How to Make Vintage Sponge Candy

Sponge candy is a classic treat that will bring you right back to childhood. Now's the time to introduce it to a new generation of candy lovers!

Sponge candy is a simple and delicious treat that brings back memories of Grandma’s kitchen and the corner sweet shop. This vintage dessert recipe goes by many different names: cinder or honeycomb toffee, fairy food, seafoam candy, angel food candy, Hokey Pokey and more.

Whether you grew up calling it sponge candy or another name, we’re all talking about the same thing: A deliciously sweet, airy, crunchy confection that has a lovely molasses-y flavor.

What Is Sponge Candy?

Sponge candy is a crunchy, airy, toffee-like candy made with brown sugar, corn syrup, vinegar and baking soda. After boiling the sugar, corn syrup and vinegar in a pot, you add baking soda to spark a reaction that causes the mixture to expand and foam. This creates the bubbly interior of the candies. Next, the mixture is spread onto a baking pan to cool into a crispy mass.

Once broken apart, the pieces are usually covered in milk or dark chocolate and served as individual candies. While you’ll find variations of this type of crisp, sweet candy all over the U.S. and Europe, sponge candy is a specialty of the Great Lakes region, particularly in parts of western New York.

Sponge candy vs. honeycomb

Regional names aside, there is a slight difference between sponge candy and honeycomb candy. Both are technically a type of toffee made with brown sugar, corn syrup, and baking soda. But each uses a different type of acid to create their individually unique bubbles.

In sponge candy, vinegar helps form slightly smaller, more uniform bubbles that resemble a sponge. The texture is crisp and airy and it melts in the mouth with one bite. Honey does a similar thing for honeycomb, only it creates larger bubbles and a crunchier candy. The jagged cells inside resemble honeycombs found in beehives, which is how it got its name. 

Another difference between sponge candy and honeycomb is that sponge candy is almost always covered in chocolate, while honeycomb is often eaten on its own.

Where Did Sponge Candy Originate?

Unlike honeycomb, which is often called different things in different parts of the world (yellowman in Northern Ireland, fairy food in Wisconsin, and puff candy in Scotland), American sponge candy is traditionally only found in cities around the Great Lakes.

Honeycomb most likely originated in Europe in the early 20th century, made famous by the Cadbury Crunchie, a chocolate-covered honeycomb candy bar, in the late 1920s. But American sponge candy began to appear in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York, specifically Buffalo and Erie, around the 1940s and 1950s. Independent homespun candy makers like Erie’s Steffanelli’s Candies and Buffalo’s Watson’s Chocolates continue to make the sponge candy in small batches using copper kettles and age-old recipes today.

How to Make Sponge Candy

Ingredients

  • 1-3 teaspoons butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (You can use white granulated sugar instead, if you like. Brown sugar will give you more of a molasses flavor.)
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

Directions

Step 1: Grease the pan

greasing a foil lined baking panTMB studio

Line a 13×9-in. baking pan with foil; generously grease the foil with butter and set the pan aside. Measure out your baking soda and have it ready to go.

Step 2: Heat ingredients in a large saucepan

adding ingredients to a sauce pan on an electric burner plateTMB studio

In a large (larger than you think you’ll need!) heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup and vinegar over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.

Step 3: Cook until it reaches 300°F

thermometer in a pot on the stove while making sponge candyTMB studio

Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 300°.  That’s the hard-crack stage—read more about it in our guide to how to make candy.

Test Kitchen Tip: Though a candy thermometer will give you the best results, if you don’t have one handy, there’s a simple way to tell if the mixture has reached the hard-crack stage: Carefully drop a tiny spoonful of the hot syrup into ice-cold water. Remove the candy from the water. If it snaps then you know it’s hot enough.

Step 4: Add baking soda and stir

adding baking soda into the pot while it rests on a cooling rackTMB studio
Here’s the fun part. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda, stirring rapidly. When you add the soda, the whole mixture will puff up—don’t be alarmed (this is where the “larger than you think you’ll need” saucepan comes in handy), and don’t stop stirring!

Step 5: Cool the candy

pouring sponge candy into a panTMB STUDIO
Once combined, immediately pour into the prepared pan. Do not spread the candy (it won’t fill the pan) and do not scrape the saucepan. Let the candy cool, undisturbed. Basically, keep your hands off as much as possible. Any stirring, bumping, shaking or smoothing will pop the air bubbles.

Step 6: Crack the candy into shards

hands breaking sponge candy into piecesTMB studio

Once the candy is cool and set, use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Gently peel back the foil and break the candy into pieces. Store in an airtight container. You don’t want any moisture to get it because it will make the candy soften and collapse.

Step 7: Dip in melted chocolate

dipping sponge candy into a melted chocolateTMB studio
Traditional sponge candy wouldn’t be sponge candy unless it’s dipped in creamy milk or dark chocolate. Here are easy ways to melt chocolate.

Tips For Making Sponge Candy

What type of chocolate should I use to coat sponge candy?

Choose whatever type of chocolate you like, but milk and dark chocolate are the traditional coating. Just make sure it’s melted to a smooth consistency before dipping.

How do I store sponge candy?

To keep sponge candy fresh and crispy, store it in an airtight container or bag at room temperature for up to two weeks. After that, or if the air is humid, the toffee might start to dissolve and soften.

Can I freeze sponge candy?

Yes, you can make sponge candy ahead of time and then store it in an airtight container or bag in the freezer for up to two months.

Does sponge candy make a good gift?

Absolutely! Homemade sponge candy makes a great gift. Here are some creative food packaging ideas to make it special.

Love Candy? Try These Copycat Recipes.
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Hazel Wheaton
Hazel is a writer and editor who has worked in the publishing industry for over 25 years in the fields of travel, jewelry arts and food. As the editor of the Taste of Home Christmas Annual (among other titles), she's in the holiday spirit all year round. An enthusiastic baker, she's known for her cookies, cakes and other baked goods. And she still wishes she could cook like her mother.
Lesley Balla
As an associate editor at Taste of Home, Lesley helps track food and cooking trends, and writes and updates digital content. When not at her desk, you'll find her whipping up something with finds from the farmers market, discovering new restaurants, or hiking and roadtripping with her husband and pup Pucci.