When Venice of America opened on July 4, 1905, Abbott Kinney had already dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes for his planned residential community. He built a 1,200-foot long pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship-style restaurant, dance hall, hot salt-water plunge and 3 blocks of arcaded businesses all in Venetian-style architecture.
Thousands of tourists arrived on the “Red Cars” of the Pacific Electric Railway from Los Angeles and Santa Monica, then rode the Venice miniature railroad and canal gondolas to tour the town. But the biggest attractions were Venice’s gently sloping beaches and the saltwater taffy emporium. This was the Roaring ‘20’s and for the amusement of the public, Kinney hired aviators to do aerial stunts over the beach and boat races in the Pacific surf. Venice was becoming famous for its canals, beaches and circus-like oceanfront walk; a pedestrian-only promenade that featured street performers, fortune-tellers, artists and vendors.
My uncle opened Herb’s Doughnut Factory & Coffee. It was known for the state-of-the-art conveyor fryer that plopped the raw batter into the hot oil and transported each steamy, yummy doughnut past the counter guests under a curved glass canopy as they enjoyed their 5¢ cup of coffee. Who could resist the temptation of one of these plump morning treats at only 3¢. As afternoon turned to evening, doughnuts and coffee sales declined and my uncle added saltwater taffy chews to his offerings. Here one could get a twenty-piece bag of authentic Venice Beach Pier Saltwater Taffy for only 7¢. This little spot became as famous as the saltwater taffy shops on the Atlantic City’s Boardwalk in New Jersey.
You’ll never sink your teeth into a piece of candy quite like old fashioned salt water taffy. Each bite will leave you wanting more with its unique, soft, non-sticky texture and its irresistible flavor. Here is the original recipe that made Herb’s Doughnut Factory & Coffee (and taffy emporium) a major attraction at The Venice of America.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Cool Time: 30 to 45 minutes
Ready In: 2 hours
Yield: Makes 120 pieces
Cooking spray or oil
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons cold coffee
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup Choclatique Rouge Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
3 cups light corn syrup
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Wax twisting papers
- Generously grease a baking sheet.
- In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the milk, coffee, sugar, cocoa powder and corn syrup.
- Scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan. Add the pod. Begin to bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered, then insert candy thermometer.
- Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until mixture reaches 246º F (this is known as the firm ball stage), 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and pour on baking sheet.
- Remove vanilla bean pod with tongs. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the surface of the taffy. Cool until warm to the touch, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Turn the cooled taffy onto a large oiled cutting board. Stretch the taffy out with both hands, fold it over on itself and stretch again. Repeat this continuously until the taffy has turned opaque and white, about 15 minutes. This step is called pulling taffy.
- Generously grease the blades of a kitchen scissors and your hands. Pull the taffy into 4 equal pieces. Roll the first into an 24-inch robe. Snip off 1-1/2-inch pieces; immediately roll them in wax paper, so they hold their shape. Repeat with remaining taffy.
- Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
ChefSecret: Be very careful when working with hot sugar confections as they can cause terrible burns. Saltwater Taffy and hard candies will not set properly on a humid or moist day.