This year I didn’t do much holiday baking. I flew home on Christmas Eve, and there wasn’t much time for hanging in the kitchen. But for some reason, I kept finding time for making toffee. As in, I became slightly obsessed with making toffee. I couldn’t stop it, I’d make a batch, and then everyone would devour it, forcing me to make another. I don’t normally repeat cook (short attention span), but I was just feeling it I guess. The thing is, by making batch after batch of toffee, I started to figure some things out that I hadn’t noticed last year. The most important thing being: actually use a thermometer. This may seem common sense to other candy makers out there, but it was a revelation for me. More on that in a bit.
I started by putting melted butter, sugar, salt and water in a pot and cooking (stirring constantly) over medium to medium low heat. This was another thing I learned around batch #3: Too high of heat makes it cook unevenly, scorching in spots, and also affects the texture negatively. I’m not sure why, my only assumption is that a lower heat allows the water to evaporate out before it reaches the right temperature. Once the mixture reached 260 degrees I added some of the nuts (I used pecans on this batch) and continued cooking.
When it reached 305 degrees, I poured it onto a sheet pan that I had oiled. The 305 being the most important part of that step. Thermometers. Who knew? I tend to be a little loosey-goosey with temperatures, preferring to rely on colors, smells, and textures to guide me. In the case of toffee, that’s not to say that I don’t PUT a thermometer in the pot while the candy is cooking. It’s just that when it reaches the appropriate temperature, I keep cooking it. Why? Because I like alot of caramelization. I tend to go dark on a lot of things, which you would know if you’ve eaten any of my pies, crisps, toast, cookies or caramel sauces. I love that just-before-burnt flavor. But toffee, it turns out, does not want to be caramelized. At around 305 degrees, the candy is at just the right place to spread out in a thick mass. Further cooking does result in a darker and slightly more bitter toffee (yumm), but it also gives you a thin toffee with a not so awesome texture. As in, it sticks in your teeth and is just not pleasant to chew (and pick out of your teeth for the rest of the day).
After it cooled completely, I broke it into chunks.
The traditional way to make it is to score it while it’s still warm and then break it into neat pieces before dipping them into melted chocolate. I’ve found that a) I don’t really care about the neat shapes, because I want to eat the toffee PRONTO and b) since I use good chocolate, there ends up being way too intense of chocolate flavor for the amount of toffee. So my process is to just melt some chocolate down and plop it on the individual chunks. Before it re-solidifies I sprinkle on chopped nuts and let it finish cooling. Another lesson I learned on this toffee marathon: It gets better after several hours. This is a hard one, because it’s torture to resist the toffee’s call while it’s resting. But it’s worth it. When it’s fresh it’s kind of brittle, and the sugar flavor is most prominent. After a few hours, the texture softens and the butter flavor comes through.
ENGLISH TOFFEE RECIPE (adapted from “Truffles, Candies & Confections” by Carole Bloom):
2 TBSP canola oil
10oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup almonds or pecans, finely chopped
3oz chocolate, finely chopped
- Coat a baking sheet with the canola oil and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar, the water and the salt; increase the heat to medium and cook until the mixture registers 260°F on a sugar thermometer (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula.
- Add 1/2 cup of the nuts and continue cooking until the mixture becomes golden and registers 305°F on the thermometer (about 8 minutes) stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the mixture onto the oiled sheet pan. Let cool completely.
- Break the toffee into chunks.
- Melt (and temper if you’re up for it) the chocolate. Spread the melted chocolate on the toffee chunks.
- Sprinkle the remaining almonds onto the toffee and let sit until the chocolate is set.