Honeycomb and hocus pocus

Standing out from the edible riches of a recent Melbourne getaway (tiny lobster buns with beaujolais at Golden Fields; galangal chicken at Cookie; Quickes’s cheddar and mild gorgonzola for a picnic at home) was dessert at a heavingly popular place in Flinders Lane called Chin Chin. We shared, because of course we had over-ordered and thereby already over-eaten, the Palm Sugar Ice Cream Sundae, a glass layered with said ice cream studded with salted honeycomb and slicked through with a lime syrup quite achingly lovely. The tiny explosions caused by the shards and chunks of honeycomb were reminding my New Zealand friend of a favourite ice-cream called hokey pokey.

How hokey pokey came to signify honeycomb remains a mystery. And presumably even the name honeycomb, which bears a mere breath of resemblance to the network of cells in which honey bees store their pollen, was once the invention of a marketing team. I have loved honeycomb since my adolescence when I acquired a regrettable affection for Crunchie bars and indeed blame them for a temporary teenage expansion. I preferred Crunchies with their thick milk-chocolate coating to Violet Crumble bars which always struck me as a little more austere. The latter were invented by Abel Hoadley in 1913, a sweets manufacturer with a jam factory in South Melbourne who developed his range to include a box of chocolates and sweets, one of which was chunks of honeycomb. The box in which they came, purple decorated with violets, was a tribute to his wife whose favourite colour was purple and whose favourite flower was violet. It was the honeycomb that consumers loved most so Abe decided to produce an individual bar of it. Humidity caused the initial attempts to stick together until he realised that if he dipped the honeycomb in chocolate it would remain dry and crunchy : thus was born the Violet Crumble bar. (Broken pieces were melted down and turned into those adorable little Bertie Beetles, another lovely chocolate story.)

Back home I dug through my handbag for Sal’s New Zealand hokey pokey recipe. I decided I wanted to make a chocolate honeycomb cheesecake and that the honeycomb would be made from scratch, from not merely three ingredients but also from the exciting chemistry that was involved. (We had gone to see the movie about El Bulli at Carlton previously and I suspect I was therefore feeling uncharacteristically drawn toward making modest magic in my kitchen.)

So. One hundred grams of caster sugar went into a saucepan with four tablespoons of golden syrup, which I then brought to the boil. Despite the fact that a subsequent reference had said to swirl not stir the ferociously bubbling amber liquid I chose to stir with a wooden spoon for most of the four minutes recommended, with an occasional swirl
to make everyone happy. The heat turned down as the syrup darkened a little – it must not, obviously, darken so much it burns – then off the heat and straight away, this time using a large metal spoon, 1½ teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda were folded through. And here the magic! From a liquid toffee I was yielding a lush, creamy, billowy thick foam resembling meringue mixture or zabaglione once the heat has swollen the yolks and sugar and liqueur to a voluminous, voluptuous mass. Quickly quickly before it hardened I tumbled out this coffee- coloured butterscotch-scented foam on to a baking tray lined with paper. Within 20 minutes it had set: my own hokey pokey, my own honeycomb, to be shattered into shards or cracked into chunks, dipped in melted chocolate, chopped and folded through the weekend’s cheesecake. Perhaps hokey-pokey came from hocus pocus?

About victoria

Author of the gastro-memoir 'Amore&Amaretti: A Tale of Love an Food in Tuscany', I am a Byron Shire-based food and travel writer, food columnist, cooking teacher, recipe editor and chef. Born in Canberra, ACT, I have a BA in languages although am only really passionate about the Italian one, in which I am fluent, having spent four years in Tuscany in my late twenties, and returning reasonably frequently ever since. Despite that, my partner of many years, a wonderful artist, clothes designer and aged carer, is half-Greek!
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