Crafting the Perfect Sweet Coal Recipe

Wrapping up Christmas, sweet coal, like its quirky sibling, rocks a unique shape. But here’s the twist—it’s all about that sweet, enchanting taste for the kiddos and beyond. Befana slides it into stockings on Epiphany morning, joining the party with lollipops and chocolate coins! Want to try this magic at home? Stick around—I’m sharing the recipe below!

Sweet Memories:

A Childhood Candy Coal Tale

By: Silvana Lanzetta

So, let me take you back to the time when I got my first taste of sugary coal. I was just a little tot, probably around 6 years old—somewhere in the late ’70s. The memory is as fresh as if it happened yesterday. Woke up all excited, wondering what the Befana had in store for me. Unwrapping my stocking, lo and behold, a big chunk of black coal! In shock and horror, I burst into tears, convinced I’d been branded as the naughty kid. I was distraught!

In swoops my mom, superhero style, telling me, “No need to cry, N. It’s sugar! Eat it up; it’s delicious!” Well, her attempt at a save turned into a hilarious plot twist. But, surprise surprise, when I finally dared to taste that supposedly dreadful black lump, it turned out to be heavenly. From then on, I made it a tradition to ask for sweet coal every year.

Now, fast forward to today—sweet coal is a must-have in our Befana stockings. It’s not just for the mischievous ones; it’s a treat for all. And honestly, who can blame us? This candy is pure delight.

My own kiddos are all about it now. They ask for it every year after getting a taste of the Italian version brought to them. The snag? You can’t find it here in the UK. I’m not about to burden my friends in Italy with crazy shipping costs. So, I went on a recipe hunt. After a few kitchen experiments, I found one that gave me what I wanted: a coal-like lump that’s airy and not tooth-breakingly hard (unlike the jawbreaker coal from my childhood!).

The recipe might look a bit out there with its odd mix of ingredients, but trust me, there’s a magic chemical dance happening. No substitutions allowed. And yes, there’s a bit of alcohol involved, but don’t freak out—it’s just a tiny amount, and it evaporates while cooking. Seriously, please don’t skip it.

So, are you ready to join me on this journey of making this delicious candy? And hey, even if you don’t have kiddos, treat yourself!

sugar coal chunks
stocking filled with candies and sweet coal

Stocking with candies and candy coal

Black silhouette of befana riding her broom at night

Befana is very much loved by Italians of all ages

ingredients for sweet coal candy



Delightfully enjoyed by both adults and children, sweet coal is a cherished Christmas treat. To savour its deliciousness responsibly, it is recommended to consume in moderation, mindful of its elevated calorie and simple carbohydrate content. For those actively managing their dietary intake, it’s advisable to be aware of the sweet coal’s nutritional aspects, incorporating it wisely into the festive indulgence.

  • Proteins 0.1% 0.1%
  • Carbs 100% 100%
  • Fats 0% 0%
sugar coal chunks in xmas stocking

How to make a perfect sweet candy coal

Egg White

Let’s talk about eggs. Eggs fresh from the fridge might not whip up as brilliantly as we’d like them to. When the egg white is at room temperature or slightly warmed, it’s like a friendly nudge, saying, “Come on, buddy, time to get all fluffy and fabulous!”

This warmth works wonders, helping the egg white transform into those perfect peaks, resulting in the light texture we’re aiming for.

Now, onto our culinary dynamic duo – cream of tartar and a dash of lemon juice. Think of them as the unsung heroes backstage in our sweet coal creation.

Cream of tartar steps in as the stability wizard, ensuring our egg white stands tall and holds its shape.

As for the lemon juice, it’s not for tangy flair. Its acidity cheers on the egg white, propelling it to peak fluffiness and crafting that cloud-like texture we’re seeking.


Icing sugar

Opting for icing sugar, or powdered sugar, in lieu of other sugar varieties is a pivotal choice for our sweet coal creation. This finely ground sugar, complemented by a touch of corn-starch, boasts a unique composition perfectly suited for our cany coal masterpiece.

The finely powdered texture of icing sugar is instrumental in achieving the desired smoothness and consistency. It effortlessly melds with the fluffy egg whites, creating a seamless fusion. Its capacity to dissolve effortlessly within the mixture ensures a consistent sweetness throughout our sweet coal, eliminating any potential graininess.

Furthermore, the addition of cornstarch in icing sugar contributes significantly to the structural integrity of our sweet coal. This element aids in stabilizing the mixture, resulting in a confection that strikes the perfect balance between lightness and structure.

Shifting our focus to the stirring process, incorporating icing sugar with a gentle stir into our airy egg whites is all about finesse. The delicate nature of the egg whites requires a careful touch to maintain their light texture.

Beyond sweetness, icing sugar serves as a crucial binding agent, knitting together all the components. The outcome? A celestial concoction that serves as the backbone of our sweet coal, achieving an impeccable equilibrium between sweetness and structure.



Let’s delve into the science of our candy creation. When we heat sugar and water to a precise 143°C (289.4°F), it’s akin to conducting a sweet symphony. At this temperature, sugar undergoes a transformative journey, crafting a syrupy concoction that sets the stage for the perfect sweet coal.

Hitting 143°C (289.4°F) ensures the sugar syrup achieves the ideal consistency. It’s a delicate balance, much like finding the sweet spot for a culinary masterpiece. At this temperature, the syrup not only attains the desired texture but also develops that rich, deep flavour essential for our sweet coal. Beyond 143°C (289.4°F), the sugar syrup risks overcooking, resulting in a crystallized and brittle texture,  making the sweet coal excessively hard and prone to shattering.

Food Colouring

Choosing activated charcoal powder or powdered food colouring over liquid food coloring is a smart decision in our sweet coal venture. The powdered forms, such as activated charcoal and powdered food colouring, bring advantages in texture, consistency, and overall success in creating the perfect candy coal.

The fine texture of powdered options ensures an even distribution, preventing clumps and ensuring a smoother, more refined sweet coal texture. Additionally, these forms contribute to maintaining the structural integrity of our sweet coal, allowing for a harmonious fusion with other ingredients.

Opting for gel coloring can also work. While it may not have the fine texture of powders, gel coloring introduces minimal moisture compared to liquid forms. This makes it a suitable alternative when powdered options are unavailable. The gel form still offers better control over the moisture content, preserving the delicate balance of ingredients and helping achieve the desired texture.



The small amount of alcohol used in our sweet coal recipe serves a crucial role beyond its evaporation during cooking. As the hot syrup and royal icing interact with the alcohol, a chemical reaction takes place that contributes to the overall success of our confection.

Alcohol functions as a facilitator in dissolving certain components, promoting better integration of ingredients. In the hot syrup, it aids in breaking down any residual sugar particles, ensuring a smoother and more consistent texture. Additionally, in the royal icing, alcohol promotes the dissolution of icing sugar, contributing to a velvety smooth consistency.

This chemical dance between alcohol and our mixtures enhances the overall homogeneity of the sweet coal, resulting in a delightful treat with a flawless texture and taste. So, while the quantity may be small, the impact of alcohol extends beyond mere evaporation, playing a pivotal role in the culinary alchemy of our sweet coal creation.


Sodium Bicarbonate

Let’s talk about the baking magic in our sweet coal adventure – sodium bicarbonate, aka bicarbonate of sode,  aka baking soda in the States. It’s not just an ingredient; it’s the magic wand that adds a burst of excitement to our confectionery.

When sodium bicarbonate meets the acidic lemon juice in our sweet coal mix, it sparks a chemical reaction that’s pure bubbly fun. These bubbles, filled with carbon dioxide gas, work their charm, making our sweet coal light, airy, and oh-so-perfect in texture.

But that’s not all! Sodium bicarbonate does double duty by neutralizing excess acidity, giving our sweet coal the perfect pH balance. It’s like the conductor in our flavour symphony, ensuring every note harmonizes for a delightful treat that’s not just sweet but a texture masterpiece!


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Sweet Coal Recipe

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sweet coal candy chunks

Befana’s sweet coal candies

  • Author: Silvana Lanzetta
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 8 portions 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free



300 grams of white granulated sugar

100 ml of sparkling water

1 egg white

45 drops of lemon juice

1 level teaspoon of cream of tartar

1 tablespoon of food-grade grain alcohol or vodka

1 heaping teaspoon of baking soda

250 grams of icing sugar

10 grams of activated charcoal or powdered food colouring (black or your favourite colours)


  1. In a bowl, whisk egg white with 4-5 drops of lemon juice until stiff peaks form using electric beaters.
  2. Add 1 tsp cream of tartar, 5 g powdered food colouring, 1 tbsp of grain alcohol or vodka, and gradually add 250 g powdered sugar while continuously beating until firm and compact. Set aside.
  3. In a pot, combine 300 g sugar and 100 ml water. Cook on low heat for 5-7 mins until a light yellow, transparent syrup forms.
  4. Add 5 g black powdered colouring, stir, and raise the temperature to 143°C (use a candy thermometer,). It will take about 10 minutes on medium low heat.
  5. Pour 2-3 tbsp of egg white icing into the pot of syrup, mix well, then stop stirring.
  6. Add a heaping teaspoon of baking soda, mix until the mixture puffs up.
  7. Pour the swollen mixture into a parchment-lined cake mould (22-24 cm in diameter).
  8. Let it cool at room temperature until dry and solidified (approximately 30-35 minutes).
  9. Once hardened, remove the coal from the mould and break it into pieces.


The leftover icing can be reused to decorate cookies or to prepare more sweet coal.

For optimal whipping, use a lukewarm egg white, not directly from the fridge. Place it in a bowl and set the bowl in warm water (avoid boiling) before starting, ensuring a better texture without the risk of cooking the egg white.

Maintain the recipe integrity for the ideal light and airy sweet coal. The precise chemical reactions and high temperatures are key for success; even small deviations can affect the outcome.

Choose black powder colouring or activated charcoal from health stores, but gel food colouring is also an excellent alternative. Two teaspoons of gel colouring are more than sufficient.

Keep your sweet coal fresh for up to a month by storing it in a moisture-free food container.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Confectionery
  • Cuisine: Italian
Recipe Card powered byTasty Recipes


What is the meaning of candy coal?

“Candy coal” refers to a sweet treat made to resemble lumps of coal, and it’s associated with the Christmas tradition, especially the Italian folklore figure Befana. While it may look like coal, it is actually made from sugar, egg white, and food colouring. This confection is often used as a playful or humorous gift during the holiday season, particularly in the context of Christmas stockings. The idea is to give a lighthearted nod to the tradition of receiving coal as a punishment for being naughty, turning it into a delicious and festive treat instead.

What is the tradition of coal at Christmas?

The tradition of coal at Christmas is often tied to folklore and serves as a playful element in holiday celebrations. In some cultures, it is believed that Santa Claus or other gift-bringing figures may leave coal as a symbolic “punishment” for children who have been naughty or misbehaved during the year. The idea is to encourage good behavior by using the threat of receiving coal instead of gifts. However, in a more lighthearted and modern context, “candy coal” has become a popular treat, resembling the look of coal but made from sweet ingredients like sugar or chocolate. It’s often used as a whimsical and humorous addition to holiday festivities, rather than a serious form of reprimand.

What food is traditionally eaten on La Befana?

Food, especially desserts, is a big part of Befana celebrations in Italy. Here are some typical treats from various regions:

1. Tuscany: Cavallucci are soft biscuits with water, sugar, honey, candied fruits, nuts, and anise. Befanini are citrus-rum cookies with colorful sprinkles.

2. Campania: Pastiera, a Neapolitan cake  made with ricotta cream and cooked wheat, and Struffoli, small fried dough balls with honey, candied fruit, and confetti.

3. Puglia: Purcidduzzi are small gnocchi-like biscuits in honey. Cartellate are pasta ribbons fried and topped with must or fig vincotto.

4. Abruzzo and Molise: Pepatelli are biscuits with honey, flour, cocoa, almonds, orange peels, and black pepper.

5. Marche: Pecorelle (little sheeps) are pastries filled with jam, dried fruit, nuts, or figs.

6. Piedmont: Fugassa d’la Befana is a soft cake with a hidden white or black bean. Finding the white one means paying for the cake, the black one means offering drinks.

7. Veneto: Pinza de la Marantega is a sweet bread with raisins, grappa, dried figs, pine nuts, and candied orange.

8. Lombardy: Cammelli di Sfoglia are camel-shaped pastries popular in Varese.

9. Liguria: Anicini are ancient cookies with sugar, eggs, flour, and anise.

10. Sweet Coal: Not exactly traditional but a fun addition to children’s stockings. Make it at home with my step by step recipe.

What is the colour of sweet coal?

Sweet coal can come in various colours, as it is made with ingredients like sugar, egg white, amd  syrup that can be dyed or naturally colored. The color of sweet coal is not fixed and can range from traditional black to brown, or even be brightly coloured for a more festive and playful appearance. The choice of colour often depends on personal preferences or the creative design chosen by the person making or giving the sweet coal.

Who brings kids coal?

Various folklore figures from different cultures are associated with bringing coal to children as a symbolic reminder of misbehavior. Here are some of them:

1. Krampus: In Central European folklore, especially in Alpine regions, Krampus is a horned, demonic figure who accompanies Saint Nicholas. Krampus is known for punishing naughty children, sometimes by giving them coal.

2. Befana: In Italian folklore, Befana is a kind but mischievous old woman who delivers gifts to children on the night of Epiphany. She might leave sweets for good children and coal for those who have been naughty.

3. Père Fouettard: In French folklore, Père Fouettard is a character who accompanies Saint Nicholas. He is often portrayed as a sinister figure who carries a whip and punishes naughty children with coal.

4. Knecht Ruprecht: In German folklore, Knecht Ruprecht is a companion of Saint Nicholas. Similar to Krampus, Knecht Ruprecht is said to carry a bag of ashes or coal to admonish misbehaving children.

5. Hans Trapp: In Alsatian folklore, Hans Trapp is a character who accompanies Saint Nicholas and is said to scare children into good behavior by threatening to eat them or give them coal.

6. Zwarte Piet (Black Pete): In Dutch folklore, Zwarte Piet is a companion of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). While Zwarte Piet traditionally assists with giving gifts, there are variations in which naughty children might receive coal.

7. Jólakötturinn (Yule Cat): In Icelandic folklore, the Yule Cat is a mythical giant cat that is said to roam the countryside during Christmastime. It is believed that those who do not receive new clothes before Christmas Eve may be devoured by the Yule Cat, emphasizing the importance of good behavior.

8. Cucul: In Catalan tradition, Cucul is a character who accompanies the Three Wise Men. Cucul is said to carry a whip and, similar to other figures, may give coal to children who have misbehaved.

These figures and traditions vary, but they share the common theme of using the symbol of coal to represent the consequences of naughty behavior during the holiday season.

These figures play roles in various cultural traditions and legends, emphasizing the consequences of misbehavior during the holiday season.

Silvana Lanzetta

Silvana Lanzetta

“Ciao, I’m Silvana, a fourth-generation pasta artisan from Napoli with a lifetime of experience! I began making pasta at the tender age of 5 under the watchful eye of my pasta-making generalissimo, my granny. Through her guidance, I’ve become a master in crafting traditional pasta dishes. Since 2014, I have been teaching pasta making classes in London, sharing my expertise with aspiring pasta enthusiasts. I’ve also had the privilege of showcasing my knowledge on BBC and in national newspapers like The Sun and iNews, and held pasta making demonstration in Harrods. Join me in exploring the world of Italian pasta and let’s create unforgettable culinary experiences together!”


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