity. Last Christmas I tried it with my KitchenAide twice and I couldn’t get it right. I bought another Sunbeam just so I can make divinity for next Christmas. 🙂

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