July 21, 2010 10:39:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Divinity, that oh-so-pretty, sweet frothy confection, occasionally gets a bad rep. Some cooks consider it difficult and temperamental to make. But Betty Dean of Columbus says the microwave recipe she uses can help make anyone look like an accomplished candymaker.
"This is fail-safe, if you go by the recipe," the 71-year-old said Monday in her neat East Columbus home, where she and her husband, Lester, have lived for 33 years and raised three daughters. "People think divinity is hard, because it can turn out to be a mess."
Betty knows her way around divinity; she''s been making it since she was 10 years old. It was just one of the many things she learned from her mother while growing up in the small Buena Vista community in Mississippi, near Houston.
"I came from a large family; I was one of 10 children," she smiled broadly. "If you wanted to cook, you could cook, try almost anything."
Of course, at that time, Betty and her mother were making divinity the traditional way, boiling the sugary candy on the stove top. These days, Betty is a proponent of the microwave. "It''s so much more accurate," she noted.
Ironically, she''s not a big fan of eating sweets, but she''s become well-known for her snowy white melt-in-your-mouth treats, whether hostessing her bunco group, sharing with bridge partners or her Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church. Every Christmas season, she and her dear friend, Lanelle McMillen of Columbus, pick a night and indulge in a cooking spree that''s been known to last until 3 a.m. The pair make a kitchenful of divinity and other holiday specialties to distribute to family and friends.
Betty also makes an astounding 600 or so pieces of divinity to serve annually at the Christmas Open House at her apparel shop, Fashion Accent, on Main Street in Starkville.
Betty''s microwave recipe shared today came courtesy of a friend. To date, she''s not found it in a cookbook. An Internet search for microwave divinity recipes, however, will yield multiple results.
"With the recipe I use, the key is following the instructions and the times exactly -- and being organized ahead of time," she said. All ingredients, electric beater, bowls, spoons, waxed paper, etc., are put in place in advance. "You have to use glass bowls; I''ve tried aluminum, but you need glass for your hot mixture to cool better," she recommends.
Any add-ins planned, such as pecans or walnuts, need to be chopped and at the ready. The recipe calls for the mixture to be microwaved twice; be prepared to handle the hot concoction with care. Betty also advises using egg whites at room temperature ("They beat better.") Knowing when the final mixture is beaten enough and ready to dollop onto waxed paper is important to learn. This may take a little trial and error.
When the mixture is ready, it will thicken and begin to lose its gloss or sheen. Per whatscookingamerica.net, if, when you lift your beater, the mixture falls back into the bowl in ribbons that immediately merge back into the batter, it isn''t done. Keep beating. Eventually, a stationary column should form between the beater and the bowl; a teaspoonful put onto waxed paper will hold its shape, even a peak.
Dress it up
When you judge the sweet mixture ready to transfer to paper, don''t waste any time before putting in nuts or add-ins of choice, as the candy will begin to set. (If this happens, whatscookingamerica.net suggests adding a few drops of hot water.)
Feeling festive? Instead of coarsely chopped nuts, you may want to try dried cranberries, or chopped red and green candied cherries, especially at Christmas. For Halloween, try orange gumdrops, coarsely chopped, and add a few drops of orange food coloring. Or how about trying crushed peppermint candies, with a touch of red food coloring, for Valentine?
Betty notes you can make the dollops any size you want, from dainty drops to "supersized" candies, but cautions to always allow sufficient time to set before serving.
"I usually make mine the day or night before; it only takes about 30 minutes total, but allow at least two hours to set," she said. Divinity can be stored on layers of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to two weeks, the website says.
And what about the traditional school of thought that warns against trying to make divinity on days of high humidity? Betty hasn''t experienced a problem before and forges ahead with the microwave recipe, whatever the weather.
In today''s food pages, Betty also shares her recipes for easy-to-make chocolate nut clusters, as well as her five grandchildren''s favorite Ritz cracker snack.
"And this makes a really pretty treat: Use an 8-ounce block of cream cheese and a can of crescent rolls," she said. "Spread out the rolls flat, put some cream cheese in the middle of each one, sprinkle a little dill over the cream cheese. Then take the ends of the roll and twist them up into a peak. Brush them with egg white and bake at 350 degrees until the dough is golden brown. Serve them warm from the oven."
Running her hand over a favorite cookbook -- a well-worn edition of the "Blue Mountain College Cookbook," a gift from a niece -- Betty said, "I enjoy cooking, I really do." She cites "Bully''s Best Bites," the collection of more than 400 recipes from Mississippi State University alumni and friends, as being at the top of her list, too.
This experienced cook genially summed up her best advice for anyone facing a recipe that may seem a little intimidating "Just give it a try; if you mess up, just try again."
(Makes 75-80 medium pieces)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup white Karo syrup
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Two large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pecans, walnuts, other add-ins (optional)
RITZ CRACKER TREATS
One stick margarine
One stick real butter (no substitution)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
Three sleeves Ritz crackers
CHOCOLATE NUT CLUSTERS
One can condensed milk
12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups peanuts (walnuts or pecans also could be used)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Miniature marshmallows (optional)
ON THE WEB:
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.