Holiday Forecast: It’s Snowy Divinity Season!
Barbara McLaughlin’s kitchen is a convivial place. Behind the much-Instagrammed, bright yellow front door of her family’s Upper East Side townhouse, the shelves are filled with dozens of cookbooks, including many from Minnesota, where she grew up. When Barbara, president of The Fund for Park Avenue, isn’t raising money to plant the avenue with tulips, begonias, chrysanthemums and holiday trees, she loves cooking, baking and making homemade gifts for family and friends.
All year ‘round, there’s always something simmering in a yellow Le Creuset pan on Barbara’s range. She and her daughter Madeline are taking virtual cooking classes with Suzanne Pollak at the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits. Barbara also finds inspiration in Melissa Clark’s From the Pantry in The New York Times. And, now that the holidays are just around the corner, she’s making her signature Meyer lemon marmalade with fruit from her own trees.
“Among the many silver linings of this year, all this family time at home has inspired me to cook more and look back at our family recipes, which my sister Amy compiled into a cookbook,” Barbara says.
Barbara inherited her culinary talents from several generations of her family. Every Christmas, her Grandma Ken and Great-Aunt Florence would make Snowy Divinity candy, an ethereal, chewy marshmallow-y confection. A longstanding Southern tradition that dates back to the early 1900s, divinity became popular in Minnesota, maybe because of Betty Crocker, a mythical Minnesotan who taught legions of women how to cook.
When Barbara married Kevin McLaughlin, Florence sent her a hand-written note with some of her favorite recipes. “I’m copying a few recipes—now I’m just wondering if you have time for baking and making goodies,” she wrote in her beautiful penmanship. “These are some recipes that I’ve used over many, many years. I imagine I’ve probably made over a hundred batches of divinity. I gave it away for Christmas…I wish you and Kevin a long and happy marriage together. Love, Aunt Florence.”
Before joining The Fund for Park Avenue, Barbara was Executive Director of The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She collaborated with the board and noted food writer Florence Fabricant to create Park Avenue Potluck and Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations: Entertaining at Home with New York’s Savviest Hostesses. The cookbooks feature dozens of menus and recipes including Barbara’s Snowy Divinity Candy, which she and Madeline will be making and giving as gifts this season!
Barbara McLaughlin’s Snowy Divinity Candy
Makes about 50 candies
1 - 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, for greasing baking sheet and spoons
2 large egg whites
2 cups white sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the best texture, snowy divinity is best made on a crisp, dry day.
- For Southern-style divinity, substitute 1 cup chopped pecans for the walnuts. (I love the big Georgia pecans from Publix in Florida!)
- For Scandi-style divinity, top with Swedish pearl sugar.
- For peppermint divinity, substitute 1 cup chopped peppermint candy for nuts and add 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract with the vanilla.
- Grease a large baking sheet and set aside.
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of a KitchenAid or other heavy duty standing mixer and whisk until they just start to form peaks.
- Put the sugar, corn syrup and ½ cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches 270 degrees (hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
- Start beating the egg whites again on high speed and slowly pour in the sugar syrup as they are being whipped. Keep beating until the mixture is stiff and shiny and holds its shape on a spoon.
- Quickly fold in the walnuts and vanilla. Using two greased spoons, spoon small mounds of the mixture on the baking sheet.
- Set aside to firm up and then store in an airtight container.