Sponge candy, a Great Lakes-region specialty, has a lesser-known cousin: Honeycomb candy.
The two candies are both in the toffee family, made with similar ingredients — and in the case of honeycomb candy — sometimes mistaken for the other by non-professional candy makers and candy-lovers alike.
However, the two toffees still maintain significant distinctions that separate them from the other candies as well as each other.
What is the difference between sponge candy and honeycomb candy?
Honeycomb candy is known by many names.
Honeycomb toffee, sponge toffee, cinder toffee and hokey poke are just a few. Often though, it is simply referred to as honeycomb. The exact origin of this light yet rigid candy is disputed almost as much as the various names. Honeycomb candy is believed to have been invented in the 1940s, though record of an exact date, location or even confirmation on the specific year is limited.
Honeycomb candy is found all over the world. Also known as “yellowman” in Northern Ireland, “fairy food candy” in Wisconsin, and “puff candy” in Scotland, the candy is made by combining sugar, a golden syrup and bicarbonate (or baking) soda. This final ingredient produces the candy’s iconic texture.
Traditional honeycomb candy is made with clover honey, as opposed to corn syrup — a common ingredient in candy like peanut brittle and toffee. By cooking down the honey, the sugar compounds become hard and easy to crack into pieces.
The commonly-accepted name of this popular candy comes from the final texture of the finished candy as well as the honey with which it is made. Honeycomb candy’s texture is the main difference between it and the well-known Erie delicacy, sponge candy. Whereas sponge candy has a fine, sponge-like texture full of tiny air bubbles, the air pockets of honeycomb candy are larger and have a more defined shape to them. When broken apart, honeycomb candy — which looks smooth and solid at first glance — consists of large bubbles that form a design similar to honeycombs found in beehives.
Once broken into shards, honeycomb candy becomes a versatile treat. With a simple internet search, hundreds of recipes for the toffee appear as well as advice on what to do with it once finished. Some ideas are to top baked foods or hot beverages with the sweet crumbles. It can be a sweet, honey-flavored texture added to the pastries for decoration. Or honeycomb can decorate the foam of a latte and then dissolve as a delicate sweetener.
For the adventurous baker, honeycomb can be dipped in chocolate, bringing it one step closer to sponge candy Erieites know well.
Unlike honeycomb candy, which is called different things depending on the region, sponge candy is immediately recognizable and understood by anyone who has lived in the Great-Lakes region or simply tried the light toffee on a trip to Erie.
Whereas honeycomb candy is recognized around the world, sponge candy is a product exclusive to American cities surrounding the great lakes; Buffalo and Erie specifically.
Like its counterpart, there is no specific time or place that sponge candy where sponge candy was first documented, but according to the accepted history of the treat, sponge candy originated around Buffalo, New York sometime in the 1940s as well.
In addition to a similar history, the ingredients of honeycomb and sponge candy are nearly identical. What makes all the difference is one key ingredient that reacts with the baking soda and sugar to create the iconic sponge-like texture that is both hard and crunchy, yet soft and sweet when allowed to melt in one’s mouth.
Of course it is this secret ingredient that makes sponge candy so unique to chocolatiers who specialize in this coveted candy.
Sponge candy is usually poured in forms and then dipped in chocolate during its original production, making the toffee more like a piece of candy one would imagine purchasing at a chocolate shop than the brittle form of honeycomb usually made in kitchens at home.
Are Sponge Candy and honeycomb candy the same?
Short answer: essentially, though they maintain key differences.
The candies are in the toffee family. Both honeycomb and sponge candy are made by boiling sugar and a golden syrup of some kind. To get the iconic texture of either, baking soda is added. This common baking ingredient responds to the compounds in the mixture creating air bubbles of varying sizes.
What makes all the difference is the final step when making sponge candy. By adding the secret ingredient, the air bubbles become compact and mostly uniform in size.
It is these bubbles and the perfect combination of ingredients mastered by candy-makers at Stefanelli’s that gives sponge candy the crunch and melt-in-your mouth texture that candy-lovers across the country crave.
Sponge candy is made fresh at Steffaneli’s stores in Erie, Pennsylvania and shipped around the country. Find out if you can have this unique candy delivered today.