Sponge Candy: The Sugar-Spun Treat Buffalo Has Adored Since The 1900s

For such a regionally specific sweet treat, sponge candy has a following that reaches far beyond Buffalo, New York, which gave birth to the coveted melt-in-your-mouth confection in the early 1900s, according to Visit Buffalo Niagara. It goes by a handful of affectionate nicknames, including sea foam candy, puff candy, fairy food, and honeycomb toffee, notes Stefanelli's Candies. But whatever you call it, the sweet pride of Buffalo is here to stay.

At least 19 chocolatiers and confectioner brands in the Buffalo area specialize in crafting sponge candy, per Stepout Buffalo. But it may have all started with Joseph Fowler, a chocolatier located in Western New York in 1901, whose candy company stakes claim to the original, authentic version of sponge candy, according to Visit Buffalo Niagara. The still-operating company helped establish September 21 as National Sponge Candy Day in 2015.

Though most purveyors of sponge candy pride themselves in adhering to the traditional form of Buffalo's favorite confection, each creator has its own twist on perfection. Watson's makes its version in small batches, using old-fashioned copper kettles and Fair Trade chocolate, while Parkside Candy's sponges have a higher chocolate-to-sponge ratio at ¾ of an inch tall, compared to the standard 1 inch (via Visit Buffalo Niagra). According to the Park Edge Sweet Shoppe website, their shop specializes in longer stick-like pieces of sponge candy and tucks them into its famous choc-uterie board, a chocolate catering service they offer.

What makes the magic

In essence, sponge candy is a light and airy confection within the toffee family and is often compared to honeycomb. But the differences between the two are significant.

Part of the sponge candy secret is the pure simplicity of its ingredients. Though some variations exist, Stefanelli's Candies outs the components as being only sugar, corn syrup, water, vinegar, and baking soda. But the real trick lies in the air bubbles. Tiny pockets of air create the sponge-like inside before it receives a rich dark or milk chocolate coating.

The signature fairy-like air texture comes from the vinegar and baking soda reaction, which aerates the toffee-esque filling and results in a crispy bite that's light and melty. Though honeycomb confectioners use a similar process, the air bubbles in sponge candy are more compact and evenly distributed than in honeycomb, which ultimately contains larger air pockets.

Similar commercial versions do exist from chocolate brands around the world, though true sponge candy aficionados can easily tell the difference. Cadbury Crunchie bars, available widely in Britain and through import or specialty shops elsewhere, have a similar airy texture but lean more toward the honeycomb branch of the family tree. The same goes for the Australian-born Violet Crumble.

Sponges outside the box

While many sponge candy makers stick to traditional tried-and-true shapes, Althea's Chocolates gets creative with candy incarnations, offering sponges in the shape of buffalos, triple-layer cakes, and in limited holiday editions. Visit Buffalo Niagara gives a nod to the sponge candy ice cream flavor from Anderson Frozen Custard and the sponge candy stout beer created by Resurgence Brewing Company. Buffalo News even reveals a sponge candy cannoli from Panaro's, which is a "Taste of Buffalo" award winner.

Sponge candies can be fragile, notes Stefanelli's, and they're particularly susceptible to heat and humidity, which can cause melting and structure instability. Alethea's double-dips its sponges during warmer weather to provide an extra buffer from the humidity and help retain the desired crispy texture. The extra chocolate per bite is just an added bonus. For the freshest sponge candies made in ideal circumstances, consider ordering in the cooler autumn months — which Visit Buffalo Niagara calls the ideal season for making them.

Watson's suggests consuming them within one or two weeks of the purchase date, noting that the company hand-packs and vacuum-seals its sponge candies for shipping. Park Edge in South Buffalo also offers local delivery for same-day devouring, but many candy purveyors offer sponge-candy shipping throughout the United States and even overseas, according to Visit Buffalo Niagara.