You may have heard of sea foam candy, cinder candy, honeycomb, or hokey-pokey. From sea to shining sea in the United States, and in cities across the globe, there are as many names for sugary, aerated toffee as there are communities that love it. But for the residents of Buffalo, New York, there’s only one definitive name and version of this sweet treat: sponge candy. Golden in color, dipped in chocolate, and with bubbles that add an addictive flake, sponge candy is like “a cross between a little fluffy meringue cookie and a malted milk ball,” according to Ted Marks, owner of Buffalo’s famous Fowler’s Chocolates. While Buffalo wings get most of the culinary glory, this lesser-known local treat predates the city’s signature snack by more than 50 years.
Made of a base of sugar, corn syrup or maple syrup, and water, sponge candy’s signature bubbles rely on a chemical reaction familiar to any middle school scientist who has perfected a baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano. There are two versions of the recipe. Both call for cooks to melt the sugar and syrup in water until it becomes a treacly molten goo. In the professional recipe made in candy shops, confectioners add gelatin and watch the mixture thicken and rise like bread. In home versions, cooks add baking powder and a dash of vinegar—and suddenly, it’s alive! The interaction between the acid and base produces a stream of carbon dioxide, which causes the mixture to thicken and puff. But don’t worry: It won’t morph into an alien life form or even spill onto your stove, if you’ve used a big enough pot. Whether at home or in the candy shop, the hot, swollen mixture is then poured onto a pan, cooled, crumbled, or cut into squares. After a healthy chocolate drizzle, the sponge candy is complete.
While sea foam candy, as it’s called on the west coast, and honey comb, as it’s called in Great Britain, are similar confections, Buffalo residents will happily inform you that they lack sponge candy’s signature crunch. That’s because sponge candy’s bubbled structure is uniquely sensitive to heat and humidity; in more humid climes, it will begin to melt . Locals therefore claim that Buffalo’s notoriously cold climate is perfect for the candy, making the city a confectionary paradise. Buffalo’s abundance of old-time, family-owned candy shops, such as Fowler’s Chocolates (founded in 1901), which claims to be the original Buffalo sponge candy destination, Parkside Candy, and Watson’s, indicates this theory may just be true. To experience the bubbly fun in peak crisp conditions, candy lovers will need to plan a sweet trip to Buffalo, as it does not travel well (although some vendors will ship the candy in a cooler during the warmer months).
Where to Try It
Another Buffalo classic, Watson's was voted "WNY Best Sponge Candy" in 2017, among other fiercely competitive sponge candy accolades.
Around since 1927, Parkside Candy has an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and an appearance in Robert Redford and Glenn Close's Film "The Natural."