I have waxed lyrical before on the joy of a homemade edible gift. While some such gifts take considerable advance planning and preparation, my go-to for a last minute present is this. It comes together in under 30 minutes and, best of all, you probably have everything in your cupboards already.
I’ve also waxed lyrical before on the joy of caramel. Well here the two come together with glorious effect. Some call it cinder toffee, some call it honeycomb, I call it hokey pokey. Whatever name you want to give it, it’s all about the sugar, it’s all about the caramel.
I’ll take a moment to recap the golden rules of caramel now. Whatever you do, do not stir. You may have a little patch of unmelted sugar in the middle of the pan. If so, gently swirl the pan to mix. Stirring will result in crystallisation and your efforts will be wasted. The second most important thing: have patience. You need to watch your caramel constantly; it changes quickly and can go from golden to burnt quicker than you might imagine. That said, don’t be afraid of a dark, rusty penny colour. That’s where the good flavour comes in.
Feel free to skip the salt here. You can leave it plain or drizzle some dark chocolate over the top. For me the salt cuts through the intense sweetness of the sugar, and it really is intense.
Combine the sugar and honey in a medium sized saucepan. If in doubt, use a bigger pan than you think you’re going to need. Once you add the bicarbonate of soda things are going to get substantially bigger very quickly.
Keep over a medium heat until you have a rich, rust-coloured caramel. Swirl if necessary but do not stir it (see note above).
Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarbonate of soda. The caramel will bubble up furiously; don’t be put off, quickly pour it on to your prepared baking tray, scraping everything that you can out of the pan. Sprinkle over the sea salt as liberally as your taste buds allow. If you’re going to drizzle some chocolate over the top, do this once it’s cooled.
At this stage, you may be thinking that you’ve just ruined your favourite pan for a sugary treat. Panic not. If you soak the pan in water for half an hour or so the caramel that had seemed cemented on to the pan will rinse right off.
Once the hokey pokey is cool, break in to pieces and either eat within a couple of hours or seal it up in an airtight bag or tupperware. If you leave it exposed to the air, the same magic which made your pan so easy to clean will ruin your sugary treat: water will absorb from the air and it will go sticky and oozy.