Thanks to its addicting crunch and melt-in-your-mouth toffee flavor, sponge candy has been a Stefanelli’s specialty from the beginning. To this day, it remains one of our most coveted items, with our customers snatching up the crispy confections by the bagful. The sponge candy craze stretches through towns along the southern shores of Lake Erie, from Buffalo, N.Y. to Stefanelli’s headquarters in Erie, PA. Elsewhere in the country, people know the sweet treat as fairy food (Wisconsin), honeycomb (Ohio), puff candy (Massachusetts), and seafoam (along the West Coast, as well as Maine and Michigan).
What is sponge candy?
Quite simply, sponge candy is sugar chemistry! The honeycomb toffee component begins with three ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, and water. Traditional toffee (like a Heath bar) is hard, brittle, and buttery — but also predominantly sugar, heated until it reaches the hard crack stage (between 300.2 and 309.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Sponge candy’s secret ingredient is air, and the air is introduced to the mixture by adding baking soda and sometimes vinegar.
When both vinegar (acetic acid) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) are used, they vigorously interact with one another, forming bubbles that get trapped within the hot, gooey blob of pre-hardened toffee. However, baking soda alone is enough to aerate the mixture, as it begins to decompose at high temperatures, releasing carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide bubbles result in a light, crispy candy sponge. Yum!
Finishing touch: chocolate
Once the toffee is cooled and hardened, it is ready to cut into bite-sized morsels and covered in rich, creamy milk or dark chocolate. A machine called an enrober blankets each piece of toffee in chocolate. Once the chocolate sets, the sponge candy is ready for packaging and its fanatical following.