To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a candy bar is just a candy bar. But a good one often takes on greater meaning: as a motivator, a mood-changer and, in my kindergarten class, a valuable form of currency. Trading candy at lunch seemed to determine the whole school’s social hierarchy—and nothing commanded a higher price than a Three Musketeers. Something about that weirdly aerated filling and the sweet-on-sweet combination of chocolate and nougat made our sugar-driven hearts race and sent the bids soaring.
But for Kurt Vonnegut, a world away from the playground, candy bars became something even more valuable: a reminder of home, when it never seemed further away. Part of the Allied invasion of France during WWII, Vonnegut’s regiment was captured by German forces. For six months, he and his fellow soldiers dreamed about their lives before the war—and the food they would eat if they ever returned.
Thanksgiving turkey was the most popular topic of culinary conversation among the other men, but Vonnegut had a different focus. “[He] obsessed about candy bars,” his biographer Carl Shields wrote in And So It Goes. “He swore he was going to eat every kind ever made when he got home—Almond Joy, Milky Way, PayDay, Hershey’s, Clark Bar—and loved to talk about what it would be like with his mouth stuffed.”
Three Musketeers, however, would take a special place in Vonnegut’s memories, and his fiction. In Slaughterhouse Five, the novel most directly inspired by his time as a prisoner of war, the candy bar pops up by name several times. And the name he gives his trio of central characters? The Three Musketeers.
Even years later, Vonnegut’s childlike devotion to sweets persisted; instead of offering visitors coffee, the default drink of writers everywhere, he’d suggest hot chocolate. And although he paired his nightly meals with two more adult pursuits—a glass of Scotch and water, jazz—his preferred recipes were equally simple, favorites of the kindergarten set that would have been a hot commodity on my childhood playground. His daughter, Edie, remembers the day he asked her for a recipe he particularly liked, “the one where the cheese melts.” It was grilled cheese.
I have to admit that making my own Three Musketeers was never a high priority on my cooking to-do list. Not only have they fallen far down my list of beloved junk foods (surpassed long ago by these guys), but making candy also just plain intimidates me. Create a pot of boiling sugar-lava, then pour it terrifyingly close to your skin while simultaneously whipping it into a spray? Sounds less like a recipe and more like a horror novel—one I’d like to read while snacking on some trauma-free, store-bought candy.
This recipe helped me conquer my fears, without even one trip to the burn unit. The trickiest part actually takes place after all the boiling and whipping: the cleanup. Oiling your hands or knives before working with sticky nougat is a must; I did it and still made a mess. But the result is a candy bar that Vonnegut would have recognized, by taste if not by sight. And with the hint of Scotch and the true chocolate flavor the mass-produced version lacks, trading a few of these will win you a lot of new friends.
(Adapted from Wilde in the Kitchen)
2 egg whites
1 3/4 cups light corn syrup, divided
2 tablespoons Scotch whisky
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup powdered sugar
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
*Special equipment: candy thermometer
1. Prepare your ingredients: In a large bowl, mix together egg whites, 1/4 cup corn syrup and Scotch. In a small bowl, sift together powdered milk, cocoa powder and powdered sugar. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt bittersweet chocolate in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring in between. In a medium pot, mix granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups corn syrup and 3/4 cup water. Oil a 9×13-inch pan.
2. Bring the sugar-water mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and boil 3 minutes, then uncover and add thermometer. Continue boiling until heat reaches 233°F. Begin whipping egg whites with a hand mixer on high.
3. Once the sugar syrup reaches 257°F, remove from the stovetop and slowly stream into the egg whites, continuing to whip 8 minutes, until the whites are glossy.
4. Stir in dry ingredients and melted chocolate. Pour into prepared pan and press into a flat slab. Let cool at least 4 hours, or overnight.
5. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave. With an oiled knife and hands (don’t skip this!), cut nougat into 1-inch strips, then divide strips into 2-inch rectangles (or longer if you’re going king-size). Dip nougat in chocolate and return to the fridge to set.