Cinder toffee

Cinder toffeeThis is an easy and delicious home-made sweet. Cinder toffee is made with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda in the mix. They react together so it froths before it sets into millions of little bubbles, and hardens into something a lot like toffee-flavoured pumice stone. Any taste of vinegar is neutralised, leaving you with a buttery toffee flavour. It’s a recipe which I don’t cook very often although I love it, because it inevitably leads to my eating the whole batch and then feeling really bad about my thighs.

Here in the UK, cinder toffee (also called honeycomb toffee) has a formative role in our childhoods as the shatteringly crisp stuff that Cadbury’s put inside Crunchie Bars. I actually prefer it without chocolate, but if you enjoy a chocolatey morsel just melt some milk chocolate over a bain marie, dip the hardened chunks in and firm up on greaseproof paper.

In the Cork and Bottle, a London wine bar specialising in a big chunk of meat called the Hemingway Burger, the New Zealand staff call cinder toffee ‘hokey pokey’, and use it in a very fabulous ice cream. I have held back from eating all the stuff I made yesterday and will use the rest in a creamy, malty ice cream over the weekend. Watch this space for the recipe.

To make one thigh-swelling batch of delicious toffee, you’ll need:

50g salted butter
30ml water
4 teaspoons malt vinegar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
450g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Golden syrup(American readers can buy golden syrup at Amazon. Golden syrup is a by-product of the sugar refining process, with a delicious light golden toffee flavour. We use it in the UK in many of the situations where maple syrup is used in America. Don’t be tempted to substitute corn syrup or honey – they won’t taste the same, or have the same characteristics when heated.)

Grease a large baking tin with butter (mine was 11 x 7 inches). Heat the butter, water and vinegar together in a large saucepan with a jam thermometer (the saucepan should be larger than you think necessary – remember that this recipe will froth and swell) until the butter has melted. Stir in the sugar and golden syrup over the heat until they dissolve. Stop stirring, and bring to the boil. Keep boiling without stirring until the toffee reaches the hard crack stage on your thermometer (if you don’t have a jam thermometer, a teaspoon of the molten toffee dropped into a saucer of cold water at hard crack stage will form brittle into strands and crack when you try to shape it). ***Update – it is incredibly important that your toffee really does reach hard crack stage, which is 154°C, or else it may sink after rising.*** Be careful – the mixture will be unbelievably hot, and very dangerous if there are children or pets around. Remove the toffee from the heat, and gently stir in the bicarbonate of soda.

Startling frothing will occur. Keep stirring gently until the bubbles settle down a bit, then pour the mixture into your greased tin. Wait for between ten and twenty minutes until the mixture is set up but still warm, and break the toffee into pieces. Lay these pieces out on a wire rack until the sweets are cool, then transfer to an air-tight container (or your mouth).

40 Replies to “Cinder toffee”

  1. WOW! WOW! WOW! thanx for this recipe! i never dreamed i’d find a recipe for such wonderful stuff!
    here in Canada we call it “sponge toffee” and just seeing your picture brings back wonderful memories of my childhood. a day at the ice rink was never complete without a hunk of sponge toffee from the snack bar! Santa always brought some too! ..and of course we know it from the crunchie bar as well. yummmmmmmm. okay, now i’m drooling on the keyboard.
    cheers! Ellen

  2. Thanks Ellen! When I was a kid, they used to sell it on bonfire night at public displays (alongside candyfloss, those giant dummies made from barley sugar and the great big lollipops). Happy days.

  3. Oh what memories that brings back! At every school fete we used to be able to buy little bags of this stuff and I ADORED it. Of course, because I used to suck it rather than chew it, I’d end up with my hard palate scraped totalyl raw by the end of the afternoon, but it was worth it. Who would have thought this ambrosia could be so easy to make!

  4. my son and his friend had great fun today making this. 3 tins full and many smily faces well now they want melted chocolate in t to really turn it ito a crunchy bar….oh well, better get the chocolate fountain much for healthy living :>)thanks for the recipe jayne loughborough leicestershire UK

  5. thanks for the great recipe brought back fond memories which now I can pass on to my children – like I said taste it before you get the normal “I don’t like it” factor. I’d like to mention yorkshire pud with treacle I’ve never found any one else who’s had it – what a treat.

  6. Couldnt get this to work twice now, wasted vast amounts of ingredients. No matter how long or short we heat it for it doesnt stay foamed up, it just settles and turns to a mess? It’s made me very angry!

  7. Hi Anon – I’m baffled. The recipe has worked well for me (as you can probably see from the picture!), and it’s also worked for other readers. I’ve two ideas as to what might be going wrong – you may be overstirring once it’s started to foam – as I’ve noted in the recipe, it is important that you stir gently. The bubbles don’t come from air you’ve beaten in, as they do in meringue; they come from the chemical reaction, and if you stir too hard you will knock them out of the mixture.

    You may also be using baking powder (which is a prepackaged mix of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar) instead of baking soda (which is pure bicarbonate of soda). Hope this helps – let me know how it goes if you try again.

  8. Hi Liz! I saw the comment from the person whose bubbles sank, and I thought that I should add that I have used your recipe several times now and it has always worked brillliantly! We love cinder toffee!

    Dee, Stockport

  9. I love hokey pokey icecream!!!! I’m originally from NZ and it’s a national icon there.:-)Re the poster who was having problems making hokey pokey (cinder toffee), I also had problems and I have been making the stuff for most of my life. I’m wondering if she lives at a high altitude, like me. It took a whole jar of Lyle’s golden syrup, to finally get something remotely resembling what I was used to making back home at sea level. There is a picture of it on my blog, along with the hokey pokey icecream that I also made. You don’t want to make your icecream too malty as it will over power the hokey pokey. Try using a vanilla icecream, which will be more like the hokey pokey icecream we get in NZ.

  10. I have made this twice now, first time it was flat and second time I had more sucess but all I could taste was the bicarb, so off to try again this weekend!

  11. Those who’ve been having problems should be very careful to make sure their toffee really does reach the hard crack stage. (Thanks to Cooking for Engineers for the tip – I was genuinely baffled about why a few of you were experiencing deflating toffee, but this seems to be the answer.) A jam thermometer really is an invaluable piece of kitchen equipment!

  12. QUOTE from the OP …

    “Don’t be tempted to substitute corn syrup or honey – they won’t taste the same, or have the same characteristics when heated.”

  13. This stuff is delicious! I’m in Maryland and have never had the pleasure of having a crunchy bar, but if it’s anything like this stuff I’m hooked! I found Lyle’s golden syrup in Shopper’s for $4. Hopefully this isn’t just in my area and they’ll start having it all over the US!

  14. Thanks for the recipe! It does bring back memories of my father taking me to a store to have this treat. In NY we call it sponge candy. Cheers.

  15. Does this recipee have the barcab of soda aftertaste or is it a sweet one? I've tried a few and always found it to be a little bit sodary (if thats a word)

  16. Hi Matt

    I've not found a cinder toffee (bought or home-made) that doesn't have a small amount background saltiness from the bicarb – it's a by-product of the method. That said, I very much like the flavour; I think the only way to find out whether you'll dislike it is to give the recipe a whirl yourself!

  17. In Canada it's also possible to get Rogers Golden Syrup. Maybe it's just in BC? But I grew up with it. Didn't know it wasn't available in the US! 🙂

  18. Would like to post an alternative to all the posts I have seen on here…forget Lyle’s Golden Syrup or Corn Syrup, try Clear Glucose Syrup as this is what is used in many of the UK Commercial recipe’s including Crunchie Bars and Seaside Packaged Toffee Honeycomb(cinder toffee). If you read the ingredients on Crunchie Bars it States Glucose Syrup and the name applies to the other supplied. I have never seen Golden Syrup mentioned on a package Honeycomb as it is wrong…and an inferior tasting product.

    1. Add a cup of sugar to a medium sized heavy (stainless steel) saucepan, add about a tablespoon of glucose syrup to the sugar and add a very small amount of sugar to the mix (just enough to moisten the mixture.

    2. Put the heat on very low(you are not aiming to boil sugar until it has dissolved with only a few fragments remain), allow about 6mins to dissolve, if it hasn’t put the heat up slightly(electric and gas hobs can change the way this mixture is cooked).

    3. When the mixture is dissolved turn the heat up and bring mixture to boil…it should go transparent(with no colour)…boil until the mixture turns to a hint of golden colour(remember the mixture will continue to cook even when the saucepan leaves the hob).

    4. Immediately remove from the heat and add a large heaped teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate or baking soda). Whisk using a stainless steel whisk and when the mixture froths up poor into a non stick container about 9inch by 9inch. It should be strong yellow colour with slightly golden inside…if it isn’t you will need to experiment to get in right for your hob (as I have).

    This will have a slight cinder taste(like it’s alternative name). It may take several attempts but using this recipe with clear glucose syrup enabled you to monitor the hard crack stage it needs to be, to be the correct consistancy.

    Good Luck

  19. Here in Alberta, Canada, as a child we enjoyed this confection but called it “salt water taffy”, I suppose wrongly assigning the American name to this British treat. Other than it’s use in the Crunchie bar, it’s no longer an easy treat to find in the shops.

  20. Robert – I’m not at all sure about golden syrup having an “inferior” taste; it’s the traditional base for this sweet in the UK, where glucose syrup has never really penetrated into the home cooking market. Give it a swing. It’s also less expensive than the very refined glucose syrup, and gives it a great flavour.

    Charles – that’s fascinating! Amazing how many names for this sweet seem to be popping up on this thread.

  21. OK, tried two batches over the weekend, and both looked really great after gently folding in the baking soda (after taking the molten sugary/water/Lyle’s mixture to 154 degrees C). But after pouring (again, gently) the mixture into a greased ceramic pan, they both went flat. My wife’s guess is the our baking soda was old, and may not have had a sufficient reaction. As additional insight, the temps were very mild (mid 70’s F), humidity was low and I’m almost at sea-level. Real bummer here – my British wife is battling a nasty cold, and I thought this would be just the treat to make her feel less lousy. Oh well, I’ll try again.

  22. Oh rats. Rotten luck, Robert. Bicarb does lose its potency after a while (your little pack should have a best before date on it). Let me know if you try it again.

  23. So I’m doing something wrong… I melt the butter in the water and vinegar, add the sugar and syrup and boil after it dissolves. I leave it to boil until the hard-crack circa 154C but the sugar is burnt before it reaches that temperature. I tried twice but no luck both occasions.

  24. I’m with you Graeme. Tried to make it today after finding the Lyle’s Golden Syrup here in Ottawa. I also purchased a “Professional” Candy Thermometer. I used a pot that was too large as well as cooling pan… due to the warning of foaming. Went a size down on each and the second batch is cooling but VERY DARK. Seems that it takes so long for all the water to boil off, the sugar burns in the process. I think I’ll try less water for my third batch. Hope I get it right. Getting expensive… and have to do about 4 good batches for a Halloween Party this week.

  25. when i make this at home i use
    90 ml of water
    500gms caster sugar
    225gms solden syrup
    half tea spoon of bi-carb

    put syrup,sugar and water in pan and melt them then biol them up.
    once at correct temp i remove from heat and add bi-carb with whisk.
    then put in trays

    im gonna try your recipie and see how it goes.
    for cheap syrup in the uk use asda smartprice golden syrup the bottle is aroung 660gms compareded to lyles 1lb tin and is around 77p a bottle

  26. One suggestion that I have for those who are having bubble problems is to add the vinegar at the end before the bicarb is added. Acetic acid (vinegar) has a fairly low boiling point and I have a feeling that much of it boils off while the candy is cooking.

    That being said, I haven’t tested this hypothesis, but I am a science major and everything that I have learned points in that direction.

  27. Entirely fluffed. No pun intended. I am quite a good cook and can manage all kinds of complicated shinannigins, but not this stuff. I think that I agree with Rob, and also wonder why butter has been included in the recipe. It is not in any of the other recipes that I have read, but what the hey… anyway, mine turned out like a lump of bonfire toffee with a cinder crust. Quite horrid really and even though I tried eating some, it threatened to pull out my crowns, so unfortunately, I had to throw the whole lot away, and am not going to make this one again. I shall have to stick to my fudge! Heheee! Happy cooking everyone.

  28. Thanks, I ate this when I lived in England but never found it available in the states and have been craving it.I can hardly wait to make a baych or two….again thank you Charles

  29. Hi,

    We’ve made this recipe twice now and it failed both times. Looking at other recipes on the net we think that there is far too much water in this recipe. Should it read 30ml not 300ml?

  30. I have made Cinder Toffee loads of times but have only ever got it perfect the first couple of times. No one has ever complained about my ‘failures’ though!! I’m going to have a go at making this but with the vinegar added towards the end. I’m also going to put the mixture in portion sized tin foil cases to avoid the crumbling which has happened to me the last few times I’ve made it. I’ll let you know. Thanks for this recipe though. Have you got one for Treacle Toffee?

  31. Interesting, I hadn’t thought of adding vinegar to the mix, molten sugar is itself acidic enough to create the carbon dioxide bubbles that foam it, but it leaves a bicarb after-taste. The vinegar would help to neutralise more of the bicarb and remove the aftertaste, thanks for that idea.

    *Goes try it out*

  32. WOW!!! That was an easy to follow recipe and great tasting… Just made a mighty batch to take to the school fete tomorrow. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. 😉

  33. I have been reading all the comments people have written and thought I would add mine too. We have made many trips to New Zealand and, the first place we go to is Ahuriri sea front to get our first ‘fix’ of Hokey Pokey!! I only wish that our English manufacturers would make this along with the Blueberry and Boysenberry ice cream, which are also gorgeous. The lady that wrote saying that she misses her Nan and that she used to have golden syrup on their Yorkshire puddings, yes, I too remember that and if there is any Batter left over from dinner, I too put some on for dessert!!! A friend bought me a ‘tea cloth’ and it has the hokey pokey recipe printed on it, so I will now start making my own!!

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